A Travellerspoint blog

Lake Atitlan

Where the rainbow gets it's colours

semi-overcast 25 °C

Lake Atitlan was another of the reasons we chose to go to Guatemala. We had heard stories that this lake was considered by Aldous Huxley as the most beautiful lake in the entire world; even more so than Lake Como in Italy. I haven’t yet been to Lake Como, but I can see how any other lake would be hard pressed to be any more gorgeous than Lake Atitlan.
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There was something in the air, or the water, or the location that made me feel as if we were on top of the entire world. The towering volcanic peeks seemed to watch over us rather than pose any threat, despite their active status. The water was fresh and cool and felt velvety on our skin as we swam through it.
When we first arrived we stayed in Panajachel (known to all simply as Pana). We had not found anywhere online to stay so we wandered the streets until a local man kindly directed us towards a local homestay where we got our own private room to share for just $10 per night. The place was full of chickens and children, broken cobbles and bad plumbing, dust and hanging laundry - it reminded me of home in the Dominican Republic. Erie and I were very pleased to learn we could do our own laundry and use a few buckets of water and soap to do so. We sat out in the sun and scrubbed at our clothing when we noticed a very small naked boy wander his way over to us. He had clearly just learned the word agua (water) because he was excitedly pointing at the water in our buckets, repeating agua over and over again. He came close to the bucket where Erie had her freshly cleaned rinsing in some clean water, pulled on his tiny penis and screamed agua with delight as he emptied his bladder all over the clean washing! Oh how we laughed and laughed as his father came running over as he apologised more times than his son had said agua - but it really didn’t matter at all.

