Monday, March 7, 2011

Volcan Tajumulco and first day of spanish class

Hey folks,
Where did i leave off, lets see...right, i was telling you about the trek that i was about to embark upon to the higest peak in Central America, heres the tale:
I woke up at 4 in the manana along with around 5 other brave souls in the dorm near the treckers office, we went downstairs and got our gear together, i needed to pack the following things: Thermal sleeping mat for the below zero temperature, sleeping bag, a poofy winter jacket, two teck-thermal shirts, a sweatshirt, my fleece, gloves, wool socks, a hat, 5 liters of water (for american readers, thats two and a half soda bottles), plate, coffee cup, spoon, a kilo of peanut butter, a kilo of humus, and about 5 kilos of dry pasta. Obviously a lot of that stuff was communal, we had to share the load--and boy did i get a good share.

We left the office around 445am when the rest of the group arrived and finished packing (there were 15 of us, 12 clients and 3 guides from America, Canada, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Korea, Israel, the Netherlands and more i cant remember). We then hopped in the back of a pickup truck and bounced our way accross Xela to the Xela bus terminal which for some reason is in a neighboring town called Minerva. We waited for the first chicken bus to San Marcos, and threw our bags on top of the bus for the two hour ride there (i slept the whole ride!). In San Marcos we went to a comodore and ate a pretty decent breakfast (dont worry folks, i wont regale you with the contents of every meal, snack, and sniff like the Honduras post!) with way oversweetened coffee-like hot water. We finished and hopped a second chicken bus which took us up to the base of the volcano.

Let me take just a minute here to tell you about this volcano. When i was told it was the higest peak in central america, i too scoffed a bit. I have climbed quite a few of the montains and volcanoes here in Centro America and they have never been much of a challenge for me. It was only when i saw the sign at the entrance to the park that i realized how high we were going to trek. The volcano peak is 4, 220 meters, thats higher than nearly all the highest peaks in the Alps. Plus, i have never climbed anything with a pack that heavy before, I have always done day trips and it has always been hot as hades, but this time i was weighed down and bundled up in layer upon layer of poofy clothes. This was not to be an easy trek.

About halfway up the volcano, a group of about half a dozen machete weilding men confronted us and demanded that we pay them money to continue up the volcano. They showed us bogus identification what was obviously fake and told us that the official at the base of the trail was an impersonater who esploits trourists, and that they were the real officials (creative, right?). The guides were not sure what to do (because they knew that was obviousy a shake down but they had never encountered this before--the guides at the place i went through are not trained guards or mountaineers; the company is a not-for-profit and all the proceeds get donated to a school and shelter for street children). We discussed our options as a group and when the discussion turned to the fact that they had machetes, i pointed out the fact that we had machetes as well, and that if we just kept walking they surely wouldnt follow. The group wasnt totally convienced, but the half that agreed on this point (including two of the guides) all picked up their bags and we kept going, and once the rest saw that the shake-down-ers in fact werent going to follow us, they too joined and we never heard from those guys again. All bark, no bite.

I took us about 6 hours to climb the volcano (2 hrs faster than most groups) and the last 20 minutes felt like an eternity. I was dead tired, dehydrated from overrationing my water, frozen solid, and suffocating in the low oxygen. None-the-less, i made it to the top and at the front of the pack.

After we arrived at the base camp (which was a clearing at the top of the tree line where the gound was still insulated and coushined by the pine needles) we immidiately saw to building fire and shelter. We pulled the food and tents out of the bags and the girls built the tents while the guys collected firewod, and built the pit and cook-station. There was a mist like you wouldnt believe on the mountain side, and the group decided it was too cold and the visibility was too low to keep goint to the summit that night. Instead we built a roaring bonfire out off all the twigs and pine needles we could find (because the area was hugely deforrested and any legitimate firewood had already been burned away (monst of the forrests in the region had been torched during the Guatemalan civil war to eliminate potential geurilla hide-outs) and chilled out playing corny camping games and stuff. Dinner was the food we brought up (pasta and PBnJ and stuff) along with some much needed coffee and tea.

It was so cold that night, and luckily there were only two tents for all of us, which meant a rather cozy, yet warm night in the tent. At some point in the night we heard people milling about and making noise outside the tent and i was convinced for a moment that it was machete wielding geurillas come back to sley up for not paying the exploitation fee to climb the mountain. Alas, it was just some dude trying to find his own campsite and no harm done.

We woke up at 4am again and packed our sleeping bags, mats, and water and climbed the remaining 500 meters or so to the summit of the volcano where we took a minute to marvel at the fact that we were way above the cloudline ( it looked like we could just walk out onto the surface of the clouds), and the fact that there were absolutely no clouds above us to block out the infinite sky...then we rolled out our mats and bags and did our best to go back to sleep (even though it was deathly cold up there.

I woke up in time for one of the most beautiful and unique sunrises i have ever experienced. It only lasted a few seconds because as soon as the sun rose over the cloudline, it vaporized the nice fluffy clouds and a fast rush of mist washed over us as the clouds rose, diffusing the sun to the point where we could look directly at it, and then to the point where we couldnt see the sun at all or ever our hands in front of our faces. We waited for the mist to clear and then went back down to base camp where we had hot mosh and coffee, packed up the camp and headed back down. A far easker trek (although death on my bad knees) that took just about 4 hours (no more water and food to carry!).

At the bottom we got lunch at a comodore and then made our way back to Xela via chicken buses. It was a good weekend, ended with a few of us getting dinner at a street carnival that had just opened sunday night.

Im getting kicked off the computer now so i need to be brief, this morning i slept late and moved into a nicer hostle, then napped a bit, found a spanish school, signed up, napped a bit more, took 5 hours of spanish lessons and sat down to write this blog. Im still dead tired so to sleep is where im about to go now.

Keep reading, and please comment!

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