Volcán Pacaya

Feb 3 – Jim decided that I was ready to hike up a volcano today. As Antigua is ringed by volcanos, there are many tourist options of one or two day hikes up several different mountains. Here in Guatemala, hikes must be taken with a guide. Jim picked us a one day group hike up the shortest mountain, Pacaya, in the hope that this would not kill me. (Jim has promised not to endanger my life when we travel.)

We decided to fortify ourselves with a typical Guatemalan meal – roasted pork, garlic potatoes and salad. Today’s tortillas were made from blue corn, and the drink of the day was coconut milk. Yum!

A mini-bus picked us up at our hotel, and soon we were wending our way up mountain roads in the company of two dozen mostly twenty-something mostly females from Europe and North America. Some taught English on line to Chinese students. Some were traveling to try and find themselves. Some were working on their ’30 before 30′ quest to travel to that many countries before reaching that age. One was looking for a location for her yoga studio. Such a chatty group, and no grey hairs as far as we could see.

Ninety minutes later we reached Pacaya national park, where we met our guide Lillian. Little boys were hawking walking sticks, and we were told that horse “taxis” were available for anybody who couldn’t keep up the pace. The pace was my concern – Jim and I hike alone. I’m fine on level ground, but really slow going uphill. Could I keep up?

Lillian started up the mountain at a trot, with the twenty-somethings right behind. I started in the middle of the group, but before too long I was at the back of the pack, huffing and puffing. The trail was steep and dusty, and I knew I couldn’t keep up. So? Jim paid for a horse, and I climbed gratefully on.

Now, here’s something not everybody knows: I am a New Yorker, and have never ridden a horse before! I grabbed the pommel and held on for dear life while Señor Caballo bounced and swayed up the steep trail, guided by a little native woman who didn’t huff or puff once. I mentally reviewed everything I knew about horse riding: sit up straight, grab with your knees, don’t fall off!

It took about an hour and a half to get to the top

Once we reached the shoulder, we could see smoke rising from the top of the volcano.

I bid adios to Señor Caballo at this point, knowing that I could keep up with the group for the hike back down. I swear the horse was much bigger in my mind!

Then in five minutes time, the fog…


in, and that was the end of our scenic view.

Lillian led us down to an area filled with black volcanic rock that could have been on another planet. She passed out sticks, and removed some rocks to reveal the heat emanating from below. Time to toast marshmallows!

The light was fading as we scrabbled down the dusty rocks until we could see our bus ahead. No beautiful sunset for us tonight, just a long bumpy ride back to town. We were so covered in sweat and dust that there was no thought of dinner, just an immediate shower. That was our Volcan Pacaya adventure!

Feb 4 – Today we got ready to bid adios to Antigua and prepare for the next leg of our journey. There are many little travel and tour agencies in town, all promising the best fares and all amenable to haggling. We are heading to Lake Atitlán, about three hours away by mini-bus. Jim secured us two seats tomorrow at a fair price.

Then we stopped in to a nearby art museum, housed in another former convent.

There was a whole room of ceramics with faces, one of my favorite things.

Another exhibit featured photos of those who lost limbs in various recent conflicts: Afghanistan, Kosovo, Slovenia. I stopped at a photo taken in Cambodia, remembering our time there in 2015.

This painting reminded me of the not-so-happy couple we saw being married the other day.

A relaxing conclusion to our time in Antigua.

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