We wandered around Pana, picked up a few presents for people in New Zealand, and I recovered from the terrible cold and cough I had picked up in Lanquin after staying in a musty and damp bedroom on our final night there. We were staying in Pana mostly because it was close to the infamous Chichicastenango (Chichi) markets. They are known as being the largest textile markets in all of Central America. We had already seen so much of the textiles everywhere we had been so we were very excited to go to the markets and we were determined to have our haggling skills on form so that we could stock up with all the Guatemalan textiles two Kiwi girls could ever need. We got up super early and caught the local chicken buses to the market. We had discovered that taking shuttles and buses was the major cause of our money disappearing so quickly – that and the ever dropping Kiwi dollar of course. The market itself was huge. We feel like we covered all of it, but I really can’t be sure. Sadly, the prices were not as cheap as we had thought they would be so we were unable to buy some of the things we had originally wanted. However, we both had our eyes on these beautiful rainbow blankets that we had seen everywhere. They were nice and warm, but not so warm or bulky that they couldn’t be carried. Erie and I have always been huge fans of snuggling under blankets, and I really wanted to take something beautiful back to Billy for our new apartment. So we set about finding the best blankets and the best deal in the market. We managed to find it, finally. A lovely group of ladies who sold them to us for so cheap that no other stall holder could believe the price we got them for. She had originally asked for Q750 each and we managed to get two for Q250. The price for our handwoven blankets was less than $22NZD each. We got some beautiful presents for our parents – I left my Dad’s behind. I literally paid the money and walked away without taking it as I had wrongly assumed Erie had. So I had to buy him another at a different market on another day after we realised our mistake – So I bought one for the price of two, so much for our haggling skills!
The day after the market we said farewell (and agua) to our friends at the little place where we were staying. Surrounding Lake Atitlan are at least 10 little towns and villages, many of which are only accessible by boat.
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We headed over to our next destination – Santa Cruz de la laguna. And from there, the view was the most magnificent of all.
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Erie and I wandered along the ‘boardwalk’ which was at times a jungle track and at others rotting planks of wood where you could easily slip and fall into the lake (glad to see Latin America is still my amazing Latin America, even at the most amazing lake in the world). Our destination was a nearby resort where we could swim off the dock and tan in the sun.
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As we approached, we noticed the clouds were beginning to roll in and the lake was becoming very choppy. By the time we actually arrived at the dock we felt it wasn’t safe enough to swim and I was feeling quite cold as 25 degrees is a lot cooler than my Caribbean 35! I was cold and Erie was feeling very itchy as she had been bitten 142 (I counted) times by mysterious mosquitos – mysterious because I didn’t have a single bite, maybe she was my repellent! So we headed back to the hostel where we were staying, grabbed a bite to eat at a local home that was also a small restaurant before watching sunset and enjoying happy hour.
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The next morning we got up early as always and headed off to San Marcos which is commonly known as the hippy town where all of the yoga/ meditation/ alternative lifestyle expats seem to find themselves living after disappearing off the grid for months or years on end. We had heard that was the best part of the lake for swimming and that there was a cool cliff where we could jump off – another one of our all-time favourite things to do!We found the town itself quite disappointing, but learned afterwards that perhaps we never actually made it right into the heart of San Marcos. However, the trampoline (jump spot) made up for it all!
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Erie and I arrived to find a cool group of other travellers, some of whom were very indecisive about jumping. Of course we were not, we were afraid for about 3 minutes before we plunged into the fresh water below. We jumped over and over again, swimming and chatting to the others and eating tamales on top of the cliff as we looked over towards the volcanos and the town of San Pedro.Finally, we decided it was time to continue our day as we still wanted to see two other villages; San Pedro and Santiago. We waved our friends off as we sped away on the boat, managed to see one finally attempt (and succeed) at his backflip as we made tracks across the water. When we got off the boat at San Pedro, we bumped into our three friends Tash, Hannah, and Libby who we had met at Zephyr and then already bumped into at Chichi markets! We joined them up on the balcony where they were sitting for mojito hour before exploring the town together after learning there were no more boats over to Santiago for the day. We decided to have one more mojito before taking the boat to our hostel. As we entered the restaurant/ bar, we saw the remains of what looked like the bottom of the ocean – crab shells, prawns, fish bones, you name it was all over one of the tables alongside giant bowls. We scoured the menus to discover that the seafood soup was just $8NZD and we ordered one each.
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When it came, we couldn’t believe our eyes – each one had a huge crab, an entire fish, many prawns, clams, and the most delicious broth ever!
We all dove straight in and thankfully we were not on a date with Channing Tatum because we ate like absolute pigs!
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When Erie and I went to catch the boat back to our hostel we were told that we had missed the last boat back by about 20 minutes. We weren’t too upset because we had spent that 20 minutes devouring possibly the best meal of our entire lives – however, the only option was to either book a room in San Pedro or to pay $100 for private boat back to our hostel in Santa Cruz. Obviously, we took the cheaper option and stayed at the hostel with the girls for the little bit of money we had on us. It worked out great too because San Pedro is the ‘party town’ of all the lake towns. We drank 1 litre cocktails out of fishbowls, drank giant beers, and found ourselves at a local concert listening to some really odd music and drinking 50 cent rum and cokes. Of course, no party night will ever be complete without a trip to the local taco shop – where I promptly ate 3 tacos, gave 2 to my new drunk local best friend who had no idea who she actually was or what her name was - other than the fact she was my long lost Guatemalan sister, and I wrote a song to my taco itself called “TACOOOOO, TE AMOOOO.”

Posted by chasingsummer 08:20 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Celebrating one year on the road

At Zephyr lodge in Lanquin, Guatemala

sunny

There had been so many people at home and around the world who did NOT believe in me, who thought I would be home within a few months, that I would run out of money, be unsuccessful, or that I would just simply miss the kiwi lifestyle I had too much. So I was proud of myself that I had achieved one year on the road, I was proud to have proved them wrong.

Of course there were the many people who HAD believed in me right from the start, the ones that had supported me from the minute I first shared my ideas and plans with them. The ones who put aside their own selfish desires to keep me close and loved me enough to see that I needed to be free to explore the world. The ones who keep in touch, who read this blog religiously, the ones who are on my mind every single day. I was proud to have achieved what I had set out to do, what they had always believed I could.

