Preparing to hike up Volcan Pacaya

This was my second visit to Guatemala, though almost exactly two years ago, my stay was for a mere 24 hours before I headed south to Honduras.  This trip, was to be quite different.  To start with, I have far less resources and therefore less time before I’ll have to head home to find another job (I got laid off from TravelPost in January).  Also, my boyfriend Arnaud is with me for the first eight days, which has required some tricky route planning to ensure we both get the most out of the visit, without too much backtracking on my part.

After our week sojourn in Paris and the UK, I was happy to re-discover the joys of what I like to call “reverse jet-lag”.  Opposed to the painful experience of forcing oneself to get up when it feels like its time to go to sleep, aka US-Europe travel, one feels instead as though one has had a good long night of partying, and is returning home in the wee hours of the morning vastly well-prepared to snooze away till the late afternoon.  It’s a piece of cake for me, especially being the night owl that I am.

Emerging from one of the steaming "caves"

So one hour after grabbing a cab to Antigua from the airport, we wearily fell easily asleep in our comfortable double room at the Casa Amarillo.  We awoke refreshed around 7am and partook of the tremendous breakfasts on offer included in the price: porridge, pancakes, eggs, potatoes, black beans, fruit and delicious Guatemalan coffee.  We spent the morning happily wandering around Antigua’s lovely stone cobbled streets, taking in the many “ruins”, left that way not because they are ancient Mayan relics, but rather because Antigua has been repeatedly ravaged by earthquakes.

That afternoon we decided to tackle the steep slopes of Pacaya, a volcano about an hour from Antigua which unfortunately (for us as tourists that is) was no longer spewing red hot lava since its eruption in May of 2010.  We were met by at least 20 small children clamoring to sell us their handmade walking “sticks”, overwhelming in the sense that even if I had wanted to buy a walking stick, I would have relented due to being unable to choose whom to buy one from.

Unfortunately, we couldn't go all the way to the summit

Our guide, Arturo, a rail-thin but ever smiling man in his 40’s described how he and his family took refuge in their home’s basement as man-sized boulders rained from the sky, emerging later to discover their house was rubble.  Despite the hardship that the volcano inflicted upon him (especially since he essentially lost his job in the months following the eruption when all tours were cancelled) Arturo still proudly declared that he had the best job in the world: guiding people to the top of Pacaya twice a day, seven days a week.

Despite the lack of lava, the scenery was impressive and other-worldly: the path the lava had taken was clearly visible in the black, now hardened, river of solid rock.  There were a few areas that were “venting”, small caves that one could climb inside and feel cocooned by the sauna-like heat coming from the heart of the mountain.  Unfortunately, the summit was still about 200m out of our reach, so after a few hour ascent, we bid goodbye and made our way back.

After an authentic Guatemalan meal of Chile Rellenos (Peppers stuffed with meat and spices), we happily fell fast asleep from all the physical exertion.

Then again, maybe it was the reverse jet-lag.