Take me… to the volcano!

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“I have less than six months to live. The Waponis believe they need a human sacrifice or their island is going to sink into the ocean. They have this mineral your father wants so he hired me to leap into their volcano.” Joe Banks, Joe Versus the Volcano

I have always had a mild fascination with all things tectonic and especially volcanoes. I don’t really know why but I think it has to do with how active and alive the earth is in these locations and all the evidence of gigantic explosions and giant slabs of the earth bashing into each other. Geology is something I probably should have pursued deeper than several introductory courses in college. That being said the highlands of Guatemala and it’s line of active volcanoes has always been one of the things I looked forward to the most about this trip. One of the most memorable moments was cresting a mountain after an all day climb and getting my first view of the chain of peaks across the horizon.

I typically don’t do many organized tours or activities when I travel but I figured this was one situation where I had to. As soon as I got to Antigua I signed up for the trip to Volcan Pacaya. It’s supposedly one of the most active of the volcanoes as well as the easiest to get up to. It turned out to be every bit as cheesy as I had anticipated with guides hurryig you up and down and around while group after group of passing tourists complained about the climb. Who knew that climbing a volcano actually required climbing? Regardless, for me it was completely worth it. I am tempted to take on one of the much more strenuous overnight trips to the larger Acatenango.

Second to Antigua in terms of destinations in Guatemala is likely Lake Atitlan. This lake is something like 1,800 ft deep and occupies the caldera formed 85,000 years ago when a massive volcano erupted and left a 50 square mile crater. It’s hard to imagine how massive this volcano had to be to leave this.

Obviously I had to make a visit so I stored the bike at a hostel in Antigua and took the bus instead of riding for 2 or 3 days to get there. My first stop was San Pedro Laguna on the South West shore. San Pedro is sort of a slacker backpacker hangout as well as a good place to take Spanish classes. While the other two were taking several days of courses I realized there isn’t much to do there other than stare at the lake, drink beer and eat. In order to get a better look at the lake and surrounding landscape I decided it was time to move on via an early morning water taxi across to Panajachel. The early morning light should be perfect for photography….and it was. However, the night of strong winds really whipped up the lake and the boat ride was spent wrestling with a sheet of plastic to keep dry and bracing for the spine jarring waves. The glimpses I got of the scenery were stunning.

It’s quite chilly this morning in Panajachel but the coffee is hot, strong and abundant. The bus back to Antiqua leaves in an hour.

The early start to the day provided for a clear view of Volcan Agua from Antiqua.

On the way up Volcan Pacaya the locals, somewhat annoyingly, badger you with constant offers to rent the service of their skinny little horses. While not the most difficult hike they know somebody will eventually fork over the Quetzales.

At just over 8,300 ft in elevation Volcan Pacaya is not the highest in the area but is considered one of the most active volcanoes in Central America. It’s proximity to Guatemala City and Antiqua makes it a popular tourist attraction.

The last significant eruption in May of 2010 created this lava field which flows down toward the coastal plain.

A group of oddly dressed hungover Europeans and Mid-westerners scurry down the slippery volcanic scree trail towards the crater.

Every volcano needs an eccentric artist from Los Angeles selling lava art.

The local custom of roasting marshmallows over hot lava dates back thousands of years.

This elephant sized rock is evidence of the power of the larger eruptions. In the background are Volcan Aqua, Volcan Acatenango, and Volcan Fuego.

Lake Atitlan and the caldera are too big to photograph with my equipment but here is an artist rendition.

The town of Laguna San Pedro and Volcan San Pedro in the background.

Lake Atitlan from the docks in Panajachel. To the left are Volcan Atitlan and Toliman. To the right is Volcan San Pedro.

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  • Nena Viglianco

    It is amazing that they had marshmellows that long ago !!?

  • Ange.

    I like the word tectonic. You’re such the non-touristy tourist ;)

  • Miguel

    Fair comment. I suppose I was a little jaded by the people I have seen making no attempt to speak Spanish to the drivers and guides in a Spanish speaking country and then being judgmental about it when the person did not know English.

  • Benjamin Neely

    Joe v the volcano is one of my favorites (I only own a handful of movies, and that’s one). Seem’s super cool.

  • Vert

    Fair comment. I suppose I was a little jaded by the people I have seen making no attempt to speak Spanish to the drivers and guides in a Spanish speaking country and then being judgmental about it when the person did not know English.

    What an interesting thought…

    http://www.plagiarismdetect.com

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