Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hansel and Gretel

Through the night we climbed a very dark, very ambigious path towards the top of a volcanoe that i was sure we would never reach (it looked sooooo far away). The walking didn´t feel like it should be that hard, but the lack of oxygen ensured that it was. We crept like turtles. One. Step. At. A. Time.

Erin and i continually were accused of "going to fast." We started the climb a little behind schedule and were determined not to miss the sunrise. Eventually we parted ways with the others, by the summit we were about 15-20 mins ahead.

All the way there were issues with the flashlights, at least in team speedy. Erin´s light kept going out and by about 3/4 of the way up it was driving her (and by association, me) bonkers. Granted it was like 4:30 in the morning.

There was a strange phenomenon that occurres while climbing worth noting. The path was varied, it split in many directions, there were many false paths as well. Unlike in the states, there are no path markers- these trails are not blazed. There were, however, some unexpected path markers that proved to be invaluable. Almost all of the way up the mountain the path is littered with trash. Mostly soda bottles. And some horse poop too. These ironic trail markers, for hours, showed us the correctness of our course and gave us the confidence to keep trekking. Having never appreciated litter even once in my life, i was strangely grateful for the plastic white pebbles that delivered us from the wood.

When the slight glow of day began to emerge i handed Erin my working light and pressed on alone through the dawning day. I was especially determined not to miss the sunrise. And as a spectacular orange glow began to grow on the horizon i hastened my step.

It was maybe only 15 more minutes to the top and i got there just in time. The whole horizon was simmering with a firey glow, like a gas stove set low. Not having seen or heard any other hikers on the whole of the climb, i was convinced we would have the volcanoe top to ourselves. Didn´t factor in the people who climbed it yesterday.

At the top it was tent city. The uniform shape and color of the tents on the bare rock gave the look of mussels clustered on the sea floor.

There were people everywhere, maybe 150 or more. There were loudly announcing the day, starting fires frying tortillas. It was an odd scene.

I was desperately hungry and thirsty and this point, but all that i could find was bare bread and the water, of course, was far too cold. (to give context if i had worn heavy winter wear i would have been comfortable). So i waited for the others, with my dry bread, until Erin arrived.

We were very excited.

We took turns getting each other´s "epic" shots, because, of course, we were feeling quite epic.

(That´s a volcano errupting four hours away in Antigua in the background)

Will made the really good point that our innermost layer would be sweaty and, therefore, in the cold of the summit excellent for channeling cold. We all brought fresh shirts, which had to be changed fast.

Literally, just in time for the actual appearance of the sun the rest of the crew arrived. Equally exhausted but very ver pleased to be at the top. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and perched high on a rock. The view was absolutely spectacular. It was, without a doubt, the most incredible thing i have ever seen.

Behind us we heard a sound like an airplane. In fact, we were so sure it was an airplane none of us turned around to see what it was. Will, however, knew better. It was the erupting of a vent further down on the side of the volcanoe. It was the same vent that we saw erupt on our way to the hot springs.

When turned around i noticed something else, equally spectacular,behind us.

It was as if we were standing on top of the pyramids.

It was as if we were on top of the world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

listos para subir

Later that night there was a terrific barbeque at the AIDG compound. I think just about every expatriate in Xela attended. Will made great burgers, Virgil baked home-made buns (which pleased Erin to no end) and Netta- an Israeli volunteer at AIDG- speared veggies and fruit onto kebobs. She asked me how the vegans would feel about eating human blood in their kebobs, actually she just asked me how they would feel about eating human blood in general. I didn`t get it until she showed me her sliced hand. And so the vegans ate some of Netta`s blood.

I had a great conversation with two Xela natives, interesting people who are somehow connected with AIDG indirectly (perhaps they rent to them?). We talked at some length about community dynamics, specifically the contrast between Guatemala and the states. To them, families should live together through several generations, its a more loving and connected way of being. Everyone can help each other, there is a great sharing of duties and resources, its a much more relationship-rich style of living. I spoke some to the perception in the states of a multi-generational home as being somewhat dysfunctional. Mostly in the sense that it is considered embarassing or shameful for children to live with their parents past a certain age. Our culture, i said, does not encourage togetherness (unless of course it is to facilitate some sort of financial transaction and "aid" the economy). No, we are all rugged individualists. Even if we only get dirty in virtual landscapes while blowing up aliens. It was a great conversation and a good testament to my improved spanish.

