Volcan Pacaya

Antigua Travel Blog

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As promised, Rusty and I were up at the crack of dawn (5.30am!) to get ready for our day trip to Volcan Pacaya. The volcano is still active, and is around 30km south of Antigua, so we had to take a minibus to get there. We sat outside our youth hostel to wait and everytime one of the little tourist buses stopped, we went up to it to see if it was the right one, but kept getting told 'another bus another bus' when they looked at our tickets. Finally, at around 6.20am (we were told to be there at 5.50am) our bus arrived and we got in. The journey was about an hour, so wasn't that bad.

When we arrived at the entrance to the national park for the volcano, and opened the door to our minibus, we were instantly met by our friendly tour guide ´Raul, who told us to stick together like a family, and that we would be the ´Tigres´group.

There were hundreds of locals standing around with horses which could apparently be rented to take you up the volcano. Some of them were shouting ´tuk-tuk natural´which was amusing! They didn´t really seem to be pushing these too much though (at this stage) but what were being forced upon us were sticks. Dozens of local children were wandering around, each with about 5 walking sticks for helping you up the mountain trying to sell them to you. Rusty and I didn´t really think we´d need them (how wrong we were) but decided in the end to get some just so that we could give the children a little bit of money (they were only about 40p each). I made the mistake in hesitating and talking to Rusty about whether he wanted one too. The children obviously sensed this hesitation and within seconds I had eight of the children banging all of the sticks which they hadn´t sold yet all clamouring for me to choose them.
Some were ´the best sticks´, some had ´the best handles´and some were apparantly the best for ´poking the lava´. In the end I had to do an almost eeny-meeny-miny-mo, buying one each from two of the girls.

Now with our sticks, we were ready for our ascent! We set off on the journey, which we were informed was 4km (2km there and 2 back) with a total vertical ascent of 600m. Even from the beginning, the paths were a lot steeper than I thought they´d be, and I was soon out of breath! These tours are seriously not to be undertaken lightly, as I´ve discovered, much to the detriment of my view of my own fitness! I was soon clamouring to be carried up the rest of the trek by horse, but decided to plough on in the end. If only I´d known how far there was to go, I would have had no problems in taking the ´lazy´horseback route.

The men with their horses were very cleverly placed at intervals up the mountains, obviously to pick up stragglers at every opportunity. We even had 2 of them following our group specifically for half of the journey.

The first bit of the climb was no different to walking in a park (apart from the obvious incline in the landscape) - the pathway was through trees, which provided a thankful respite from the sun´s heat. We were very glad that we´d booked the early tour (as it was only about 9am by this point), the thought of climbing in the 2pm sunshine was not a happy one. It probably took us about an hour to the top of the first half of the ascent, and the sticks were already providing very useful.

The path then opened out, and we were exposed to fantastic views over the valley between the 3 other volcanoes of the area (Agua, Fuerte and another one which I´ve forgotten the name of).

We then saw molten rock among the fields at the bottom of the valley (shown in the 2nd photograph), presumably remaining from the last erruption of Pacaya in 2005. Following the path around the side of what I assumed to be the final ascent up the volcano, the scenery changed dramatically. It suddenly went from green, lush (although rather bare at this point) trees and shrubbery, to a vast expanse of molten rock streching up to what was actually the top of the volcano. When we saw people climbing up the steep sides of these rocks, so far away that they were tiny colourful dots on a sea of black, the only words that I had for Rusty was ´they must be joking!´

But oh no, they weren´t. So off we set onto the crumbly black rocks. The first bit was quite fun as we got to run down a slope of molten rock pieces.

It was more like jumping though, as the surface was so bouncy. I can´t describe the next bit as quite as enjoyable however, we had started the real ascent. It was really hard. Rusty and I were holding up the back of the group, wishing that we actually spent more time skiing (building up our thigh muscles) than sitting around every Thursday night in Sunderland. However, the guide did stop periodically to let us all catch our breath, which was a relief. As it was getting later (about 10am by now), the sun´s heat had increased, and getting nearer to the summit, it was (obviously) getting hotter and hotter. The hardest part about climbing up the rocks, was the horrible incline, and the fact that they kept falling out from under your feet.
The flowing lava

It was worth every minute though, when we actually got to the top. The rocks opened up, and we were suddenly hit with a dry Mediterrean-style heat that I described as ´getting off the plane in Zakynthos´. Our guide led us over to where we could see lava (yes, real molten lava) flowing out of a vent(?) of the volcano. And this was no British health-and-safety regulated tour. We were allowed to, and infact incouraged to go up to the lava and poke it with our sticks.. which we did. Rusty, enjoying himself so much that he had to keep going back for more. The heat as you stood close was incredible, when Rusty and I posed for the photo of both of us next to the lava flow, we could literally only stay there while it was being taken as the heat was so intense.

Rusty and I at the summit
We´ve heard stories of people going up and cooking steaks and marshmallows in the heat.

Once we´d marvelled for our allotted time, we began our descent. Although this was definitely not as tiring as the way up, it was probably more difficult. Negotiating your way through loose rocks on a steep slope proved really difficult, even with our sticks, and we both fell over (Rusty considerably more than me I´d like to add). I managed to slice the skin off my finger on one of the offending rocks on one of my falls, which looked rather more dramatic than it actually was, but managed to cause Rusty to carry our rucksack all the way down!

We got back in our bus at about 12midday and started our journey back to Antigua. Sitting in probably the most comfortable seat in the minibus, I managed to sleep all the way back which was lovely.

Rusty´s inner pyromaniac persona
Once, back at our hostel, we had our much needed showers, and then headed into town for a really lovely and relaxing afternoon.

Rusty and I both greatly enjoying talking to you all at home, and will keep you updated on our future plans (at present, a Coffee tour tomorrow afternoon and perhaps venturing into Honduras to the Bay Islands on Sunday).

bSchu says:
Very cool blog.
Posted on: May 17, 2011
nyprne says:
This is a great blog. I am glad that is has been featured. Congratulations and safe travels to you and Rusty!
Posted on: Apr 13, 2011
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The flowing lava
The flowing lava
Rusty and I at the summit
Rusty and I at the summit
Rusty´s inner pyromaniac persona
Rusty´s inner pyromaniac persona
photo by: monky