Friday, December 16, 2011

How to Hike a Volcano, Acquire a Dutch Travel Family and Make Friends with a Dog - Hiking the Pacaya Volcano

With our feet and bodies now better prepared for the trek up the volcano, we relaxed in the lobby of the hostel awaiting our bus. 

When the bus arrived we climbed on board and sat near the front. Taking off, we arrived at another hotel to pick up more people. Onto the bus climbed a group of about 14 people along with a guide... who looked a bit put out that we were on the bus. She said something to the driver, he shrugged, said something back. Then she called someone on her phone and started asking questions. Given that this whole exchange happened in Spanish, I had no idea what was going on.  The bus started driving while she attempted to deal with whatever was causing her grief. 

Eventually it seemed to be sorted out and she told the group that she was sorry, this was supposed to be a PRIVATE tour, she didn't know why WE were on the bus, but it would get figured out when we arrived at the volcano. Then she turned to Meg and I, apologized for seeming so rude, but hopefully we understood. We just smiled, said all we did was get on the bus that came for us. Then the bus stopped, the guide got off, and Meg and I looked at each other confused.

Ready to hike the volcano

When we arrived at the starting point of the volcano trek it became obvious that we too would end up with a private tour of the volcano, as there were no other groups awaiting the climb. We'd heard stories of people being robbed etc on the hill, especially in the evening when it got dark, and so we were a bit apprehensive about how to proceed. Meg and I got off the bus and waiting outside while the other passengers remained on the bus. Words were exchanged and then one of them spoke up to say they really didn't care if they had a "private tour", and would much prefer knowing that we were safe, so would we care to join their group?

Of course we would. So off we went. 

Little boys were selling walking sticks and there was a team of horses awaiting us should we decide we are too out of shape to continue and need a lift. Of course at a price. 150Q up and 150Q down. We would be fine to walk. 

The trek started out fairly simple, a low incline and relatively well packed ground. However, as we made it up the hill it became progressively more difficult. I've never done it, but I can liken the experience to climbing up a massive sand dune. The volcanic rock under our feet was soft and slippery, crumbling under each step. Unless you walked along the side where the small amounts of grass were growing, each step resulted in your foot sliding back about half as far. 

Eventually we made it past the "green" part of the volcano and to the point where the lava had accumulated after the most recent explosion (about a year and a half ago). Here the walking became a bit more treacherous (volcanic rock is extremely sharp and rough) but the end was in sight! An hour and 25 min after we first started, we reached the top!

Our guide lead us to a rest spot that was right beside a deep crevice. It's been said that the air/rock is hot enough to cook an egg, and a few of the Dutch travellers had brought one along to try it out. The guide reached in, stuck it in one of the cracks and left it to cook. From there he showed us a spot where we could climb down inside the rock and feel the warmth. A small cave with a crack to the outside, it was a lot like a sauna - warm, somehow dry but humid at the same time, and a bit stuffy. 

Probably the best part, however, was the friend we made at the top of the volcano. 

An adorable little dog, living all by herself on this volcano, greeted us when we arrived. Incredibly friendly, she took to me (and likely the food in my pocket). Despite the fact that she didn't have any owners, and if she did they wouldn't speak English, she sat when I told her to and even shook a paw. 

I wanted to keep her. The authorities, however, would have an issue with this I'm sure, so I had to say goodbye and leave her there all by herself. 

Back down the volcano we went, the loose terrain and the downward slope speeding up our descent. 

A realization that would later become even more obvious, I am apparently part billy goat, as I made my way down the hill in about 45 min, while Meg opted to be a bit more cautious. 

We waited for our bus and when it arrived we boarded, found a seat at the back and settled in for the dark drive back. 

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