Nicaragua 2: León

León is a Nicaraguan spanish colonial city surrounded by unique volcanic formation.  The city is perhaps most famous for the extreme activities and hikes that can be undertaken nearby.  León was also the pit stop in an exclusive race around the world.

As the team were first to arrive, Simon and Ang were the first to depart the pit stop.  They raced to the nearby Quetzaltrekkers, a great non-profit tour organisation.  There they were fitted and measured for two yet unknown major challenges for this leg of the race.

After this, the team set out to explore the town of León and took care of travel chores such as clothes washing until it was late enough for them to join Team Belgium (now a whole team of two complete with theme song – Black Eyed Peas “I’ve got a feeling” ) and others for drinks.

Early the next morning, Simon and Ang, along with half of Team Belgium (Walter was not required to go boarding) and others, they boarded the Quetzaltrekkers flatbed truck for the hour drive to Cerro Negro.  The drive began on paved roads but quickly transitioned to black sandy tracks through fields of corn and sugar cane.

Farmers on the road to Cerro Negro

Soon they arrived at the entry to the national park and then the base of the volcán where they were kitted up with their water, volcano boards, gloves, overalls and goggles.  The racers then hiked up the side of the still active black volcano.  Cerro Negro is a young volcano that first erupted in 1850 and since then it has erupted 23 times with the most recent occurring in 1999.  If the rate of eruptions and growth continues, it is predicted to be the highest volcán in Nicaragua.  The sides of the volcano are black basalt that look remarkable like asphalt.  One side in particular has the perfect slope to allow boarding.

The team is ready to climb the volcán Boarders high up on Cerro Negro

After an hour long hike that included a stop in the crater for photos, the team arrived at the summit. There they donned their protective equipment and slid down the side of the volcano.  The ride down lasted approximately 2 minutes with Ang the fastest in the group for this first run.

High up on Cerro Negro The team completes the sulphur steam bath challenge
Panorama of Cerro’s crater
Kitted out for the first run At the bottom of Cerro Negro’s long boarding slope

Once at the bottom, snacks and Tang were had and the group started back up the volcano again.  The second climb was completed somewhat faster than the first.  Once at the top the team again dressed and moved to the launch point.  The team shot down the side of the volcano once more, this time with much less concern for safety and more for speed.  At the bottom of the volcano the team received their next clue and were soon speeding back to León.

Ang touches a cloud Ready for the next run
Free range iguana farm

Ang was particularly thrilled to have completed this challenge and said “I wish I could do it again, but next time on a bike”.

The next day the team checked out of their accommodation and spent the day walking around the old town before they once again returned to Quetzaltrekkers for their next clue.  Their task was to summit the Volcán Telica overnight as part of the full moon hike.

Apparently the largest church in Central America is in León Another, smaller church in León
Unfortunately the team missed Gustavo and his dancing girl’s performance Chilling in the hostel between challenges

After a few pre-hike drinks with team Belgium (both halves and once again accompanied by “I’ve got a feeling”), the team once returned to Quetzaltrekkers.  Dinner was had and then at 11pm, they climbed into a truck and drove off into the night.  Arriving at start of the hike, the team marched through moonlit maize fields and down dark rocky country roads.  At one rest stop, the team entertained the other hikers with an interruptive dance as they attempt to light paint the mango tree they had stopped under.  Ang said, when asked what the hell she was doing, “I’m trying to add fairy lights”.

Light painting of the mango tree rest stop

The walk itself was fairly easy.  The team chatted with the other hikers including Team America 1 and kept an eye on their foot placement over the uneven terrain.  At times the moon was bright enough to see the way by.  At other times, they needed their head torches to see the path.  They walked for a total of 6 hours (26km return) before they arrived at the hellish Telica summit, just before dawn.

There the team was required to approach the unstable crater edge.  With Telica venting sulphur and there being a light mist, it was difficult to see to the bottom of the crater and so the team was unable to see the lava.

Desending from the Telica crater edge

Retreating down into an older crater, the team along with the other hikers enjoyed an early morning breakfast.  They then raced back up the escarpment to watch the spectacular sunrise.  They once again attempted to view the lava and succeeded and were over joyed and awed at the sight and roar of it through the sulphur clouds.  They then started the long walk back down the volcano.

Early morning breakfast spot near Telica Early morning Telica under a full moon
Telica panorama
The racers pose for a photo with Telica Simon next to the crater edge
Ang next to the crater edge Ang looks over the crater edge (130m straight down)
HDR image of sunrise Telica just after dawn
Another panorama of Telica showing the crater
Parts of teams Australia, France and Israel watch the sunrise
Sunrise Telica panorama
Returning to León in the Quetzal truck

Back to León they raced. They checked into accommodation and then along with Team Belgium, headed out for a night of drinking and dancing.  This included a visitation to “After Party”, which Walter of Team Belgium had been excited about ever since he had completed his first León challenge for the Amazing Exclusive Race Belgium.   They danced until 2am when they were given their final clue for the León leg of the race.

Random Nicaraguan festival dude Inside the legendary After Party

Racing back along the calle towards Quetzaltrekkers, the team successful convinced other racers to take part in their full moon challenge.  Teams from Holland, Israel and Belgium joined and together they completed the full moon outside of Quetzaltrekkers.

Full moon challenge completed at 2am (censored)

Successfully completing this final challenge, the team raced back to their accommodation, the pit stop for this leg of the race. Ang commented “After an awesome 43 hours of racing this leg, I am pumped to still be in the amazing race but so glad to be finally hitting the hay”.