Being sold on hiking the volcanoe Santa Maria, we were further convinced to do so at 2 in the morning so that we could arrive just in time for sunrise. It sounded exhausting and exhilirating. Any doubts were quelled by two thoughts- when else are you going to get to do this, and the mantra that Palo left us with "you can be comfortable at home."

While the girls got some pre-hiking sleep, Will and i went off for a crazy and circuitous scavenger hunt through the city. It would have felt ridiculous if it hadn`t been so much fun. I don`t remember exactly how it went, but it was something like this:

we had to drop off materials at AIDG, grab a half eaten chicken and take it back to the compound.
pick up grocceries, take them back
get warm clothes from Will`s awesome friend Mazz
go half way back and then realize that i need to get batteries for my dead camera
not find any decent batteries and return home to make chicken sandwhiches for the trip

Mazz and her friends ahd the largest apartment i have ever seen in person, it was like a small dormitory with alot of shared space. Pretty good price from what i understand. The best part though was the awesome roof hang-out space. Their roof top get-togethers would be the envy of any 20 something, the view was immaculate and there were lots of tables and chairs.

After getting back to the apartment and getting all the food ready, Will and i were able to catch a couple hours of sleep before the hike.

Around 1:00 we all got up and began packing and dressing for the cold. Anneliese looked... spectacular.

A quick walk to the central park found us a taxi. There were also a surprising amount of young people making music in the main gazebo. It was really nice to see them out enjoying the night.

I didn`t catch our taxi driver`s name, but he was a nice enough guy and got us to where we were going. Though he did attempt to drive through pot holes and ravines that his car couldn`t have possibly handled, but it did. It was in getting out of the taxi that i somehow lost my international phone. Luckily no one made any calls on it.

And so at 2:30 in the morning we bagn our long slow ascent into the dark.

I`m a big fan of the hat that Mazz lent me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

las fuentes georginas

After we had a good look around Will`s work place we grabbed a bus out towards Las Fuentes Georginas- well known hot springs in the area. A chicken bus ride left us off about 20 mins short of our destination, from there we had to hire a truck to take us the rest of the way. Of course there were many trucks waiting.

Having ridden in several truck beds before i must say, this was a significant step up, it was awesome actually. The truck bed is lined with metal walls to lean on and has several bars to grab as well. It felt a lot like surfing on a car and a little like flying.

The view was fantastic. We got to see a huge amount of agricultural land in production. The farms were doing quite well compared to most that i`ve seen around the country. Will said they`ve had a fairly developed irrigation systyem for quite some time, and sure enough eveywhere we looked there were sprinklers keeping everything wet during the dry season. Though the malfunctioning ones were often augmented by a human, literally, turning slowly in place holding the semi-broken mechanism. I... can`t even imagine.

About half way through the trip we saw a volcanoe erupt in the distance. I think it was a first for all of us, except Will, and very (very) exciting.

Will said "you know, we can climb that volcanoe there and watch the eruption from above." We were sold.

The hot springs were stunning. Far up green covered mountainsides large swaths of exposed rock guided sulfur-heated water into a series of large pools. The pools were built up some with rocks walls, but not distastefully. The whole thing was quite enchanting. And, as in most of these situations its easy to fantasize about having the whole place entirely to your self. No cheesy pick lines being drunkenly delivered, no squealing kids, no men in speedos that really shouldn`t be wearing speedos- the one thing gringos don`t want from their travels is to run into other gringos. This seems pretty ubiquitous.

Though, i was very happy to make friends with these adorable little kids. I love how little kids are pretty much the same no matter where you go- they`re curious, they want to play, everything is super exciting- its a good reminder that we are not as dissimilar as we sometimes believe.

After an hour or so of sitting in the springs, jumping out to take cold showers and jumping back in, we decided we were ready to move on. The springs were more enjoyable to look at then to be in, they were often pleasant hot tub temperature, but just as often not-so-pleasant hot tub x 2. One thing that was really interesting about the springs was that, without exerting any force at all, you would sweat a huge amount, but you`d never know it because you`re already wet. Coming out you feel relaxed but drained, and really really thirsty. It was an odd combination of feelings.