Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
37Trip End Jun 20, 2006
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pants were covered in black ink blotches. Andrew's pants also suffered a few spots, but not nearly as bad. Andrew was furious, and took the pants back to the laundromat and demanded compensation. After getting called a "liar" and a "son-of-a-bitch" (in English), the owner relented when he realized Andrew would likely ruin his travel agency (also in the same building) business--Andrew told anyone that came while he was waiting for money that the guy was a rip-off artist (and he was....two people came in who had already paid for a shuttle, and he told them that they would need to pay 50 Quetzales more apiece). Finally, Andrew got the money, but the guy wouldn't give back the pants
The next day (Friday), we headed to Quetzaltenago, usually called Xela by the locals. We had to switch busses in some nowhere town, and we had our first experience with a Central American pickpocket--not bad for already having travelled 2 months! As Andrew was getting onto the very crowded bus, he felt a hand slip into his back pocket. He turned around and found a guy with a jacket over his hand. Andrew slapped the guy's hand, pushed the guy over, and Andrew's wallet fell out of the jacket. The would-be pickpocket then acted offended, and Andrew quietly took his seat. Even if we had lost the wallet, it wouldn't have been terrible--it only contained enough cash for the day, and some fake credit cards (the ones they send you with credit card offers through the mail).
After 4 hours of local busses (we refuse to call them "chicken busses"--the phrase is very overused, and inaccurate, as we have yet to see an actual chicken on a bus), we made it to Xela.
We booked a guided trip up Volcan Tajumulco, which is the highest point in Central America (4220 meters, or about 13,842 feet--not much shorter than Mount Ranier) through a group called Quetzaltrekkers
Quetzaltrekkers is based out of a local hotel, so we figured it would be the most logical place to stay before our early Saturday start. We rendezvoused with the rest of the group Friday night to go over the plan and dole out gear. We were able to borrow extra fleece jackets, hats, gloves, sleeping bags and meager pads. Our group consisted of 21 clients and 3 guides, and was pretty multinational--Swiss, German, Swedish, Norwegian, American, Canadian, Guatemalan, and Irish. Ages ranged from about 19 up to Caroline and Walter, retired American doctors we think were in their late 60's.
We woke up at 4:30 Saturday morning and were taken by pickup to the bus station. From there, we took a local bus for about 1.5 hrs to a different town, where we had breakfast at a comedor. From there, it was another hour on local bus to the start of the hike.
The hike is about 6.5 km total. It begins at about 3000 meters, and on the first day you climb to base camp at 4000 meters. The hike was very strenuous, but not killer
We had lunch about 3:00 in a breezy saddle. Arne had made a lot of the food himself, which was nice--guacamole, tomato salad, potato salad, and peanut-butter sandwiches, but we thought that they did take up a LOT of space and weight. Also, the loaves of bread were all, of course, squished to death, and the tortilla chips were more like tortilla crumbs. We hung out there for an hour and a half, then made the final hour-long trudge to base camp. Once there, we discovered that a different group had taken the space that Quetzaltrekkers usually uses, so we were forced to find other space, and it was a bit tight
We had a big campfire that evening, which was nice in the chilly weather (it got really cold after the sun set, and waves of heavy fog were blowing through condensing on everything) but we had to wonder if contributing to the already staggering deforestation was the best thing Quetzaltrekkers could do. Each person had to donate 1.5 L of water to cooking purposes, which seemed really wasteful--for dinner we had soup (okay--you eat all the liquid) and pasta, which wastes a LOT of water, not to mention a lot of space in the packs--macaroni, not spaghetti.
After eating the okay soup and dry pasta with chunks of tomato and bad cheese, and having smoke from the campfire blow on us for a few hours, Andrew and I hit the sack early. Many people were feeling the effects of the altitude (there were quite a few puke-piles the next morning), and so a lot of the group was in bed by 8:00.
The next morning, we were woken at 4:10 in order to climb the volcano in time to see the sun rise. We only had two guides for this part of the climb, as the third was struggling with altitude sickness
The summit was very very cold and foggy and quite windy. It was not a pleasant place to be. We hung out for about 45 minutes waiting for the clouds to clear. On of the guides handed out cookies, and I was surprised to find that my lips wouldn't quite work right to chew the damned thing. We briefly saw the sun through the fog, but realized that it wasn't clearing, so with everyone cold, we went back down the mountain after circumnavigating the crater lip.
Back in camp, the weather cleared.
One of our biggest problems with Quetzaltrekkers was the hygiene
After breakfast, we broke camp and made our way down the mountain. It was sort of appalling that Andrew and I were more adept at tent set-up than our guides, one of whom had almost started a forest fire that morning with the Whisperlite. Going downhill was nice on the heart, but hard on the knees.
At the bottom, we caught a bus, then had lunch at that same comedor, then caught another bus back to Xela. As an interesting side-note, vendors frequently get on the bus in Central America selling everything from food to sodas to newspapers and snake-oil medicines. However, this was the first time we saw a bus vendor selling pornography.
We walked back to Quetzaltrekker headquarters, turned in our gear, and went to find our new hotel. We went out to dinner, then crashed for over 10 hours. Today, our legs are sore and we are happy.