As I continue my travels around Nicaragua, things get weirder and weirder. It's a problem when the people in a production team plan a trip from London without actually visiting the destination for a recce – things get slightly lost in the translation. For instance, someone "read" that there was an active volcano just outside the old capital of León, whose loose ash slopes could be snowboarded down. This was suggested to me as an option and, being a bit dumb, I agreed.
The problem is that I don't snowboard – I'm a skier. "No problem," said the production team. "We'll ship some skis and boots out there." So, after a long four hours in a customs shed in Managua, where we had great difficulty persuading the official to believe we really needed skis in Nicaragua and that this was not some elaborate gringo cocaine-smuggling scam, we were off.
Three hours' drive later, we arrived at the foot of the Serra Negra, an ominous-looking mass of black smouldering ash and rocks. With my skis on my back, and carrying the boots, we started the climb, which took an hour and a half before we were looking down the 50-degree slope I was supposed to attempt. We were soon joined by a group of adrenalin-seeking backpackers and I began to see a problem. They were not carrying snowboards, but primitive sledges. There had obviously been some breakdown in communication, but it was too late – I was already standing on the edge of the abyss, cameras rolling and skis on.
I gingerly turned my skis downhill and realised within seconds that ash and rocks are nothing like snow. My skis just stuck on the surface and I went arse over tit, tumbling down the steep slope. It made for great TV, but I looked like a total fool.
I eventually crawled to the bottom with no broken limbs and zero dignity. I really felt that I'd done my bit for TV and was ready to hit some five-star hotel action as a reward. The director had other ideas: "We're off to an island called Ometepe. It has two huge volcanoes on it and we're going to climb one. It's a seven-hour climb, but totally worth it." He could see his reluctant star's mood getting darker. "It'll be great," he said quickly. "We're staying at this beautiful old finca which was confiscated from the dictator Somoza and is now owned by a workers' co-operative and they grow coffee there and it's amazing." The director had already admitted to being an ex-anarchist and he clearly loved the idea of this dream revolutionary holiday resort. I was too tired to argue and climbed into our Land Cruiser and slept most of the way to our Marxist utopia.
We arrived an hour before sunset. I think the director had visions of happy revolutionary cadres all dressed in white cotton overalls and singing in golden fields of coffee. The reality was, as ever, slightly different. The place was basically a run-down old farm packed full of tattooed backpacker types lounging around in hammocks stroking their dreadlocks as they wrote nonsense in their little "travel diaries" – "Day 48 – stoned again – lying in my hammock, really amazing experience...".
Someone took us to see our "rooms" – tiny little tin-roofed, cockroach-infested bunkers. I groaned, the director reassessed his political beliefs, and we all drank ourselves into a stupor. Awake at six, we began the long climb up the volcano. I'm pleased to report that I made it, after much huffing and puffing and vomiting.... Ah well, it'll be good telly and that's all that matters, right?
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