Icy Sunrise

Trip Start Dec 25, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

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Flag of Guatemala  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Wednesday, January 16, 2013

After a long day of busing through Mexico walking across the border into Guatemala and jumping into the back of a strange mans car we finally reach Quetzaltenango a town also known as Xela.

The town of Xela itself is not very much but we have come specifically for the mid-night hike up the Santa Maria Volcano!

Its 11:55pm and its cold!! Diago, our 16 year old guide, is leading the way up through the Cloud Forrest under only the light of our head lamps. It is a cloudy night and any moonlight we had hoped to hike under was non existent. With a six hour hike to the top ahead of us (normally three hours during the day) we slowly trek up the mountain. The clouds are very low and with each leg of the climb brings more cold and rain. Who's awesome idea was this?! The ground is slippery and with the death of one of our torches not falling into the muddy potholes was near on impossible. Every stop we make allows the bite of the cold air through our layers of half sweat, half mud covered wet clothes. We make the stops short and keep trudging on.

It's now 4:30 and because of our short stops we have reached the top almost an hour ahead of schedule. It is rather windy and a spot where we can have shelter to wait before the sunrise is top priority. The cold is really setting in and we both agreed that we have never ever been so cold in our lives! We have all lost any feeling to the extremities of our bodies with the constant shivering and chattering of teeth taking us closer to giving up on seeing the sunrise in favour of heading back down the mountain! Curled up as tight and close together as possible we settle in among the ice covered rocks and trees for the longest 45 minute wait ever! With the cold now all the way down to our bones we hike the last 10 metres up to make it to the top alive.. Just..

It was a truly beautiful sunrise!! The orange and red hews of colour that spew across the sky left me breathless. Or maybe it was the hypothermia setting in? As the sun peered over the horizon a shadow of the neighbouring volcano was cast onto the clouds meters before they slowly spilled over the mountains edge in shades of pink before dispersing into the tree tops almost like a fairy floss waterfall. I am not sure if it really was THE most beautiful sunrise we have ever seen but, we appreciated it that much more because of the icy suffering we had just endured!  

The trek back down was much more enjoyable with the warmth of the sun pouring over us and a HOT shower and bed edging closer with every step!

We back up the midnight trek with a 3-day trek from Xela to San Pedro. The trek was amazing taking us through small villages where we met some of the locals, the Cloud Forrest and corn fields with beautiful views the whole way!
After a long first day of hiking, our accommodation for the night is a town hall in the centre of a little mountain village. With not a shower in sight a traditional Temescal was the next best thing on offer. Described to us as a cross between a dog house and pizza oven, it didn't sound all that appealing but, 'when in Rome?!' Crawling into the Temescal through a hole big enough for a 6 year old child, the humid heat was welcomed with the temperature outside dropping as the sun slowly said goodnight. Ordinarily I would find soaping up with Simon and two other strangers after a sweaty day all while sharing one bucket of hot water really gross! Today, not so bad. It turned out to be a VERY refreshing and relaxing experience.
A not so good experience.. If your burps smell like the most rotten of eggs and a cold non flushing toilet becomes your safety blanket for the night then you have a problem! Because of this slight problem Simon got out of the second day of hiking, hitching a ride on the back of a ute to our next stop.  

The welcoming family home of Don Pedro was our stop for night two. They greeted us with a shower (Yay!) a delicious chicken dinner and a warm fire to toast marshmallows. Whilst enjoying the fire Don Pedros cute little grandkids entertained us with typical Guatemalan song and dance. 

One more early morning hike (4:30am). All armed with our floor mats and sleeping bags, we get in position to watch another beautiful sunrise over Lago Atilan! With a bottle of Quetzaltenango's finest liquor circulating to keep us warm under the stars, the freeze of our previous hike was already a distant memory.
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Moira & Russell on

Loving your blogs and photo's Tash. Great you're meeting the locals as well. The countryside and views are breathtaking.

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