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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Guatemala Part 4

    Monday, September 4, 2017
    Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala

    A sign near the entry to Pacaya National Park in Guatemala.
    A sign near the entry to Pacaya National Park in Guatemala.

    Our guide, Samuel, leads us up a trail to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    Our guide, Samuel, leads us up a trail to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    At 2:00 pm today, I hopped in a shuttle van bound for the Pacayo volcano, which lies about 18 miles in a straight line southeast of Antigua. (Incredibly, it took 90 minutes to get there, so we must have circled around a considerable amount.) Annoyingly, I was the first passenger to be picked up, so I had to get my creaky old bones shaken up for an hour while we drove around the rough, bumpy cobblestone streets of Antigua to pick up everyone else. When we left town, the van was packed with around a dozen foreigners.

    The crew takes a break on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    The crew takes a break on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    On the outskirts of Guatemala City, we got caught in some gnarly traffic jams, eventually entering the winding road that led up to the base of the volcano. As the pavement gave way to a really bumpy dirt road, we finally reached the entry to Pacaya. As soon as the door of the van slid open, there stood were two young boys who tried repeatedly to rent us hiking poles in the form of long, carved wooden sticks. No one took them up on the offer. Likewise, a couple of people tried to sell us horseback rides, but again, there were no takers.

    Some log steps on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    Some log steps on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    A woman offers a horse ride on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    A woman offers a horse ride on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    “Pacaya is an active complex volcano in Guatemala, which first erupted approximately 23,000 years ago and has erupted at least 23 times since the Spanish invasion of the country. Pacaya rises to an elevation of 2,552 meters (8,373 feet). After being dormant for a century, it erupted violently in 1965 and has been erupting continuously since then, including some major spewage in 1998, 2006, 2010 and 2013.”–Wikipedia

    A rustic scene on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    A rustic scene on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    After we paid an admission fee to enter Pacaya National Park, our guide, Samuel, led us up to the trail for our 90-minute hike. The first sections of the trail consisted of a rough rock and concrete mixture, followed by a dirt trail with occasional logs for steps, which eventually gave way to a natural trail. On the way up, we stopped three or four times to rest at some nice viewpoints. If I were alone, I probably would have only stopped once to rest, if at all. Okay, I’ll admit maybe I would have stopped to check out the landscapes.

    Competitive Girl and her gigantic ego leaves everyone in the dust on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    Competitive Girl and her gigantic ego leaves everyone in the dust on a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    A rustic bench on the side of a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    A rustic bench on the side of a trail leading up to Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    Part way up the first section, I was walking right behind the guide, but only because I don’t like walking slowly up hills. I was not trying to be competitive. I would have walked faster, but we were supposed to stay behind the guide. At one point, a young lady who constantly wore an intense, serious look on her face walked up quickly close beside me and cut right in front of me. Then she kept walking right behind the guide. It was really obvious by the way she did it that she was being aggressive and competitive. I just laughed to myself and let her walk right behind the guide the rest of the way up. I didn’t really care who got to the top first. I just like hiking fast. I would hike fast even if I were alone.

    For some reason, at our final rest stop before the top, that girl and one other guy stood ahead of the guide. When he said it was time for us to continue, they took off ahead of him and, oddly enough, he didn’t seem to mind. I don’t believe he ever said anything. So, I walked right behind them. At one point, I was trailing the man, and he paused for a second and let me go in front of him. The rest of the way up the final steep section, I was right behind Competitive Girl.

    White out conditions at a foggy viewpoint overlooking Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    White out conditions at a foggy viewpoint overlooking Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    Reaching the top, we encountered a wide, rounded off knob covered with pebbles of volcanic ash. This was not the actual top of the volcano, as in the crater, but the highest point that hikers were allowed to ascend to. Unfortunately, the whole area around the hill was blanketed with fog. I’m talking full-on white out conditions, which completely blocked our view of the surrounding hills and volcanoes.

    A rustic food stall on the side of a trail at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    A rustic food stall on the side of a trail at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    Our guide, Samuel, and a dog at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    Our guide, Samuel, and a dog at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    After a short while, we walked a little ways down the back of the hill, where a few hikers gave some business to a man who was selling snacks and drinks from a really rustic food stall made out of tree branches. Funnily enough, he was sitting out there in the middle of “nowhere” blasting music out of some kind of weird little hard drive connected to a portable speaker.

    Our guide, Samuel, leads us past a wall of volcanic rock at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    Our guide, Samuel, leads us past a wall of volcanic rock at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    Next, we headed a little ways further down another trail to feel the heat that was emanating from a small hole in the ground amongst some volcanic rocks. Then the guide busted out a bunch of skinny sticks and a bag of marshmallows. Yep, we actually roasted marshmallows in the thermal vent of a volcano! It took a long time to get them golden brown. While everyone was roasting the little white puffs, the fog cleared up a bit, so we also got to check out a small amount of lava repeatedly spout out of a nearby volcano.

    The crew looks out at a nearby cone at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    The crew looks out at a nearby cone at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    Competitive Girl roasts a marshmallow at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    Competitive Girl roasts a marshmallow at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    Following that, we headed back up to the top where we were before. Luckily, the fog had also cleared up there, giving us a good view of the top of the Acatenango, Agua, and Fuego volcanoes! At this point, dusk was closing in fast. As darkness loomed, we oohed and aahed at the sight of lava as it occasionally spewed out of Pacaya’s cone against a backdrop of deep blue sky that was rapidly turning black. As the fog started to quickly float back in, we took that as a cue to get the heck out of Dodge. Heading back down the hill in darkness was a tricky adventure, as I had forgotten to bring a flashlight, so I had to walk right behind a middle-aged couple from Australia who had one. I was surprised Competitive Girl didn’t try to be the first one to reach the bottom, too. Surprisingly, she hung back.

    Competitive Girl ponders a foggy evening at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    Competitive Girl ponders a foggy evening at Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    A wee bit of lava squeaks out of Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.
    A wee bit of lava squeaks out of Pacaya volcano in Guatemala.

    Whenever I would slip up, I got behind the Australian couple a few steps, which made it dangerous for me to catch up again, as I could have easily rolled my ankle on the extremely rough, uneven, rocky trail. As if that weren’t enough, I also started to feel a sharp pain in my left knee courtesy of my arthritis. What a relief it was when we finally reached the bottom. On the way back to Antigua, we all pitched in about 75 cents each to take a shortcut on a toll road. “So, Guatemala actually has a freeway,” I thought to myself. “Who knew?”

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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