“Chris, are you seeing this??? He’s only holding on with his legs and I think he’s chopping the branch he’s standing on. That crazy bastard just cleaned an entire tree with his machete!” All around us is white, a haze dotted with dead trees. “You think this will clear out by morning??” Our guide Jaime smiles, revealing a pair of gold plated teeth, and shrugs while fashioning a sling to carry the fell branches. Chris and I grab a mere fraction of the wood that Jaime is loading onto his back and slide down the volcanic scree back to camp. Everyone is tired, cold and looking in the direction we know to be hiding our prize, but Volcan Fuego is nowhere to be seen. Instead the white turns to gray and it starts to drizzle. “Maybe tomorrow guys.” “Yah, hopefully.” Acatenango
After being picked up in Antigua, Chris, Jenn, Jenna, myself, and our friend’s white shepherd, Nietzsche, are brought to the home of our guide. The grandmother greets each of us, grasping our shoulders firmly for kisses on the cheek, followed by big hugs and genuine thanks for our visit. The house is typical concrete block, middle class for Guatemala, and we take turns using the bathroom which amounts to a shoddy structure in the yard and a torn blanket partially covering the entrance. We check our supplies, grab two bags of Styrofoam lunch containers and climb back into the van.
At the base of the trail I buy some cheap gloves from the vendors and we all rent hiking sticks; we’ve heard the trail is steep, slippery and near freezing at the top. An hour later we’re sweating and wondering why these people don’t use switchbacks. Nietzsche, on the other hand, has been circling the group and struggling to shepherd four out of shape humans up the mountain.
Likewise our guide, who hikes Acatenango several times per week, seems unfazed by the constant uphill. His pack looks like those sold at K-Mart in the 90’s and now has rope for one of the shoulder straps; yet he carries on without effort, plastic lunch bags in each hand. The temperature and our energy levels drop as we climb approximately 5,000ft in elevation. (My lungs and muscles have since forgotten the torture of this climb, but I remember thinking that this uphill was a doozy) We beat feet through changing terrain and vegetation until we find ourselves in the cloud forest. A heavy fog sweeps through the trees and hides the beautiful views we’d enjoyed thus far.
Once we reach basecamp, a small cutout on the slope, we set up our tents and Chris and I offer to help collect firewood. As we slip and slide across the incline our shoes fill with volcanic scree. We start to grab scraps when we notice something scurry up a dead tree. It’s our guide, machete in his teeth, showing the gringos how it’s done. Tree cleaned to a dead black toothpick, he gets the fire going and starts on dinner.
“Café y chocolate ahora o en la manana?” We decide on hot chocolate and save the coffee for the morning; we’ll surely need it. Tostadas with refried beans go around as appetizers and spaghetti with hot dogs for the main…best thing ever after that bear of a hike. It’s cold, drizzling, our legs made of noodles and our bellies full of em’. Bed time for all with a 3:30 wake up call. I’ve made it clear to our guide that we want to try for the summit in the morning, even if the weather remains crap.
Through the night we hear Volcan Fuego belching massive lava rocks into the air and listen to the subsequent crashes as the boulders careen down its sides. With each explosion, I jump out of my sleeping bag, find our little point-n-shoot camera (it’s all we gots!), unzip the tent, lift the extra tarp (it’s raining), and try to capture the moment. Most of the time I see nothing but gray, but once or twice the clouds part. Click, 1-2-3-4, click…the camera tries to grab the light and a blurry image appears on the screen…“Maybe tomorrow.”
3:30 arrives: it’s dark, cold and our group moves like molasses. Coffee warms our insides but we look like a group of exhausted gringos used to waking up at 10 and drinking beer on the beach. Even Nietzsche has the “what the hell are we doing?” look on his face. Before we can reconsider we’re single file and climbing the scree trail with our headlamps cutting through the fog. We’re traversing a steep, pebbled face while half-asleep with Neitzche taking out our legs as he races from front to back to front. Surely he’s half blind from our headlamps and just trying to make sense of things. After all, he’s also used to lazy mornings, beaches and beer.
Volcan Fuego (Volcano of Fire)
An hour or so later the horizon is glowing; 60watts of yellow bulb punching through a frosted glass fixture due to the thick haze. Another hour, or two or three and we’re on top, or so we hope. One way looks down into foggy white smoke; the other hazy orange. It’s windy as hell and we hide our fingers. Periodically I wrap Nietzsche in my arms to warm him; the poor guy looks pitiful. “Look it’s Fuego!” “Nevermind it’s gone.”
While our group huddles together behind a rock to block the wind, I can’t help but smile and think…”we’s some lucky sons-a-b!tches”…apparently I think in a backwoods drawl. Honestly though, we did this for fun. We can saunter down this cold, rainy lump of rock and laugh about our “misfortune” over beers, bubble baths, lasagna, whatever…use your imagination kids! We’re the one percent, not those Wall Street jerks. Those lucky enough to be born with options, and stupid enough to travel like idiots. Living in vehicles, waltzing through “murderous” countries and climbing volcanoes just to freeze and look at a cloud.
Five hours later and I’m clean, warm, hydrated and passed out with a half-eaten pizza on my chest…lucky sons-a-b!tches I tell ya 😉
Video of what we saw…
What our friends Mitch & Taylor (South By Land) saw…we’re not jealous at all :/
OMG – I remember freezing my ass off up there. Even with the bad weather it stills looks like an amazing experience…but that poor dog! 🙂
We ship our truck camper home tomorrow – so weird. ready but not. We love reliving our trip through you eyes and great storytelling. Keep it up!
Safe travels, you guys!! John & Paula
It was SO COLD and windy!! I can’t believe you guys are shipping home! Wow, it’s crazy how time flies on the road. Hope you guys keep up the blog to show the rest of us know how to acclimate back to ‘real life’! 🙂 Cheers and safe shipping/travel back home.