Let me tell you about the time I climbed a volcano. The kids had a short vacation from school so I thought I might as well hop on a bus and see what adventure I could find. I thought I could catch some sleep on the bus out to Guatemala City since it was an all night ride, but that wasn’t exactly the case. Since seat belts are nonexistent in most vehicles in Guatemala and the roads are long and windy you spend most of your time fighting gravity as to not go flying into your bus seat buddy. But while a night bus doesn’t encourage a good nights sleep, it does give you a good ab workout. But sleeping didn’t seem too important in the moment because there was an awesome lightning storm flashing outside my window for the bus ride. So I decided to plug in my music and watch out my window.
I must have drifted off at some point because I woke up to a 5am sun creeping over Guatemala City. From Guatemala City I caught a chicken bus to Antigua. When I got on the brightly colored bus I was the only one. I was very surprised when, after just a few short minutes of waiting, we took off. From what I have heard about chicken bus they are overcrowded and you can sometimes share a seat with not only two other people, but a live chicken too. So when the bus I got on calmly drove off with just me I was really rather confused. But as the morning went on and the bus attendant hung out the door of the bus yelling “Antigua!” more and more people got on. After some time I looked behind me to find three people to a seat and people overflowing into the aisle. I was sharing my seat with my big backpack and two other people; lucky for me they were very small so I only had to half sit on my backpack for the ride. This seemed to be more like the chicken bus experience I had been expecting. The ride to Antigua was exciting and actually rather short. But I was pretty exhausted when I finally got to my hostel in Antigua.
The following day a crew of 16 other people and myself woke up early to get a head start on climbing the volcano. We climbed Volcán Acatenango. It was a straight up hill trek, but gorgeous through a rainforest high in the clouds.
When you looked out through the trees you just saw the white of the clouds. It was quite eerie actually like you were in another world or something. As we got closer we heard a loud boom and all looked around until our guide told us that it was Fuego erupting. Fuego is the second most active volcano in the world. It was pretty awesome to witness it erupting.
When we got to base camp it was pretty windy and cold so we all huddled around a fire and told stories about our travels and where we had come from. The day passed quickly because we all went to bed early seeing as we would be getting up at 3:40am the next morning to summit Acatenango to watch the sunrise. Throughout my very deep sleeping I would wake up and hear a big boom and as I popped my head out of the tent I could see Fuego light up with red and orange as lava spewed from its rim and flowed down its sides. We were closer to an erupting volcano than I ever thought I would be, but still far enough away where we could enjoy its power without the accompanying lava burns.
While the summit was only about 400m, it took us at least an hour, just to give perspective to how steep it was. I kept thinking how is it that I can run a 400m in less than a minute and now it takes over an hour. But after hiking up to the summit I figured 40% less oxygen, altitude and steep inclined trails do negatively influence your 400m time.
Nonetheless when we got to the summit everything was surreal. The sun came up at our level and lit everything up above the clouds. It looked like a sea of white clouds below us. When the fog cleared you could see forever in all directions. From our spot on Acatenango we could see the Pacific Ocean, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala City, and even Mexico.
It was something unreal. As the sun lit up the sky you could turn your back to it and see your shadow reflected in the fog. The sun would hit your frame in a such a way as to make a rainbow halo around your shadow form. I don’t have any idea how this is possible, but I have poor photographic evidence that I wasn’t just oxygen deprived and hallucinating.
While it was gorgeous and I felt as if I could spend forever up there watching the world below me, my fingers did lose feeling along with my nose and so we headed back down to camp to seek out the fire and some hot tea. Just as we turned to head back Fuego, which was now level with us since we were looking at it from the summit, let out a huge burst of gases and lava as a final going away gift to us. The 400m down from the summit was more like the 400m I’m used to since we ran down it, or rather surfed down loose volcanic sand and rock.
I will definitely accidentally be bringing some Guatemalan volcanic dirt back to the States with me in my hiking shoes, but how else am I going to convince people I climbed a volcano and slept on it?