Piste with a difference: Dom sets off down the Cerro Negro volcano  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1237282/Now-thats-I-black-run-Dom-Joly-skis-volcano-Nicaragua.html#ixzz0aLprBOb6 'Like a lost world': Smoke billows from the crater of Concepcion  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1237282/Now-thats-I-black-run-Dom-Joly-skis-volcano-Nicaragua.html#ixzz0aLq3yLXR Colonial charm: A square in the vibrant city of Leon  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1237282/Now-thats-I-black-run-Dom-Joly-skis-volcano-Nicaragua.html#ixzz0aLqHYAFg Unspoilt beauty: Women and child wash clothes in Lake Nicaragua with Volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas in the background  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1237282/Now-thats-I-black-run-Dom-Joly-skis-volcano-Nicaragua.html#ixzz0aLqN6gSp Safely down: Taking a well-earned break after a mammoth ski down  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1237282/Now-thats-I-black-run-Dom-Joly-skis-volcano-Nicaragua.html#ixzz0aLqVNsYD Going ape: Dom saw spider monkeys on the slopes of the volcano  Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1237282/Now-thats-I-black-run-Dom-Joly-skis-volcano-Nicaragua.html#ixzz0aLqdXkVm

When Dom Joly got a call from his agent he never dreamed it would lead to this ... skiing down a volcano in Nicaragua.

Do you want to go film something in Nicaragua? My agent was a little fuzzy-sounding on the phone and I couldn't really hear her that well. I was out walking in the Cotswolds - but in a 'dead zone' for mobiles and was just managing to retain a trace of signal by being perched halfway up an old willow tree hanging over the River Coln.

'Sure - sounds like fun...' Then I was cut off and at the same time I half-fell out of the tree.

Looking back, this was probably a sign but I ignored it. I continued on my long, contemplative walk alongside my dogs, Oscar and Huxley. Huxley looked troubled. He worries a lot and he's a very wise old dog. He growled something that definitely sounded like: 'Nicaragua? Sounds dodgy. Did you ask her what you were going to be doing out there?'

I ignored him but he was right. I hadn't got a clue and I knew from bitter experience never to accept random TV travel shows without reading the small print. I emailed my agent the moment I got back home but it was too late - she'd already accepted and I was committed. I asked her to get me a schedule of what we would be doing. It arrived half an hour later.

Day One: Look round Nicaragua's capital, Managua. So far so good. Day Two: Visit old capital of Leon. This is great. Day Three: Climb volcano. Uh-oh!

I stopped reading and started to panic. I'm not the fittest man in the world and tend to avoid all forms of physical exercise apart from my daily dog walk. The phone rang. It was the show's director - this lot didn't hang about.

'We're so excited that you're going to be doing this - we've found another really fun thing for you to do. Can you snowboard? It's just that there's this volcano and you can board down it on the ashes and we thought that it would make really good telly...'

This was getting a lot worse. Luckily I had my failsafe escape clause. 'No, I'm afraid that I can't snowboard, let alone ashboard. I'm a skier, always have been.'

'No problem,' said the unstoppable director. 'We'll ship some skis and boots out. What size are you? This is going to be great!'

So, two weeks later, there I was in the quite unbelievably hot customs shed in central Managua trying to negotiate the pick-up of said skis and boots. Opposing me were about a hundred different officials who all needed forms signed and palms greased.

My skis were, apparently, the very first pair ever to be imported into the country and the customs officers were sure that this was some elaborate Gringo cocaine smuggling scam. (The term Gringo, by the way, comes from old Mexico. When America invaded in the early 19th Century, they wore green uniforms and angry locals used to write 'green go home' on the walls everywhere - interesting fact, no?) But I digress.

It had been difficult enough even to find the customs shed. Managua, it turns out, is a city where the streets have no name. Everything is referenced from a tree in the rough centre of the city. So you're given directions like 'it's two blocks towards the lake from the tree and then three blocks up, and then five blocks towards the hills...'

To make matters even more complicated, someone in a huge truck knocked the tree over about 20 years ago, so Managuans then had to take their directions 'from where the tree used to be' but this got too confusing, even for them, so now they've planted a new one.

Nicaragua's that kind of country - unique and distinctive. It sits astride a major earthquake fault, is riddled with live volcanoes and crippled by a history of political unrest, so it's not had the easiest of rides.

Things, however, are finally looking up and this beautiful country is starting to become a hot new tourist destination boasting wonderful, unspoilt old cities such as Leon and Granada and a fabulous coast that has, so far, only really been discovered by surfers.

Managua itself is not the best that the country has to offer. A huge earthquake devastated most of the capital two days before Christmas in 1972 and it has never really recovered. After a cursory tour of the city - and finally managing to get my skis - we headed off to the former capital of Leon and my first volcano adventure.

Leon is a gorgeous old university city, bustling with life and atmosphere. It is the traditional centre of support for Nicaragua's anti-US revolutionaries - the Sandinistas - and so boasted an impressive number of anti-George Bush murals on the walls around the old cathedral, which is the largest in Latin America.

Sadly, we weren't here for the revolutionary art work or carousing in the many vibrant bars packed with students and wonderful live music. There was my first volcano to climb - and then ski down.

I slept fitfully, dreaming of emergency wards and spiders.

Next morning, after a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto - rice and beans, the local staple that is very difficult to avoid - we headed off to the ominous-looking Cerro Negro, whose smoking black hulk was visible from my hotel window. It is the youngest and most active of all Nicaragua's volcanoes and had erupted so recently that, unlike all the others, it hadn't even had time to allow any greenery to grow on it.

