Wednesday, November 26, 1997

One of the things I was determined to do on this trip was to climb an active volcano. In the morning I put myself on the list and paid $12 for the trip to Pacaya. Everything you read and hear tells you that this is extremely dangerous; robberies are reportedly quite common, and I heard stories of people who were recently hit in the face with molten rock. You hear a lot of stories when you travel, and I figure the guides don't want problems any more than I do. There was to be 2 armed guides with us, and I figured what the hell.

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The guides had to perform major engine work on the van a few times on the way up Pacaya.

It was definitely a gringo bus, or "target" as naughty Guatemalans would say. The only other native english speaker was a Canadian named Joe, who would soon regret wearing shorts and flip-flops on this adventure.

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A bull strolls past us at the trail head.

Actually, there was five bulls. I wanted to make sure I wouldn't get gored before snapping a picture of the last one. As you can see, a cop monitors the trail head, which made me feel a little better. The guides reassured me that in spite of all the robberies, there had only been one murder here this year. The weather was fine- 80 degrees at the trail head (1900 meters above sea level). Little did we know...

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This was my last viewable picture on the hike up Pacaya.

The weather got bad. Fast. by the time the we got near the top we were climbing in freezing rain, thick fog, and high winds. The last several hundred vertical feet was pure volcanic ash and really a chore to walk in. Four of the people in the group had already turned back. It was dark by the time we reached the top, but that was the idea. We were about 10 feet from the lava, but visibility was only about 3 feet. We sat down in the ash, and it was quite warm. We knew we were there, but just couldn't see anything. It would have been foolish to move any closer, so we turned around and headed back. We all brought flashlights, but all they really did was light up the fog. A couple hours later we had returned to the trail head and the tienda welcomed us with hot coffee at inflated prices.

Nobody knew each other when we left, but we sort of went through a bonding experience on this adventure. I think all of us would agree that it was worth $12 and some miserable weather. Even Joe, with his bloody legs and feet, never complained and we all had a good laugh.

Continue to day 11.

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