Pacaya… Finally got my volcano climb in!!

                  

We literally got THE BEST Christmas gift our family could have received… We got the Cruiser back! Obviously we wasted no time in planning our next trip once we got it back and since the new gearing needs to be broken in, it’s required to drive it for 500 miles and change the oil in it to make sure it’s running properly. We chose to take a few long trips and test it out. Our plan was to drive to El Paredon, drop off some gifts we picked up for friends and then continue on to Volcan Pacaya which is an active volcano that is constantly erupting and flowing lava. I’ve been wanting to climb this volcano since we arrived in Guatemala.

We headed out Dec. 27 and of course, Google maps sent us in the wrong direction, which is all too common down here. We really should know better, but it’s such a habit to click on google maps and enter where we want to go. Usually it gets us close, but then gives us terrible directions once we get closer to our destination.

This time, google sent us to Sipacate, the opposite side of the river that we needed to be on and either we had to find a boat launch to take our car on to ride the river, or we had to drive an hour and a half around the river to a bridge back to El Paredon. We’ve already driven the route, so we ultimately opted to take the boat. We came to the first boat launch and it was foot passengers only. There was no vehicle access, and there was no landmark on the map to show that there was a boat launch for vehicles. However, we already knew for certain that there was a boat launch for vehicles somewhere because we had stayed in El Paredon for a month and saw boats taking cars along the same river every day, multiple times per day. We decided to just follow some random roads until they ended and eventually found the launch ramp where I asked a man about getting a boat to take our car to El Paredon. He said I needed to call for the boat and gave me a phone number for the boat captain. I called the number, informed the man that I needed a boat for my car then where we were and where we were going. He told me he’d be there with the boat in 10 minutes.

About 15 minutes later, two boats with cars arrive at the boat launch and off-load the vehicles. Finally it was our turn to take this boat up-river. Watching the kids push the boat back from the launch was quite interesting. They used these long wooden poles to literally leverage the boat off the concrete launch. Then they literally push the boat backwards in the river, which is so shallow, we literally could have driven across the river to the island that separates Sipacate and El Paredon (but would have gotten stuck on a small island). The water barely came up to these kid’s thighs. They pushed us backward and turned the boat around and before we knew it, we were on our way up-river. There were skipper fish that were gliding across the top of the water, and randomly you’d see heads popping up out of the water as people were out net and spear fishing. We passed a military installation and in no time, we had reached our port and off loaded. The entire trip lasted maybe 10 minutes but was such a cool experience. It cost us $12 USD. Bronson dropped the goPro and almost lost it, but I was able to see it between the cracks in the wood planks. I was able to get it out, but man, it was close.

We drove literally around the corner from the boat launch to our friend’s house and dropped off Christmas presents for them and their kids and headed out for lunch. Once we finished eating we set out to camp on a farm of one of our friends here in Guatemala. Bronson decided to take a “sometimes shows up on the map, but not always” road. This road was AWFUL. The 2.5 hour drive took us 6 hours. We drove through numerous private farms and through random gates. We took roads that literally had grass growing in the middle of the tracks. We took out low lying tree branches and traversed through areas that were so small, we were scraping our front bumper along rocks as we were squeezing through. Most of these roads are traveled, just not very often. We came to a village in the middle of nowhere and they were literally putting down pavers on the road, so the main thoroughfare was blocked and there was no through road on the map. I asked a man where we could go to get around, and he told me to go two streets back and just follow the road up, but it would be difficult due to the type of terrain. Shit man, do you have any idea what kinds of roads we just went through to get here? I followed his directions and there was one area that was so steep and the dirt was so soft that we knew we’d make it, but we didn’t want to tax our differential too much since it’s new and it’s a break in period. We put it in 4 low and just crawled up the hill. Other than that one spot, it wasn’t too bad. We followed the road around the back side of the village and popped out on the other side of the pavers. The dirt roads continued FOREVER and after going through another two farms and driving through the middle of a soccer game we followed the map which took us in the wrong direction, yet again. We went back and forth on this road three times before it started to get dark. We asked a few people who told us that we couldn’t access the farm from where we were and we’d have to go all the way back around. As we were driving down the road for the fourth time, a group of coffee farmers were heading in the opposite direction and asked us where we were going. We told them what we were looking for and they told us we were going the wrong way. They told us to follow them, we weren’t too far off and they were already heading that direction.