It just looked mean, like a big school bully waiting to give me a good kicking and steal all my lunch money. With my skis on my back, I set off on the hour-and-a-half climb to the summit of the bully.

It wasn't too bad a climb and I started to feel a little cocky as I cleared the top of the jagged lava flow and reached a long ridge that would eventually take us to my 'departure point', as my guide insisted on calling it.

Soon I was looking down a 50-degree slope made up entirely of little sharp black rocks. To me, 'ash' conjures up an image of sand-like soft stuff - something must have been lost in translation.

As I contemplated the descent and the cameras started to set up, sensing blood, we were joined by two 'boarders' from Leon. The boards in question were not snowboards - more metal toboggans - and the astonished looks they gave me and my skis made me realise that I was in big trouble.

But it was too late. The cameras were ready and I was a professional - except I wasn't.

I looked down the black slope and had a moment of complete panic. I'd seen this scene before somewhere on something called When TV Goes Wrong! I knew that I really shouldn't do any more thinking and I turned my skis to face the slope.

I started to move - just - slipped down about ten foot and then the skis stuck fast on the rocky ground and I went head over heels, cutting up my face as I planted it hard into the sharp little rocks.

Then I felt the whole slope starting to slip downwards - an ash avalanche! Did these even exist? I stuck my skis hard into the moving shale and managed to stop my descent.

So there I was, stuck hard on the slopes of a live Nicaraguan volcano in full ski gear while the cameras rolled. I really should have listened to my dog.

It was clear that there was no way you could ski down this thing and I managed to get this salient fact over to the director along with quite a few choice expletives regarding his 'research'. The guide managed to get down to me and we got my skis off and he gave me one of the toboggans that we should have used in the first place.

I gingerly tried to launch myself down the slope on this new vehicle, hoping to recover some credibility on camera. Sadly I kicked it too hard and the footboard came flying off, which made the front of the thing bury itself into the stones and come to another embarrassing halt.

As this was happening, several boarders zoomed past me whooping loudly in a 'no fear' kind of way and I realised that any plans to attend the Baftas with this particular programme were going to have to be shelved.

Eventually, I managed to roll and stumble down to the bottom of this nightmarish lunarscape and headed off, bleeding and bruised, to find our vehicle. This had not been my finest hour.

The director was very happy - he knew he had some comedy gold in the can. He tried to console me, saying: 'Don't worry, we're off to a lovely island called Ometepe next. It's got two huge, proper, volcanoes on it and we're going to climb one of them after spending the night in an old coffee finca that was seized from the old dictator Samoza and given to a worker's collective.'

This sounded like hell to me as I felt that I really deserved a bit of five-star pampering after my ordeal but, sadly, TV waits for no man.

We took an old ferry over to Ometepe. It is a staggeringly beautiful island sitting in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the huge inland sea that dominates the map of the country. From a distance, it looked as if we were approaching a lost world. The two huge peaks of the volcanoes - Maderas and Concepcion - were shrouded in ever-changing cloud and a dense forest covered the whole island.

After a bone-shaking car journey, we arrived at our finca. It was worse than I imagined - a veritable hippy backpacker hang-out with little brick chambers for bedrooms. This did, however, have the advantage of making our 6am morning call more bearable. I was thrilled to leave my insectridden prison cell and get going.

We were heading for Maderas, a proper volcano - all 4,500ft of it - complete with cloud forest. It would take us five hours to climb and confidence was high.

After the obligatory plate of Gallo Pinto and two cups of phenomenal coffee, I set off through the fields, the early-morning mist seeming to lap around my virgin walking boots. All went well for the first mile or so. I was cracking jokes to the camera crew and spotting spider monkeys - I felt good, I was an explorer snapping at Michael Palin's heels.

Then I hit the wall. Actually, it felt like the wall hit me. The problem was that we were climbing a very steep path under the canopy of the cloud forest so I had no concept of how far I'd come or how far there was still to go.

I started to take longer and longer stops before climbing for another five minutes or so. I'd seen this sort of thing before on telly - with someone like Ben Fogle urging people on 'life-changing' charity trips to make that final effort.

This, however, wasn't for charity and wasn't really life-changing. It was just bloody knackering and I wanted to give up and head back down to the gorgeous comforts of the finca that had seemed such a dump a couple of hours before. I couldn't give up, though. I'd failed at the skiing task and if I didn't climb this thing they might not pay me.

I had a new incentive - cold, hard cash - so I dug deep and set off again, for at least another hundred yards before stopping for another rest. In the end, I made it to the top in seven hours. There wasn't even a great summit photo as it was covered in thick foliage.

There was a reward, however. We clambered down into the thick green crater in which lay a beautiful, untouched lake. I dived in and all the blood, sweat and tears of the last couple of days were washed away as I lay floating in the centre of these magical surroundings. It was one of those extraordinary moments that epitomises what travelling is all about.

'Cut,' shouted the director. 'That's a wrap, Dom, great work! Now we've got to get out of here and back down before sunset. A couple of trekkers died up here after getting lost at night...'

He smiled at me in an encouraging way as I lifted my shattered frame out of the soothing volcanic waters.

On our way home, we stopped in Leon again and I handed over my skis and boots to the owner of our lovely hotel there, Los Balcones. They now have pride of place hanging behind reception, the only pair of skis in Nicaragua. Sounds like a travel book in the offing...

Travel Facts

Steppes Latin America offers tailor-made tours of Nicaragua. A 15-day holiday costs from £2,490 per person including return flights, BB and excursions (www.steppessouth america.co.uk, 01285 885333). Other operators worth checking include Last Frontiers (01296 653000, www.last frontiers.com) and Audley Travel (01993 838000, www.audleytravel.com).