Up Close and Personal with Flowing Lava

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Following another photographic expedition by Isabelle and Ed around Antigua, we eat a huge lunch to prepare ourselves for climbing active Volcan Pacaya, a short drive from the city.

Ed and I had been in an internet cafe the previous night and heard two young Americans calling home to tell their parents of their exploits at the volcano the night before. We overheard things like:

"we were so close to the lava, it was incredibly dangerous"
"the bottom of my sports shoes were melting"
"I don´t know if I could recommend any friend of mine to do this tour, given the extreme danger"
"I heard someone died doing the tour last year"

This made us slightly apprehensive, but we decided not to tell Isabelle about what we´d heard in case she decided against the trip.

We had a charismatic guide called José for the trip who herded the 15 or so of us successfully up the steepish climb. He was always willing to offer his hand to the ladies so we didn´t trip on the way down! The walk is timed so that you arrive up at lava field at dark.

The old dried lava is awkward to walk on,  jagged and black. One guy in our group fell and earned a hole in his trousers and his leg for the trouble. Our first view of the liquid red lava was breath-taking and our flowing adrenalin made our chances of stumbling a little more real.

Getting close to the lava we started to feel the steam venting from fissures in the folds of the lava rock. We could altenatively feel the cold from the misty clouds on the volcano summit, the heat from the lava and steam and the cold from the night air.

At our closest we could hear the crackle and crumbling sounds of the lava flowing slowly over the fixed rock. The guide poked a stick in a lava flow to impress us with the flames igniting the stick immediately.

After numerous photos, we hiked down the volcano again to the starting point. The enterprising young saleschildren there attempted to get back the walking sticks they had earlier sold for 50 cents to some of our group.

Dusty, dirty and tired - it was an unforgettable experience for the three of us to share and a definite highlight of our Central American journey.

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P.S - the Americans overheard in the internet cafe were quite typical of young travellers on the "Gringo Trail" - exaggerating the danger and excitement of their experiences to impress their mates!

We never felt in danger during this experience and highly recommend it to any of you in future if you get the chance.
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