I woke up on Day 13 to the sweet sound of victory from the beer pong tournament the night before. Clay and I had been traveling through cities so quickly that we decided to take the day to relax, especially since we were going to hike Acatenango the following day. I started my day out with a ginormous continental breakfast. The receptionist at Bigfoot gave me a breakdown of the entire city of Antigua while I ate. Clay, myself, and our buddy from Germany who told us his name so many times but I still can’t remember walked around to the different sites of the city.
Walking around the city was surreal to me because Antigua was the city that motivated me travel over a year ago when I was in Spanish class. In one particular session, I saw a photo of the Cerro de la Cruz with the city of Antigua resting in the background along with Volcán de Agua. The picture was so fascinating to me that i told myself “I’m going there” and “I’m going to take that exact picture.” Less than a year later, I was there. Before we made it to the Cerro de la Cruz, we ventured to the Arco de Santa Catarina. Honestly, I really don’t know the history of this arch that much; however, if you Google “Antigua Guatemala” the arch of Santa Catarina is bound to populate. The arch is a spectacular example of the vivid colors and colonial architecture still present in much of Central America. Walking the streets of Antigua reminded me of other colonial cities like Villadolid, San Ignacio, and Flores.
We stopped at the Cerro de la Cruz for quite a while. The view was stunning as we could see the entire city of Antigua. The city itself feels rather large when strolling through it, but from the top of the Cerro de la Cruz hill it looked tiny. All of the brightly-colored buildings popped out to the naked eye. Clay took a picture of me sitting on a rock facing the cross and the city. It looks posed but it was actually completely candid. I was feeling extremely accomplished for finally fulfilling what I had promised myself almost a year ago in Spanish class. I was completely content.
After the cross we walked down to the giant farmers market. I’m not exactly sure why it was called a farmers market because there were only one or two stands with fresh food. Everyone else was selling anything and everything you could possibly think of (often times in the same store). I did give in and purchase some fresh mangos. These are sold on almost every street corner but they are always succulent. We ended up randomly walking into a supermarket that was never ending. It was not laid out like a traditional supermarket in America where the whole building is just one giant rectangle. This one had room after room and multiple floors. We decided to grab some extremely nutritious snacks for the Acatenango hike—Rice Krispies and fruit loops. Since this is a touristy town, American brands are everywhere. It’s so interesting to see the way that locals here perceive Little Caesar’s, Dunkin Donut’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Dominos. The McDonald’s here would be an upscale restaurant back home. It’s got a huge fountain in the middle of it with a statue of Ronald McDonald. The Taco Bell is endless with Christmas lights lining the entire interior. Also, all these fast food places deliver via mopeds or bicycles–even McDonald’s and Burger King.
Nothing intense really happened the rest of the day. We just ate some dinner at the hostel and then hung out with a few of the workers. One was a volunteer from Miami and the other was a native Nicaraguan. We ordered like five or six pizzas between the five of us and shared stories of travel and other experiences. Clay and I slammed like a half gallon of water before going to sleep (this turned in turn made for many bathroom runs in the middle of the night).
The morning of Acatenango I was feeling excited but nervous. Sorting through all the hearsay, an overwhelming majority of people said it was the hardest thing they had ever done. Only a few said that it was lent challenging. I mined over all of these things when eating my complimentary breakfast from Bigfoot. Clay and I got picked up around 9 AM from our hostel by GT Adventures. If anyone reading this wants to hike Acatenango, I strongly recommend booking through GT Adventures. The guides were experts, entertaining, and charged less than other tour groups. We boarded the bus to find a group of girls from Texas, a couple from Barcelona that spoke Catalan, a giant group of French Canadian girls. This would be our tour group. We got to know the girls from Texas pretty well on the bus ride. All four of them worked for Southwest corporate and decided to spontaneously hop on a flight for the long weekend. They said the day of the trip they essentially had no idea where they were going. Everything from Europe to Japan to Argentina to Guatemala was a possibility. The randomness of their travels was so cool. The couple from Barcelona was also really outgoing and quite comical.