And mostly, I was proud to have achieved yet another one of my own goals. Just like the little girl who played first flute in the Auckland kids orchestra, and the teenager who hung up her iceskates after getting a gold medal at the 2004 nationals in Queenstown - I had reached another dream that I had once thought was impossible. That I had overcome the huge fears I had of leaving my bubble in New Zealand and heading out alone to the other side of the world, to speak another language all day every day, and to make it work out. That I had gone through both ups and downs and backwards flips throughout the year, but come out with a shining new perspective on life. That I now worry less about the small things, that I clearly care very little for material possessions as I have bought just 2 souvenirs in a year (despite traveling through 9 countries) and my phone is so broken it hardly ever switches on and even when it decides to it doesn't have a functioning microphone! I have learned that through it all, there are still good people in this world. And not just a few, like I had hoped to find - but that the majority of the world are good. They want to help, they want to share their culture and their country, their home and their family, they want to learn about other lifestyles, and they don't want to do so in the hope of anything in return. Learning that there are still good people in this world has been a huge boost to my own happiness. Learning how to spot the people I can trust, learning that there are some people who will never like me and that is NOT my problem, learning that the world is mostly good, has restored my faith in humanity. That the world is a good place at heart, and perhaps with a little more education in regards to environmental issues and a little less focus on trivial matters such as transgender celebrities and the latest royal babies - humanity can use it's goodness to actually make widespread, fundamental changes.

I was so happy to have Erie with me to celebrate the milestone, as she was one of the
I wanted to celebrate with other travelers, people who understood my achievement, and people who would want to party. So we headed to the infamous Zephyr lodge wedged high in the mountains above Lanquin, Guatemala.
At first sight, we were in awe of the infinity pool that looked out across the mountains and down into the surrounding valleys. We could see the hostel and our old cockroach party room, El Retiro, where we had been staying previously.
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Zephyr had messed up our booking so they ended up giving us a much nicer dorm than what we had booked originally - at no extra cost! We spent the afternoon chatting with new friends, swimming in the pool, and drinking rum with gingerale - really delicious!
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At night we partied, enjoying the happy hour which made the highly overpriced drinks just overpriced instead. We had a great night, and were lucky enough to meet three girls; Tash, Hannah, and Libby who soon became good friends of ours who we continued to meet up with throughout our time in Guatemala. We all played a game of giant jenga, where every brick pulled out meant doing something weird or crazy.
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Poor Erie had to jump in the pool fully clothed, and I had to swap clothes with the closest person - I was only wearing a bikini and a sarong so I ended up in his vest and he wore my sarong as a dress!
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I was loving sipping on rum with my best friend at my side and celebrating with someone from home, that it was a year since I had been there myself.90_DSC02394.jpg90_DSC02395.jpg Of course the only thing that I really felt was missing the whole night was Billy who so desperately wanted to celebrate with me and Erie.

We left the next day back to El Retiro, the prices at Zephyr were far too expensive and people actually received fines if they broke the rules. A couple of French travelers were given a 200Quetzal ($40) fine for smoking in the wrong area. I was so drunk hungry at 2am I begged the kitchen to sell me a muffin that was on the other side of the cashier. They wouldn't do it so I walked away feeling as if I was going to starve to death. I remembered I had a can of tuna in my backpack so I went to my room, grabbed the tuna, and then hid in the shadows and ate it. I was so scared to get a $40 fine for being caught with my own food that I threw the evidence off the cliff in a drunken haze of fear and laughter.

So if you are reading this, thanks for always believing in me and supporting me. Here's to another year on the road - but please, with a visit from you !

x

Posted by chasingsummer 06:31 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

The reason we chose Guatemala

the best adventure day ever

sunny 30 °C

We arrived at our hostel; El Retiro in Lanquin in the dark. The hostel itself is lovely and completely run and owned by Guatemalan people. We had managed to score ourselves a little bungalow in the trees with twin beds for the same price we would pay for a dorm – winning! Except… we quickly nicknamed it the cockroach party after we discovered it was infested with giant cockroaches. Thankfully we had mosquito nets around each of our beds, but that didn’t stop one getting into mine and causing me to scream and wake up Erie who smashed the little sucker with my book!

