19/01/2015 Time for a new Live Update after finishing some videos. Sadly Vimeo causes problems with Copyright violations, so I might have to look out for another platform. If you have some suggestions, put it in the comments please! Currently I am in Granada, Nicaragua and will head to Isla de Ometepe tomorrow morning. This update will be the last from Guatemala and it is safe to say that climbing the 3,976m Volcán Acatenango was one of the highlights of my trip so far. Getting to the top requires some effort, but the reward is incredible: Witnessing the super active Volcán de Fuego right in front of you during night, erupting car-sized rocks every 5-10 minutes.
I arranged the overnight tour to climb Volcán Acatenango from Antigua and got a decent last minute deal. The good news was that the other two people in the group cancelled, so it was just me and the guide! I got picked up in town and was transferred to the guide’s private house close to the Volcanoes entrance trail. Having a local guide actually helps against the occasional robberies, which only target tour companies that are not supporting the local guides and thereby the community’s job industry. At least that is what the owner of the company I used told me. Another group just got back from the mountain and was waiting for my car for a ride back into town. They told me I’d better have a sleeping bag and good jacket because it was so cold on the top.
My guide Eddie and I started walking up the street for a few minutes to reach the path leading to the Volcano. His dog Tarzan joined us all the way and was a fast and pleasant third member of the team, not slowing us down or being annoying like other people could have been 🙂 It just takes five minutes walking on a gravel path until we reach the first group gasping for air. It was pretty hot that day and the gravel makes it hard to walk, but I was still very surprised to see the first girl crying out of exhaustion after a distance that took us just five minutes to walk! Anyway, I was looking forward to the rest as the climb was supposed to be one of the hardest you can do in the country.
Passing one resting point after the other and actually only using one of them for ten minutes, we make it to the summit of Volcán Acatenango in just 3 1/2 hours. It was great to have a good and fast guide with me and being in a good shape as well as the mountain really will challenge you, especially if you do not rest a lot in between. I could feel my heart pumping really hard on the last steep gravel part up the top, each step sliding down half of the previous step again. It’s been a while that a mountain required this kind of effort and I really liked it! Once on the top, we waited for all the clouds to disappear until I could finally see (and not just hear) the first eruption of Fuego just meters away.
Luckily the clouds vanished even more and I could get some great shots of the crater and the landscape around us before we were running / skiing down the gravel on the other side to reach the camp spot, which was already prepared by Eddie’s dad. Just before we got there, Eddie climbed a high tree to cut off branches with his Machete for our bonfire. Having it set up, I felt in great company and even part of the family by now, even though my Spanish is not good and all of them spoke no English at all, we still found a way to communicate, sometimes using a stick to sketch drawings in the ground 🙂
As it got dark, the real show started. Volcán de Fuego showed off his angry face and instead of grey smoke in front of blue sky and white clouds, we would now witness a red and yellow light show in the pitch black darkness every 5-10 minutes. Surprised by how active that Volcano actually was, it produced really big explosion every 20 minutes or so. The view on Volcán de Agua to our left side of the camp spot was great too, being surrounded by all the yellow lights of the cities such as Antigua and even Guatemala City in the back. But back to the main attraction! I switched my location to get rid of some trees in front of me and spent ten minutes looking for a good spot to sit down and lay my camera on something to do long exposure shots. I eventually found a cut-off tree that would suit me as a natural tripod and even though it was very tiny and I had troubles to keep my camera on it, I still managed to get a few decent shots.
Spending three hours just sitting and watching Fuego errupt, I finally made it into my tent. I could still hear all the eruptions from there and in a reflex, would constantly open my tent to check if it might be an even bigger one than before. Eventually, I had to force myself to get some sleep around 1AM though, having had one great new experience that I will never forget in my life. I woke up just in time for a nice sunset and after breakfast, headed down together with Eddie and Tarzan while his dad stayed at the camp spot to clear the fire. It only took us 1 1/2 hours to return to his house, resulting in a pretty long two hour wait to get me picked up since we were just way too early. Eddie’s place and lovely family made my wait very pleasant though and I enjoyed the view on Lake Atitlan’s Volcanoes in the distant while having a nice hot tea…