Got up at 5:20am, a very early start, ready to climb the Pacaya Volcano in San Franciso 1.5hrs out of Antigua. I was thinking of Mum as we had watched Dante´s Peak only a few nights before I left, and Pacaya is an active volcano. :)
We had all opted for a private guide up Pacaya ($5 more) which ended up being a great investment as he brought with him lots of yummy snacks such as bananas, pineapple slices, banana bread etc.
The hike up was not as hard as the one up to the waterfall on Maderas Volcano in Ometepe, Nicaragua, which I was very relieved about, but nonetheless I still found it a little difficult as my right leg was all cramped up from sitting in the minivan awkwardly for 6hrs the previous day.
This was only made worse by the fact that we were accompanied by a few horses at various stages along the path which were always offered to us, at a price of course. The first part of the hike was actually the hardest and then there were some flat bits which was good. Our guide, Julio Ronaldo Menchu, was a really nice guy and we had lots of rest stops. He also picked up all the rubbish he saw lying around on the way back down which I was really impressed about. I should mention now that it is vital you rent a stick for the hike up as otherwise you will end up a bleeding mess due to the razor sharp lava.
Anyway, finally we got to where the lava started and it was amazing. It was like a black river that had just stopped all of a sudden and a few metres away there were some bulls grazing on the grass, seemingly unaware that they could have been inches away from death! That lava was from the last explosion in April 2005, but the last truly massive explosion was in 1987.
Smores on Pacaya
Up the top of that hill we had the first view of the volcano. It was truly an amazing sight, and we could see areas of flowing lava too. We started the trek across the lava and almost immediately we started feeling the heat coming up from between the solid lava. From a distance it looks like a solid black mass, but up close it is as sharp as a knife, almost coral-like in its consistency, and shines with a thousand different colours from all the different minerals. Its really beautiful but so dangerous. I occasionally grabbed onto a bit sticking out to help haul myself up to the next section, and it was only when I finished the hike that I released my fingers were all bleeding and peeling-the lava is like sandpaper, or like getting lots of little paper cuts.
We walked for ages across the solid lava until we finally got to a section where the lava was actually FLOWING.
I always thought standing in front of an open fire was quite unbearably hot, but it is nothing compared to the radiant heat from the lava, which is apparently about 1400C. Also, you couldn´t stand in one place for more than a few seconds otherwise your shoes simply started to melt! Most of the people without hiking boots couldn´t get too close, and I thought my boots were about to melt anyway! You could only take a quick photo before you had to scurry back over the lava, it was absolutely boiling-like standing on really boiling hot sand at the beach but having that feeling across any exposed part of your body!
After we´d all taken some pics our guide pulled out some chocolate coated biscuits, some marshmallows and a long stick and made us all s´mores. I found it quite hilarious really-volcano toasted marshmallows!
We eventually headed back to the lookout at the hill, and were watching a new lava river emerge which some girls were getting very close to, when a massive sulforous cloud enveloped the entire place.
We were all glad we had got off the lava when we had, as it was sort of scary enough as it was, having to check with your stick first to see if the lava was hard or if you would fall right through into the magma! Surprisingly we did not have to sign any indemnity forms at the start. Anyway, the whole experience was amazing and I highly recommend it, particularly since it only took 2hrs to get up, we actually saw flowing lava, and our guide was so great. If any of you ever come here I´ll give you his contact details.
Spent the afternoon relaxing. My roommate had got over her temper which was a relief.
At 6pm we had our group meeting with the two new members Sharon and Bridg from Ireland, who had actually accompanied us on the volcano hike. They were really friendly and I think they will be a great addition to the group. At 6:30pm headed up for our final group dinner with the old group. The restaurant wasnt that great but it was nice to have one last meal together. Afterwards we went to a bar called La Sala, which was quite fun, then briefly to a salsa club before heading to bed. The Irish girls have both being doing salsa for 2-3yrs so they are really good! I fell asleep immediately when I got back as I have come down with a really chesty cold which isn´t too nice.