Guat's up everyone? Welcome to another newsletter, this time about Guatemala!
Last I wrote, there were some tough times in Colombia, but after Guatemala I have never felt better. I always saw Guatemala as a dangerous place to go and had never heard of any of the gems that this country has. After leaving, I would go back in a heartbeat!
Yes Antigua, and no, not the tropical island in the Caribbean. Antigua is a city about 30 minutes outside of Guatemala City and where our trip began. The town has changed a lot over the years, becoming more commercialized and with rent prices being driven up, some of the local charm has gone away. We managed to find a few hole in the wall places to eat some pupusas and tacos which almost felt like we were eating in someone's living room. We spent days working on our side projects at coffee shops, exploring the local market, and used Antigua as a basecamp for the volcano hikes.
The local market was seemingly endless. Sonia and I got lost in the market the first time we entered and had to ask several people how to get out. I swear you can buy anything you could possibly need in that market. There were a few really cool artisan markets where we got some gifts and things for our home. Between fresh produce, knock off or thrift clothing, art, food stands, electronics, etc, you could spend hours just walking around there.
There are 3 active volcanos in Guatemala currently: Pacaya, Fuego and Santiaguito. The first of the two we did was Pacaya Volcano. This one was erupting lava about 7 months prior to our visit, but when we hiked it, there were only heat vents. We took the tour and hiked up about 3/4 of it which took us above the clouds. This brought back awesome childhood memories of going to the dormant volcano by Mono Lake in California with my family. The volcanic rock was so interesting to look at and many parts completely untouched since it was newly created. The coolest part of this hike was roasting marshmellows from the heat vents. Never thought I'd ever be in a place where Earth would be producing that much heat to bring a marshmellow to a nice brown crisp.
Volcan Acatenango & Fuego:
The Trek Up
This trek was the most thrilling experience of my life. We did the overnight trek to see the volcano erupt with basecamp on Volcan Acatenango and the night hike to Volcan Fuego.
The hike up to basecamp was grueling. We had to carry 4 liters of water, warm clothes, some of our food, and blankets for sleeping. It was straight uphill with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Just when you think the switchbacks will lead to a flat part, you were greeted with more endless uphill. We left town at 7am, getting to the trail around 9:30am. With a lunch break and a few rest stops, we got to the camp at about 3pm.
At this point we were all a mix of wiped out and glowing with excitement in anticipation of seeing the volcano erupt in the distance. About half of the group decided to do the additional hike to Volcan Fuego instead of waiting back by the campfire and eating dinner. The hike was an additional 1,200 feet elevation gain and half would be done in the dark. The first half of the way there was nothing but slipping and sliding down a trail and hoping our knees and ankles would forgive us followed by the steep uphill climb to the viewpoint of Fuego. Once we got to the top, it was the tail end of sunset and a panoramic view showing Guatemala City, the Pacific Ocean, neighboring volcanos and Lake Atitlan. The wind was howling and the temperature was bonechilling. We waited for the rest of the group to get to the top, then walked towards the eruptions.
The Eruption (Video Below!)
At this point, it was dark outside, the lava glowed red and we were trying not to freeze. Then the magic happened. We inched closer then, BOOOOOM! The ground shook, a massive eruption of lava flew into the sky, falling in slow motion. A wave of air hit our chests a little delayed as we all stood in silence. I took a couple steps back thinking this would be my end since the lava flew so high and towards us for the first time. I was scared, thrilled, happy, shocked, every emotion at once. The lava fell maybe 30 feet from us and I felt some relief. We all started laughing, yelling and in awe of what we just witnessed. This was bigger than any of us could have imagined. This was the single most exhilarating moment of my life. I stood there as the lava rolled down the side of the volcano in tears. It felt like the bucket list item I have had since I was a little kid had just checked off in the best way possible.
Our camp had a different perspective. They all were gathered around waiting for dinner and enjoying some small eruptions in the distance. They saw our headlamps move closer and closer. At the moment when the big eruption went off, they immediately got worried we were in harms way. The eruption landed so close to us, from their perspective it was where we were standing. They asked the guide if this was normal, and he just said "muy pequeno" without looking up. Later we found out this was the biggest some of the guides had ever seen in their life and the biggest the volcano has had in months. One thing we all realized from the experience (good or bad) is that there is no way getting that close would ever be legal in the US or Europe.
View just feet away from the eruption:
View from basecamp:
The next morning, we woke up at 4am to hike up to the top of Volcan Acatenango. It was bitter cold again with ice at the top. The volcano is just under 14,000 elevation. This was a great way to end the trek; we gathered at the top watching Fuego erupt, the sun rise over Volcan Agua and Antigua. We only stood at the top for maybe 30-40 minutes.... then were all ready to head down to warmth and back home shortly there after.
After the volcanos, we headed to Lake Atitlan which was about a 3 hour bus ride away. The lake was formed from a supervolcano 85,000 years ago with ash reaching as far north as Florida and south as Panama. After the 2 week eruption, the ground sank leaving a basin surrounded by smaller magma chambers which are 4 dormant volcanos today. After some time, 2 rivers flooded the valley and make the lake that is here today. The Mayan people have inhabited the land for centuries.
The lake has small towns scattered around it, each with their own feel. We stayed in San Pedro which had good restaurants, San Marcos was a very hippy town with cool health food stores and coffee shops. San Juan was known for their crafts and artisan goods. Santa Cruz was a small town with cliff diving and other outdoor activies. Panajachel was a pass through town with cool street food and a large market.
One of the mornings I did the hike to Indian Nose which was the best view of the lake. We watched the sunrise and had bad coffee at the top for a cool way to start the day.
After Colombia feeling down and bored, I remember trying to figure out why I took this trip. All I kept coming back to was I want the sensation of feeling alive. Seeing the Volcan Fuego erupt from feet away was every bit of that. Every emotion, adrenaline, fear for my life all wrapped in one had me feeling alive like I never had before. After that day, I felt like I could come home happy and feeling accomplished. I felt like I achieved what I hoped to.
We got home a few days ago and got to see a few friends which was really nice. I am thankful to see the familiar faces, have some home cooked food, and not be worrying about borders closing. At some point soon I will need to begin thinking about getting a job again but for now I am enjoying life to the fullest and roadtripping Arizona/Utah with the love of my life. Things are pretty damn good.
The next newsletter I hope to show you all some hidden gems of the Southwest you may not have heard of with coordinates and how we got to each place.
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