Monday, August 19, 2013

My First Volcano Hike: Pacaya

Thursday, we had a day off of school because of a Guatemalan holiday.  So naturally, a few of us decided we should go on an adventure—preferably hiking.  There’s a volcano (well, there are several) about an hour’s drive from Guate.  So we spread the word, and sure enough, plenty of people were interested.  We talked to Annette, one of the new teachers who has been working in Guatemala for the past 3 years with an organization called Young Life, and she just so happened to have a contact for a driver and a guide for us.  The driver had a 15 passenger van and charged $125 for the day.  We easily came up with 12 people who were interested in going, and we made it happen.    Talk about a reasonable price!  And when Annette told me the guide’s fee for taking us up the volcano—the equivalent of $12 US, my first question was, “Per person, right?”  No.  For the whole group.  We tipped a little more, because isn’t a 4 hour hike with 12 people worth a bit more than $12? 

The whole trip came together really smoothly and easily.  We left our homes at around 8:30am and got out of the city.  Our guide, Fredy, didn’t speak much English, but there were enough of us on the trip who understand that we could translate for the others. 

The hike started in the forest, with plenty of stops at look-out points affording us fantastic views of the surrounding countryside.  Fredy pointed out various types of trees and points of interest along the way. 

Then we came to the summit, where dirt and grass gave way to rocks and ash.  We were now walking on the area which had been covered with lava in the 2005 eruption. 

We traversed the rocky area on the loose gravel, stopping to spell out “CAG 13” with larger rocks, and then stopping at a steam vent to roast marshmallows.  It wasn’t hot enough right there to catch them on fire, but they did get nice and soft and delicious.  We were pretty excited about our marshmallow roasting experiment. 

As we walked along, we heard a rumble and turned toward the crater to see it spewing rocks out its top!  It was possibly one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my lifetime, knowing that we were that close to an active volcano, and it was active enough to puff rocks and smoke.  (We later found out that a few hours after we left, Pacaya erupted, spewing red-hot lava.  32 people were evacuated.) 

As the clouds rolled in, we walked into the mist along a ridge, then came to the “skiing” part of the trail.  There, the path became very steep, and covered in loose dirt and gravel.  We sort or ran/slid down the hill.  No one lost their footing or fell, and we all came to the bottom and had to empty out our shoes.  Being in the middle of the cloud during the experience added another dimension, because all we could really see was the path in front of us. 

After we bid Fredy good-bye at the bottom of the mountain, we finished the day at the Santa Teresita Spa for a good meal and then swimming in the thermal hot springs.  It was relaxing and just what we needed after a good hike! 

Tired but refreshed…ready for another day at school!  

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