We had roughly a 45 minute bus ride to the small village of Alotenango. This was our starting point. Here we bought equipment like hats, gloves, and alcohol of course. We also rented hiking sticks. The first hour or so of the hike was through cornfields. I don’t know exactly how steep it was, but I would estimate the grade to be right around 1000000%. We stopped every 20 minutes or so to take short breaks. It seems excessive but it was absolutely necessary. I really don’t remember that much of the hike up because it was so difficult. I blocked it out because of the pain LOL. The first four hours were basically straight up. Then, once everyone was already dead, the guides decided to do some switchbacks for the last hour “to make it easy.” In total, the hike up took 5 hours. We arrived to base camp at 3750M around 4:30 PM. The extra picture I posted depicts the route we took.
We rested for about 20 minutes at base camp until our guides told us that for an extra 100Q, they’d take us within 300M of the volcano. Being the adrenaline junky I am, I of course was all in. Myself, Clay, and three of the Southwest girls joined the extra journey. This hike entailed 45 minuted down Acatenango and 45 minutes up Volcán de Fuego (1.5 hours total). Clay and I essentially ran down Acatenango and caught up with another tour group. We were trying to rush our pace because we wanted to see the sunset st the top of the volcano (the sun sets around 6:30 here). The run down was easy. The hike up was the hardest thing we had done all day. I fell behind Clay and another couple that had just got married and were on their honeymoon. Eventually, we all made it to the top. It was a bit cloudy, so the sun set wasn’t quite as amazing as it could’ve been. It was still one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ver seen. We were literally above the clouds. Eventually everyone made it and we had at least 15-30 people standing on this 2-3 meter wide path. One slip could cause you to roll down the side of the mountain. We all sat in intermittent anticipation for an hour as the volcano erupted. Everyone got so excited every time it blew. It was an unforgettable experience.
The hike back was adventurous because we had to use our headlamps. It was only 1.5 hours but felt like 10. Arguably the most fit guy of both tour groups got altitude sickness. The last ten minutes was the hardest part because it was straight up. Having not eaten dinner before the hike to El Fuego, I had no energy left. The last edge to base camp was steep, but one of the guides was there waiting for us. He stuck out his hand to pull us up, thankfully. I felt like I was in one of those movies where someone is drowning underwater and the arbitrary hand of God reaches down into the water to pull the person up & save his or her life. I sat by the fire for about an hour and ate a sandwich, banana, mashed potatoes, and cocoa krispies. Rehydration salts saved my life.
I woke in the middle of the night many times. Some of the best eruptions happened around 2-3 AM. Our tent flap wouldn’t stay open though, so by the time I heard the eruption the whole top of the volcano was already covered. Volcán de Pacaya was also erupting off the in the distance, so there were explosions coming from two directions. The tour guides woke us all up at 3:30 AM for the hike to the summit. Everyone that hiked to Volán de Fuego the night before chose not to hike to the summit of Acatenango, myself included. Instead, we watched the sun ride from our base camp. It was still breathtaking from our spot. Then, we made some coffee and all y’all shots of Quetzalteca to celebrate our accomplishment. Even the our guides were taking shots.
The hike down was about 2.5 hours. It was so steep in some spots you had no choice but to run down. The trekking poles saved our knees. The endorphins we all felt when hitting the road for the first time were overwhelming. We were greeted at the host’s house by a little boy excited to take our sticks back. They had beans, eggs, tortillas, and coffee ready to go. We all demolished our food quickly. The bus ride back to Antigua felt long, but we all passed the time by reminiscing on our footage. I can honestly say it was the hardest but most rewarding thing I have ever done. I will never forget this incredible experience.
Right now, I’m laying in a hammock at El Hostel in Antigua. I leave tonight at 7PM for Guatemala City where I will be staying overnight. My flight for Roatan, Honduras leaves at 6AM tomorrow morning. Today is a little bittersweet because Clay and I have to part ways. We’ve made verbal hints at traveling together in the future. I’m excited for the next step of this adventure. I haven’t traveled solo since Csncún though, so slightly nervous too. Everything will work out though! Thanks for reading and watching!!
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