Since it was still pitch black out when we woke up, we barely made it. Our alarms were blasting though so we hustled and got ready. The front desk guy was sleeping on the couch and seemed surprised that we were awake on time. He told us the guy wasn’t here yet. So we sat in our room a bit and soon enough the driver arrived.
We actually had one of the tour minivans all to ourselves, which was nice. Before leaving Antigua, we asked the driver to take us to the main church in the center square for a picture. It was a bit dark but good enough. Then we jumped back in the van and headed to the volcano, which was about 45 minutes away.
We spoke a bit to the driver who I thought was also the guide, but we stopped at to some small town on the way to pick up a real guide (with a badge and all!). They told us there was an eruption the year before and a few people died in the surrounding area, including hikers that were visiting the volcano.
We passed through a tiny town to get to the Pacaya park entrance where we paid the fee and started up with our guide. 2,553 meters, here we come. There was a friendly dog at the center that led the way. We didn’t have food or anything, so I think he just wanted company for the walk up.
Our guide stopped every once in awhile to explain some points of interest. She showed us the lake that was a few degrees warmer, mangled volcanic trees, and the different kinds of volcanic ash. She seemed to be a lot more fit than I was… Maybe it’s the Beijing air, but I was struggling with the 4 km hike up the volcano. I would stop to take pictures just to catch my breath.
The top of the volcano had this cloud sitting on it, so visibility was terrible. This could also be due to the fact that we were there so early. We only saw one other group of four on the way up and we think they may have camped here.
The hike up the steep last part was the most difficult. You had no purchase on this loose gravel, terrible visibility, and a lot of wind so the climb was slow. We eventually made it to the opening, but we couldn’t see a thing, which was disappointing. As neither of us have seen an active volcano before, our idea of jumping around molten lava and lighting our cigars by touching lava were a bit unrealistic to say the least.
On the way down, we passed by the small craters with hot volcanic gases escaping. The guide showed us that you could cook a marshmallow in the steam. It didn’t smell as strongly of sulfur as I would have expected.
We passed at least 6 groups of tourists going up the mountain. Once again we missed the crowds!
At the base, we got an ice cream then headed to the airport. We dropped our guide off and drove straight there. The driver had to make some interesting maneuvers when we found the normal road to the airport was blocked by police and what looked like secret service. These guys were in suits, sunglasses and had the white earphones. Could they be anymore of a cliché?
We made it to the airport much earlier than we expected, because there was actually LESS traffic due to the changing of the president. People probably just avoided that general direction. Bill and I checked in with about 5 hours to spare. We then indulged in, yup you guessed it, Pollo Campero. It seemed fitting as our last meal of the trip.
We waiting in the lounge, trying not to fall asleep and then they started boarding. I was lucky enough to get upgraded on this stretch. Bill wasn’t smiling as he stood in line staring at me sipping on a cocktail. Unfortunately we found our plane was delayed, which was bad news since we had a connection in Houston.
We eventually took off and a wave of relief swept over me. We survived our trip in Central America! Then I finally slept.