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Monday, December 17, 2007

Volcan Pacayo

While in Antigua we heard from some people that you could take a trip to the top of one of the volcanos that were near the city. It sounded like it would be quite an experience, and why there at our little hotel there was a little sign, with photos of the hike and the lava from the volcano. Wow! Sounds good. We made arrangements and were sure to be back at the hotel at 2:00 to meet the bus that would take us there. We were there on time, and were the first people to be picked up. Unfortunately, the bus driver had other people to pick up...and couldn´t find one hotel...and so we drove around the city for an hour before we even made our way to the volcano.

Instead of it being one of the three right near Antigua, however, it was one near Guatemala City, about an hour away. On the left is a photo of Guatemala City, as we were driving higher and higher up into the mountains.

So, after quite a while of driving we finally arrived at a National Park, high up on the side of the volcano. We all got out and met the guide from the park that would escort us to the top. Horses were there, available to rent, which they continually reminded us of while we were struggling up the trail. Because we got such a late start, we had to hurry, with just a few stops to rest. Needless to say, we were quite exhausted on the extremely steep trail.

The photo on the left is another view back over the mountains and to Guatemala City in the far distance below. Even at this height, there were fields of the ever-present corn, which had already been harvested.

At each stop for a rest, the small boys that were right behind us, on their horses, kept singing out, ¨Horses es possible, horses es possible, 3 kilometers more, horses es possible¨ Of course that was terribly encouraging while you´re sweating, chuffing, and trying to miss the horse droppings all along the trail.

After hiking a bit more, we got a clear view of the lake that you can see in the picture on the right. The vistas were absolutely amazing. As you can see, as it got later the clouds started getting thicker and more ominous.

Our guide kept encouraging us to press on quickly, apologizing again for having to hurry, that normally we could take more time, but not now, since we were late and had to get to the summit for sunset.

After some time we did finally reach the summit, and looking towards the west, this is what we saw, in the photo on the left. A picture just can´t do it justice, with the dark mountains and the dark clouds rolling in. The clouds obscured the volcano, which was to our left as we reached the summit of the mountain we´d been climbing.

By this time, the boys with the horses had disappeared, and we were in an area with pine trees and it was also much colder than it had been. Of course, with a little rest we were cold from the wind, and we were all of course quite sweaty from the climb.

Through the pine trees, we´d occasionally get a glimpse of the lava when the clouds were thin. We weren´t quite sure of what was going to happen next, since there wasn´t much communication, either in English or Spanish. There were streams of people who´d arrived earlier (on time) who were now climbing back up to where we were waiting. They were all visibly excited and shouted ¨just a little bit more¨to us as they passed.

After everyone had gathered and rested a bit, we then started to descend towards the volcano´s lava floes. The closer we got to the trough between the mountain and volcano, the better we could see the volcano itself.

If you click on the picture to the right, you´ll see the people down below, picking their way through the dried lava. It was quite slippery on this slope (as many are!) since now the dirt below our feet was virtually all volcanic. It was very light and crumbly, almost like kicking your way through fine snow. We all slid a little bit, and would periodically just stop walking and just slide for a few feet down the hill.

Once we´d reached the bottom, we started to ascend the volcano itself. The good news was that the drived lava floes were very sharp and rough, so our shoes had a lot of traction. The bad news was that the lava was very sharp and rough, so our hands, elbows, knees and head wouldn´t stand a chance of being safe.

As you can see from the picture above (Susan on the left, Marianne in the center) it was getting increasingly darker as we went on. The flowing lava above cast a red glow across the clouds, which the camera didn´t pick up very well. The closer we got, the louder the volcano became, as well. It was a dull roar at times, and at others we could hear the sound of rolling boulders, not dense, deep thuds, but rather almost like chalk on a chalkboard, a grinding sound along with the thuds.

The lava we were hiking over was at times disconcertingly warm. Hot you could call it...and at times alarmingly so. At one point we walked past this:

The two pictures are taken at the exact same point, looking down (no feet included for perspective) at this dinner-plate sized hole, where you could see the lava still red-hot below. The one on the left is with the flash, and the one on the right without.

We were certainly getting closer and closer to the source!

This was as far as we climbed. Everyone stopped and we took pictures...and all the while we could hear the volcano much louder than ever. Every now and then, we´d see the floes moving rapidly, and occasionally large red-hot boulders would come tumbing down.

It was at this time that everyone decided we´d had quite enough and we returned to the park entrance. Not everyone had flashlights, so we proceeded very carefully, taking as long to walk back down as it did to walk up. Needless to say, we were quite excited by the hike, and were quite sore for a couple of days!

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