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Published: January 17th 2022
After setting up for a few nights in Antigua, my friend and I got ready for our big adventure: Hiking conical Volcán Acatenango and seeing the constantly erupting Volcán de Fuego. For Christmas Eve Eve! We used the Wicho and Charlie's tour company which was located near our airbnb and had good reviews. They also set you up in huts instead of tents. So we walked there for our meeting time of 8 am where we were given instructions and a small breakfast. Cold weather gear was provided for free or available for rent. Since I knew before arriving we were doing this, I had almost everything except hiking poles which I rented, and decided to also rent gloves which were warmer than the ones I brought. We each had to bring a minimum of 3L of water, including 1L which was used for cooking our meals at base camp. The instructor gave us a brief overview on what to expect: it was steep and pretty much straight up for the first 2-3 hours, then 45 minutes mostly flat, and finally another 15 minutes climb, with two long breaks thrown in, which included our lunch break.
There were 31 of
us plus the guides - wow! So we were put into two busses for about a 40 minute ride to the trail start. At 11:00 we already were starting almost an hour after we thought, but still, it was a maximum 5 hour hike, including breaks, so we were fine.
Now, I may have mentioned on my previous write ups: I am a slow hiker. I know this. But I also know my limits. I could do this. I am slow, but I don't need long breaks, just frequent very short ones. But most people on this trip were very fit and the guides set a quick pace from the start. Some people had hired porters, and when one of the guides offered one to me for a small fee... OK! So, about an hour in, my bag was taken from me and I hiked in peace. There were about 8-10 people either struggling or staying with those who were struggling so we all hiked up together and it was pleasant from them on. We were enjoying ourselves. My friend, of course was near the front of the pack...
The views were amazing, almost immediately. Since it was
straight up initially, we could see over the entire valley. The steep hike lasted about 45 minutes, some of which consists of stairs. Then we got to the park entrance, just after entering the forest. Luke had already paid my fee and we were on our way after looking at the map. Our guides told us that we would be taking a 'shortcut' to basecamp. The next section was a bunch of somewhat steep switchbacks on packed earth trails through the woods. It was so beautiful. We encountered a few other, smaller groups, passing each other along the way. No one seemed to be in a real hurry and there were various levels of people struggling, but everyone wound up making it to the basecamp.
We stopped about 40 minutes after the park entrance for lunch. It was actually too long a break as we were sweaty and then the sweat became cold. But the food was good and we chatted as a big group together. The temperature changes were frequent - it was warm in the sun, cool in the forest, and with the sweat, you had to determine which layers worked best for you. We continued on
for another 30 minutes, encountering a tiny little bat hanging upside down under a large leaf - so cute!! And so far, the weather was perfect.
Soon, our group of 10 reached the end of one trail and started on the next. This was the part that was mainly flat and was a nice change of pace. Literally. We made good time here, and were at the end of this section in about 30 minutes. It was a great hike as we were above the clouds at this point, so our view was different and beautiful. We saw the top of Volcan Agua poking out of the clouds; this is the big volcano you can see from Antigua and now we are at a level with it! Our final 15 minutes was another steep switchback trail, and me and two other girls took a 10 second break every two corners.
Then we were at the basecamp. Wow!
We weren't the last but among the last so I picked the last hut, which had 8 need spaces which each consisted of a sleeping bag, pillow, heavy blanket and mattress pad. And the huts were triangular in shape with
wooden front and back sides and covered in a tin roof.
I threw my stuff down and found Luke. Oh my god, he was like a kid in a candy store! He was soooo happy. I was too! This was so amazing. We just stood in awe in the eruptions occurring. He was gung-ho for going to the second portion: hiking to the saddle El Fuego. It was easy to get there, going mostly down, but difficult to return, going mostly up. So I stayed, enjoyed the view, beer and hot chocolate.
Volcán de Fuego erupts every 10-20 minutes. Some of the eruptions are small and some are spectacular. So about half of us remained to take it in and see the sunset. The eruptions seemed to increase in frequency after the sun was going down. Really, it was about 20 minutes when we first arrived but after the sunset, it was about every 8 to 15 minutes, and these ones were fiery. There did not seem to be actual lava, just super heated rocks which gave the fiery glow giving you an amazing show at night.
At one point, our dinner (with our contribution of a
liter of water) was ready. It was simple: I think it was like a rice based dish with soup maybe? Not memorable, basic, but filling and tasty and vegetarian. Then we were right back out in our chairs, many of us having grabbed the heavy blankets from our tent. The guides set up two campfires and we were right up next to it as the temperature had dropped significantly. The wood was wet, so it was extremely smokey; at this point, between the smoke and hiking in the cold air, my throat was miserable, but I was happy as could be! I had an amazing view after all!
The rest of the group got back from Volcan de Fuego around 9pm, ate their dinner, and hung out to watch the show. By this time, I had set up my go-pro to get an overnight timelapse (which was amazing, by the way!). Luke and I took some photos of us watching the eruptions, which came out nice, though not professional!
I went to bed and snuggled under my sleeping bag, which was actually pretty warm. Since no one was sleeping next to me, I grabbed the heavy blanket there
and so I actually was pretty warm over night. I fell asleep almost immediately, but it was not long before I was woken up. What had woken me? The rattle of the tin hut from the constant explosions! It seemed even louder in the hut as the force of the blast would actually cause the roof to rattle a bit, but no, I never felt the ground shake. There were a couple of explosions, however, that caused me to get up and look out our little window to make sure nothing crazy was happening (I was not the only one either!). But it was just the normal blasts, some big some small.
By that time, I was basically awake, so I should have hiked up to the summit with Luke, but it was so warm! Plus, I figured there were lots of people going, as I could hear people out there. It turns out only four went; if I had known, I would have gone Remember, I am slow and I hate holding people up, but it turns out that they waited for about an hour below the summit for sunrise because it is too cold and windy at
the top. However, we had our own amazing view! As the sun started to come up, everyone on our lower level huts went to the campfire area with our blankets and watched the sun come up with Fuego continuing to spew it's rocks. The sunrise was so incredible, seeing Antigua below, Volcan Agua, Pacaya in the distance, and of course the eruptions. Simply breathtaking.
We had our breakfast, another basic vegetarian dish, this time a burrito, which was again good and filling. There was one girl who had some knee troubles and struggled on the hike, so she asked if she could go before the main group so as not to hold everyone up. Including the guide, about 8 of us wound up going down 30 minutes early to make up some time, myself included because I also worried about my knees. We actually did pretty well! I was doing great until the steep loose soil section at the very end - that's when my knees hurt, but the rest was fine. And we actually got there about 20 minutes before the rest. Luke said the family group was struggling. So, since there were so many of us, half
of us were able to take the shuttle early. We had a shuttle scheduled at 1pm to Lake Atitlan and we still needed to get back to pack our bags, grab lunch, and I desperately wanted a shower!
So, we got back and checked out (I lost a mitten somewhere along the way, but thankfully the guide found it, otherwise, I would have had to pay). Then we went back to the airbnb, who had graciously told us we were fine to check out late. While I showered (it took a while for the water to warm), Luke went to get us lunch. I finished us packing and by the time he got back, we were ready to go. We got back to Wicho and Charlie's, who also ran the shuttle, and it turns out we were waiting on a few people anyway. So we enjoyed our vegan falafel burritos (so yummy!) before leaving.
I have to say, the trip was very well organized, worth the money, and just an incredible experience. It was one of my favorite and most memorable experiences ever!
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