After a long 11 hours from Lanquin, we arrived in a dark and deserted Antigua. We found a sketchy hostel for the night, Banana Azul. I don’t recommend it; Paige, Karrie, and I shared a room with a kid from Miami, who immediately told us horror stories of a previous roommates’ bags being stolen in the middle of the night. Yay. (You better believe I cuddled the sh!t out of my bags that night.
I spent Saturday morning
doing errands… Most specifically extending my trip a week and making new arrangements for when I’m back in San Diego. I also found a new hostel, the Tropicana. And I can’t recommend it more. Everyone that works there is super helpful and nice. The dorms ($9) have huge, 3 level bunk beds, all with a locker above the headboard and privacy curtains all around. There’s a swimming pool and a sun deck, conveniently located next to a bar. And to top it all off (pun coming…), there’s a roof deck, with a view of Volcán de Agua, the huge volcano overlooking the city. If you’re in Antigua, stay here.
I spent the rest of the day exploring the town. There’s a cool Central Park, with street vendors and musicians. Nearby are tons of markets, where you can bargain for textiles, bags, and other goodies. I stopped by the Arch of Saint Catalina before heading up to the Cerro de la Cruz (hill of the cross), which had views of all of Antigua and surrounding volcanos.
Speaking of volcanos. Back at the hostel, I overheard people talking about an overnight hike up one, which I also heard about in Belize. I initially ruled it out on the excuse of not having time. But upon hearing about it again, I knew I had to do it. For $75, I booked it, not knowing what the hell I’d be in for. That night, Valentine’s Day, some friends and I celebrated our singularity. A little too hard.
I woke up Sunday morning
with little sleep and a lot of hangover. But by the time we got to the base of Volcán de Acatenango, all traces of a hangover had been replaced with nerves and anxiety.
We added sleeping mats and bags to our already full backpacks. I picked it up and laughed. How the hell am I going to lug this thing up a volcano? The first hour was bad. We started trekking up through a farm, battling loose sand and a steep incline. The second hour was bad. We trekked through the jungle, up more steep slopes, with roots and rocks to tackle. The third hour was awful. The fourth terrible. The fifth ridiculous. And the sixth the worst. It was 6 hours of the hardest hiking I’d ever done. Not once did the terrain level out or give us a break. And with huge backpacks weighing us down, it was truly one of the most challenging things I’ve done. My legs shook with each step, my calves felt like they were about to burst, my heartbeat raced faster than it ever had, and Judd dug into my shoulders every second (if you forgot, Judd is my pack). And despite all this, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
We got to base camp around 5, just in time for a beautiful sunset over Volcán de Fuego, an active volcano that erupts just about every thirty minutes. We set up our tents and started a fire. Our awesome guides, Alonso and Eddie broke out some wine and the fun began. We ate, drank, and enjoyed each other’s company by the fire, with often interruptions by Volcán de Fuego. Some eruptions were accompanied by loud bangs, others just huge clouds of smoke. And as the sun went down and the stars came out, many eruptions were accompanied by bright, red lava. At one point I laid down, taking it all in. Cities in the distance sparkled, thousands of stars twinkled, and for a few moments, I felt at one with the world. For being so close to an active volcano, camping in the wilderness, it was so peaceful and simple.
We went to bed around 10 pm
, myself a bit drunk. Throughout the night, Fuego erupted. With each rumble, everyone sat up, unzipped their tents and stared at the volcano in awe.
We “woke” up at four. Needles to say, not much sleep was had. We began to trek up the remainder of the volcano, the hardest part, in the darkness of the early morning. Being as unprepared for this trip as I was, I basically crawled up the mountain using the faint headlights of others. Again, my pulse practically burst from my skin, hitting the highest speeds I’d ever felt. Vegetation became sparse and soon, we were trekking up all sand, with each step causing a small avalanche down the volcano. I kept myself from looking down and focused on the one-foot-wide “path.” The sun began to rise, lighting up my surroundings. It was both terrifying and amazing how high up we were. The final section up, we climbed alongside a legit cliff. Any slip-up and I would’ve fallen hundreds of feet. I looked up at the top, which was now within reach. Slowly, a bit of smoke began to emerge, until it grew into a huge mushroom cloud. Everyone paused where they were; Panic set over me as I thought it must be our volcano that had erupted, the cloud was just too big. But our fearless guide Alonso climbed on, so I too climbed on. The final twenty steps felt amazing. I built speed, each foot exponentially more exciting than the last. And I reached the top. I walked along the perimeter, until we were within view of Fuego and a 360• panorama of surrounding towns and volcanos. The sun slowly rose behind Volcán de Agua, the huge volcano that overlooks Antigua. How amazing it felt that 8 hours of pain and perseverance had led to this moment. As I stared out in all directions, I truly was on top of the world. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
We took pictures (obvi put my selfie stick to good use) and then began our descent, which was much easier than I thought. Though scary, for we were staring straight down, all we need to do was take a step and we would slide down about 3 feet. What took us two hours to get up, took about 30 minutes to get down. We had breakfast at base camp, packed our things, and had one last look at Fuego.
The descent was about 3 hours of sliding down loose sand and pumping the brakes to prevent us tumbling down the entire way. At this point, we all just wanted to get down as fast as possible. We were all covered in dirt, feet blistered, and some pretty sunburnt (not me though, 23 years of pasty Irish skin and I know better).
I returned to the Tropicana, where I showered before getting on a bus to Lake Atitlan. I stared at myself in the mirror, my face dirty, hair a mess, and beard black. I’m doing pretty well.