The day after the murder village was also the day we had booked ourselves onto the Semuc Champey and caving tour. I am usually very sceptical to do a tour, but for just $30 kiwi dollars and the promise of underwater caving, hiking and swimming at Semuc Champey, tubing, rope swing, and a bridge jump – it felt too good of an opportunity to miss, especially as it included all of the transportation straight from the hostel.

As usual, we were up bright, early, and rearing to go. We piled onto the back of a truck and headed through the mountains and around corners towards the river.

At the river we had to strip ourselves of our clothes, but keep our shoes on which we thought looked hilarious!
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We then hiked up a mountain a short way until we came to the entrance of the caves. We were each given two wax candles with sturdy and strong wicks. 90_DSC02186.jpgDSC02188.jpg

We made our way into the caves where our tour guide (named Hector, nicknamed Koala) covered us all in warpaint.90_DSC02231.jpg
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Then the real adventure began… For the entire time underground, there was never any more lighting than the candles we each held onto – and the stubs of candles Koala would put into little spots on the walls.
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We had to climb up and down ladders holding onto our candles.
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At one point we got to use a rope to help us climb up a waterfall
And at another point we scaled a rock wall to then jump off into the dark pool below
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There were parts where the rocks were really slippery and I fell and got caught many times (hence the 27 bruises on one leg and 18 on the other the next day).At one point we had to go through the smallest opening in the rock, I was so nervous because it really felt as if one wrong move would send us plummeting to our death – and as we found out, it actually has caused a few in the past.
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The caving was possibly my favourite part of the entire day, but there was no way it was finished as soon as we left our candles in a heart shape in the sand before making our way out into the daylight again.
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Next up on the day’s activities was going on the river swing. 90_DSC02244.jpgAt first I was really scared, especially when I watched the others go flying off the end and smack down into the quickly moving river. But when it was just Erie and I left to take our turn, and then Erie went first – DSC02249.jpg
I had no choice….
And it was so much fun!
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I ended up deciding to do it again, but sadly this jump didn’t work out quite so well for me and I came off badly and smacked down hard against the water with my face. It took me a few seconds to come up out of the water and by the time I had, the current had swept me quite a way downstream.

We walked up to see a beautiful waterfall but it was far too strong for us to be able to climb in and swim.
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At the base of the waterfall we climbed into tubes, linked ourselves together, and then floated our way down the river.
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What can only be described as a gang of child salesmen came swimming towards us on their own tubes and sold us beer from mini coolers.
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The boys floated with us and continued to try their luck (they would have had more if they had have stocked rum – I told them that too).
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At the end we piled back into the truck and headed up and over to where everyone was jumping off the bridge.
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My face was still stinging from where I had hit the water, and Erie was having a bit of trouble with her ear. We looked around at everyone who was jumping off, looked at the water racing below, and decided to give the bridge jump a miss. The one thing missing from the day (as is missing from 100% of my year on this continent) was safety control.
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After a quick lunch, we piled back into the truck and made our way to the base of Semuc Champey – finally we were going to see the beauty of the crystal green waters that had sold Erie and I on coming to Guatemala. The hike up to the mirador (view point) was absolutely exhausting. We must have stopped one hundred times to catch our breath. Erie was walking in shoes that were still wet from the cave, and I was wearing my flip flops as I was really against getting blisters – my feet have worn shoes a mere 4 times in a year, the cave being one of the 4! We finally made it to the top, and to be brutally honest (even though I never would have admitted it at the time), it was breathtakingly beautiful.
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And we took in the surroundings with the forest opening where the crystal pools sprawled out between them. All of a sudden we had a great rush of feeling that we had been looking at the pools for far too long – it was time to be swimming in them! We raced down the hill as fast as we could. We got to look out where the river flows underneath the pools. Apparently two USA boys fell off a couple of years ago and got sucked into a whirlpool that didn’t spit them out for 45 days… It was not a place that I felt comfortable at all to stand in.
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After what felt like an eternity, we were able to dive into the first, deep, delicious pool or clear water.
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We swam across each pool and laughed as the little fish nibbled on our feet. We got to jump off boulders and slide down natural rock slides.
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And at one point we actually got to swim under a huge boulder and swim through a natural little rock cavern that only gave us about 10 cm of head room to be able to breathe.
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Swimming in the water felt amazing. I really can’t explain it, if it was the water soaking off the heat of the day, the fact it was so clean and clear, or if there was something spiritual going on, but I felt so free and light as I swam through each pool.
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I felt so calm and happy, and each time I looked over at Erie I could see she felt exactly the same way.
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Posted by chasingsummer 09:50 Archived in Guatemala Comments (1)

