ANTIGUA | Guatemala
Our week in Antigua, Guatemala was filled with Spanish tutoring, a volcano eruption, local culture, and living with a local family. It's a beautiful and historic town. Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala and is now a UNESCA World Heritage Site. There are seventeenth and eighteenth century ruins all over the city! The cobblestone streets are lined by brightly colored buildings and the city is filled with churches, craft markets, parks, and culture. We loved walking around the city, minus the caca de perro (dog poop) everywhere from the wild dogs. The public transportation can’t be missed! Remember the old school bus you’d ride to school everyday? It’s now in Guatemala, tricked out with lights, bright paint colors, and loud music transporting locals to and from.
The family we stayed with (Armando, Olga, and their three daughters) ended up being the best family we could have hoped for! They spoke very little English, encouraging us to use the spanish we were learning everyday. Olga cooked us breakfast at 7AM, lunch at 1PM, and dinner at 7PM everyday. We both had our own private Spanish tutors Monday – Friday from 8AM – 1PM at a local garden. The five hours a day with Sylvia and Rolando were so much fun and full of laughter! We were definitely sad when it ended and it's helped our trip so far tremendously! We've spoken (broken) Spanish with a lot of people we'd otherwise not had the opportunity to talk with! Especially after I have a few Cervezas :).
We'd heard of the overnight hike up Volcan Acatenango, Guatemala's third tallest volcano, but originally hadn't planned to do it. After seeing incredible photos and hearing about the experience from a German kid we met on a bus, there was no way we could miss out! When we arrived in Antigua we immediately signed up to do the hike our last two days in the city through a local tour company. There are three volcanoes surround Antigua- Volcan Aqua, Volcan Acatenango, and Volcan Fuego. Of the three Fuego is the only active and it is one of the world's most active volcanoes. The main purpose to hike Acatenango is the opportunity to see Fuego erupt, although nothing is promised. The starting point is at 5,000 ft. elevation and the summit of Acatenago is at 13,000 ft. The first day is five - six hours of hiking straight up to the basecamp, which sits at about 11,500 ft. elevation. The next morning at 4AM is the last hour and a half to the summit to view Fuego at sunrise. The guides provided us with gear like sleeping bags, tents, and a bag containing our 'meals' (bologna sandwiches, Ramen noodles, warm yogurt, and hot chocolate powder). We were instructed to bring A LOT of warm clothes, three liters of water per person, and any other necessities. We knew it was going to be hard, but had no idea what we were in for!
We were nervous and excited waiting on the curb for the bus Saturday morning. By 11AM we were at the starting point with our group of fifteen people from around the world, plus the two tour guides. We learned throughout the week that temperatures at the basecamp of Volcan Acatenango are usually around thirty degrees Fahrenheit and twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit at the summit... We’d started the day in tank tops and shorts, but the moment we stepped off the bus, strong cold winds forced us into our beanies and a couple layers of clothing, with our gloves close by. In our backpacks we carried long pants, layers of long and short sleeve shirts, ski jackets we rented from the tour company, six liters of water, extra food, and a box of red wine (why not?). Ron deserves all the credit here! Because of my back problems he had to carry almost all my stuff. The hike alone is a difficult challenge, but add on a fifty-pound backpack and you start to think you're crazy for trying it.
At the starting point local women and children were selling food, beanies, gloves, walking sticks, and local rum. Thank goodness a random man just finishing the climb approached us and convinced us to buy the walking sticks! They are two of the best purchases we've ever made! After layering on clothes and using the last toilet we were going to see for a while, we were ready!! Our group started the seriously steep path made of volcanic sand. We’d heard the first two hours are the hardest of the day and I strongly believe it! For every two steps forward, you slid back one. Although it was difficult, the views were already beautiful as we walked through coffee plantations and farms.
Throughout the hike to basecamp we made five different stops to briefly rest and snack for energy. Eventually our group had to split into two because some girls were having breathing problems and difficulty. We made it to the base camp just before sunset. The camp was on a small cliff on the side of Acatenango, just big enough for our four tents and campfire. From the basecamp we could see both Volcan Fuego and Volcan Aqua. The basecamp and sunset gave us some of the most incredible views that made the very difficult day worth it! With the tents pitched, fire started, and the guides heating warm water on the fire for our Ramen noodles and hot chocolate powder, the group sat laughing and reminiscing about the climb. Everyone was dressed in every single piece of clothing they’d packed yet we were all still freezing! We escaped the cold and wind in the tents pretty early. Our tent slept four people- Ron and I, Kyle from Colorado, and Allyn from Puerto Rico. We never stopped shivering enough to fall asleep even though we slept in sleeping bags, beanies, gloves, ski jackets, and our running shoes! We didn't learn until we reached basecamp that six people died on Acatenango two months prior when a low pressure system moved in during the night causing freezing rain and temperatures to plummet. They were unable to make the descent.
Sometime around 11PM we heard a huge explosion, the ground briefly shook and the guides started yelling ‘Chicos! Chicos!’. We flew out of our tents with wide eyes, dragging our sleeping bags, to see Volcan Fuego erupting three kilometers away! Glowing lava was shooting into the clear sky above Fuego and flowing down the sides. We stared in awe at the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen! It erupted again fifteen minutes later pulling everyone out of their tents for a second time. We were so star-struck getting a good picture was difficult!
The wake up call came at 4AM (I don’t think we ever fell asleep after the eruption). 4AM, pitch black, below freezing, altitude change, no sleep, and steepness made the hour and a half hike to the summit the most difficult part of the trip. The volcanic sand and steepness were similar to the first two hours the day before, but now with frost. FINALLY! We made it to the summit of Volcan Acatenango! The wind was blowing strongly, but the sun was rising and we could see the peak of Volcan Fuego pierce through the clouds. Everyone cheered, hugged, snapped photos, and sat in silence for a few minutes taking in the view. Although Fuego didn’t erupt during the morning, the hike and views were more than worth the effort!
There's not much to tell about the hike down, except that it was so much easier! And took much less time. When we reached the spot where we'd started the day before other people were preparing for the hike up. If I'd seen a group stumbling down the mountain, red-eyed, looking like we did, I might have re-thought the trip! Ron and I approached one group and gave them our walking sticks. One of them asked if it was hard- we laughed and Ron replied, 'You definitely have to earn it.' Next stop Nicaragua! Hefners Out!
Chicken bus, the local transportation.
Our view of Volcan Aqua from our host family's home.
Volcan Aqua from our room.
We rented a bike one day up to Mirador del Cerro de la Cruz.
Volcan Aqua in the background.
Monument del Apostal Santiago along the way.
The view at Mirador Del Cerro.
Silvia and Rolando, our Spanish tutors!
Starting the hike up Volcan Acatenango.
Into the clouds we go!
Amazing views on the way up!
Making friends with the mountain dogs along at the stopping points.
Almost to basecamp! This was the easiest part of the day!
Getting close! Volcan Aqua in the background.
Setting up the tents.
The guides chopped down a tree for firewood with a machete. The tree fell feet from Ron.
Basecamp and Volcan Fuego three kilometers away.
Volcan Aqua at sunset from our basecamp.
Volcan Fuego smoking in the evening.
Escaping the cold in our tent.
Overlooking the cities. Volcan Aqua on the left.
Volcan Fuego erupting!
We made it!! Fuzzy from the condensation and frost.
Fuego sticking above the clouds at sunrise.
Our Acatenango group!!