As dark descended, we followed these guys and passed numerous remote villages and traversed terrain we probably shouldn’t have been on especially at night, but the alternative was to pop up our tent and try to find a different way the next morning while camping on some random persons property without permission. That might be a bit sketchy. The driver of the coffee farmers led us safely out of the rough and rocky terrain, we were only 30 minutes from the farm, we were just going the wrong direction. He politely explained that he had reached his home, but the man that rides in the back with the coffee beans lives on the farm we were headed to and could take us all the way to the gate.

He hopped in the back of the cruiser and showed us the rest of the way there. Without these guys, we never would have made it to the farm. When we arrived, the guards at the front asked us if we had a camping reservation, we explained the situation to them, they called the owner of the farm and let us through. We got the best spot on the property to view the volcano. It was quiet, dispersed, the guys even started our campfire for us while we set up camp. In the morning we woke up to amazing views of 4 volcanoes, two of which are active.

We took walks on the lava bed, let the dog run wild with the horses and cows. We had nerf gun wars and met some kids that wanted to practice speaking English. We had a lot of people come and talk to us about our roof top tent and a few that spoke English. It was a great and relaxing day but we didn’t realize that we were supposed to pack up and leave because there were other people who had reserved that spot for the weekend. So around 4 pm, we were politely asked to vacate the site and go to the front to see if there were any other spots available. There weren’t, so we decided to drive back to Antigua.

On our way back to Antigua, I was looking around to the other side of Pacaya and I mentioned to Bronson that I still wanted to climb the volcano and I didn’t feel like driving back to Antigua only to come back out and make this trip again. We decided to try to get to the parking lot of the Park Entrance for the volcano where we would set up camp and make the climb in the morning.

As we were looking for the entrance, google sent us down yet another wrong road that literally got pedestrian only narrow. Once that happened we had to literally back down and ask someone if they knew where we could set up camp. The kid I talked to happened to be a guide for the volcano. He said there was a parking lot across the street where we could set up camp and told us it was secure, but it was literally cliffside and didn’t look very secure. He asked if we wanted to climb the volcano, and of course I said yes. He was telling us about the difference between climbing in the day versus the night and said that we’d get the best views of the lava at night and that by the morning the activity would be different. Ultimately we decided to go on the night hike to the top of an active volcano. Totally safe, I’m sure. Our guide took us the “short” way which turned out to be literally the steepest way up. My calves burned like they were in the damn lava. Once we got to the lava, all that discomfort went away as we watched the rivers of lava slowly flow. Hearing the crackling of the fire, and feeling the heat of the lava was indescribable. The wind was howling and it was cold, but the heat emanating from the lava wrapped us in a blanket of heat. Our guide gave us marshmallows and watched over us as we roasted our marshmallows downstream from the lava flow. As the lava flowed closer we kept moving, finding little pockets where the lava was still glowing under the top layer of lava rock to continue roasting marshmallows. I’m quite sure I swallowed some lava rock while downing some delicious, perfectly roasted, unburned marshmallows; but lava rock is chock full of nutrients, like iron, magnesium and calcium, right???

After having the experience of roasting the marshmallows, it was time to leave, and as we were leaving, I tripped on some lava rock and nearly dove head first into the top crust of lava rock with molten lava under neath the surface. Kaden was freaking out while I was fumbling to catch myself and remain upright. After this “near death” experience, as Kaden likes to call it, Kaden decided it was time to go even though we were already leaving. He really didn’t want me out there in the dark, tripping on lava rock and falling into molten lava. Neither did I, but it really wasn’t that close to “near death” as Kaden likes to makes it sound.

We made it safely back down to the car, paid our tour guide and popped up our tent on the owners property. It was really a peaceful night, even though there was foot traffic of tours throughout the night, climbing up and down the volcano. We woke the next morning to a pack of dogs barking as more tourists started arriving. We collapsed the tent, packed into the car, had a quick conversation with some tourists who were very impressed with all the gear we carried and they were enamored by our roof top tent.

As we were descending the mountain, we were greeted with beautiful views of the towns below and other volcanoes and mountains hiding behind the clouds. We continued on to Antigua and arrived home safely, having created one truly amazing memory that will always stand out in our minds as one of our favorite treks ever.

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