Rio Dulce

The world's only hot water waterfall and the murder village

semi-overcast 20 °C

Another early rise had us packed and ready to take a bus to Rio Dulce which is by the only Caribbean beach that Guatemala has. We decided we would skip the beach but head to the river that looked as if it could be a lot of fun. The bus journey left at about 5am and we made it there by midday. We had to take a boat over to our hostel; Kangaroo. The hostel was set right on the water, complete with rope swing and crocodile – if you dare! We spend a couple of days lazing around, tanning, swimming (we never saw the crocodile), and just enjoying the location.
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The best part of our time in Rio Dulce was when we headed out on an adventure – complete with bottles of rum, to the worlds one and only hot water waterfall! We had to go quite a way in local transport, which provided ample rum and bachata time with the locals who sipped on my rum despite them protesting 10am was far too early to drink. We were dropped off at a tiny farm in the middle of nowhere, handed over a small entrance fee, and stumbled our way through a short forest hike to where we found the waterfall!
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We were so amazed to see the steam coming off the water, and quickly got into our swimsuits so we could get right into that water.
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We swam underneath the waterfall and into the cavern where we drank our rum in the natural sauna that it had created.
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We climbed up to the source of the hot water and were covered in healing mud by the local guy Francisco who led the way for us.
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We jumped off the boulders, climbed into the little caverns, saved a local boy from drowning, and just enjoyed our 5 hours of swimming and rum time before we went back to the hostel – for what shall ever be known as, Katy’s 14 hour nap…
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Oh and we alsogot to hold the cutest kitten both of us had ever seen on our hike back, a kitten that had the strangest meow we had ever heard too – that we were then told was a baby lynx and not just an ordinary domestic kitten!
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A couple of days later we felt the urge to head on our way. We packed up and bid farewell to all of our new friends at the Kangaroo and returned by boat to the main town where we caught our shuttle to Lanquin. I would love to say that the long drive to Lanquin was event free and we had no troubles. However, I have now been in this part of the world to know that such things are never quite so straightforward.

The drive itself was windy and rough, as we wound up and over huge mountains.
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When we were about as high as we could ever possibly go, when there was not a single person around, when there was no cellphone coverage or a shop nearby…we hit a roadblock. Not just a normal one either, I am talking about an entire mountainside village blocking the road. There were children, babies in slings, grandparents, and adults, all blocking the road. The trucks moved in behind us, the people had branches of trees across the road, and the men of the cities held tightly to their machetes. At first I tried to laugh it off with Erie who was starting to panic. “Oh this is just latin america Erie” I said, without mentioning it wasn’t the Latin America I had yet discovered. Everyone in the van with us turned to me as I was put into the position of translator. I tried desperately to understand what was being said between the driver and the spokesperson of the town, but could only understand the odd Spanish word as the conversation was in one of the many Mayan languages spoken throughout the country. However, the words I did understand were integral to what was going on; money, roads damaged, daily driving, big company, and lawyers. I explained to the others the few words I had understood, and began to feel relieved that what was going on possibly had nothing to do with our venturing over the hills. Until the driver of the car was told to get out of the vehicle…We closed all of the windows as children were reaching their hands inside and trying to climb up onto the roof where we already had two hitchhikers sitting. We locked the doors and began to suffocate in the heat. There was a man circling the back of the van as he held his machete with one hand and stroked our van with the other. Of all my time in this continent I had never felt so scared as I began to feel in that minute. Visions of the driver being sliced up in front of us passed through my head, alongside the thoughts of having literally nowhere to run to for help.

