So far, two months into my service, I haven’t started any projects other than working on the entrepreneurship curriculum in the schools. That’s fine though, because I’ve been working hard at networking and identifying who I can start other projects with. And what I am becoming most acquainted with is rural tourism development. Last week I went with representatives from City Hall to meet families that may potentially start small rural tourism businesses, and today I finally got to hit my first local volcano with a rural tourism cooperative that operates out of León. They had actually invited me to go last Tuesday but cancelled on me last minute (thus allowing me to go on the visit with City Hall). But the President of the Cooperative called me again yesterday and invited me along for this morning to see their operation and outfit. To understand tourism in León you have to understand volcano boarding. It is the primary attraction here. About ten years ago some entrepreneurs started offering volcano boarding trips to nearby Cerro Negro Volcano. You hike up the block, rocky ashen volcano (Cerro Negro means Black Hill in English) and then sit on a sled and surf on down. One hour up, one minute down. There are tons of tour operators in León that offer trips for $20 to $25, but the rural tourism cooperative controls access to the volcano. They have a small “interpretation center” at the base, and they charge the tour operators a fee per head. They use the money to maintain the area and support local families and members of the Cooperative.
We arrived early, before the first tour bus arrived. The President had brought along some of her nieces and nephews for the day, so after being shown around for a bit and being introduced to some of the members of the cooperative I was immediately offered to hike on up with the nieces and nephews and have my first volcano boarding experience. I was in a t-shirt and white shorts, but I was going to give up a free chance to go volcano boarding. So we headed on up. I took a video from the summit, but the wind gave it very bad audio quality:
I don’t have a GoPro so I didn’t get any shots of the trip down, but I didn’t find it scary or anything. The hardest part is that you need to use your feet a lot to keep the sled straight. And everyone time your put a foot down it kicks up a wave of black pebbles and ash that go everywhere – into your mouth, your nose, your shoes, and down your shorts! It was fun though, and I want to do it again some time, probably when I have friends visiting. The base of the volcano also has a few madroños, which are the national tree of Nicaragua, and on the trive out I saw two Guardabarancos, which is the national bird. I thought that was very cool, and they are very pretty birds (sorry, no pictures).
I’ve definitely got the volcano “bug” now. For those who don’t know, there is a chain of active volcanoes that run right down the Pacific coast of Nicaragua (read: right where I live). They are called the Maribios, and starting all the way in the north is Cosigüina, running all the south way to Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua. Cosigüina is definitely on my list, as is San Cristobal, Telica, Momotombo, and Ometepe.
As for my volunteer work, the trick will be to stay in contact with the members of the Cooperative. It seems to me that they need help with marketing, especially their other services (sand boarding is pretty saturated in León). As for the other rural tourism opportunities with the city hall, I think they may be asking me to participate in some training they will be giving to interested families in the near future. Some of these families don’t have much formal education, and the extent of their economic activities is selling tortillas, so they are going to need help running a business, and that help will need to be tailored to people who possibly can’t read or write well or do much math.