Trekking up and camping overnight on Volcano Pacayn is by far the craziest thing I have ever done, even more so than jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
A good friend of mine was here in Antigua earlier this year and she had recommended an overnight camp/trek with a group called OX Expeditions. Every tour agency in town can arrange for a day trip out to Pacayn which is what most people do. OX is the only one who does an overnight camp.
We leave Antigua early friday afternoon with everyone carrying a bit of the camping gear in their packs. There is 9 of us in the group plus our guide. 3 young Spanish girls and their sidekick, a lost girl from Portland, OR. A very nice couple from Washington DC, she is in the non-profit sector and he is an earth science teacher. A young Dutchman, an Englishman born in Hong Kong who is also friends with my friend and me. We reach Pacayn in about an hour and starts out ascend. We hike though amazingly dense forsts with an occasional grassy green fields on the opposite side. There are random stray cows munching in the woods and a curious dog or two. There is a bit of elevation gain, challenging but not severe.
We start at about 2000m and we reach base camp in about an hour and half. We have a fantastic view of Volcano Agua from our camp site. Oh, oh, there is a bit of trouble. The spot OX normally camp at is on a road, but there is usually no cars on it, today, there are two trucks. Our guide goes over to see what is what. They are doing some work and wont be leaving until much later, which would mean that we have to camp at a different site and only be able to set up 2 tents or we have to camp in the dark. The lost girl actually came up with a brilliant idea, she suggest that they move the trucks out now, further down the road so we could camp. The 4 girls goes over with our guide to see if they could work their magic a little. At first it doesn´t seem to be working, the Englishman and I actually joke that perhaps we could trade the girls in for our camp site as neither of us cares much for them. Nevertheless, the girls do their job, the trucks are moved and we set up camp.
Around 6:30pm, we start out ascend up an active volcano, Pacayn. At first its full of soft sandy volcanic ash and pebbles, then it changes to larger loose volcanic rocks. The footing is loose and you are always uncertain if what you are standing on will hold. You look up and see all the groups that are now making their descend and you think ¨FUCK! That is Steep!¨ The way up is treacherous to say the least, is it a trail that we are hiking on? Or are we just climbing up the side of an volcano? The volcanic rocks are sharp, there are many who are coming down with cuts on their legs and hands.
After about an hour of tough climbing, its nearly dark and we have reached the lava at 2379m. We are now standing next to a flow of lava that is about 6 foot wide and moving fast. The earth science teacher could not be happier. He even brought a rock hammer so he could stick it in the moving lava to collect some samples. The wind picks up and you can feel the heat coming off the lava. OMG! This is fucking incredible and yet very kinda scary at the same time.
We are standing on crusts, here and there, there are pockets where you can see the red glow of the lava flowing beneath. The earth is alive, the earth is moving underneath you. This particular natural phenomenon is one which I have had very little experience with. I am a little in awe, I am not sure what to think.
Some in the group are super excited, they are trying to roast marshmallows on the lava, collecting samples, getting way too close to the lava as if they are immune to heat. I find a spot to sit and I watch. The lava flow is hypnotic. Our guides points out how the Guatemalans have such a different approach to these kinds of natural wonders than Westerners do. While they are hooting, hollering and whistling, all of us are quiet, beholden by the raw intensity of what we are witnessing. Irrespective to which forms of celebration you prefer, I believe that we are all paying respect in our own ways to the beauty that is before us.
Its time to make our way down. Its pitch black out, all we have is our head lamps and the wind just picked up intensity. The footing is uneasy and uncertain, that plus the gusty wind, I am now having a hard time not getting blown over. We gingerly make our way down and I am a little scared. FUCK! God I pray that I can make it down in one piece and not sustain serious injury. Everything is lose underfoot and you can hardly see. The wind keeps on blowing my bangs over my lamp, impairing what little visibility I have already. But this is no time to stop to put on a hat or anything as I am third in the line on the descent and there are many right behind.
35-45 sketchy scary minutes later, stumbling in the dark, never really sure if I am heading the right way, we finally reach base camp. THANK GOD! We make dinner with stars overhead and the lights of Guatemala city stretched out to our right. We watch the lava flow down the side of the volcano and the volcanic rocks breaking off, flying into the night. I change into dry warm clothes, snuggle down into my sleeping bad, snug as a bug and exclaim, ¨Öh I am so fucking happy right now!¨ ¨That is enough out of your tent!¨The Englishman shouts back at me!
This is by far the craziest thing I have ever done and I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone with a sense of adventure. It is not for the faint of heart but it is FUCKING AMAZING!