Volcan Pacaya

Being told the prices of things in other countries is a little like constantly having to adjust a barometer. Price equates to value, and so by adjusting to the countries price systems, I gain a better understanding of the country, its resources and/or direction. I might not put such a high value on Pizza Hut, but Guatemala apparently does.

So last week when Mari and I were told of a $5 volcano hike, not only was the bar not raised, we didn’t even pick it up. But the guide told us it would take 5-6 hours, so we thought if nothing else we’d get some exercise and save a little on the day doing it.

Our first inkling that we were going to get our money’s worth was when our bus stopped at the foot of the volcano, and 2 men got on the bus to try to sell us walking sticks. The French people beside me purchased them, which did nothing to persuade me of its need. As we got off the bus, a dozen horses met us and were being offered as taxis up the mountain. Mari and I said no. Instead, we lined up behind our guide, a man who looked to be in his late fifties and topping out at about 5 feet. In Spanish he told the group to go at our own pace, take rests if we need it, and to walk carefully. Then he turned around and sped off up the mountain. We followed suit, racing up the hill, at a pace too fast to take in our surroundings. Instead, I concentrated on 3 things: not slipping on the thousands of Pumice stones lining the path, trying to catch my breath, and not falling to the very back and becoming “that guy.”

About an hour into the hike, a Spanish mother of 2 overtook me for the final time catching up to her daughter as she ran up the hill back and forth on the trail because the hike in itself didn’t offer enough of a challenge to her youth. Behind me was an American, one of the few people having a more difficult time than me, in full Under Armour outfit, sweating ridiculously. A European boy near me constantly asked his dad if he could get off his horse taxi and walk the path. I almost asked the dad if I could have his son’s horse ride if he didn’t want it. Mari overheard near the back of the group an American accent say, “I’m already walking as fast as I possibly can!” 2 hours in and the French couple with the walking sticks passed in front of me. Damn.

Every once in awhile I would turn to Mari to see how she was faring. The length of the hike seemed inversely proportionate to the length of her answers and the fairness of her face. Near the top of the volcano, Red Mari made an appearance and was only answering that she was OK by nodding her head.
Eventually though, our ascension up the mountain turned into an even-leveled hike as the terrain turned to a volcanic black sand with sharp rocks jutting out. The fog rolled thick here, giving an other-worldy sense to all the fast-walking Euros, Mari and myself.

Finally, we got to a steep hill entirely made up of loose volcanic rock. And to our right was a slow flowing river of lava. There was no guard, no fenced off area, no rules besides those of common sense. So, people made their way to the lava, scrambling in every direction. Some ran up the hill sending mini-landslides of loose rocks on others, some went directly across to the lava eventually standing on recently cooled magma, red hot lava still visible through cracks a couple of feet below where they stood. Above me I heard an American yell “dude, it’s so hot…it’s so hot!” as he ran back from the lava sending rocks flying down the hill. His walking stick was on fire, a foot from the lava where he had just been.

My barometer had me sensing that this is so cool, and would NEVER be allowed in the United States.

Posted: April 1st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Guatemala | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »