Yesterday I hiked four miles up an active volcano. In the pouring rain. And during a lighting storm.
It was one of those experiences that you only appreciate after it’s all over and you’re back in the safety of your apartment; warm, dry, comfy in your pajamas and drinking a hot cup of tea. Because during the experience you’re too cold, wet, exhausted and miserable to really enjoy it. I’d say that my hike up the Pacaya Volcano ranks right up there with my hike up Mt. Fuji in Japan, as one of the worst I’ve ever experienced.
It’s funny because before I signed up for the hike, I’d read the words ‘hike’ and ‘hour and a half’ and ‘strenuous’ and had somehow thought that meant ‘drive up the volcano followed by a leisurely stroll to the top’. Never did it register that rock climbing would be involved and that I could very well pass out from exhaustion or dehydration (I’d forgotten to pack any water).
Between my blistered feet, parched throat and (let’s face it) the fact that I was completely out of shape, I lagged behind the entire time. It was embarrassing because not only did the group constantly have to stop and wait for me to catch up but I had to listen to the men who were following close behind me on horseback call out: “Horse taxi, chica? Good, STRONG horse chica…Good taxi” every five minutes. Seriously, those guys were like vultures waiting for a sick, wounded animal to keel over and die so that they could greedily devour it’s remains. They wanted me to pay for a horse ride up the volcano and so instead of shouting encouraging words of “You can do it! Just a little further!” they’d shout “You tired! Is very far! Three kilometers! Horse taxi goooood.”
It was completely humiliating. And the guide was no better. “Mas despacio?” She’d ask worriedly every time we stopped for a few minute rest and I’d collapse onto the nearest boulder. And then everyone in the group would turn to examine my progress.
“No…No.” I’d answer, irritated. “Bueno. OK!” I’d then do my best to smile and would give her a thumbs up. I would’ve died in a river of molten lava then suffer the humiliation of being the only person to be carted up on horseback. And turning back wasn’t an option because it was just too dangerous. It was getting dark (we were hiking just before sundown) and heading down a dark trail alone would have made me a prime target for a mugging or worse.
At the sound of thunder overhead, it occurred to me that perhaps my biggest fear shouldn’t have been death by way of humiliation, lava or crazy horse taxi drivers but instead, by lightning. Standing on the bare side of a mountain that re the rocky, red surface of Mars, our group were the tallest objects within a mile. We made perfect lightning rods.
When we finnally reached the top, the rocks beneath us were hot and steaming in the cold air. There was so much steam rising around us, it was like standing in a spa steam room. And the rocks were so hot that the rubber soles of my shoes started to melt.
Someone broke out a bag of marshemellows and started roasting them over the lava. And then a British backpacker accidentally dropped her bag of marshmellows into a lava pit and bent over to pick them up. It wasn’t a smart move, because a spark from the lava drifted up from the burning marhsmellows and into her eye.
“My eyelashes are on fire!” She screamed. She was being over-dramatic but when she peeled her hand away from face, you could see that her eyelashes had been singed. “Nooo!” She cried, “I didn’t even have that many eyelashes to begin with!”
Others had brought up tree branches and leaves with them from the bottom of the mountain and joyfully chucked them into the lava holes. Again, not the brightest idea because the wind started to blow bits of tree branches all over the mountain side. We had to quickly scramble down to avoid catching on fire. Several people fell and got badly scraped on the jagged lava rocks.
If you click on the link below, you might be able to watch a short clip of a tree branch burning in the lava. I say ‘might’ because I haven’t quite figured out how to upload videos onto the blog yet and it might not work.
Just as we started to head down the mountain, the active volcano did something surprising and it became well, active. Who would have thought? A loud boom ricoched through the air and we all turned to see the volcano billowing smoke.
I’d seen the film Dante’s Peak enough times to know that when a volcano erupts, you should run. And as we all stood around gawking and taking photos, I asked worriedly:
“Um, shouldn’t we get outta here?”
“Naw,” one of the hikers answered. “Lava moves really slowly. Look.”
And he was right. It was sliding down the mountain side as slow as ketchup out of a ketchup bottle.
Although we made it down the volcano safely, somehow I don’t imagine I’ll be hiking up another one any time soon. My blistered, swollen feet wouldn’t fit into my hiking boots even if I wanted to.