Ever hiked a Volcano? - Thursday, March 13, 2003

We did it for the 1st time yesterday with our friends Will & Arabella. IT was amazing!! Volcan Pacaya is about 2 hours southwest of Antigua through some pretty rough looking neighborhoods. We opted for a tour instead of taking the chicken bus, as we were told that the area was not very safe- banditos. Our $5 tour included a round trip shuttle ride, a guide for the 2 hour trek up the mountain, and our own personal security guard-complete with machete. Pretty good value!!

Our driver got lost for a while on the way to Volcan Pacaya, and we had a tour of the slums - tons of trash amidst the horrible pollution in the area. The harsh reality is that Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Central America. Since 1996 with the new government, the country has apparently made great strides of improvement for its people. Tourism has become an major economic force here...as witnessed in Antigua, Tikal and a few other cities.

....We made our way up a windy road towards Pacaya and encountered an overturned truck that lost its breaks. His onion pickings were strewn across the road and the driver miraculously emerged unscathed, but it was pretty scary!! Thankfully our driver did not attend driving school with his counterparts who drive the chicken bus...slow and steady up the windy roads!

The trail was VERY dusty from recent smoke eruptions, but since our guide wanted us to stay closely together for security, we ended up sucking a ton of the pumice dust into our lungs/noses. We ascended over 800m to the summit at 2500ft. Pretty darn steep at the end, especially since the pumice dust made it more difficult to grasp good footing. It much like running up a very steep sand dune but more slippery. While I was gasping for air, Mr. Billy Goat (Dave) had no problem, of course... The view was incredible. It was surreal hiking on the rim surrounded by clouds with complete silence/stillness. At the summit, the noxious smoke was poofing out at regular intervals--pew!

The descent was so much fun that it made up for the grueling hike up. The pumice sand was on our side this time, and we were basically skiing down the mountain very fast! SO MUCH FUN!! Pics to come. On the descent, we enjoyed talking to some folks who had traveled around Asia and got some good ideas.. On the way home, M had the honor of sitting next to a member of the National Police Force who happened to be guarding the trail that day. Perhaps the tourist office propaganda about the park being much safer lately is not propaganda at all!

We were complete dust bombs, came "home" to our familia for a shower and grabbed a dinner-drinks with Will & Arabella. A LOVELY day!! And yes, we did memorize 5 new verb tenses and complete our other homework before bed. HOMEWORK SUCKS!

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