On our fourth day at school, we sign up for the trip to Volcan Pacaya. This is definitely an event we would expect to be a highlight of our trip, as all the trip reports and photos look very exciting. The trip is better organized with a dedicated bus and a large group.
It’s a longish ride (about 90 minutes) and we pass through rural areas which look very poor. It’s our closest view of some of the poverty in the country. We generally don’t see this in Antigua which is a thriving city, mainly because of the heavy tourist traffic. Antigua is really a Guatemala-lite type place, a destination where you get a feel of the country without experiencing real Guatemala. But it’s perfect for a family with young children. The windy route up the mountains to the base of the Volcano though does give us the chance to see how some of the people live and it’s not pretty.
When we get to the volcano’s base, we are besieged by hordes of kids trying to rent out climbing sticks or mule rides. Dani and Liora decide to ride up on mules while we walk. Immediately it is a very steep climb. It’s long as well, close on two hours. While the boys scamper up the hills, I’m finding it quite hard; I’m the oldest in our group by about twenty years and I’m feeling it, although I won’t say anything. In addition, one has to constantly look down to ensure against treading in the mule poop that liberally covers the path.
Near the top it starts raining. It begins as a regular rainfall and then turns into a torrential downpour. So when we reunite as a family at the top, we’re soaked. We now have to cross a lava field to get to where all the action is. We’re warned to be very careful about not falling or slipping as the surface is so sharp, any fall will result in unpleasant hand cutting. The rain is still coming down hard, and the wind is gusting too, so there’s no way to use an umbrella. I’m also helping Benjy negotiate the huge leaps from boulder to boulder which is hard for a 10-year-old.
We’re wet through when we get to the lava flows. Cold too. The area though is incredible. You can’t stand for too long in one spot because the surface is so hot. It takes less than ten minutes to be completely dry. There’s a huge crowd up here, most people are roasting marshmallows or just walking around. Some idiots are trying to light cigarettes on the lava (an attempt to kill themselves another I guess) while we see a sweatshirt catch fire. The lack of supervision is truly amazing. We expect that in the US there would be ropes and rangers everywhere and that we would see all this from a distance. Here however, one is free to kill oneself or do oneself any other harm if you are in the mood.
We go through two packets of marshmallows, and when it starts getting dark, we turn to head back. Visibility is now almost zero as it is so misty. Dani and I get stuck behind some woman who are struggling on the rocks; we race past them and soon are totally alone and lost. We shout for anyone and eventually are relieved to hear a guide’s whistle. We may have been very close to our group but we have not been able to see a thing.
We all walk down together. It’s dark now so no point in looking to keep our shoes clean, but it’s a nice gentle stroll downhill all the way. It’s been a really grand adventure, a must see and do.