We were all feeling the heat, the fear, and tension, and we were calculating how much money we all had to use as bribery when the driver got into the car with a wife and small child. He drove us off, laughing as he did so. He explained that the town we were passing through was his, that the child and woman was his wife. An international company is driving huge trucks through the roads and damaging them without paying, as they steal from the local water supply. The town is now fundraising money to pay for a lawyer so they can fight the bastards. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief as we drove away from what Erie now calls ‘The Murder Village.”
My sneaky photos just don’t do the ordeal any justice… I couldn’t take many as I had hidden my phone in my underwear in case they stripped us of everything.
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And as scary as the ordeal was, I was very impressed to see an entire town out fighting their own revolution to make their lives better. How I will always love and appreciate that side of Latin America.

Posted by chasingsummer 12:02 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Volcano Pacaya

toasting marshmallows over lava

semi-overcast -50 °C

We woke up super early - which was about to become the theme for the rest of our time together in Guatemala, regardless of the time we went to bed – and got ready to meet the shuttle that would drive us to the other side of El Fuego and to the base of Pacaya. On the way, Erie had her first experience of latino driving, when our bus nearly collided head on with another. Luckily our driver was wonderful, and managed to save us from a very nasty accident by sacrificing only his wing mirror. The fault was of the men signalling which lane got to drive due to the roadworks, miscommunication or any other equally useless excuse. However, we arrived safely at the base of the volcano, signed our life away, and began the trek up to the peak.
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The going was not as bad as I had imagined, but we were stopping every ten minutes or so – both to look out at the view, and to get out breathe back.
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There was an option to take a horse, and the horses followed behind us as we made our way up which was a little tempting. However, the entire group was pretty determined we were going to make it up without a horse so they ended up sending the horses back down to try their luck with the next lot of hikers. The view out towards El Fuego and Acastenango were just incredible.
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We could even see them sending out their puffs of steam and smoke into the sky where it would then mingle with the clouds.
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I felt like I was going to die at one point as I was struggling more with the cold than the exercise. After a year in the Caribbean, cold is not a feeling my body understands too well these days. I dosed up on a few puffs of the old Ventolin and soon found my second wind. Erie and I were soon racing our way up to the top with new found energy, and finally we got to the part where there is the most volcanic activity.
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Suddenly the landscape changed to one of volcanic ash and rock, and the trees and greenery instantly disappeared. The earth felt hot under our feet and we couldn’t tell if it was from the sun hitting the dark gravel or if it was geothermic activity.
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The view out across the other mountains was unbelievable and we all stopped for a few pictures at the top of the trail. The hike doesn't actually lead to the summit of the volcano - due to safety reasons, but we were close enough that being higher wouldn't have changed anything.
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Erie and I tried our best to make it look as if we were on top of the entire world.
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The hike over and across the volcanic rock was quite slippery but lots of fun to slide across. I could see how it would be possible to do volcano boarding in Nicaragua – the main destination of mine after Erie leaves.
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We laughed as we approached a ‘lava store’ on the side of the volcano – always a gift shop huh?
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But the coolest part of the entire adventure was being able to actually SEE lava, and then toast marshmallows over it! We were so excited it was ridiculous.
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The lava itself wasn’t red which surprised us. It had a very dark and sticky appearance, looked like melted tar from the road. But wow was it hot! There was no way we could touch it, and it melted our marshmallows to a perfect consistency without burning the outsides at all. Now we just need to have some lava at every s’mores party!
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The hike from the lava pit up to meet the trail to head back down was the toughest thing I have ever climbed in my entire life. Thankfully it only stretched for about 100 – 150 metres because it felt like at least 2 kilometres. We were stopping to catch our breath every 4 or 5 steps because it was so tough. I swear the only thing that got me up was the promise we had made to eat another burrito when we got back to Antigua!
We joined back up with the jungle part of the trek we had hiked up on and passed many people who were walking up to start their volcano hike. We felt really bad for them as the clouds had come in and there was no way they would have seen what we saw. We made it back to our hostel without any further driving dramas and returned to Cactus Taco to eat the same delicious prawn burrito that had motivated us to boost it off the volcano!

Posted by chasingsummer 11:05 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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