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Monday, December 12th, 2005

We climbed a volcano. It was amazing. The end.

Actually, we are a little behind here due to of course,… technical difficulties. I tried posting from Lago Atitlan and there was a blackout. Yeah, yeah, save your work early and often. I did but for some reason the saved stuff went into the ether as well. Oh well, it was probably the most amazing prose anyone has ever written about anything. Ever.

Now we are in Honduras and after trying three different internet places with no connections, we found one place that works. Slowwwwly. No pictures tonight, just theater of the mind. Let me paint the picture for you.

On our last day in Antigua we decided to take a little hike up a little volcano. Antigua is infested with these hole-in-the-wall travel agencies that offer to take you anywhere at a cheap price. Anywhere as long as it is in the region. The guidebook says that climbing Volcan Pacaya can be a little sketchy becuase of the bandits who prey on tourists. Oh yeah, there is also the matter of poisonous gas and the occasional chunks of molten lava and red hot chunks of boulder flying down onto you.

I truly believe that my head has some sort of magnetic anomaly that attracts flying objects. Normally, when I walk by a sporting event like a neighborhood softball game the ball ends up speeding towards the old cranium. Ditto footballs basketballs, badminton birdies. Basically anything airborne. Honestly, just the other night, a stray soccer ball tried to sideswipe me. Because of this unfortunate history with flying things I figured we should go with a reputable tour company if we were going to go up the volcano; preferably a company with gun-toting guides. We found one and it was not one of the cheapies. It was six times the cost of a fly-by-night place, but they promised an experienced guide and a vegetarian lunch. They just needed one more person to sign up to meet their minimum.

Two days later we are disappointed and looking for another company because no other travelers wanted to pony up the $30 their lives weren’t worth. After we were assured the $5 tour would be fine, we paid. Gee, do you always get what you pay for. I hope not. I don’t know how you can make money charging $5 for a tour that includes 1.5 driving to a site, 4 hours of hiking and then driving another 1.5 with a guide. Gas in Guatemala costs just over $3 per gallon. The secret is they jam pack you into a van with a bunch of other gringoes. If you don’t like sitting on the wheel hump, tough darts. Hey, they gave the guy some foam to sit on. I don’t know what his problem was.

The hike itself was amazing. We hiked up for about 2 hours with the fastest guide in Central America. He had a gun, so I guess noone was going to ask him to slow down. The amazing thing was that there was this Brazilian woman, Maria Jose, who was 74 years old and man, was she in shape. The guide looked at here and basically said, “Granny, we have a horse here that will take you up the mountain.” She was having none of that. She was about twice the age of the next oldest people in our group. Ooops, that would be Giselle and me. She kept refusing and just continued to walk. I was sweating so much that my back was drenched. Not perspiration; half bucket drenched. I like to think I am reasonably fit, but I was hoping the old lady would crack so I could take a breather. Finally, after about 30 minutes, success! She was starting to go a little wobbly. Not so much that she would fall down, but enough that I was trying to remember the CPR course I took about a hundred years ago. She told the guide to take a breather. This lady was gutsy. The guide offered the services of the horse that had been discretely clomping along behind us with his owner. Sort of a horse/vulture scenario. She again refused and told him to continue. I respected her so much at this point I offered to carry the plastic bag in which she her water and camera. We talked a little in Spanish, our common language. It turns out she was from a place in the Amazon. No wonder! A real Amazon woman. She wasn’t 7 feet tall, but this lady could haul herself up a mountain.

After climbing through the woods, we came to a clearing in the trees. Ahead of us stood the barren landscape that signals to all intelligent life it is time to turn around. Not a tree, not a shrub, not even a bent-over little weed grew. Just pebbles, rocks, and boulders piled up into the biggest dang heap you can imagine.

Giselle on the edge

By this point, the climbing had taken its toll on my new friend. She was finished and the guide would not let her go ahead. Hey, it’s his party. It turns out this was a wise decision. For the next 5 years we climb this volcanic nightmare. One step up the hill of pebbles, three-quarters of a step backwards. It was like climbing through vertical quicksand. Oh, Maria Jose, where were you when I needed a break? My lungs burned as the volcanic dust swirled around my sweaty head. Oh, great idea, let’s go for a hike. At least some of the other hikers sat on the side of the trail with a sheepish grin as Giselle and I walked by. Sure, hiking is not a competitive sport, but it could be. It turned into one for me because none of the other members of the group were helping Maria Jose in any way. Sweet, unspoken revenge on a nature walk.

After two eternities, success. We had hiked far enough to see what must have been almost the summit. A little futher along and we saw the poisonous clouds of fumes blowing off the top of the volcano. Little wisps of death blowing into the sky. Hey, let’s go there. The final haul up the hill involved a change in composition of the hiking surface. Before it was like walking on semi-ground dog kibble mixed with sand. Now it was solid, cooled lava with the sharpness of broken glass. The lava had cooled into twisted formations that looked like thick, gooey ropes. After climbing this final vertical mound we had made it. From here we could peer into the crater of the volcano. Down about 20 feet was red-hot lava with yellow sulfurous rocks around the fringes and clouds of the nasty gas blowing around. Unreal and indescribeable. Completely worth the agony. Look for the pictures when we get a better connection.

From Antigua, we headed to Lago Atitlan for even more scenery. Here’s a picture of an interesting resident of the mystical town of San Marcos. Raj is originally from India, lately from Houston, and for the past 5 or 6 years, a resident of Guatemala.

Giselle and Raj on Raj's roof

Today we crossed the border into Honduras and will visit Copan tomorrow. Copan is another Mayan site with some spectacular carvings and sculptures. Look for the pictures.

Then we will head to Lago Yojoa for some nature. Look for the pictures.

Fellow Alum

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

We went to the market at Chichicastenango which is a couple of exhaust-filled hours from Antigua. We left the car in this parking area and Giselle noticed that the guy who lived/worked there was wearing a baseball cap from Rutgers University, my dear alma mater. We grads do get around.

Diego and kids

Mystery meat

Monday, December 5th, 2005
Dan and I been taking Spanish classes here in Antigua. There is one student for each teacher, so you get a lot of individual attention. My teacher is a 24-year old Evangelical Christian woman. Today she told ... [Continue reading this entry]

Post-rodeo frat party

Saturday, December 3rd, 2005
Dan forgot about the event that finished off the evening. After the teasing and taunting of the bulls, a new game began. The MC requested audience volunteers to enter the ring. Four young men climbed the fence ... [Continue reading this entry]


Saturday, December 3rd, 2005
Antigua is an incredibly charming city. One guidebook said it looks like some designer came in and ¨did¨ a colonial thing. Perhaps a little ochre paint here, some colonnades here, a cracked wall here... It is ... [Continue reading this entry]

We Must Be High

Thursday, December 1st, 2005
The drive from the border to our first stop, Quetzaltenango (aka Xela), was spectacular. The Panamerican Highway twists and curves its way through valleys and over mountains, past volcanoes and over rivers. The drivers in Guatemala are a ... [Continue reading this entry]

Crossing the line

Thursday, December 1st, 2005
Giselle and I both were a bit anxious about crossing into Guatemala from Mexico. I have this vein in my forehead that really bulges out whenever I go to DMV to do something I believe is a simple transaction. ... [Continue reading this entry]