Nocturnal Eruptions

This blog entry about the events of Friday, November 30, 2007 was originally posted on December 04, 2007.

DAY 11:  “‘Camilla Versus The Volcano?’” Camilla suggested.

“I already have an ‘Erik Versus The Volcano,’” I informed her.  Knowing we were to be booked on a volcano hiking tour that evening, we were discussing possible blog entry titles at breakfast.  I was telling her that I already used a nod to the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, Joe Vs. The Volcano, as well as a nod to Dr. Evil in Austin Powers with an entry titled, “Liquid Hot Magma.”

“Nocturnal eruptions?” Camilla suggested.

“How about ‘Lookin’ For Some Hot Stuff?’” I said.  She laughed.

SATURDAY IN ANTIGUA started off with a bang — or a boom rather — for unexpectedly, a parade of marching bands strolled around the park in full gear, in honor of December First: the kick off of the holiday season, so I’m told.  We watched as drumlines of different rhythms went by, so we could eventually just cross the street.  We continued on our way to another Saturday tradition in Antigua, market day.

The market was not unlike many markets that I’d been to in other Latin American cities.  Primarily catering to locals, vendor stalls sold everything from belts, bike tires, vegetables, old video games, fruits, clothes, sandals, screwdriver sets, etc.  Camilla got a flashlight for the hike later that day, while I got a couple of bootleg DVDs and some fried chicken from a street vendor I could not resist.  (Was it a coincidence that the fried chicken stalls were right across the way from the “chicken buses?”)  “You’re amazing me, eating that,” Camilla the vegetarian said.  “It’s so greasy!”

I compensated my diet by getting nothing but a salad afterwards when we went to the Cafe Condessa, another upscale-ish restaurant in town, fashioned out the former colonial house of the count and countess of Guatemala City.  It was there at lunch that we continued to hum lyrics to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” — regrettably, it still hadn’t escaped our minds — and try to come up with titles for this entry.  “Take Me… To The Volcano!” I said, citing another possibility, taken from a quote from the Tom Hanks movie.

THE VOLCANO OF DISCUSSION is the Volcan Pacaya, one of the world’s most active volcanoes — one of three active ones in Guatemala alone.  Only about an hour’s drive from Antigua, it is a popular day trip sold by any travel agency in town — not that each one guaranteed an English-speaking guide.

“Que es tu nombre?”“ I asked the guide.

“Glen.”  He spoke little English.

Glen drove sixteen of us out of the city around 2:30, through a green valley surrounded by other extinct volcanoes.  We made our way up a curvy mountain road to the starting point of the trail.  As soon as the bus door opened, we are accosted by little kids all trying to sell us the same thing.  “Stick? Estick?”

“No, gracias.”

“Stick!?  Stick!”

The other item up for sale wasn’t as simple.  “Horse?”  “Caballo?”  There were many available to take people up the first pass en route to the volcano.  Once I got on the hiking trail, I regretted that I hadn’t taken a horse like two of the group had opted to do; the trail was much harder and steeper than we had been told, with only a few lookout points, of a crater lake and the valley of Guatemala City, to stop and take a real breath. 

Glen had conducted his explanation in Spanish, which most of the tour group didn’t mind; everyone seemed to be in some sort of a Spanish class and didn’t mind the practice — much to the chagrin of a non-Spanish-speaking Kiwi, also named Glen.  “[You should speak Spanish,]” Spanish Glen said in Spanish to Kiwi Glen.  Camilla gladly translated, keeping her tied to the guide.

Ultimately the trek led up to the peak of the first pass with stunning views of surrounding volcanos that one could not keep him/herself from taking photos of, and with.  From there, the trail head back down to a valley where the volcanic rock began.  The pathway down involved a lot of loose dirt that made you lose ground if you didn’t tread lightly.  “Now I wish I’d gotten a stick,” I said.

Soon the loose dirt turned into loose volcanic rock, piles of it in varied sizes, from baseballs to big pumpkins.  Unpacked and sharp, it was quite treacherous; it was easy to walk on a pile that simply slid down like a rock slide, and with high chances of scraping yourself too if you fell.  “It’s like walking on a big piece of burnt toast,” I said.  “Crunchy.”

Ahead of us we could see the goal; the faint lava flows in the distance where a group of Japanese scientists had set up a camp to study them.  The closer we got, the warmer it became.  Volcanic steam rose from underneath the rock piles beneath us.  A guide from another group showed off its heat by spilling water on the ground — it immediately evaporated on impact.

