Saturday, March 1, 2008

Last set of volcano hikes

I spend all my time in Xela with hiking up the volcanoes. First a one day hike of Zunil volcano (3500 meters) with Quetzal Trekkers - a non-profit group that runs by volunteers from all over the over, see the regional info section for more info. We ended the hike in the hot spring Fuentes Georginas. It was a good workout, going through cloudy forest and view of Lake Atitlan and Antigua volcanoes. The clouds moved in by mid day and we were also at the pacific side of the mountain which means we are in the clouds. The hot spring itself is very nice, clean and warm - especially nice after a long day of hiking. BTW our ride to the starting point was in the back of a pickup truck, but the guides provided sleeping bags, mats, and extra clothing.

After the hike I went to the Kaqchikel Tour and was told there will be 6 people doing the 2 day one night hike to Volcan Tajumulco (4220 meters or over 14000 feet), the highest point in Central America! So again I need to get up early and this time the meeting time is 6AM. In our group we have a couple from Australia, couple of young American friends (Mari and Kevin) who one of the them is teaching English here, and a French girl Stephanie who worked in Brasil, but quit to travel. Our guide is local man named David. Each us need to help carrying food and tents as well as our own personal stuff, 4 liters of water, sleeping bag, mat, and warm clothing (can be borrowed from the company at no extra charge). We took 3 different chicken buses *about 3 hours) to get to the starting point for the hike, which I was not expecting. The starting elevation is 3000 meters or 10000 feet. By the time we start at around 10:40 the heavy clouds already engulfed the summit. The good news is that we hiked mostly in the cloudy weather, but as soon as we stop, it gets cold pretty quickly. The 1000 meters (3333 feet) uphill with good size backpack in altitude was pretty tough. Tougher than the hot spring hike the first day despite what the other guides said. By the time we got to our base camp at 4000 meters, we can hear the thunder. So we quickly setup out tents- one 3 person tent and one 4 person tent. And then the sleet/hail moved in just in time.

Kevin who was sick before start the hike, got sicker, throw up many times. Because of the bad weather everyone stayed in the tent to keep warm. By around 6.30 I went to wake our guide up as it was getting dark and we’re hungry. I felt a bit dizzy and not much of an appetizer. By the time dinner is ready, the weather has clear, and stars were out. The dinner consisted hotdogs, frijoles, and nachos, yummy. We had a fire to keep warm for a while.

I was in the 4 person tent, which was pretty warm and I have a good enough sleeping bag, but the others that were in 3 person tents were very cold, they also don't have warm enough bag. So they did not sleep well all. I did not sleep much as well since I had minor attitude sickness. Anyway we started to hike around 5AM to get to the summit for the sunrise (about 200 more meters up). By this time, I felt a little better. The summit was really cold with biting wind, but the view was great! sea of clouds and volcanoes dot the landscape. Once the sun came up, I can start to feel the warmth and hard frost started to melt.

Once we all got down, we had small and quick breakfast and just enjoy the warmth of the sunshine. We took our time pack up, and our way down was in bright sunshine and breeze, what a difference a day make. We saw a group of Guatemalan hiking up to the summit, they are doing one day trip, which is easily done (no need big bag pack just water and food). But no sunrise for them as first people we saw reached our base camp around 8.30AM. We got back to Xela around 3.30PM, and Stephanie and I went to get our lunch after checking back in to our hostel, and after that I went to purchase my bus ticket for Rio Dulce and have a nice hot shower and repack my backpack for early tomorrow morning.

I chatted with Stephanie for while after dinner, and she and I had many things in common, and she will head to Tikal eventually, I hope to meet her again there. We shall see....

BTW, the Australian guy hike the whole thing in sandals! He did not have hiking shoes, and he lost feeling of his feet near the top. Also Kevin who was sick the whole time made it to the top as well.

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