This weekend was incredible. So much so that there is no way I can fit it all into one blog. I’ll just start with Saturday’s mission: climb an active volcano, Volcan Pecaya.
Saturday morning at 8am I went to the travel agency to meet up with my group for the day. I was pleasantly surprised to see my French buddy, Guillermo, the guide from my Lake Atitlan trip, there. I was happy to hear he would be my guide on this trip. There were three other GVI volunteers, an army man named Jimmy, and two parents and their daughter who is around my age, who were all in the group as well.
We took the 1 hr 15 min scenic drive to the volcano. Once we arrived in the park, kids were there instantly trying to sell us walking sticks and marshmallows. There were about three kids who jumped on the van as it was still in motion, just to get our business. I remember my friend Debra telling me that I most definitely want to have a walking stick for this hike. I let a little boy named Brian sell me one for 5 quetzals. Let me tell you now…these were the 5 best quetzals I’ve ever spent in my life.
We started going up and I found it instantly challenging. I was told the last hour was very intense and we should all try to save our energy for that. So after a little while of hiking, I jumped on a horse to take me to the more difficult part of the hike. I don’t regret this choice a single bit. At first I felt like I was wimping out, but this allowed me to relax a little and enjoy the scenery before the real hiking began.
Here I am on my horse Campion, which means Champion in English.
After a short relaxing journey on Campion, we arrived at the part where the hike stops being a pretty trail through some trees and becomes a steep climb up razor sharp volcanic rocks that refuses to stay under your feet. This is where the walking stick came in. Thank god for that thing! I never would have made it through without it.
As I watched the people walk up the volcano I seriously thought there is no way in hell I will make it all the way up there. The people near the top looked like tiny little dots from where we were. Guillermo told us that just a few weeks before the place where lava was flowing was not nearly as high, but since Pecaya is an active volcano it is constantly changing formation. If you look at the picture below and focus on those tiny people on the right side, you can kind of get an idea what I’m talking about.
So up and up we went. I took it one step at a time. At one point I looked down and got to see how far I had come which was an amazing feeling. Eventually we all made it to the top. And I wasn’t even the last one up!
The group was told that there was no way to know when there would be lava flowing, so we may see it or we may not. If I had hiked my ass all the way up there, and risked death about a thousand times, I was not going to be happy if there was no lava to be seen.
Luckily, the volcano rewarded me for my efforts and I got to have one of the most unique experiences of my life. As soon as I arrived at the top I instantly felt intense heat and knew that there must be lava doing its thing. Sure enough, there were two huge streams of it making its way down the volcano. It was seriously amazing.
I’ve never been one who was big into geology, but after seeing this it might just be a new interest. Since we were all pretty exhausted from the climb up, we hung out at the top for a long time, enjoying the view and roasting marshmallows on the lava. The whole thing was seriously incredible. Here is a narrated video of the lava flow. I apologize for the shakiness, but my hands were tired from gripping to that walking stick for dear life.
So after spending our time at the top, I was thinking the hard part was over. All we have to do now is go back down. Wrong. Going down was quite possibly twice as hard as going up. Again, the rocks did not stay below your feet, and we all pretty much slid our way down. That 5 quetzals walking stick really came in handy going down. It didn’t stop me from falling about a thousand times, but after a while I actually got pretty good at falling. I always landed on my butt instead of on my face. With the rocks I was dealing with, this was pretty much life saving.
After climbing down the volcanic rock, we stopped for a delicious lunch prepared by Guillermo. Right as we started to eat the clouds rolled in and we got completely soaked. Jimmy, the army guy and the only one who forgot to bring a raincoat, said they have a saying in the army, “Embrace the suck”. This basically means that when things suck, which they often do, just go with it and don’t fight it. You’ll be better off in the end. So we all “Embraced the suck” and made it the rest of the way down the volcano. We were soaking wet, but we all definitely had a blast.
I have seen many things in Guatemala that would for sure never be allowed in the US, and letting people climb this volcano would most definitely be one of them. However, I’m so glad that I’m in Guatemala and not the US, and had a chance to experience this amazing hike. I’m not really sure I’ll ever again be able to say, “I hiked a volcano and roasted some marshmallows on lava today.”