So today we are in Guatemala. Yesterday we signed up for the Pacaya Volcano Climb, it was listed as “strenuous” which is the same level of difficulty as the other excursions we have been on so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had the earliest departure time from the ship, 6:45am so we had an early breakfast and retrieved our stickers for our group in the Celebrity theatre. Once our number was called we headed off the ship and boarded our 2-and-1 bus around 7:15 and were off to the mountains. There was one couple that had been on the kayaking trip with us was on the tour, a younger couple from Miami, both who could speak Spanish, so it was nice to see some “familiar” faces.
When we arrived at the national park where the volcano complex was there were many younger children renting walking sticks for $1 shouting to us “it is necessary!” And I just figured they say that to get you to rent one, not the case as I found out later in the hike. There were also men and older boys with horses who followed us as we began up the path. I’m thinking, this can’t be so bad that folks would bail out to ride a horse, but it was definitely a challenging hike. The first leg was very inclined and we were already a few thousand feet up and the altitude got to you quickly, so I was huffing and puffing after the first few hundred meters when we stopped the first time. Thankfully that was one of the steeper inclines, but not by much. One older British couple and one older lady ended up using the horses during the climb (and descent), it was $15 each way but I’m sure for them it was well worth it. We would go usually 10 minutes of walking and then pause to let everyone catch up and our tour guide Mynor would translate for the nature guide that we had picked up on our way in.
There are big signs in both Spanish and English at these “rest stops” telling visitors about the view they were seeing, the different types of volcanoes, vegetation, etc. As we are ascending we had a black dog that stayed with our group the entire way up, he just trotted along in the line with everyone else and would flop down in the shade when we reached a break spot, it was very cute (and of course the whole time he was looking for food when someone would pull out a snack bar or something). We were given two Milky Way bars and two bottles of water for the trip and we brought a Clif bar and two additional bottles of water, by the time we reached the top we had gone through three of the bottles of water and one candy bar and one energy bar. At what is typically the top of the climb there is a seasonal little hovel that houses a “lava jewelry” shop, but today they were on vacation so it was empty. The horses were allowed to come up to that point but then there was another 100 meters or so to climb to get to the high lookout point.
At this point we had gone from being in what started almost as a temperate forest to quite desolate black volcanic rock/gravel/sand with greener mountains off in the distance. We had gone from seeing the volcano from the road to being three quarters of the way up its side. There was a hiker in our group who specialized in high altitude hikes and he asked if we could go farther. At first this sounded like something we were too tired to do after the 4km hike up but wow as it worth it. Our Guatemalan guide took us up an additional 500 meters or so (probably 1km of walking), past where any normal tour goes, and typically where folks have to pay an additional fee to go. We walked through the lava fields, with their lightweight pumice stones and eerie shapes, at certain points it was like walking on styrofoam as you walked across and slid down the pumice stones. I had my Meryll hiking sandals on up to the top of our hike, but on the way down we essentially had to carefully slide down the loose gravel slope so I put on my sneakers I had brought (much to the relief of a few of the ladies on the hike who were worried about me). Before we had gotten to this point the older couple asked to go back to where the horses were so our main tour guide took him back and our nature guide continued on, with the wife from the Miami couple acting as a translator for him.
At the crux of our hike we were in one of the craters of the volcano, probably 3/4 of the way to the very top, which was split in two. In 2010 this volcano had erupted and went from a smoothed pointed mountain to a mountain top split in two, with both sides still steaming and smoking lightly. The lava flows and ash and rock that we were walking on were only two years old and just two weeks ago there had been an earthquake that mussed with the stability in various parts of the trail (so much so that at times we had to be very careful to follow exactly where the guide walked). As we walked along the side near the top there were many places where the ground was steaming and you could feel and see hot air coming up out from under some of the rocks. It is so hot that as a “treat” our guide brought up marshmallows for us to roast in one of the little scoops where the temperature was over 200 degrees. I have to say that was the coolest way I have ever roasted a marshmallow and wow were they a welcome sugar rush after the climb as well. We then began our descent down the gravelly path that was really just worn down lava flow, it’s amazing how much the lava stone breaks up, but that’s what makes the great volcanic soil around here as well as the black beaches on Guatemala’s Pacific side. The descent was much faster than the ascent and we rarely stopped for a break. As we came down a cloud moved onto the mountain and a lot of the trip we were shrouded in the cloud, only being able to see a few dozen meters above or below us. It was actually kind of a nice change as it made you focus on the path and what was nearby, which was gravel for the first part, but then lots of little pink and purple and white flowers began to appear as you got a bit lower, then turning into more of a standard early growth forest by the end of the trail, with the ground transitioning from pure pumice stones about the size of golf balls to finer pea sized stone and sand, to mostly sand, and finally mostly soil with some rocks.
Once we made it back to the bus (our knees very grateful for it) we drove abut 30 minutes to lunch at a local restaurant. The food was great, simple but very flavorful. We had the choice of grilled chicken or beef that was served with grilled halved potatoes with an herb butter, sliced tomato, fresh avocado slices, and some very tasty salsa. To drink we could choose from a rice based sweetened drink or a flower/tea based sweetened drink. Jeremy and I each got something different so we could try everything and it was all great.
After we were dropped off at the port we made our way through the little market of souvenirs that were set up outside, purchased some gifts for folks and I got an oval jade pendant, with the silver back a design with a quetzal bird.
We have now cleaned up, dusted off everything (our feet and shoes were covered in black dust) and are relaxing until our “Chef’s Table” dinner at 6:45, I can’t wait! So far this had been the coolest day on the cruise and I have a feeling dinner tonight will cement that.