Saturday, December 26, 2015


Leon was hot. Extremely hot. Unbearably hot, at times. But we made the best of it, and used what energy we had to explore the city.

I arrived in Leon around noon, but I'd booked at a different hostel than everyone else - theirs was full, and didn't appear to have any motorcycle parking anyway. The one I'd chosen was about a kilometer away, which at the time didn't seem so far.

By the time I showered and walked over to their hostel, they still hadn't really moved much. After arriving the night before and wandering around looking for space, they'd ended up with some of them sleeping in hammocks in the common area of the hostel, and then spent the night listening to loud firecrackers going off incessantly. When I arrived things had quieted down  a little bit, but there were still plenty of firecrackers going off, and the trash in the streets was still in the process of being swept up from the huge festival the night before.

So I arrived at the hostel, and everyone was pretty well in the mood to do nothing. That ended up working out really well for me, because the hostel that they were staying in happened to have a guitar hanging on the wall. So while everyone else sat around and watched movies on their computers or read a book or sat on their phone, I pulled a guitar down and ran through... well, pretty much all the songs I know. I just sat and played, and played, and played.

I even gave a shot to playing a few songs that I'd never played on guitar before - namely, the raps that I'd learned for karaoke. I've got three or four raps that I spent a few weeks learning back in San Diego so that I could have fun at karaoke nights, and since then I also tend to run through them now and then inside the helmet when I'm bored on the motorcycle. Given how much time I've spent on the motorcycle recently, I've had a lot of time to practice them.

So much, in fact, that I can do them almost without thinking. So I looked up a few chords for each of them, and after running through them a few times, I was (mostly) able to pull each of them off. I'd tried before in San Diego and had a little bit too much trouble with them, so they'd been consigned to "karaoke only" instead of guitar. But with the extra practice on the rapping part, they finally got upgraded to "can jam them on guitar" too.

Not a bad place to sit and play.
Most of the rest of the day was spent lounging for all of us. The day was so hot that it wasn't any fun to walk out in the street, so until night time we stayed pretty stationary. I did end up walking back to my hostel to get my laptop, and then back again one other time, so overall I ended up walking six kilometers just back and forth between my hostel and theirs, not to mention the walking we did as a group in the evening to see the town a bit and get some dinner.

Took a sunset pic on one of the trips over to the hostel.

The festival from the night before was still going strong in the square when we walked through.
The next day we got up nice and early and hopped on a van to go volcano boarding. Yes, volcano boarding. There's a relatively new volcano (only 150 years ago it sprouted out of nowhere) that erupted not all that long ago (1999), leaving behind a lot of small volcanic rocks. They're small enough and the mountain is steep enough that, in aggregate, they act almost like sand. I say almost, because they're still much sharper than sand, and apparently will tear up your clothes (or your skin) if you were to go sliding down them.

So after a bus ride out, we each grabbed a wooden board and a backpack full of protective gear, and started hiking up the volcano.
All loaded up and ready to head up.

Pretty good views.
 We were up at the top after about an hour and a half, with only a short break. It was hot, but the wind was blowing hard which kept us mostly cool. But I also noticed my feet getting hot, and when I did a handstand for a photo I noticed that the rocks under us were actually pretty hot! If you dug your fingers a little ways into the rock it got hot enough you couldn't keep your hand there very long - I can't even imagine a foot or two down how hot it got.

After admiring the views from the top for a while, we unstrapped our gear and started preparing for our descent. The tour provided us each with a heavy duty full-body suit, gloves, and goggles. A few of us added some extra protection as well.

Getting dressed up.

David and I both did the shemagh head-wrap.

Group shot.
And then it was time to head down. We'd been told we could do it standing up or sitting down. Normally I'd say standing up because that sounds awesome, but they said (a) it was nothing like snowboarding because you can't carve at all, and (b) you can go faster sitting down. So we all chose sitting down, and one at a time we were given the go signal to sit on our board and start going.

View from the top as someone went down.
One of the guides took one of our cameras halfway down the hill, and stood and snapped this awesome photo of me as I went by.
What it looked like from the bottom as someone went down.
The guide had warned us before starting that we shouldn't get too much speed at the top or we'd lose control. He said it would get steeper partway down, so we had to watch out and make sure we could keep control when that part started. As a result, all of us were really careful... and none of us ended up going as fast as we wanted to. By the time we realized that it wasn't actually going to get as steep as we thought, it was too late to get any more speed. At the bottom we all agreed that a second trip up to head down one more time would be welcome now that we'd learned how fast we could go, but we weren't going to pay another $30 for it.

After we got back, we all showered and then I headed back over to La Tortuga Booluda, the hostel everyone else was staying at. And once again, we spent most of the night lounging, relaxing, playing pool, and drinking beers. It stayed hot well into the night, and it was hard to motivate ourselves to do much more.

