September 7, 2009

A rainy day on Volcan Pacaya

My brother, Ian, and my niece and nephew, Assata and Dante, are visiting us here in Guatemala. That brings us up to five kids in the house. On Sunday, we decided to rent a mini-van and pile all 8 of us into it to go see Volcan Pacaya. The kids were excited about seeing the lava, although less excited about the drive.
If you don't get lost, Volcan Pacaya is about 40 minutes from Guatemala City. Unfortunately, we got lost several times, and it took us about two hours to get there. Our main difficulty was getting out of the city. There is a turnoff from the Pereferico that takes you to the road out to Pacaya. It is unmarked, so we drove past it twice. Each time we drove past it, we had to make a huge detour to get back.

By the time we got on the highway, the kids had been asking to stop for food and the bathroom for a while, so we stopped at Santa Clara shopping center, and got a huge parillada for everyone to share.

We made it to the road that goes up to the volcano around 3pm. At the entrance, there were several guides who offered us their services, and who told us we had to pay an entrance fee - Q20 for residents and Q40 for foreigners. I don't usually like to use guides, but had heard that it is better to get one to go to the volcano, because the route is unmarked, and certain parts of it can be dangerous. So, we bargained one of the guides down to Q50. He got in the car with us, and up the road we went.
At the top of the road, there is a place to leave your car, and several people offering horses for rent. We decided to get two horses for the kids to share. We packed our water bottles, and set up the volcano. Walking up the volcano is pretty strenuous. You have to walk in black volcanic sand, and it is quite steep.

About ten minutes after we set out, it began to rain, hard. There were a few people following us up the volcano, offering to rent us more horses. One women pointed out to me that if I rented her horse, she'd let me use her rain poncho. Tired and getting wet, I agreed, and we added another horse to our collection. The horses only make it to a certain point on the volcano, and after that, you have to walk. Lucky for us, when we got to that point, the rain subsided. Still, we were cold and wet.
From where we left the horses, it is about a ten minute walk up a sort of gravely road made of volcanic rocks, some of which were hot! That was a bit scary for me, as I was worried one of us would fall on the hot rocks. When we made it to the top, I was pleased to see that it was warm, and that our clothes were getting dried with the warmth from the lava rocks. Nando and Ian took off their shirts and dried them on the rocks. They left them a bit too long, though, and now each have burnt shirts.
From the top, we could see the red hot lava rocks falling. It was pretty cool. I was wearing tennis shoes, and I could feel them melting, so I had to keep moving to find a cool place to stand on.
Once we warmed up and saw the rocks, we decided to head back. After we had arrived at the top, two large groups of people arrived, and there wasn't much room left at the top. There must have been about a hundred people at the top.
We just used two horses to go back down. It was no longer raining, and it was easier to walk down. Tatiana and Soraya preferred to lead the horse than to walk it, so that worked out nicely as well.
Back at the bottom of the volcano, it was about 6:30pm, and we headed to our friend's house who lives nearby. He and his wife awaited us with lots of steaks, tortillas, refried beans, pasta, and avocadoes. The food was delicious, and it was a great way to end the evening.
We got home, tired, and ready to go to sleep.

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