In this post, Atlanta-based photographer/trekker Rustin gives us an insight into his first trip to the Central American country of Nicaragua; staying at a local hostel and doing an unthinkable – boarding down the 2000 ft Cero Negro Volcano. Read on for more details surrounding his incredible trip!
PART 1: My First Hostel Experience
I must admit that I have always been hesitant about staying in hostels after I not only watched the first but also the second film in the series “Hostel” – where travelers on a budget decided to stay in dormitory style hotels, but ended up becoming the victims of some sadistic individuals who paid to torture and mutilate other human beings in some elaborate black market operation.
Well, that all changed when I travelled to Nicaragua. While staying in Masaya, I decided to book an adventure called “Volcano Boarding” where you climb to the top of a 728m mountain and slide down the face of it on a wooden board with a piece of rope attached to it designed to keep you balanced. The drive to León was supposed to be an hour and a half, so I requested my local driver pick me up at 7am to make my 9 am appointment. That didn’t go as planned. We ended up getting to the tour provider, BigFoot Hostel at 9:05 am. The hostel desk clerk immediately had a frown on his face as he realized what we were there for. He simply said, “sorry. The tour left on time today…. And we NEVER leave on time”. I was floored! He told me that I could change my reservation to the following morning or refund my money. Although those were great options and as fair as it gets with a customer service agent, neither were truly ideal for my situation, or at least what I wanted to hear. I had flown 4 hours from the states, 30 minutes to my rented home from the airport, and 2 hours to the tour hostel. I had no place to stay for the night and I had already paid my driver $100 to bring me there. What my options sounded like were just to go home with a refund and chalk it up to the phrase “it just was not meant to be”.
He must have seen the disappointment in my face…. Romero, the clerk, says “You know what? If you want to do it tomorrow, I will let you stay here the night for free. I was immediately ecstatic but still wanted to see the living conditions as thoughts of the Hostel movie lingered. He provided me with two options: my partner and I could either stay in a dorm with AC or in a private room with a fan.
For face value, AC would win any bet with it being it’s 90 degrees outside and the daily lows being well into the 70s. However, I still preferred to see both. So as we walked right across from the desk to see the dorm setting, there was one room probably 12 x 12 ft with 20 ft ceilings. Inside there were 4 cot-style bunk beds outlining the sides of the room then one bunk bed above our heads that was accessible by a metal ladder at the back of the room.
I glanced over to my travel partner and, without words, our eyes agreed that this was not for us. I was ready to brave the heat in the private room. Romero then asked us to follow him to the private rooms where the pricing was actually listed:
Dorm style double occupancy – $6.50
Dorm style triple occupancy – $3.50
Private room – $10.50
On one hand, I thought to myself, “Well no wonder he can afford to give me a comp room”. But on the other hand I thought, “imagine how much money I could save if I stayed in hostels vs hotels when I travelled.” One week in a private room hostel would cost me $73.50! That’s cheaper than one night in any decent hotel within city limits after tax. So, we entered the room which was the size of a modest home’s bedroom and it included a queen bed, a small bathroom with shower and a standing oscillating fan. There was a small window with wooden shutters right next to the entry door that could be opened for fresh air to enter. As a bonus, there was a small ceiling can over the bed as well to assist with circulating air.
We laid our bags down, returned to the lobby to sign documents for the room and to let my driver know that we were planning on camping here for the night. He gladly said he would return at 3pm the next day to bring us back to our rented home on the farm. We came back to the hostel, ordered a couple of mojitos from the bar for C120 or $4.54USD total, and the WiFi password. The lobby housed 12-14 people inside conversing in multiple tongues: English, Spanish and French. The voices we overheard and understood passed stories of where they were off to next or how many months they had been on the road. Contrary to my initial fears, no one seemed like a creep nor like a murderer in disguise. Everyone seemed like family or great friends who were bound by the experiences that lay ahead.
The next move was to exchange some USD for Cordoba and to buy a SIM card for my travel phone. Unfortunately, the bank was closed due to a national holiday but I was able to get a SIM card for the equivalence of $0.38 and charged it with 1G of internet data and 1000 text messages for $10USD. Since we had not planned on staying the night away when we left the house, we had to find a store to buy some flip flops, washcloths, an extra shirt, pair of shorts and basic hygiene items. All said and done, after buying everything we needed, it cost the two of us about $15USD each – not bad at all!
