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Acatenango – The floor is Lava

It Begins

It’s the 15th of June and I have been in Antigua for 10 days. I open my eyes and it takes me a few seconds to realize where I am. Even if I am definitely not a morning person and it is only 7 am, I am wide awake: the jetlag still has an impact on my sleep. I can’t believe I am really doing the Acatenango Trek today, the third highest Volcano in Central- America.

I don’t know anybody, since I have been working as a volunteer at Tropicana just for 5 days. Breakfast is at 8 am, so I have enough time to prepare my stuff: trekking shoes, a pair of leggings, a shirt, a toothbrush, toothpaste, toiletpaper, sunscreen, a rainjacket, a torch, 4 litres of water and as I am a passionate paramedic I never leave without my paramedic sweater, some painkillers, bandages, plasters and some disinfection spray my favourite colleague gave me when I left Germany. You never know.

Our Crew

To be honest I thought I would look better with my backpack on my back, but instead of looking like a professional hiker I look more like a 6- year- old child on it’s first day of school. The 4 litres of water keep pressing on my spine and it’s a miracle, that I can close the zip.

The sun is shining and there are just a few clouds looking like cotton candy. It’s time for breakfast and I finally get to know the group with which I am going to spend the next 24 hours. Thank God: a German couple! Apart from them, there are three Irish girls and two American guys hiking the volcano with us. The shuttle picks us up right in front of the hostel. It is actually the first time I take a shuttle in Antigua and I am surprised: it is a minivan with many very small and very uncofortable seats, without any belts. I take a seat in the first row and realize that I am smiling as soon as the driver turns on the engine and starts driving.

Can I make it?

My best friend would love it, she always says that she loves to feel the ground when she is driving. I can literally feel every single cobblestone we are driving over. It’s going to be an interesting ride. I always make sure that I am sitting next to a window, I like to observe the people, the colours of Antigua’s streets. “Guatemala” means “the land of the trees” and now I can tell why. Our group seems to be nice, but I am a bit worried about my fitness. The two Germans hiked Kilimanjaro, Acatenango will be a joke for them.

The two American guys are at least double my size and one of their steps must be like 3 of mine. I rent a wooden stick for Q10 and a plastic bag..just in case. Our guide gives us our meals: a lunch package, a bag of pre-cooked spaghetti and an instant noodle-soup. My backpack is exploding. It is around 10 am and we start hiking. A dog called “Tarzan” starts following us and at this point I don’t know, that this dog and my stick are going to be my best friends. After 15 minutes of walking, we reach to the actual start of the trek. The ground is very loose, as it is composed of volcanic stones and roots. After a few minutes we find ourselves in the deepest jungle.

Mother Nature

I am fascinated by the power of nature: there is a huge amount of different plants and trees growing on this volcano, many different noises I have never heard before..birds in Germany make completely different sounds..and at the same time the volcano itself is able to destroy everything it built in the next moment. (Well, not this one..Acatenango is not active..but still).

The two Germans are like two machines. There is not one single sweat drop on their forehead and they are always smiling. I am very surprised by the fact that the two Americans are struggling, one of them has a knee issue. Our guide informs us that a high percentage of the people doing the hike do not make it to the top of Acatenango because it’s too hard or because of the altitude sickness. For one moment I think that one of the guys won’t make it..shame on me!!!

After 2 hours of hiking we finally have lunch. I never enjoyed a meal that much, also because I know the people that made it for me. Luis and Isabel, they are 19 and 20 years old and I know how much love and effort they put in every single meal. It took me a bit of time to get used to the Guatemalan concept of time, but of course it takes time if you have to peel every single potato or wash and cut every tomato. Whilst I am eating, I listen to the guide telling us some interesting facts about the volcano. Acatenango is the third highest volcano in Central-America with a height of 3976 m. Its little sister is the volcano “fuego” and together they build “la horqueta”.

After Lunch

We start walking again and I don’t even know what I am thinking about. I try to distract myself counting, but loose count very quickly. So I try to sing some songs in my head in order to forget the pain I am feeling, but I feel like it’s taking my breath away even if I am not really singing. “Small steps, constant pace”, I think about grandpa’s words and somehow, I forget about everything and just walk.

The American guy looks very pale, and the paramedic in me starts to be worried. After a while the guide asks for a break, we are very fast. And then the best part begins: we leave the forest and start walking on the top of the volcano. There are clouds all around us and I remember the words of a crazy guy I met a few years ago: “I really wanted to hug a cloud!”. I am wondering if this counts as “hugging a cloud”, I am smiling again.

