macado's se asia adventure I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

5Jan/100

Hiking Pacaya Volcano: Chicken buses & melted running shoes

I booked an afternoon 2PM hike for 9USD to go to Mount Pacaya. 9USD supposedly includes a guide and all transportation to and from the volcano. The bus which was supposed to be a collectivo (shuttle bus) ended up being an old US school bus also known in Central America more commonly as a chicken bus. Central American seems like a place where old yellow US school buses go to die and live out the rest of their miserable existance.

For 9USD the tour was pretty much what I had expected. The guides themselve spoke absolutely no English and carried no emergencies supplies or previsions however I was thankfully able to understand about 3/4 of what they had said. I will say this if you're not at least reasonably in shape you would not have a very good time on this hike. It's not exactly a walk in the park. I would imagine you can probably pay a bit more money for a proper tour with English speaking guides. There are many companies that offered overnight hikes and camping as well.

The bus ride to Pacaya took about 2 hours and the entrance fee to the Volcano Pacaya cost 40 queztales (5 USD). We didnt end up leaving Antigua until 2:45pm so essentially the bus departed on time if I were judging by Guatemalan time. Started hiking up the mountain around 4:45pm. You can "rent" walking sticks for 5 queztales (~65 cents). I hiked with a couple Brits at the front of the group because we wanted to make it up the mountain before sunset. The hike itself is only about 5KM however what starts as a very easy and well maintained trail with beatuful views of Guatemala City below quickly escalates to loose volcanic ashe where you can quickly lose your footing and finally to the point where you're hiking over solidified lava that is as razor sharp as broken glass. It definitely would not be a good idea to fall up here; you would end up with some very nasty cuts and bruises or worse.

We made finally made it up to the summit or rather where we could see lava pouring out of the side of the volcano right around sunset. I could only stand about 4ft near the lava before the intense heat overwhelmed me and practically scorched my eye brow off. The hike took about an hour and a half to two hours. The rest of the group was extremely far behind so we had almost an hour up top to kill time before the rest of the group finally caught up. I guess the tradition up here is to roast marshmellows on the lava so we decided to partake however we took this a step further and decided to make smores. Sadly, I didnt get any pictures of this part.
It was an extremely interesting sensation standing next to an active volcano and being on the top of the mountain. Like most mountains, the weather is very turbulent and unpredictable. It was very windy and cold however standing next to lava however negated the cold part. At some points if you didnt have proper footing the wind could have easily knocked you over.

When the rest of the group finally reached the summit we started our descent just as a massive fog rolled in almost completely obscuring my vision. Climbing down the side of the mountain in pitch black darkness in cold and windy conditions while making sure not to fall on razor sharp volcanic rocks was definitely a "fun" experiece.

Thankfully I came prepared and brought an LED headlamp. The tour company explained that some sort of flashlight and walking stick were absolutely nessesary. I am extremely glad I had a headlamp otherwise holding a flash light in one hand while carrying a walking stick in the other would have been very difficult. Lots of people were very unprepared. A couple people were hiking in t-shirts and carried almost no water or food. It took a big longer to descend since we were pretty much doing it in pitch black conditions with very little visibility. At one point we had completely lost half the group and had to wait about 5-10 minutes for them to catch up to us.

We made it back down the bottom of the volcano at around 8:30pm. Perfect Guatemalan time since the tour itself was supposed to be back in Antigua by 9pm. We actually didnt get back into the city until 10pm.
This hike was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Guatemala. How often do you get to say you hiked up an active volcano? Unfortunately there was two casualities on this hike and those were my running shoes. In addition to the bottom of them being completely melted they were thoroughly torn up and ripped to pieces from hiking on sharp volcanic rocks. Oh well, it was either that or hiking in sandals.

Anyway, my little adventure is just about over. I'm headed to Guatemala City in a shuttle bus to catch my flight back to Boston. I should arrive home around midnight and then it's off to work Wednesday morning. I'm absolutely not looking forward to seeing snow nor am I looking forward to these new TSA security guidelines. Been watching the news over here and read about the recent security breaches.