Do our clothing choices hint at the heat?

After finding some Camembert in the grocery store, I decided to put together a bread, cheese, and apples plate to share. Reminded me of hosting couchsurfers in San Diego.
This guy came to the gate while we were sitting around. One of the leftovers from the festivals the past few days.
In the morning I got up and headed back to the Tortuga Booluda, and from there we made plans to go to a lagoon we heard about. Step one was to get to the bus stop - which mean walking right back past my hostel and then another kilometer or so, putting me at three kilometers walked already. Then we had to wait half an hour as the school bus we needed to take filled with people before leaving - all the while we're dripping with sweat, as there was absolutely no airflow in there.

Finally the bus left, and after about an hour and a half on the bus (it would have been 40 minutes on the motorcycle) we ended up in La Paz Centro, where we found out we had to get off and wait for a different bus. Another half hour of waiting, and we were finally able to catch that bus another half hour or so down the road to where we would start our walk to the laguna. At this point we're all sweaty, hot, and kind of tired of traveling, but we were almost there.

We thought. We started walking down a road, and after half an hour of walking with no one around, asked a farmer where we needed to go to get to the laguna. He pointed down the road and said to turn after the second farm. Well we didn't see any turn there after another twenty minutes of walking, and the road came to an end at a field full of cows. We walked across the field, carefully avoiding cowpies, and asked the owners of that farm where we needed to go.

Trekking. David with his stick to scare off stray dogs.

Didn't see any stray dogs, but we did have to wait while these guys headed down the road.
They said that about half an hour back, we'd gone the wrong way at a junction. I'd kind of seen that turn, and wondered if we were going the wrong way, but after the farmer had told us to continue the way we were going I hadn't thought twice.

So half an hour back the way we came, then down the correct turn this time, and another half hour of walking. We had now done around an hour and a half of walking since we got off the bus, but we were finally at the entrance to the laguna we'd been trying to find.

We thought. Apparently there was an entrance fee of $2, which we paid while talking to the guy about the lake. After we'd all paid (of course) he informed us that the last bus was at 4:00, and it was another 20 minute walk to the laguna. We looked at the time: 2:00. That meant once we finished walking, we had about 20 minutes at the laguna before we had to walk back to the road to catch the bus.

Well, no point in going back now. We hiked the last 20 minutes up one steep hill and down the other side, and finally made it to the crater after almost five hours of travel. It was very pretty there, and the water was nice, but it wasn't five hours of travel nice.

The view from the top of the hill before heading down.

Down at the lake.
After a little bit of swimming, we walked back out. Twenty minutes up and down a steep hill to the entry booth (where we convinced the guy to give us a bit of a refund, since $2 for 20 minutes in the water was pretty expensive), back down the road past our wrong turn, and back to the bus stop. Within about five minutes a bus pulled up - going the wrong way, but they said we could hop on now instead of just waiting for the same bus to come back, since they'd be going to the town at the end of the road and returning back. So we got back on a bus, rode it for a half hour or so, got off and waited for another bus, and then rode that one for an hour or so. And finally, after sunset and an almost eight hour day, we got back to town.

Took this shot out the window of the bus as we were heading back.
I think we had all assumed that the day would consist of about an hour on a bus, and half an hour of walking, and then the day in the laguna. Instead, the day just seemed to be getting worse and worse. "No, they say we need to wait for another bus, this one doesn't actually go there." "The bus will leave in half an hour when it's full." No, that wasn't your turn, you went half an hour out of your way." "You still need to hike up and then back down this steep, muddy hill in your flip flops." Continuously, things seemed to be worse than we expected or not go our way.

But... it wasn't so bad. I mean, if I'd been alone, I would have been absolutely miserable and angry with how things were going (well, if I'd been alone I would have gone on the motorcycle and it would have gone a lot faster, but you see what I mean.) Instead, since we were all together, we took advantage of the time on the bus to talk, or the extra time walking to enjoy each other's company.

It made me think of a proverb, paraphrased: "Shared joy is double the joy; shared misery is half the misery." Traveling alone definitely has its benefits, but when I had a bad day of travel ending in a crappy town and a hotel with no internet, I had that all to myself - and it was miserable. When I did the Ruta de Flores the next day, it was amazing, but I didn't get to share those experiences with the others who did something different.

But getting to share volcano boarding with my travel partners, and sharing the misery of hot, sticky bus seats and hours of walking in the heat made both of those things so much better. It won't be too long before I'm traveling alone again, but for now I'm really enjoying having people to share this experience with.

1 comment:

  1. I feel terrible about not giving you better info for Niceragua! I spent the day at that Laguna and it was fantastic, but you definitely had to pay a tour group to get in and out well enough to enjoy a day there. I guess I just assumed things would change in 7 years since I went. Glad you could still share the day with friends.