I'm in pain and I probably look like a 90 year old woman in need of a walking stick when I'm going down stairs. I'm nowhere in the shape I were a year ago but I still consider myself as kind of fit compared to the average person. That's why it pains me to say that hiking the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala was by far the toughest hike I ever done and at one point I nearly turned around. But stubbornness and the risk of losing my pride got me to the top. This post will be about my own experience, here is a separate post on some dos & don'ts...
I came back to Antigua for one reason and one reason only and that was to hike the Acatenango volcano that is nearly 4000 m above sea level. There are plenty of tour operators organizing this hike ranging in price from USD 25-USD 130. I heard a lot about unprofessional operators were the guide just don't care about the group but just want to get to the top and then hurries back down again, losing some of his people on the way. A few weeks ago there was 6 people who died doing this hike due to cold weather, these people were part of two different groups that had decided to do the hike with no guide. So with this in mind I did some research online using mostly TripAdvisor and in the end I decided to do the hike with a guy called Guilmer. He organizes the hikes with local guides and his network of guides including himself are part of the Guatemalan Red Cross which means that when people gets lost on the volcano then he is being called out for the rescue mission. A lot of the money paid for the hikes goes in to Guilem's village as well, such as to the local school for example.
Guilmer picked me up at my hostel at a leisurely time of 730 am and after we picked up another four people we set out to his village to get ready. When doing an overnight hike on this volcano as I did, you don't just have to carry yourself up and don't think that just because this is a popular hike you will find nice cabins and running water at the base camp. So in addition to the extra clothes we needed, we also carried water to last us for two days, snacks, sleeping bag and in between three girls we also took turns in carrying our tent. This adds up in weight and my backpack's start weight was between 8-12 kgs depending on if I was carrying the tent or not.
The first day we made it up to base camp, this was a 5 hour slow hike uphill on various surface, a lot of times it was proper uphill on a very soft sandy/gravel path where your feet would sink a bit for every step you took, this was a killer for the legs. As I volunteered to start carrying the tent it made it even tougher. After about 3.5 hours of hiking with some short rests in between we came to some short stretches with nearly flat hard ground with only some small up an downs, this felt like heaven and it nearly felt like a rest walking here. The legs and butt adjusted and started to feel alive again, I was still very happy when we reached base camp.
Most days it's a beautiful view of a couple of other volcanos from base camp. Unfortunately we were a bit unlucky with the weather and it was a lot of clouds this afternoon/evening. Just sitting watching the clouds roll in over the landscape below is a very impressing, hypnotizing view as well so I wasn't to disappointed. One thing that made me a bit disappointed though was that the Fuego volcano opposite us was a sleep so we didn't get to see the hot red lava as a lot of people do see. This was also one of the reason why I did this hike.
Coming late afternoon the wind got a bit more intense and so did the cold so we all huddled around the fire. We had dinner served, and when I say we had dinner served then I mean we heated some pasta and with that we had refried beans and tostadas. Instead of wine with the dinner we got hot chocolate. Very simple meal but it tasted so good after the adventure we had that day. As dessert our guide surprised us with a bag of marshmallows which we toasted over the fire. Of course I managed to set about 80% of mine on fire. We all had a very early evening and went to our tents. You people that know me also knows that I'm not a big fan of hugging and being close to other people, especially people I don't know. But this night I must admit that I gladly put my sleeping bag as close as possible to the other two girls I was sharing tent with just to keep warm.
Coming 4 am our alarm went off and it was time to do the last 1.5 hours up to the top of the volcano. Thank god that we didn't needed to bring our packs because this was the most challenging part of the whole hike. Not only was it steeper with even more sinking ground then the day before but of course it was dark and worst of all was the wind. It was so windy that one of the other groups decided to turn around. With the wind making my face and fingers freeze to a slow death and my legs being stiff and tired from the day before, me to were thinking about turning around. That would mean failure though and failure is not an option I take easy. I mean, I still kick myself because I never finished Amsterdam Marathon 2.5 years ago. So I put my head down, tried not to think about how long it takes to get frost bites on your fingers and I slowly continued hiking up with the others. At one of our short breaks some fucker in the group asked our guide how long we had left. Our guide told us 40 minutes and I nearly thought I die since I thought we would have 10-15 minutes left. In fact he lied, after about 20 minutes we were at the top. We found a bit of shelter huddled together until the sunrise came and then we all tried to admire the view. I say tried because it was a stunning view but the wind was so hard and cold as soon as you got to the point were you would get the view so in the end we didn't stay long.
I never been inspired to do Mount Everest and just doing this short last part up Acatenango has made my inspiration for Mount Everest even less. Yes; big gap comparing these two that has nothing to do with each other but I hope you understand what I mean!
After a quick breakfast back at base camp we got all our things together and started our descend down the volcano. This was nearly as challenging as hiking up, not in a muscle kind of way but more in a don't fall on the ass kind of way. It was in particular hard when you had the tent on the backpack as well. Sometimes I would slip, try to get my balance by automatically leaning forward but then the weight of the backpack would almost make me fall forward instead. It took a few slips for me to learn not to lean forward, in the end I never fell but if I had then I think I would have preferred to fall backwards then forward. The descend took a surprisingly short 2.5 hours and down by the entrance we were met by Guilem and the driver that took us back to Antigua.
The others were just talking about how much they wanted to shower and then sleep when we would get back to Antigua, I on the other hand had other things on my mind... So the first thing I did was to go to my hostel, drop my bag, wash my hands and wash off the worst dirt marks in my face. After this I went to the Bagel Barn for a decent coffee and the biggest bagel on the menu. I didn't care that I smelled of campfire or that my hair might have looked like I had stuck my fingers in an electricity outlet. I just sat back and enjoyed. Then me and my stiff legs went back to the hostel and had a long shower and finally I could take a long deserved nap!!!
I decided that it was time for a career break. So handed in my notice to the company who I worked with for the last ten years. It's time to pack my bag and depart from Amsterdam which been my home town for the last 4.5 years. -"Amsterdam, it's not you it's me and I need a break!". Read more
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