OK well let me start by saying, you should never underestimate a volcano. I’m being very serious here. It all started when last night I had a few of the local brews. First a couple of Gallo’s then a few Brahva’s. Then this morning I had a rather fruitful but intense español class. I was ok but not great.
So after I raced around trying to book my trip to Tikal in the far north of the country (not cheap thats for sure, but the Guatemalan government knows tourists will pay a lot to go see it), I waited for the bus to come collect me and 4 fellow students from the school to go to Volcan Pacaya. Its not visible from Antigua, but only 1 1/2 hours drive away.
Now I was told to bring a jacket because its cold and a torch in case it gets dark. Seems a reasonable thing to ask. So the bus started climbing the base of the volcano, it was clearly active, as plenty of smoke was pouring out from the top. All of a sudden we stopped at a little shop. Cool kids selling torches and sticks. I asked what the stick is for. The kid responded to help you climb (well he said it in español, but I know the word ayudar to help and subir to climb).
I thought there wasn’t much climbing. This is the easy volcano, all the travel agents said. I was going to wow you with my photos and not tell you we drove right up…. Well truth is I had a short 4km walk….. Uphill……. A steep hill…… For 2 hours. I think you get the hint by now this was going to be tough. After an hour I couldn’t go no more. I said I need to stop. My legs were killing, my back was killing. This was really tough stuff. Most of the others in the group looked dead. An enterprising young boy came out of the bushes and he said “cien por burro”. Now he wanted Q100 or $12 for me to use the horse/donkey. No problemo, I was on the horse so quick. Did I mention I have never rode a horse? well its not as hard as an elephant.
I got to the top well the top of the jungle. I had to walk onto the lava field to see the lava. Its sharp and crumbleseasily enough under foot. At first i thought this is pretty cool. Then just over a ridge was a stream of molten lava, in fact as it moves slower than me walking up a hill I stood in front of it and got a photo taken.
Then i crossed another ridge to see the lava oozing out of the volcano. It was bloody hot. The jacket was not necessary here thats for sure. I’m not sure if any safety regulations were followed. Again travel to third world countries you have to take minor chances to fully appreciate it or you can book an expensive hotel and spend evenings with the ambassador ala the DFAT way of traveling overseas.
Well as amazing as this was to experience, I was alarmed to notice my camera shutter speed getting slow. Meaning less light meaning sunset. Aaah the torches are definitely needed. In fact the descent was in pitch black of night. I was not helped by some american lady called Barbara screaming and falling off her horse in front of me. Oh please note I walked the 2 hours down….
Anyway back in the hotel and its 9pm. A long and tiresome little trip well worth the effort. Like my white water rafting expedition in Africa, not one i’m likely to do again although there appears to be some spectacular looking into the crater volcanos later on in the trip. So who knows. Walking around cobbled streets for 3 or so hours a day has got to be good for me. Hopefully by the jungles of Costa Rica i’ll be fitter than now.
Oh for the history buffs, Tikal will be this weekend. Should be some stunning scenery, followed by some peaceful days on Lake Atitlan (more volcanoes lakes and scenery) before heading south.