There are several interesting plants I have never seen before growing out of the volcanic ground and I don’t know where to look. The ground is very loose and I start slipping, I am exhausted so I take a small break after each step. And now I realize, that the dog keeps poking me. How is it so easy for him? I smell myself, my hair is all sticky. But girls don’t sweat, they sparkle, right?

Arriving at Camp

In the next moment I hear the Irish girls shouting: WE MADE IT! Now I see the Acatenango base camp: a wood-tent with 16 “beds”, a little “kitchen”, a bonfire and a very minimalistic toilet. We hear a loud noise and we think immediately of a thunderstorm. But then a huge grey cloud catches my eye and I realize that the volcano “fuego” just erupted in front of me and I feel a little shuddering running down my neck. The sky is covered with white clouds and we decide to take a small nap in the tent as it starts to get cold.

Taking in the View from Acatenango Camp

As soon as I lay down, it starts raining. Not just soft raindrops, it sounds like the apocalypse and the whole tent is shaking because of the strong wind. The guide knocks at our door and serves the hot instant noodle-soup. I never appreciated an instant soup that much. The next thing I remember is waking up at around 5 pm. The two American guys are sitting around the bonfire, so I join them. It’s funny how quickly they feel like friends, even if we know each other since about 9 hours. I grab my camera and go for a walk. The top of Acatenango is completely clear and as it got darker you can see lava every time Volcan Fuego erupts.

The Night Time Views

The pictures I take look insane, but they could never depict what I see in this moment. I am freezing my ass off, even if I am wearing everything I have. So now I don’t smell just sweaty but also smoky. Love it! We eat some spaghettis and drink a very sweet wine, sitting around the fire. Even if we have seen many eruptions by now, it never gets boring and we all shout “woooow”. It’s 8 pm and the sky is black. It’s just us and the volcano. We can see the lights of the little villages at the bottom of the volcano, but everything seems so far away. At 8pm we see one last big eruption and we decide that this is a nice moment to go to bed.

Fuego from Acatenango

In bed I have 2 blankets, a sleeping bag, a hat, gloves, 2 jackets and my nose is still fucking freezing. All the other guys fall asleep very soon, I can hear them snoring, but the jet lag is still hitting me. I can’t sleep. So I keep turning around to the sound of the erupting volcano. The ceiling is made out of plastic, so that I can see the sky lighting up every time fuego spits fire. I can’t remember falling asleep, I just remember being woken up by the guide: “chicoooooos, vamooos!”. I put on everything I have and off we go. The sky is insane, my dad (astrophisician) would love it.

4am Crater Trek

We start walking and nobody is saying a single word. At some point I decide to turn my front light off and take a look at the night sky. I am speechless. If I could see a million stars with my flashlight, now I can see an infinity. I can’t recognize one single constellation, there are too many stars. The Milky Way reaches as far as the horizon and disappears behind the volcano. We all just take a second to enjoy this wonderful view. The trail is very slippery and sometimes we have to climb, but I can’t remember the pain as I am writing this. I am not freezing anymore, even if the temperature is -5 degrees.

Volcan Fuego keeps erupting behind our back and the girl in front of me almost falls down to see it. We reach the top of Acatenango just in time for the sunrise. The wind almost blows me away and thank God I borrowed gloves and a hat. The view is clear and the guide is surprised because it’s winter and usually it is cloudy. Every time I turn around I keep seeing wonders. I keep asking myself, how it’s possible that I have the opportunity to see all this and I am just 19 years old. The 3rd highest volcano of Central-America makes me feel small and I get emotional. The American guys did it and raise their sticks to the sky. We take a few great pictures, but it’s very hard, as the wind is very strong and cold. So we just enjoy the view.

Sunrise from the Crater of Acatenango

The End is in sight

After 20 minutes we get back to the Acatenango base camp. The guide runs down to prepare breakfast, but we prefer to keep it slow. The banana bread and the coffee are very satisfying, but we all somehow want to go down. We go down very quickly and at the end of the trail our guide wants to let us know, that we were a great group and that everything he did, he did it with love. He would have loved to give us more, but we are all happy with what we had and couldn’t have asked for more. As I walk back into my hostel, I win a souvenir necklace. I can consider myself a lucky person. 1,59 m, 19 years, on the 4000m Acatenango volcano. I am overwhelmed.

Costanza Patat, 19, Germany.

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