So it turns out I have an ugly competitive side.  I take that back, it does not “turn out” I have an ugly competitive side, I confess I have known about it for a long time and this weekend it has shown its teeth.

Saturday I climbed Cerro Negro.  A cinder cone volcano in Nicaragua which is not only famous for activity – it has erupted 23 times since 1850, most cinder cone volcanoes erupt only once (, but also it is famous for the popular tourist attraction, volcano boarding.

My boyfriend Joey has been vacationing here in Nicaragua while I work as a Kiva Fellow, this was his last weekend before heading back to work in the states. To make the last weekend special we chose racing down the side of an active volcano.

After a hot switch back hike to the top and a bit of volcano history from our guide, all 25 tourists suited up in solid orange and blue one piece suits, goggles strapped across foreheads, wooden sleds at our side, and listened eagerly to the instructions.

Two at a time – the group would pair off and start down the hill. Two at a time means you are racing the other person.  Right?

Joey and I are up. “Remember to hold your hands like this” the guide said, “and sit like this, slow down by moving your feet this way…” she gave us both the spiel and the countdown, I moved my goggles from my forehead to ready position, we picked up our feet, and FLEW!

I remember trying to glance over once. When I couldn’t see Joey I just knew it was because he was so far ahead!  I realized with good posture I could balance wonderfully and was picking up speed. Tiny volcanic rocks ricocheted in every direction. My giant blue one piece jumpsuit opened up from the legs like a parachute exposing my legs to the volcanic stones.


The camera fell sideways in Joey’s netted pocket as he raced down the hill.

As the crowd at the bottom of Cerro Negro grew closer, it occurred to me that I might barrel through all of them.  Trying to tap my heels into the volcanic rubble to slow down killed my balance, and as I reached the finish I flew off the sled rolling/bouncing/skidding through the rocks to a stop. Unaffected I sat up, tore off my goggles, and yelled, “Did I beat him!?” Looking up I realized my assumption had been wrong, Joey was not ahead, he was still coming down the hill!  My arms flew up with fists tight, victory position assumed, “I KILLED HIM!”

Classy Monica.

“I have to tell you, I have never seen anything like it,” the guide said while we loaded up the trucks to go, she was smiling and shaking her head, “you just took off.”

So competition gets the best of me once again. It is like The Mask starring Jim Carey; it flies in, takes over my body, and creates a monster! This time it left me with a boyfriend sick of my wide boastful grin, a plethora of burning scrapes on both of my arms, a right leg gashed up and raw with a soft accenting hue of black and blue underneath, and still picking tiny black volcanic cinder stones out of my hair 3 days later.

I think (hope) there are others of you that may be able to relate.  You also find yourself pushing further or harder than necessary, often at the risk of looking crazy to bystanders.

But here is the thing, I am going to admit it, occasionally I like this sort of neurotic side to myself.  In fact I might say I welcome it. Sometimes. Because, sometimes the competition is internal and it challenges me to take advantage of this life; the sure luck of being born and raised where I was, the people who mentored me, the wealth of opportunity.  Somewhere along the way I knew I needed to spread this good fortune, and work hard to be a benefit to others around me.

It also keeps me open minded, brave, and it stifles the inherent fright of taking risks. For example, sometimes it gives me the courage to leave my job and salary behind in California for 3 months to take a chance on microfinance and the communities of the developing world.

Thank you, Kiva.  You have given me a positive outlet for this potentially debilitating personality trait.


Video and narration by Kiva Fellow Bryan Goldfinger. If you listen closely, put your ear right to the computer and you will hear it, I throw my hands in the air, look up to the hill, “I killed him!”

Monica Hamlett is a part of the tenth class of Kiva Fellows.  Her placement is in Nicaragua with La Asociacion Alternativa para el Desarrollo Integral de las Mujeres (ADIM).  Make her day by joining the lending team, Friends of ADIM.

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