Arriving in Guatemala international airport is like arriving in a quiet regional destination. Easy and relaxed. My compadres and I headed for Antigua, a UNESCO listed town one hour cab ride for US$10. This is where they keep their tourists in Guatemala. It's a really pretty 18th Century Spanish outpost, that looks like it has been given a make over by a bunch of gay guys – all ochre and mustard tones, with archways, courtyards, gardens & fountains trickling, just gorgeous sweetie!
Antigua snugly fits in amongst three volcanoes. This presents a stunning vista. For our first night in town, we settle in for some sundown drinks to watch the sunset & take in our scenic surrounds. What the hell! A volcano has spewed forth a gigantic plume of smoke, right in front of our eyes, just on sunset, to capture the colours and hues as we sip our beverages, and stare in gob smacked delight. Who would have thought!?
We take it in our stride the next day when we book a guided tour to walk up an active volcano; Volcan Pacaya, and it only costs seven-bucks! We are picked up in an average tour bus with twelve other punters along for the quest. On the bus ride people joke about not coming back, I myself am worried more about the climb up (& then down) and how hard it is going to be.
My concerns are recognised when we arrive in the car park and kids swarm on us to sell us sturdy sticks for the climb ahead. My best friend shouts me one, for just $1.00. She presents it to me - not a gift I expected she would ever bestow on me! Quite soon we are ascending a steep incline with a weird lunar like terrain. Smoke or mist swirls around us, giving us little visibility. Still I focus on the climb, and not the destination.
We get to a certain point, a couple of hours after we start the guide points out the volcano summit ahead. I think; “yay, we have made it, it is sort of cool.” At this point in Australia, there would be fences and barriers. Signs saying “DANGER. Do not go beyond this point”. I am happy we have reached our destination.
What? Where are we going now? We're climbing higher? Guess bloody what... we are. So we get to the top of the volcano. There is lava, crimson red hot lava, oozing down the side of the volcano. We gather together, in a very small group and ask the guide - “what the fuck is that?”, he answers in Spanish, so none of us understand but for one American chica, and she says “he says to move to the left - QUICKLY”. We do!
So there we gather, behind a rocky outcrop, as large molten boulders cascade down the side of the volcano, on top of the molten lava. Are we having fun yet! My amiga and I decided to stick like glue to the guide, if there is one person coming off the side of this volcano, it will be him!
We then went silly! Separated from the other tour groups, we did a big loop back to where the lava was flowing, and you could do what tourists do – take photos! Our voices were shrill, we spoke fast, our shoes were on fire! Some of the group toasted marshmallows in the lava flow! There were donkeys and horses to take the weary of foot back down (for a price), there were dogs and frivolity. It looks like we will make it out alive!
We make a descent down a different track, and get to slide through some great scree covered peaks. The sunset is spectacular and we are jubilant. We are now out of harms way! It is a steep descent, as it was a steep ascent – my concerns were warranted after all. The trek up and back was about 4 hours in total. Who knows how long we were at the top, amidst a volcano exploding and spewing forth lava and molten rocks. Time stood still.
As we shared a life saving cigarette at the bottom of Pacaya, my words to my best mate were... ”I've done some weird shit with you girlfriend, but this takes the cake!”
No shit Sherlock.