“It’s like a barbecue,” said Jaime, an American in our group that coincidentally lived on the same street that Camilla had in Portland, OR.  (Small world.)

“It is a barbecue,” Camilla said.

The closer and closer we got, the more we tried to avoid being the meat of such a cookout.  Most of the group hung back to just admire from afar (picture above), while an intrepid few pressed onincluding myself.  Getting closer seemed faster since the lava flows were getting closer to us themselves, growing and widening with more magma oozing from below.  This in turn caused more isolated rock slides of volcanic rock, most rocks still glowing red with one side gooey of melted rock that could melt your flesh on impact. 

In one mound near us, red hot rocks started falling towards us, bouncing back up with the impact of the ground.  It was actually getting a bit dangerous.

“Grupo de Glen!” called our guide to come back.  But mesmerized by the lava, we ignored him and pressed on.  The volcanic steam got thicker.

“Grupo de Glen! Vamos!”

We continued on.  The sky grew darker and more dramatic, contrasting the red flows which were growing and widening with each of our careful steps.  I don’t know if it was due to a change in the atmospheric temperature with the absence of the sun, but whatever it was, the lava’s steady flow was spreading like an amorphous lava amoeba or something.  Soon, bigger boulders started falling down in rock slides, bouncing splashes of liquid hot magma into the air at unpredictable trajectories.

“Vamos!  Vamos!  Grupo de Glen!  Vamos!  Grupo de Glen!” 

Hypnotized by the flowing red glow, I ignored him and kept on getting closer with a few others.  But it was when I was about eight feet away from a lava flow that we stopped ourselves.  It was dark, and you couldn’t really see a clear path, and if you fell, you’re hands would land on sharp, and now hot rocks. 

“Erik!” Camilla’s voice called to me.  I started the walk back towards safety, realizing that the flow was getting bigger and faster.  I jumped over dips and balanced myself not to fall, as the magma oozed behind me. 

“We’re being chased by lava!” I said, laughing at the absurity of it.

“That’s a race you want to win,” said an American in another group, still trying to move in closer from a different angle.

“Grupo de Glen!  Grupo de Glen!  Vamos!” Glen yelled.

Ultimately we all snapped out of our lava-induced trance and head back to safety.

“Before, I didn’t want to go anywhere near lava,” said Jaime.  “And now I can’t look away.”

“Yeah, suddenly we all become pyros,” I told her.

IT WAS DARK by the time head back on the mountain pass trail to get back to the minibus, which was fine if you had a flashlight or headlamp.  Glen didn’t have either; as a guide he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been — or was it all a ploy? 

“Camilla!” he called to my travel buddy.  He commandeered her to lead the group with him with her newly-acquired market flashlight — only hold hands with her the entire time so that he could flirt with her the entire way.  “[Have you ever fallen in love in the woods?]” he asked her.  Clearly, it was Glen who was lookin’ for some hot stuff; the nocturnal eruptions that night were not only on Volcan Pacaya, but in his pants.


“Let it flow, let it flow?”

“Magma Christmas?”

Our blog entry title conversation continued when Camilla and I were back in town for dinner — sans Glen.  During our time on the volcano, Antigua had magically transformed into a magical Christmas village, with all the trees in Parque Central lit up.  The cathedral and the fountain were lit up as well, and the entire vibe of the town was festive for the December 1st celebration.  A couple of streets were blocked off too, for the groups of pedestrian traffic walking around, and the carolers and bands singing their hearts out.  Various men were dressed up as Santa, courtyards were lined with poinsettas, and we even ran into a bake sale selling Christmas cupcakes, gingerbread houses, and fruitcakes. 

“Ho, ho, ho… Hot, hot, hot?!” I suggested, realizing it was really bad, as I ate my caldo real, (a Guatemalan specialty similar to the Filipino arroz caldo — a hearty chicken and rice soup).  In the end, I went with the title you see above, whether Glen liked it or not.

Next entry: A Three-Hour Tour

Previous entry: A Coffee Story

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  • GREETINGS FROM SAN SALVADOR… I’m catching up.  Hope to have more up soon.

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  • “have you ever fallen in love in the woods”.. haha.  Wow. Glen is smoooth!

    So you like Antigua?  I’m spending a week there to take a spanish class.  Is is kind of Cusco-like?  I picture Guatemala to be a combination of Costa Rica and Peru.  Is that sort of right?

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This blog post is one of thirty-nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: The Central American Eviction Tour* (*with jaunt to Colombia)," which chronicled a six-week journey through Central America, with a jaunt to Bogota, Colombia.

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