Ok, so this may not have be the trip for most of you... but the experience was worth the effort for me. I don't know what to leave out so you can just do the editing for yourselves.
On Friday evening met as a group at Quetzaltrekkers
and got our gear: backpacks, sleeping bags, food, eating utensils, tents, etc. We had 15 people in the group including the two guides. My pack wasn't so heavy until I put in the required 3.5 liters of water.
Our trip started the next morning at 5:00 when we (15 of us) loaded our gear and ourselves on the back of a small pickup truck to go the the local bus station. We had to stand on the back of the truck with our gear next to us and the railing we had for "protection" was very wobbly. When we got to the bus station, we loaded our packs on the top of the chicken bus which ended up being so crowded, my face was pressed up against the window for a while when the two other guys in my seat insisted on being comfortable. We got off the bus in a town about an
hour and a half away where we went for a huge breakfast with Corn Flakes, refried black beans, yummy thick tortillas, and of course cooked platinos (plantains). A last chance for a bathroom, and then loaded our packs on top of the next bus for another hour and a half ride to the volcano.
We got to the trail head at Tajamulco
and started hiking. Five minutes into the hike, I thought that I had no way out of this at this point, but maybe I shouldn't be on this little excursion. I was older than anyone in the group by at least 15 years (more like 20 or more). Most of them were college kids doing a summer volunteer project. I wasn't physically conditioned for the trip, and a month ago (after recovering from my sixth knee operation) a flight of stairs looked scarey to me. I quickly started to feel the altitude. The pace they were going up the somewhat steep trail had me huffing and puffing and wanting to scream for air. (I didn't.) I slowed down a bit and was able to breath a bit better, but I never really could catch my whole breath
There were the amazing red toad stools like you see in cartoons. Many of them were a 10 inches across. In the foreground mountain lupine, which was everywhere.
until we were back at the bus the next day. We hiked about a half an hour to a resting point and the guide explained a little more about the trip. Two of the guys in group immediately decided that I needed to lighten my load and carried two of the water bottles for me. I felt guilty, but gloriously a lot better. After the first stop we slowed down a bit, others beginning to feel the altitude and speed of the group. After that it was just one step in front of the other to get to the top, and it got easier for me as we went once I got into the hiking mindset.
It wasn't long before we were surrounded by mist which stayed with us almost constantly the whole trip. Tajamulco is a Mam Indian word meaning "always in the mist". It was like we were hiking in a dream, never really able to see where we were going. Every now and then a field of flowers or other plant would appear in the mist as we hiked by. We passed these huge mushrooms like you would see in a Smurf cartoon. (see pics) There
Our campsite on the mountain
We had three of tents: two large ones and a small one for the guides. We had to sleep 7 to a tent. That's an awful lot of closeness for a bunch of total strangers.It was cold, wet, and 1000 ft below the summit. I gave up going up the last leg.
were Mayan farmers with their animals up there grazing that would appear in and out of the fog. Most of the time they were far enough away that they looked like ghosts. We got so used to the heavy mists that at one stopping point one of the guys didn't go very far away from the group to go the the bathroom and the mists suddenly cleared with full view of him with his pants down and a very surprised look on his face. It was a good laugh for the whole group.
The problem with the dreamy quality of hiking in the mist is that it doesn't translate for the camera. At some points the sun would try to shine through just over a ridge but never really quite make it. It looked like a mystical light that filled my spirit somehow.
It took about five hours to hike the 1000 feet in elevation to the campsite with a somewhat slower pace, lunch, and lots of breaks. About a half an hour before we got there it started to rain hard and so we set up the tents in the rain. Well, actually "we" was mostly "they" because
the tents were mostly set up but the time I got there. We immediately got in the tents and changed to dry clothes and got in our sleeping bags to warm up, not really wanting to get out for dinner. The rain stopped enough for us to get to know each other around a fire made with wood that was carried up. It was a pleasant evening huddled shoulder to shoulder around that fire. It was especially nice for me thinking that I had made it at all, and I had managed to keep up with this fairly young group
It rained all night and sleeping so closely with other people didn't make for a very restful night. We were supposed to get up at 4:00 AM to hike the 1000 feet in elevation to the peak to see the sunrise, but the weather was so bad that the guides didn't get anyone up until about 6:30. We started up the trail without our packs and five minutes into the trip I knew I didn't have to go. It was raining with a driving cold wind, I couldn't breath, and the group was going far too fast for me. I
turned back enjoyed the campsite on my own. The looks on the faces of the returning group members didn't have enough excitement in them for me to feel disappointed in my decision. I heard the mists cleared enough for them to see all the way to the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico for a minute or two.
After breakfast we packed up and stared the hike down. The lead guide decided to take a different way down the mountain than they usually take which gave us spectacular views from time to time, but no trails or paths and I think they got a little lost. Most of the time walked down eroded gullies and rocks. This was the part where I really felt my lack of conditioning. The group was constantly waiting for me and so as soon as I got to where they were resting we'd go on with very little rest for me. When the way was too steep the guide that was bringing up the rear suggested that he take my pack. I said no at first because that would mean he would have to carry two, but after a half an hour he convinced me that
The hiking group
This isn't a fuzzy picture... It was just mostly foggy most of the time. There were eight countries represented... USA, Israel, Australia, Denmark, Spain, England, Gutemala, and Austria.
it was a good idea. Someone saw him carrying my pack and came up and got it and I went they rest of the way down without my pack.
When we finally got to a town, we were nowhere near wear we supposed to be and so we got a small pickup truck to haul us a half an hour up and down the mountains to our stop. I rode up front with the driver who was having so much fun with his odd load of gringo hikers honking and waving at all the people with odd looks and dropped as we passed through the small Mayan villages to our bus stop.
We got back to Xela about three hours late and I felt exhilarated that I was "home" and that I had done something that I wasn't sure I could do with my knee as it is. I'm still a little high from the accomplishment.
Today, I'm resting, emailing, getting laundry done and the like. Tomorrow I think I will head to Lago Atitlan, which I hear is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
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