Monday, January 17, 2011

Day 9

After a night filled with lots of fireworks, dogs, cats, and singing, and void of much sleep, the alarm went off at 4:40. We got out of bed, packed my pack with the few snacks we had grabbed last night, water, and a sweater, and brushed our teeth. While we were brushing, Diego came in the gate of the hostel. We locked our door, and followed him and another guy through the town a bit, and hopped on a chicken bus. In the complete darkness, we took the bus up the hill, to the park entrance. We got off, paid the entrance fee by flashlight, and began the hike. The stars were beautiful, and in some places in the hills it was hard to discern city lights from stars. We hiked very quickly in the pitch black, with only a little flashlight and my headlamp to light the way. Just a few minutes into the hike, Maggie and I were huffing and puffing. We had to ask Diego to slow down and for rest stops a few times before it even began to get light. At some point, around 6:00 or 6:10, the sky began to light up, little by little. We finally reached our first real stopping place, where we ate crackers and Nutella. We stopped at a wooden overlook, looking out on the lake just beginning to become visible. We got there as a German family, that had already passed us on the trail, was starting back on the trail. After eating and taking a few pictures, we got back on our way. Next to the wooden structure was a sign, which showed us that we were only a third of the way up. Slightly disheartened, we asked Diego where in the hike we were, and he said that it was less than half way, and it was straight up from here on out. At some point during this part of the hike, we were able to turn off our flashlights. We continued for another thirty minutes or so, and then stopped at the last vista before the top. From here, we watched the sun rise over mountains and the lake, illuminating the hills and fog a bright red. It was here that we really began to talk with Diego, who had a lot of information about the volcano and the town’s way of life, if only we could keep up with him. After watching the sunrise for a bit, we continued on. At some point, we stopped for a salt break, and ate a can of pizza flavored Pringles. Nothing could have been better in that moment than those Pringles. We stopped right next to the oldest tree on the volcano, estimated to be about 400 years old.

After this break, I was energized and ready to step on the gas. I hiked ahead with Diego as Maggie and Daniel followed twenty meters behind. We talked about San Pedro, and how hippies began coming there 80 years ago, long before the tourist trade in Guatemala was established. I asked him why there were so many Israeli establishments in San Pedro, and he told me that Guatemala had been friendly to Israel before all other Latin American countries, and it is also cheaper than going to most other places. The Israeli presence, however, is not always appreciated, as the Israeli tourists tend to be demanding, self assured, and thrifty to the point of rudeness and ridiculousness. Climbing all the stairs was much easier when my brain was occupied, and the next leg went quickly. Just as a break was due, we came across a rope swing in the path. It was heaven on a volcano. At that point, swinging in the mountain, dappled with sunlight, the hike became worth all the hard work. After that, it was only about twenty more minutes of strenuous climbing to the peak.

The view from the top was astonishing. We looked out over the entire lake, and could see four other volcanoes, including Santa Maria, the one next to Xela. We sat on a rock at the top, ate chocolate cookie sandwiches dipped in Nutella, and talked with Diego about the geology of the area. Where the lake is now had been a huge lava reserve for the surrounding volcanoes, and when they all erupted—at the same time—all the lava left the reserve, and it collapsed, forming a three hundred meter deep lake. There is a very large probability that at least one of the volcanoes will erupt in the next five years or so. After sitting and eating, climbing around the rocks, and taking some photos, we headed back down. We ran down a lot of it, making the hike down much quicker, and much more fun. We stopped to swing on a vine at one point, and Diego spotted a bird, the one that the volcano is famous for, and the one that he waited in a cabin with some photographers from National Geographic for five days to find, unsuccessfully. He called it some kind of turkey—it looked like a very large, very beautiful turkey up in a tree, with a large red crest on its head. After that, we continued running, through the woods, corn fields, and coffee plantations. I had originally been the one running the most, and then just as Maggie started to run more, I slowed down. My feet began to hurt, and it wasn’t until after the hike that I saw the giant blisters on the bottom of my feet. I kept going, and we got to the bottom, exhausted and happy. A taxi took us back to our hostel, where we cleaned up and rested, and then found lunch.

After lunch, I bought some mangoes—two for fifty cents—and we got on a boat to the next town over, San Marcos. There are roads between the towns, but they are notoriously dangerous; one tourist agency warns travelers that they have a 99% chance of being jumped on some of the roads. The boats are cheap, quick, and run very often. We got to San Marcos, tried for a while to find the rocks to jump off, and finally found them, after walking through town a bit. Maggie and Daniel sat down to chill, and I hopped in the water. It was amazing. We had a perfect view of the volcano we just climbed, and the weather was perfect. Someone walked by and told us that there was a platform that we could jump off, but that it was very high. I swam over to it, climbed up the rocks to the platform, and saw just how high it was. While I was freaking out about jumping off the fifteen or so meter high platform—one of Guatemala’s most impressive feats of architecture and tourism, Daniel and Maggie walked over. I told Daniel that I’d jump if he did, so after he jumped in, I had to. After considering and psyching myself out for a while more, I finally jumped. It was wonderful. When we got out, I sat on a rock and read for a while, and then we chatted and ate a mango, and headed back on the boat around five. We ate dinner at a very strange restaurant, called the Buddha, run by gringos and more expensive that we could have imagined. The food was alright, but giving our money to Americans instead of the locals, and eating with only other gringos, on cushions, felt pretty wrong. As we were finishing eating, they began to play the movie 127 hours. We watched the first ten minutes, and then, exhausted, walked home, wrote, read, and went to bed.

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