In our previous instalment, our heroes were about to brave a volcano until they got a call from their (spirit) guide. What happens next? Find out, as ‘Goddamned volcanoes’ continues!
Just when we were all prepared and hyped up to wake up at 5:00 am in the morning to climb a goddamn volcano, our guide Guilmer called and asked if we could postpone. The reason being is that he had a group of 25+ more people for that day and he really recommended going with a smaller group which would be more enjoyable for us.
This was quite the dilemma as the weather forecast was great for our planned day. By now we heard plenty of stories from people who literally had their dreadlocks frozen and saw nothing more than fog. You can argue it’s about the journey and not the destination, but if I’m going up a volcano there better be something to see! If you remember that picture of Nathan from the previous post, you can imagine I had my expectations set (too) high.
In the end we decided to postpone, which turned out to be a great decision because we met some new friends at Maison Bougainvillae who really wanted to go with us. Jan and Veronica from the Czech-Republic were leaving in the weekend so we just had to pick a date. Even though the weather forecast wasn’t great, we decided on Thursday and once again we had no way to back out of it.
Thursday came around quickly. We were picked up by a van from Maison Bouganvillae and went around Antigua to pick up three others; Linn and Jannis from Germany and Lucian from South-Africa. Together we went to the base of Guilmer’s operation, near the foot of Acatenango, where we prepared ourselves for the journey. Besides the water and stuff we packed ourselves we had to stuff our backpacks with tents, sleeping bags and more warm clothes Guilmer provided us with.
We met with our guide, Jaime, one of Guilmer’s brothers who knows the volcano like the back of his hand. We also met with Monika’s porter who’s name I unfortunately forgot. Yes, you can hire a porter to carry your bag up and Momo had long decided she wouldn’t be able to carry 10k all the way up. It was a great decision for her as she was able to go up confidently and actually enjoyed the hike.
In any case, we went up to the entry of the national park Acatenango and were greeted by a bunch of old people and kids who want you to rent their stick… That sounds weirder than it has to. They rent out walking sticks for 5Q, and my advice is to not to skip. The stick is a lifesaver.
After everyone got their stick of choice, we went up the first part of the trail. I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you, the first part of the trail is horrible. It’s a dusty, sandy path and for every two steps forward you slide one back. It’s like trying to run on the beach, uphill. I immediately regretted the decision to go on this hike.
From the other side of the path, fortunate hikers on their way back to civilisation greeted us with a mix of petty and amusement in their eyes. They were all ecstatic, having seen what they saw and now within reach of a warm shower and a cold beer. I couldn’t wait to be those people.
Luckily the trail gets easier quickly. Once you’re out of the farmlands you go through a rainforest and the environment really is beautiful. The trek is still hard but the trail barely has any difficult parts. For the most part it’s just very long. We had plenty of breaks during the hike and it turned out our group was really nice. Including Jaime and the porter we were with nine, which I imagine was way better than the 25+ we would’ve gone with if we did the hike on Monday.
We had a great time and all waited for each other when someone needed a break. Both Jaime and the porter were stellar. At times they ran a whole part of the trail ahead, dropped their luggage and came back to help someone else with their luggage. We couldn’t have had any better guides around us.
From rainforest the environment changes to pine forest and eventually even the pines start to look withered and broken (much like my legs at that moment). We couldn’t yet see volcano del Fuego but it seemed to be rumbling louder, a sign we were closer to our destination. Jaime promised us the last part of the trail would be flat and I discovered that Guatemaltecos and Dutch have a different understanding of what flat is.
Eventually we all made it to basecamp in one piece. After a round of ‘everybody-high-five’ we sat down to have a look at del Fuego, which was unfortunately obscured by clouds.
We couldn’t dwell on that for too long though, because we had to pitch up the tents and get our warm clothes out of our backpacks. Jaime made a great campfire and made a stellar dinner for us.
After diner it was still misty and it started to rain softly. I thought we were going to be in for a very long night.
But behold! Within 20 minutes the sun was setting, the sky got darker and the clouds moved away to give us the most glorious view of an erupting del Fuego. The show was on!
And what a show it was. It was loud, spectacular and continuously! The first 20 times it erupted we all cheered but we soon realised del Fuego didn’t need any support. We continued to take pictures and watch in complete awe.
As the night fell, del Fuego continued to provide a spectacular fireworks show while Jaime made us hot chocolate and handed out marshmallows to roast on the campfire. Most of us had brought some rum so it turned out we had plenty to keep us warm.
To capture all the action, I carried my Fuji X100s camera. With a fixed 35mm equivalent lens I wasn’t sure I could capture the volcano in it’s full glory. The X100s proved to be more than up for the task. My biggest fear however, was the battery life. I had four batteries with me, but battery life of the x100s is terrible, especially in the cold.
I planned to be careful with the amount of pictures I took, and that plan went immediately out of the window when del Fuego just continued to erupt. Luckily I ran out of energy before my batteries or del Fuego did, and I called it a night.
The sleeping arrangements were quite cosy. We shared a tent with our buddies Jan and Veronica and I’m not sure if any of us really slept. The volcano eruptions continued throughout the night and when I closed my eyes, all I saw was this great orange glow.
At one point I did nod off, and when I opened my eyes it was 04:00am. Time to conquer the final part of Acatenango. Del Fuego was still erupting madly, and before we went I was able to take a few more snapshots.
The last 500 meters. They made it sound so easy but for us it definitely wasn’t. Some of the group decided to stay at basecamp, others returned after a while because they weren’t feeling too good. In the end it was just Monika, Jan, myself and Jaime on the trail. It was very, very windy and at times genuinely scary. We progressed slowly and weren’t yet at the top when the sun already rose. That wasn’t a bad thing, because the view we had from our point was literally out of this earth.
With all its explosions and drama, volcano del Fuego is the main point of attention. But there’s another gorgeous volcano, Agua, on which we had a perfect view during sunrise. Next to Agua you’ll find the smaller but still active volcano Pacaya.
When we finally got near the top, most other hikers had already left. Jaime was patient with us though, and did everything he could to make sure we would make it to the top.
On top it was crazy windy and we had to lean in not to be blown away. The area was completely desolate and the wind seemed to coming from all different directions. In the distance we could see volcano Santa Maria, which we hiked up not two weeks before that. At the other side, volcano del Fuego was still erupting.
We took the mandatory ‘We’ve been here!’ pictures and decided to get back to basecamp.
I’m happy we made it to the summit, but for me the ultimate experience was sitting at basecamp, watching that motherfucker explode with a force I couldn’t have had imagined.
Back at basecamp, we packed up, took the group picture and went hiking down. Everyone was in a good mood hiking back to civilisation, looking forward to a warm shower and a cold beer. During the final stretch we came across a few groups who were just starting their journey up, and now we were the ecstatic assholes wishing them good luck.