While returning to the hostel, we noticed a sign that said there was a shuttle to the “Beach House” leaving at 3 pm. After asking for some more detail, we learned that there was a sister hostel about 30 minutes away called “Bigfoot Hotel – Beach House”. There was a shuttle daily for $2 roundtrip that left where we were at 3 pm and returned at 7 pm. We were all in… After a quick nap that is.
3pm came, we hopped on the Deisel Mercedes Benz transporter and arrived at the Beach House 30 minutes later. It was not as inviting as we had imagined. It was situated in the middle of nowhere and the entrance was a dirt path. However, once inside, there was a bar, a lounge area then a pool with chairs on either side and an opening to a dark brown sanded beach with a volleyball court and HUGE waves built for surfing. We walked the beach for a while until it began to rain, then headed back for cover near the lounge,and ordered some more cheap drinks and food. While seated, we noticed several animals coming from all of the corners of the room that we had not noticed earlier. A stray dog ambled into the bar and laid down exhausted from playing catch with a washed up piece of brushwood. A set of cats also began to nestle on the floor along with kittens, then for the kicker, one of the bartenders came by with a baby raccoon on his shoulder eating a banana. We listened to music, ate, drank and exchanged pleasantries with other visitors for another couple of hours before we returned home via one of the darkest road I’ve ever been travelled. The only light were from the flashes of lightning that punctuated the night sky.
Back at our hostel, we craved nothing more than a good night’s sleep after our day out, and to ensure we were up in the morning not to risk missing the tour again. Walking in, the bottom floor of the hostel was alive with more people than before, drinks and laughter was flowing. We bypassed it all and retreated to our rooms.
The next morning, we woke around 5am, due to the AC units on the dorm roof kicking on and rattling the tin roof pieces they were attached to. After lying and talking, we decided to get up and get ready to head downstair for breakfast. Downstairs, there was an area that was set aside for a communal kitchen from where many voices emanated. Adjacent to that, there was a very small kitchen manned by two “seasoned” Hispanic ladies who spoke no English.
We placed our orders at the bar and brought our ticket back to the ladies who confirmed our orders in Spanish (which I caught every other word of) and began cooking. 2 full breakfast meals with water juice and coffee for just above $10 USD. We finished up, loaded the larger transporter and headed for the Volcano…
All in all, saying at a hostel was a great new experience that I would definitely try again.
• Option to cook independently of hostel restaurant.
• Inserted into a live community were services and products are at or. around actual community pricing. (No tourist gouging)
• Fellowship with world travelers.
• No amenities provided. No toiletries and selective housekeeping.
• The vast majority of staff members only speak the native language.
• Sleeping arrangements that you will have to compromise with.
PART 2: Volcano Boarding
From the Bigfoot Hostel in Leon, 15 of us loaded a Mercedes open-air transporter and took about a 45 minute ride to Volcan Cerro Negro. We stopped about 5 minutes away to the park “Office” where we could use the bathroom, purchase something to eat/drink, and pay the $5.00 entrance fee. We drove the last 5 minutes and hopped out of the truck for a breakdown of what we were about to get ourselves into from our tour group leaders. While handing out our Orange jumpsuits, goggles and boards, they explained that it would take about 45 minutes to climb to the top of the volcano. There were some local porters there that were available to carry your board for you to the top and I chose to pay $5 for him to carry my board so I could focus on the climb.
The first third of the hike was a breeze, just like walking a local trail in your hometown. He then warned us that it was going to get hotter and more treacherous on the second third of the hike. For this portion, he asked us to space ourself out a little more as the trail was steep and the rocks were loose so he didn’t want anyone to kick rocks in the face of the person behind them. At some point in this section, I was on all fours climbing to the top. The last third of the hike was the spine of the volcano. If you walked 2-3 feet to your left or right, you would fall off and plummet to the bottom. Wind speeds picked up and the sun was blazing.
Once we got to the top, we were instructed to finish all of our water, put on our orange jumpsuits and were really introduced to the board and the technique to ride it. Although it’s called Volcano boarding, it’s not like surf boarding. You sit on the board like a sled and ride it to the bottom. I must admit, once I got to this point, I was nervous.. and when the guide asked who wanted to go first, my hand shot up to the sky to get it over with.
I sat on the board, adjusted my GoPro camera and leaned forward. I knew in the back of my mind that the volcano we climbed was 2,000 ft high but that ride felt like I was somewhere in heaven to start. By the radar gun at the bottom, I had hit speeds of 35 mph. I fell off 3 times and got back on every time. It was an amazing experience!
Heres a snippet from IG