Guatemala houses some thirty plus volcanoes, several in the periphery of Antigua: one, the inactive Vulcan del Agua, looms in the backdrop to the south, intermingling with the mountain regions on all four sides of the contrastingly level checkerboard town.
Three others follow nearby:
- the active Vulcan del Pacaya spanning around 2500m,
- the side-by-side duo: the inactive Acatenango at nearly 4000m (the country second tallest) and the active Vulcan del Fuego at 3760m.
I’d never before witnessed an active volcano and thus settled on something unconventional during my Antigua stay: booked a tour to scale Acatenango, which, though itself inactive, enables a convenient vantage point to observe the (mighty active) Vulcan del Fuego.
Can’t recall the last time I undertook a paid tour (or of any kind), normally discrediting the prospect as cost-benefit unworthy. Yet this one worked out well. Go figure.
The two-day/overnight hike unfolded roughly as follows:
Day 1, 9AM: picked up in a van, one-hour drive to the town La Soledad, the base point, 2300m.
Mind you, it’s cold hereabouts and will get far colder yet. Thus provided with some warm accessories upon arrival. In fact the tour provided nearly everything short of water (particularly the three voluminous liters to overwhelm that backpack): the extra clothing, three spartan meals, overnight tents/sleeping bags.
To my uttermost relief only five of us comprised the group in addition to the guide. I immediately became the formal translator: the guide spoke hardly any English, the group remainder commanded but rudimentary Spanish.
For the day remainder we embark on a steep and physically demanding six-hour hike split into three phases: the entry/registration at about 2600m, the lunch break at ~2900m and finally the camp site at ~3500m.
The first day my legs managed surprisingly well despite my hardly ever having undertaken treks of this magnitude: never for such duration. I can only ascribe the endurance to the weekly squat routine, the only explanation availing when inquired by the group into the seamless effort I appeared to exert, nigh swiftly as the 57-year-old guide doing this twice/thrice weekly. Alas, the fatigue would ensue the day after.
The vegetation underwent a continuing shift. What initiated in the semi-tropical soon transformed into the semi-arid. Then proceeded the humid forestry and ultimately something thinner, abundant in pine trees reminiscent of North-European forestry.
And yet the multi-textured flowers, those weaving fern-like climbers hugging the pine trunks: the contrasts reminded me of Poe’s wonderfully prose-poetic tale Eleonora, recently reread.
The camp site opened to an incredible vista of Vulcan del Fuego in a continuous state of eruption. She would thus persist all afternoon, all evening, all night and likely for years well past my lifetime.
So we lingered about the campfire watching the volcanic magma effuse in puffs of smoke and, once settled the dusk, the scalding lava exposition in full fiery magnificence: a la Eugene Delacroix painting. And it was stone cold.
The most violent of eruptions occurred at night midst the intermittent sleep. At one point the ground momentarily trembled.
Day 2: 3:30AM, awaken. 4AM: head out on another daunting 1.5-hour climb over the remaining 400+ meters of altitude. Even with the head flashlight were the footing perils challenging to anticipate.
Circa 5:30AM finally reach the uttermost 3900+m Acatenango peak. Watch the sunrise. Get an even closer glimpse at the active volcano across. Slightly recover from the encumbering fatigue: by this point my quad muscles ceased to behave with their customary grace.
6:30AM, proceed back to the camp site. To great relief that descent demanded but 20-25 minutes of much mirthful sand sliding.
7AM, drink delicious coffee followed shortly by the not so delicious breakfast: slices of banana bread with jam.
8AM. Commence the ultimate three-hour descent back to La Soledad. And considering the steepness, those quad muscles continued to receive severe shock. I yearned for more breaks going downhill than up.
An hour drive back to Antigua.
Totally worthwhile (*): a legitimate adventure aspect, not to mention the experience of watching volcanic eruptions. The most physically demanding of my recollection of hikes.
(*) provided the comparatively low package cost arranged. Were it twice the amount, I wouldn’t even retroactively consider.
Questions, comments? Connect.