Sunday, January 3, 2010

Vulcan Pacaya and Chichicastenango, Guatemala

I've been looking forward to getting up close and personal with flowing lava as one of the highlights of our four-month adventure, and Vulcan Pacaya did not disappoint!  After a cramped hour-and-a-half van ride from Antigua, we arrived at the base of the volcano.  Hopping out of the van, we were swarmed by little boys with armloads of walking sticks, "Stick for you?  Stick for you?".

I'd read that the hike up Pacaya is challenging, but we were both still surprised when our guide led us up steep inclines for the first half hour at a sprinting pace, and we were immediately winded and already much longer?  The guides are clearly in cahoots with the guys following hikers with horses, trying to get us to pay to take a rest and ride a horse up.  We were determined to get our workout without the horses.  The landscape changed from green fields under a grey sky, to green shrubs in the middle of clouds, and then suddenly to a vast horizon of loose, coarse dark grey pebbles.  Off in the distance, we could see another volcano that was erupting steam into the sky.

Trekking through a cold drizzle, the pebbles underfoot gradually changed to sharp pointy rocks, and then we started passing what looked like cooled lava flows- the rock had liquid shapes but was sharp to the touch and sounded hollow when we stomped on it.   Suddenly, the air around us grew warm.  We were several hundred  yards from the top and yet the rocks around us were definitely giving off heat, which was much appreciated since it was really windy and cold!  Coming over the last rise, the sight of bright orange glowing lava was breathtaking, a surprising sight even though it was what we'd been working toward for the past hour and a half.  So cool!  We were able to get within feet of the lava flow, careful not to let the wind blow us into it, and worried about the soles of our sneakers melting to the hot rocks.  There's no way you'd ever be able to get this close to a live eruption in the U.S.- thank you Central America and your lack of safety rules!

By the time we started down, it was past 6pm and rapidly getting darker.  It was pitch black before we made it to the bottom of the ash flow and back onto green earth, with still an hour of hiking ahead of us.  We'd brought a headlamp and a flashlight but most hikers were headed down through the darkness.  At this point we were thankful for the literally hundreds of other hikers coming down the mountain with us, since it didn't seem like the smartest idea to be trekking through parts unknown in the dark and vulnerable.

We spent the next day at the Sunday market in Chichicastenango, a small mountain village northwest of Antigua.  Mohit loved that he was at least a full head taller than all the locals, and he was also in heaven selecting from the street food options for lunch.  We bought a few small things that we'll ship home when we pass through Dallas on our way to Hong Kong next week.  We made friends with two Swiss girls, a French couple, and an Argentine couple riding our bus on the way back, and got some great recommendations for our next stops.  Tonight we're chilling at a rooftop cafe, enjoying grilled vegetable sandwiches and a yummy brownie with cinnamon-sprinkled ice cream and plotting the rest of the week.  We just watched a volcano erupt off in the distance, a spurt of red up into the air and then a gradually dimming stream of orange down the side of the volcano.  This wasn't even Pacaya, someone just told us there are something like 30+ active volcanoes in Guatemala.  Pretty cool scenery to top off a fun few days!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fabulous. You'll be so glad to have a journal of it too. I love the detail!