Saturday, June 11, 2011


Last night, I went for the 3rd time to the Pacaya Volcano.  On the way to the volcano I got into my first Latin American car accident.  A motorcycle pulled out in front of us and we T-boned it.  The guy was able to roll off the bike and suffered minor injuries, but it was scary nonetheless.  Our car suffered minor damage and our driver was thinking about not stopping.  I don't blame him for not wanting to stop, especially with all the trigger happy Guatemalans.

A lot has changed in 3 years.  The volcano had a massive eruption in 2010 and the path I took up the previous two times didn't even exist because of lava flows.  Four people died near the crater that year because of eruptions and lightning strikes.  The crater was almost completely closed off and domed before, but this time I could see where the lava exploded from the crater.

We took the afternoon tour which I always thought is the best because you get a chance to the sunset high above the clouds.  The path was steep and was on broken up volcanic rock, which made for a difficult hike.  As we got higher we started to hear some rumbling and I couldn't distinguish whether the rumbling was from lava flows or thunder.  The guide kept his mouth shut about it for a while and finally turned and said that it was thunder.  I got a great view of the apex of the volcano this time, a view that I had never seen before.  The crater was ominous poking about 1000 ft from the warm volcanic rock that we were standing on.  We went into a couple thermal caves heated my underground lava flows.  At this point it was beginning to rain and lightning was striking near the crater.  The guide told me to keep my mouth closed because that attracts lightning strikes.  I didn't understand why he was saying that until he smiled again and showed a mouth full of metal from dental work.  Having never had a cavity, I felt a little safer.

The storm approached from behind the mountain making for a menacing picture.  I could tell the guide was getting nervous, but he wanted to show us a good time.  I asked him if he thought we should be leaving and he gave a definite yes.  The problem, he said was when we would be descending through the storm on our way back down.  The storm wasn't as strong as high as we were.  I was translating for the entire group which made me feel really proud of my Spanish skills.  The guide asked me where the hell I learned Spanish and I told him my students taught me.

After roasting a few marshmallows and taking refuge from the rain in one of the lava caves, we decided to head down.  We were trying to hurry up at this point as the storm was at its strongest.  The guide was bombing down the mountain as fast as he could.  I was right on his heals when we came to a ridge of broken volcanic rock that dropped off about 50 meters to another path.  He showed me a way to get down the mountain faster.  It was basically surfing down the mountain on the loose gravel.  It was a great time, but I was wearing shorts and rocks were hitting my legs and getting in my shoes.  The rocks were so hot that I had a couple blisters from the burns.

We basically ran down the mountain and took shelter in the tourist office waiting for our ride.  Pacaya, being ever changing, is a good place to visit a couple years later.

This morning I booked a mountain bike trip with a local expedition group.  The advertisement said, "For intermediate to advanced riders who want to bomb down the side of Agua Volcano.  I convinced myself I was intermediate and signed up.  It was an early morning after the long hike on Pacaya the night before.  We rode in the back of a pickup halfway up the mountain and got dropped off.  The climate was cool and the villagers were even cooler.  Mayan farmers and families going to the market frequented some of the trails.  We had to stop a few times to let horses go by, but it was a great cultural experience.  We went uphill for the first part and then started dropping down like crazy.  This was actually my first time ever on a mountain bike and I had no idea about the concept.  I was leaning forward going downhill and catching some serious speed and hitting rocks with my pedals because I didn't have the correct positioning.  The second downhill I clipped my pedal on a huge rock and tumbled over the handlebars.  Luckily, I was able to roll and there weren't any further rocks to hit.  I fell twice really hard and dug the pedals deep into my knees and shins both times.  It wasn't painful at all thought because of the tremendous amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins while flying down the mountain.

We had a great group of people on the trip.  I hung out with a couple guys who just graduated from University of Wisconsin Madison.  They were typical Wisconsin guys--really helpful and just genuinely nice people.  One of the Wisconsin guys had a really nasty fall because the two of them were just fearless.  They would just cruise down the mountain without tapping the breaks at all.  They had definitely done it before.  The three of us got flat tires and the guides were pretty annoyed that they had to change all three.  Mountain biking is a rush.  It is a great workout and definitely something I would love to get into.  I would probably like to start on something a little less technically challenging.  Here are some pictures from both events.  Nothing special because I didn't have much time to take pictures.

I am doing a series of blogs for Roots and Wings about my travels in Guatemala.  Here is Part One:

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