Guatemala, Day 5: Man VS Volcano! Part 1

I misread the information and the briefing was at 7 am and leaving to Acatanengo was at 9:30 am. I had my breakfast at 7:30 and at 8 am I realized I missed this bit! I rushed in the street, grabbed the first tuk-tuk who found the place quickly and I was just on time! The guys were loading the bags on the truck and I rushed into the hotel/ tourism agency where I got mountain equipment, scarf, winter coat, pullover, gloves, lamp, stockings and much more!… The guide explained us the volcano was 4000 meters high! On top, it is freezing cold, something like minus -10 degrees, plus the path to the top is sometimes uncertain. I thought this should be all right, I have been to the jungle in Costa Rica, it’s way worse (or… Is it?).

I got introduced to the group: we were about 30 lads, most of them from Australia, they were quite cool and fun to talk to! There were also some American people and 1 French guy) In the van, I sat next to a Russian-Australian girl from Melbourne. Long story short, her father is Ukrainian, her mother is Russian, she was from a small town close to Moscow and they all moved to Australia in the early 90’s when the Soviet Union collapsed. We spoke all the way until we reached the start point. The drive was something like 2 and a half hours. When we got there, there were many locals selling us food, walking sticks, and much more! I bought myself a walking stick (should have bought two) I went to the toilets and we started walking.

It was such a struggle to make one step after the other, such a steep path, the soil was nothing but volcanic sand, each time your feet would get deeper into the sand making your pace REAL slow. Our bags were very heavy too, something like 20-25kg, so that made the whole group walk like a caterpillar colony. Among us was a 22-year-old Australian girl who got sick the day before. Something like a gastro and she was literally a walking dead as she was hiking. When we reached the first stop, everybody was dripping wet (from sweating) already, and yet, we must have walked less than a kilometer but it really seemed endless… We were all waiting for the poor girl who arrive 10-15 minutes after us. She crushed on earth, open-mouthed, on her back, her face was all red like a lobster! I really thought she was going to pass away… But no! It takes a lot to kill an Australian) after she rested for a while we carried on walking, this time, it was way easier, the path was still hiking a bit but the soil was normal, not this damned volcanic sand that would get your feet stuck in the ground. I was sticking behind “El Jefe”: the oldest guide among the three guides we had. He was about fifty something but he was hiking like a true sportsman, he was accompanied by his son and his nephew, the son in the middle of the group and the nephew closing the march! They were communicating by talkies to check if everything was sound and clear!

“El Jefe” told me they were hiking 3 times a week Acatanengo. I could not believe it! The distance from the bottom of the first volcano to the second one was huge, I can’t be exact but it was something like a marathon, just to get there! So imagine going back and forth three times a week! These guys must be invincible! Especially they were carrying heavy stuff on top of their bags! We reached the second stop, I was among the first ones and an Australian told me: “Dude, you’re climbing with long trousers and a long-sleeve shirt! Aren’t you hot??!!” I simply replied: “I want to hike like a Gentleman!” It naturally made everyone laugh. The truth behind is that my long trousers are a good protection against insects’ bites and stones projections, as for my long-sleeve shirt: it’s a sun-protection without using any sun-screen (healthier).

The guide introduced us “La mano del Diávolo” a handed-shaped medicinal plant which really looked like a tiny Devil’s hand. The son explained us that you need to infuse it into hot water and drink it. It kills the evil bacteria in your stomach but the side effect is that makes you puke all over.  He said I should recommend it the Aussie girl who was feeling sick. She kept it for later as we had no hot water. We walked up, this time in a forest and the best way to go up was to step on the trees roots but at least, the path was not extremely difficult! 2 more stops and we had lunch, we were only half way high on this volcano but we had already a beautiful panorama.

I took time to talk with different people. The age average was 25 years old. There were few people in their late twenties but I was the oldest (yet I was among the fittest) the group atmosphere was very Australian… Very laid back! Which was cool) We carried on further but this time it got harder, peaking high with gravel, people were slipping all the time and we were running out of breath, the higher we were walking, the less oxygen we could breathe, my throat was dry and soar, I had to drink water more often. On the way we saw a guy from another group on a donkey back, the poor soul was completely exhausted and could not breathe normally, as a result he fainted, he was still all right, but he had to be carried. After another hour, we finally reached the camping site. We congratualated one another thinking the worst was finally gone forever. (Jeez… We had no idea…)

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