Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ah, el volcan Pacaya!
Besides the run on Thursday, this would have to be my highlight, so far, in Guatemala. On Saturday, September 16th we traveled out to one of the 33 volcanoes in Guatemala. Antigua itself is surrounded by three of them. Chad, Gerie and I traveled with three other folks from our school (Clare, Jackie and Tom) plus another six people. We decided to do an afternoon ascent so that we would be on the volcano at night to better see the lava. We started our trip up around half past five with our very entertaining guide, Jose. The ascent began in the forest sharing a trail with other hikers and horses. I was very careful on my ascent to step around the horse puckey--don´t want to dirty my sneakers, you know. The ascent was a bit steep, but hey I´m from WA and we got some big mountains too, y´all. So it was a work out but I thought I was golden. The ascent was marked by stopping and admiring the scenery, the other nearby volcanoes, and the signage that detailed the types of flora and fauna. We broke out of the forest and were on a plain, with cows, looking at Pacaya´s flank. We could see lava and the smoky red glow at the top of the cone. Below us were several towns with their lights twinkling in the night. Wow, amazing, this is absolutely gorgeous I thought. Then I realized that we weren´t finished with our ascent. Yup, we´re going on up. OK, I´m game. We start up the flank and as we ascend the pumice rock gets finer and deeper until it is quite difficult to get a good foothold to continue up. There was a lot of pausing and decision-making on my part. On one hand, I couldn´t figure out how I was going to continue on without getting better footholds. On the other hand, I was almost there and realized I would regret turning around without reaching the top. I plodded on, literally plodding. I found a walking stick laying in the pumice, picked it up and plodded on. At one point the guides had strung a rope, I hooked on to it and pulled myself up until our trusty guide, Jose came looking for me. He hooked onto my arm and helped me up the rest of the way. Wow, I sure was happy I made the trip. There was a lava field at the top with glowing rocks all over the place. I took some obligatory pictures and walked a little further to another lava field. It was windy up top but warm--duh, on top of a volcano. We hung out at the top for quite a bit of time--surveying the lava field and looking down on the outlying towns that now looked so far away. But every dream must come to an end and what goes up, must come down. Ah, the descent. The ground had a similar texture to snow and the angle was similar to being on an intermediate ski slope. Oh, if there were some lava skis it would have been so easy to cut back and forth. Instead it was like descending a ski slope in your sneakers. I went down sideways, sliding and slipping along--what happened to all that plodding. The angle was steep enough that if you leaned a bit you were equal with the volcano side. I did lose my footing a couple of times but just kind of fell over on my ass. I did hit a rock the one time and still have a leg bruise to prove it. Once off the pumice it was an easy hike back through the woods. Until, of course, it started to rain. Was I surprised--no. It had rained every night that we had been in Guatemala, so far. Why would that night be different--just because I had to get off a volcano. And, since I´m from WA I had packed a rainjacket in my bag. And because I´m smart I had a flashlight. So I think I´m good to go. But my glasses soon were full of raindrops and steamed up from the humidity. So onward down the now muddy trail. And remember all that horse puckey I tried so hard to avoid on the way up, well I hardly cared at this point. What´s a little horse dung on the sneakers. I had a need to get to the bottom, get out of the rain, and celebrate my ascent and descent in my head. Well, the descent was taking a bit longer than I had liked and at one point I slipped on a rock and went down on the muddy, shitty trail. Yow, get me off this trail! OK, so it´s still raining, I´m muddy-shitty, my glasses are fogged up--what else? Oh yeah, my flashlight died. Thanks to Chad for returning to my and Gerie´s side at that point. He had been ahead and did come back to help us. So three of us on one flashlight on a slick trail, que divertido! Finally, my savior Jose came back up, grabbed my arm and guided me down the rest of the trail. Yes, I did leave Gerie and Chad behind. I figured they could take care of themselves. But yeah, when my salvation came, I was gone. No team-playing for this gal. But what an accomplishment, despite the bruises, the soaking wet clothes, and the issue of the mud and filth. I know I whine a lot but that doesn´t mean I didn´t have a good time. It was an amazing trip both in the beauty of the scenery and the personal physical accomplishment. Not something I´ll forget too soon.

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