It was a month before my scheduled departure to Nicaragua when I received a message from Chris on OkCupid. He told me he was from New York but currently working in Costa Rica for the next six months on a real estate development project and although we weren’t even in the same country at the moment he wanted to at least say hi and tell me that my profile intrigued him.
I browsed over his profile. He was cute, witty, and had good taste in books and music.
“Costa Rica?” I replied. “I’ll be in Nicaragua next month on a backpacking trip.”
“No way! I’m only an hour or so from the Nicaraguan border. It would be crazy not to meet up,” he said. I agreed.
One month later and I was in Central America. One motorcycle. Four towns. I wanted to go volcano boarding and waterfall rappelling, hike a few volcanoes, get drunk with locals, and drink as much Flor de Caña on the beach as possible.
I’ve never been the kind of traveler who uses online dating while on the road but I figured if nothing else this could be a spontaneous and interesting experience. Chris told me he had never been to Nicaragua before and was looking forward to exploring a small portion of the country with me during the four days he could get off from work.
Immediately I suggested volcano boarding in León – the only place in the world you can hop on a piece of plywood and coast down the side of the most active cinder cone volcano going between 30-80 kilometers an hour. If one of us could beat the record we’d win “free mojitos for life” as advertised by the tour company, or obviously, what I was more interested in – lifetime bragging rights.
Unfortunately, Chris wasn’t really into the idea. León was too far of a trip for him to make traveling via chicken buses when he only had four days of vacation time and chicken buses are notorious for breaking down and being hours late. But also, the whole “Hey, total stranger from OKCupid! Want to do one of the world’s most dangerous tourist activities with me?” approach wasn’t really his thing.
“I saw someone’s blog,” he told me over Facebook chat. “They got pretty fucked up from volcano boarding. Like, they were bleeding from their head. And someone died once.” No problem, I said. I’d go by myself as planned. We agreed to meet in the city of Granada the second week of my trip.
Granada, Nicaragua is a sleepy, colonial city with Mt. Masaya as the backdrop. I met Chris at a French inspired cafe by the town square. He matched his photos and was just as chill IRL as he was online, which is always a huge bonus when you’re meeting some random from the internet.
Although he wasn’t down to go volcano boarding, he was still up for something adventurous, so we agreed we’d go on a hike of Mt. Masaya later that night. When we approached one of the tour offices about going on a night hike they looked sort of confused. “You want to go to the gates of Hell…in the evening?” they asked.
The gates of Hell?
“Yes, it is an opening to Hell,” Carlos, our guide said, handing us gas masks to wear. “You want to do this? You want to go to Hell tonight?” Chris and I looked at each other.
“Sure,” Chris said.
As we put on our gas masks he told us the crater had been used as a place for human sacrifice for centuries and later on, as a place for satanic rituals. A cross had been erected 500 years ago to ward off evil spirits. He then grabbed our hands and said a prayer for us before we began the hike.
Carlos said there were just a few things to remember:
1. Wear your gas masks at all times.
2. Park your car backwards so in an emergency eruption you can attempt to speed away quickly.
3. If there happens to be a rock explosion just hide underneath the car and wait it out.
4. There are many places that are blocked off to the public (e.g. Echo Balcony Look Out – a landslide area that emits heavy, dangerous gas) but this is Nicaragua so really, you can go wherever you want.
As we began walking closer to the crater, and ultimately closer to the cross, vultures began hovering all around us.
“Do you feel that?” Chris asked me. “I just got the strongest feeling of dread and anxiety. I can almost sense the death all around me.”
I shrugged. I didn’t feel anything. Carlos sat on a rock as Chris and I wandered around but I kept noticing him whispering and kissing the rosary he had in his hands.
As we made our way around the crater Chris asked me if I wanted to go with him to one of the forbidden areas but I said no. Although I couldn’t “feel the death” around me, I also didn’t want to try fucking around with a volcano and piss off any lingering evil spirits. We agreed he’d be back in 20 minutes.
45 minutes later and Chris still wasn’t back. Carlos was becoming increasingly agitated and began asking me where my friend was. I didn’t know what to say. This was our first date and we chose a particularly strange setting to come together in. Would he come back or had he decided this was too weird and leave the site without saying anything? I wasn’t sure. Carlos continued to pray and hold his rosary tight.
After 20 more minutes Chris finally reappeared. Both Carlos and I were taken aback by his appearance. His clothes were noticeably wrinkled and dirty and his hair disheveled. He mumbled an apology under his breath and began walking towards our vehicle saying we needed to get going.
On the drive back to Granada Chris barely said two words in the car. When I asked him what was wrong or if something had happened he just kept saying everything was fine. “They were right,” he said, looking out the window. “But it’s okay. It’s okay. Everything will be fine.”
“Who was right?” I asked. But he never answered.
In Granada, amidst the bars and restaurants overflowing with people dancing and music playing, things almost seemed normal. But once we got out of the car Chris took off towards his hostel without saying anything. A few hours later I received a Facebook message from him saying it was nice to meet me but he had to go back to Costa Rica. When I asked him again what was wrong or what happened at Mt. Masaya he read it, but never responded. We haven’t talked since that night and I still have no idea what happened to him.
I haven’t gone on any other dates while in Nicaragua or Central America but I guess next time I sporadically decide to take an OK Cupid match to the gates of Hell, perhaps next time I won’t let them wander away by themselves.