Looks like Byron’s playing dress-up.
Is he a coal miner?
George Michael circa 1983?
Or is there another explanation for the state of his face?
There sure is. Someone did this to him.
His name is Denis, and he was assisted by a compact second named Henri.
Denis and Henri led Byron–led all of us, plus a crew of others–up and then down the sides of the Cerro Negro volcano.
What’s bizarre is that we paid them money to do this to us.
By the time it was over, the lenses in our glasses were scratched, Paco had fought back the tears threatening to fall from his woebegone blue eyes, all our orifices were plugged with grit (note to self: form Grrrl band called Plugged with Grit), and I had experienced a moment suspended upside down in the air during which I felt certain I’d be spending the rest of my life in a wheelchair.
There aren’t many experiences in life that cause me to pronounce “I’ll never do that again,” but sledding down the side of a volcano is now one of them.
Once was more than enough.
It started when a nice guy in a van picked us up at our hotel. Then we were taken to the main office where we were corraled with a group of other tourists who thought being able to say “I sledded down a volcano” would impress the girls they were trying to pick up in bars.
That’s certainly why I did it.
As we all loaded into a bigger van for the one-hour ride to Cerro Negro, I should have been practicing saying in Spanish, “Is there an optician in the house? My glasses are broken.”
The woman in front of Paco, the one with the cool Chinese character tattoos down her neck, opted to snowboard down the volcano. On the ride home, she told me she’d been very impressed with the flip I did and couldn’t believe I was walking. So maybe that’s my take-away from the experience: I am able to wow tattooed lesbians. It’s a very specialized gift.
I have to admit that when we first pulled up to the volcano, I did gulp audibly. All along, Paco had been saying he didn’t want to do this. In the parking lot, he looked at the hillside and fought back tears, his soft cheeks flushing red. We assured him that one of us would be happy to hike back down with him, if he got up to the top, took a look at it, and really, really knew he didn’t want to do it. I brag about him every day, but still, I don’t brag about him enough: he’s a super smart, super intuitive kid. He knew.
The guide insisted on taking a group photo. Such documentation could be helpful later, if bodies needed to be identified.
Paco’s body language reveals nothing, right? We each had to carry our own board on the one-hour hike to the top. Byron carried two, his and Paco’s. When the hiking scene started getting truly gnarly, I understood that tenet of evolution about the benefits of choosing a hardy mate. Allegra and I could hardly handle our own boards once the gale-force winds started twirling us in their blender, much less two.
The hike started hard, but, like, normal hard. Then it got REALLY hard–steeper, looser footing, and a crazy blustery wind that surprised even the guide. As Paco later said, “As soon as that wind started, I knew there would be a blog post coming out of it.”
I actually loved the hiking, Even though I was sweating and panting and trying not to twist anything, it was good, honest, tromping work. Plus: the views!
I want to type loudly that, much to Paco’s credit, he completed that hike up the loose volcanic gravel, in the heat and then with the loco wind. We all have things that challenge us, and for Allegra, this hike was fair game-difficult, but something that she could handle, even when she was staggering sideways, trying not to let her board be ripped put of her two-handed grip. But for Paco? This was a huge stretch. For the rest of his life, he should be proud that he dug down and found the strength to do it.
This was during the part where we could even consider taking photos. Shortly after this, things changed, and a farm house from Kansas whirled by.
Sometimes when I’m trying to put my phone away, I accidentally take a picture of my foot, and then later I realize it does a good job of showing the terrain.
So about those winds. This guy is just trying to walk and hang on to his board. You can also see the brightly colored backpack he is wearing. We each had one, and inside was a totally rad uniform we had to put on once we reached the peak. You know, where we were the most exposed. We could not stand up to dress, or we would be blown over, and our boards would be snatched away by the winds. So we put on our jumpsuits, safety goggles, and gloves while holding down our boards with our rear ends. Good times.
Allegra’s ponytail was an effective windsock.
Eventually, looking like minions, oompaloompas, or members of Devo, everyone was ready to queue up. Paco was still sure he did not want to sled down–even though our training told us we could control our speed by digging our heels in and leaning forward to go slowly or leaning back to go faster. I asked the guide if Paco and I could just hike down the same route everyone was using for sledding. The kind guide, damn him, asked me Paco’s name, called him over, and took off, on foot, halfway down the slope. There, he planted the kid’s board like a bench, sat him down, and gave him prime viewing of the last few sledders. The two of them hung out together, united in sanity.
As my turn neared, I considered the fact that the incline was 45 degrees in the bottom stretch. I considered how I hate speed. I assured myself I could dig my heels in, and it would be fine. I should have reminded myself that magical realism was born in Latin America.
Allegra wasn’t actually doing the thing called enjoying herself. Neither was I when a wasp slipped inside my jumpsuit and stung me on the shoulder.
The guide was so calm when he explained that a speed of 100 km/be was possible on a board in the lower stretch of the hill.
After Paco was halfway down the hill, hanging out with the guide, it was time for us to do this thing. Allegra went first. As I’ve noted, the girl is a real charger, not one to get rattled. She almost started crying as she tussled with the sliding loose rock as she attempted to get in her board. A few minutes later, when it was my turn, I experienced the same frustration and had a clear moment of gratitude that my legs are fit and powerful. Had I been any less of a beast, I’d be up there still, shouting that volcanoes spew magma but suck ass.
And there she went, slowly, in complete control. This is how her entire ride went. She was not amused.
Then I went. There are no pictures, only a report from Paco, there at the midpoint, that I was yelling “Whoa!” as I went by. From start to finish, my board and I screamed down the volcano. In the last pitch, the 45 degree part, I was desperate to slow down since all efforts to dig my heels in had been futile, so I leaned forward. That slight shift in weight at that angle and speed was nearly the death of me. In a hair of a second, I went over the front of the board, flipped legs to the sky while landing on my head, my spine compressing, and visions of paralysis streamed through the cinema of my mind. When I landed on my tush, I didn’t know what had happened or if I could move. After what felt like minutes, some of the people from our group called out, asking if I needed help. I did. Allegra, who had started her run a few minutes before me, had not yet reached the bottom, so she had no idea that anything had happened. Thus, it was a circle of strangers who surrounded me and listened to me say, repeatedly, “I just need my glasses. Can you look around and find my glasses? I can’t see without them.” Then, doi, I realized they were up on my forehead, under the shattered remnants of my safety goggles. One of the nose pieces had disappeared, and the frame was bent. I will need to order a new lens when we get home, but I had my glasses. Kind people helped me until Allegra and then the guide and Paco got there. My forehead had a few cuts, so the guide used the water in his bottle to have me wash my face four or five times, and then he sprayed me down with an antibiotic. I was so glad it was over.
An hour later, back at our lovely hotel, the kids had some genuine fun, and I spent a few restorative hours on a deck chair–clearly necessary because when the van dropped us off, I was confused as to why they were letting us off at the wrong place, which they weren’t, and when we went into the lobby, I wondered why my family was acting like this was our lobby. Each of us had a long shower (when I was cleaning the black off my nostrils, I probed around inside and found at least five rocks. Seriously.), and we all came back to sorts, and Byron watched me anxiously for the rest of the day for signs of a concussion…and although if ever there was a day when I wanted a stiff drink, it was this one, I listened to my beau and refrained.
After all, he was kind enough to use his multiplier to straighten my frames before then chopping up an ear plug to provide my nose with some cushioning. Even more, he nodded agreeably each time I noted, “Sledding down a volcano? Now there’s something I never need to do again.”