• Carrin Robertson

Acatenango: For the Love of Lava (Part 2)

I take my bag off.



The weight is lifted from my shoulders.

I can breathe.

Ohhhh, here we go lads! Yes, of course- this I can do, without my silly amount of water on my back, I can breathe, I can climb, I can actually look at the trees and plants surrounding us and actually take it all in. Benjamin has been guiding people up this track for four years, and says that a lot of people can't carry their bag, it’s not uncommon and he is super patient. I’m feeling that it's now possible and my legs are off lunge-stomping up the tough part of the climb. Besides, I hate carrying stuff anyway, its probably my brain reminding my lungs of that. Everyone takes their own path… right?

The views on the way up are gorgeous, we can see Agua from some aspects of the climb and Fuego from other, Agua the more tranquil volcano which is dormant and Fuego shooting out smoke. We have our hiking sticks and now I see why these are useful to climb and not some Salvador Dali-esque crutch addition to our limbs.

Playlist pumping in my ears, a shuffle of Waxahatchee, Daughter, bits of Bicep, I like not knowing which surprise song is coming and helps with the journey. Prince’s voice singing “Let’s Go Crazy” in my ears as I overlook the clouds around Volcan Agua, its incredible and the moon is out during the day, which I love. It’s beautiful. As a group, everyone I talk with is really interesting. Two girls from New Zealand and Australia who have been travelling together for months and like me haven’t climbed anything before- they still have their packs on their backs and are doing way better than I am, they’re super friendly and fun, we switch numbers to hang out another time. A Canadian-Indian girl who hikes all the time, and find this easy, I’m impressed. Some Guatemalan guys who do the hikes all the time as well. Interestingly, we’re about 80% female, I do wonder if women are by nature more connected to the outdoors, or if it’s just a coincidence?

A lot of Guatemalan lifestyle and scenery reminds me of Tenerife when I was about fifteen. As I’m climbing I’m thinking that the landscape is a little like if we had a bunch of Volcan del Teides grouped together, but that one of them is active; and it makes me a little nostalgic for my teenage years of my dad driving us up above the clouds. I knew he would lose his shit if he knew I was climbing a volcano, so I waited to the last minute to text him and say “Off to hike Acatenango- no internet, speak to you in a couple of days! x” (Sorry Dad, I promise I’ll always be safe and not stress you out, but I won’t stop having adventures)

We stop a few times on the way up, and the further we go, the more spectacular the views. I get it now- this is amazing. Definitely one of my favourite life experiences so far, and if I can do it, anyone can.

It takes us about four hours to get to basecamp and all the tents are already set up, there are chairs around the edge with perfect views overlooking Fuego. Good lord, this is stunning. It’s bloody freezing when you stop walking and immediately we need to layer up, we hang out for a little while and rest before planning our shorter but harder hike to summit for sunset.

For this part of the hike I put my empty backpack on with a smaller amount of water and my camera, we climb and yes- it’s definitely tough but your body just deals, as its a short hike and that sunset view is within reach. Most people are grateful to carry less and find it easier. It’s very windy and it gets rockier the further we go up. When we get to the peak and are no longer sheltered by the slope of the Volcano you'll really feel that wind, it just batters at your skin and whips all the loose strands of hair about. Ahhhhhh!! it’s a little scary but I'm so filled with adrenaline that my brain shushes that bit. “We’re on the moooooon!!!” I yell and as we walk around the crater, the peak of Fuego comes back into view and we all scream in joy. “Holy Shiiiiit!!” Ryan shouts. Everyone sits around the side facing Fuego and we can see it erupting as the sun goes down by Pacaya in the distance. We’re above the clouds and Ryan says, “maybe this is how heaven looks?”

Honestly, it’s the most spectacular view ever. We stay up there as the sun sets painting new colours across the sky and Fuego spits out lava and smoke, we’re so lucky to have such a clear view across the sky. Everyone cheers every time Fuego errupts, we see little bits of lava, but the sky is too bright to see Fuego's true colours yet. It’s colder and windier up here than Aberdeen beach in January and my hands even with gloves are freezing up. We enjoy the cloud ocean view a little longer and then head back down to basecamp.

The descent is a little tricky, the more confident people are literally running down the sandy slopes- absolute mentalists. I decided to slowly “ski” with my wooden sticks and keep my balance upright so I don’t do a horrible tumble. It’s getting dark and we all have our headlamps on to guide the way. Back at basecamp we have dinner and red wine- all cooked by the guides, I really don’t know how they have the energy, I think they’re super-human. We have hot cocoa and roast marshmallows over a fire and enjoy the night-time views of Fuego shooting out molten blood red fire, orange metallic liquid spilling out down the side- this is even more incredible than the peak view! Wow! It’s INSANE! No firework show will ever compare. I try to take a few photos, but I haven't done much night-time photography, so have to play about with settings, which I blindly do as I want to enjoy the volcano with my own human eyes and not through a lens. Eventually I figure that keeping the shutter open gets some shots at least, and I figure I’ll look at them when back on flat land if they’re any good.

Ahh, we’re all so tired and head into the big tents and into the super warm sleeping bags, I figure that I’m so tired, I’ll probably just fall straight asleep. But no. The wind has other plans- the wind gets increasingly stronger throughout the night whipping the tent canvas about, its the loudest and most terrifying noise. I spend the whole night with my delightful brain telling me that we’ll probably get blown off the side of the volcano. Great. I try to ignore these thoughts, but they get worse. I’m then convinced that if I go outside the tent to go to the loo I’ll get swept away into the night sky and do a dead. Or- what if I leave the tent and the less weight that’s holding it down is enough difference to blow everyone of the edge? Oh shut up brain, be bloody quiet. I mean it’s an epic way to go, but I’m not ready for that thank you very much. I make myself promises that if I get down safely, I’ll do amazing things with my life. I won’t mess about any more, I’ll do everything I’d always planned and not put them off for fear. Promise. And I won’t hike anything ever again*.

Part of the canvas above my head comes loose because of how strong the wind is, I lie there completely terrified. Just sleep, come on just chill out for God’s sake- is everyone else awake or am I the only one this scared? I ultimately decide that I’m definitely over-reacting and that the noise of the canvas is probably a lot worse that the actual wind outside. I try to think of nicer things. Like that I'm going to Tikal soon.. And the beach... And sunsets…. And Marlon Brando doing that eyeroll…. Nothing works to block out that sound.

Sunrise comes and we cautiously step outside, sure its windy but not nearly as much as my imagination had thought. Phew! And as if the views couldn’t get even more beautiful… this is another gorgeous moment. The clouds below us and the sun rising by Agua is… I don’t even know what word to give you now… but its like a magical new world that never before existed, with clouds for an ocean and sea-blue sky. Slowly breathing, I’m so happy.

The descent down is much easier- still most people are actually running down and I’m at the back with my sticks. A little girl goes by on horseback with her family walking down, well if I’d known that was an option!! A few people in front of me fall and slide- it looks fun but no thank you, I don’t want to be on my sliding about on my arse. I’m listening to 80s-esque beats on the way down, Carpenter Brut and Kavinsky. If we were all in an 80s adventure film together most people in our team would be the big Alpha-type adventurers- keen to explore the planet, I’d be the geeky loser liability at the back with Salvador Dali crutches- and that’s quite ok with me.

*not sure I’ll keep this promise*


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