MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
After a pleasantly cool night, the morning light reveals a beautiful pink sky and a view of not only one but a couple of volcanoes. One of them emits several times each hour a huge cloud of smoke. Sometimes, during an especially big eruption, we can even hear a weird rumble from far away..
PARADISE AT THE LAKE
We are at the Lago de Atitlán at just over 1600 meters above sea level and overlook the volcano Fuego in the distance. The Frenchman Pierre has created a little paradise here. Both, Overlanders as well as other guests who flee the icy winter in their home country and rent one of his wonderfully in the countryside embedded apartments, find here together not least because of the daily sundowner in the communal area ? We love it so much that we extend our stay every day for another one and are happy about the company and new friendships.
In addition, we are also a bit afraid of the return trip. Lake Atitlan is located in a huge crater and the road to paradise is steep, really steep! Many warnings can be found in the internet, that one or another brakes from cars driving down were burnt during that decent. And also, the last kilometers along the shore are adventurous. It’s market day in one of the small villages and there is almost no getting through for us. As soon as we have overcome this bottleneck, we bump merely at walking speed on a dusty track over potholes the last meters to our final destination. There we sit now by the lake, enjoy the view and ask ourselves from time to time, if we will manage the steep serpentines up again. To anticipate it right away: our fear was unfounded, but we need the low gear twice to make it all the way up ?
Before those relaxing days at Lake Atitlan we visit Chichicastenango. Every Thursday and Sunday, the largest and most famous market in Central America takes place in this small town. Before dawn the indigenous people of the surrounding mountain villages bring their goods to the large square in front of the church of Santo Tomás and willing buyers travel from far away to buy the merchandise offered for sale. We arrive already on Wednesday evening, because on a market day itself the streets are hopelessly blocked and there is no getting through even for smaller vehicles than ours.
And indeed, where we strolled through empty streets the evening before, there is a lot of market activity the next morning. People bargain, praise, trade, laugh and eat. The local population in the whole area still lives traditionally and the women in particular dress up in colorful skirts, blouses and scarves.
THE OLD CAPITAL
A little later we visit the former capital Antigua. Here too, the Mayas sell their colorful fabrics and handicraft products in the streets and plazas. The colonial Antigua is quite touristy, but we enjoy the European flair with the nice cafes and restaurants. In its history, earthquakes have repeatedly shaken the city with its colorful rows of houses and cobblestone lanes. Therefore, in 1773, after another devastating earthquake, the capital was moved to the present location of Guatemala City and many buildings were no longer or only partially rebuilt. Thus, for example, the remains of the collapsed San José Cathedral can be found right on the Plaza Central. The still existing, impressive brick arches radiate their own charm of a bygone era and the ruins of the nearby La Merced Monastery with its geometrically perfectly aligned fountain in the inner courtyard are worth a visit too.
The reason for the many tremors in the colonial city are – the clever reader assumes correctly – the many volcanoes in the immediate vicinity. The Fuego, which we already saw smoking from Lago de Atitlán in the far distance, is now much closer and we regularly observe a huge ash cloud rising from its crater.
Have a look around in the old cathedral of San José in Antigua yourself:
A FIREWORKS AT THE END
In Antigua one has the possibility to climb the neighboring volcano of Fuego, the Acatenango and then to observe the Fuego spewing lava from only three (!!) kilometers away. We are a bit lazy and at first, we don’t feel like doing a steep, strenuous hike and spending a cold, windy night in a tent with temperatures around the freezing point… But in the end, we overcome our weaker selves and decide to go for the hike, as the Fuego is one of the most active volcanoes in the world at the moment and offers an incredible spectacle night after night! We don’t want to miss that…
Early in the morning we get picked up directly at our camp spot and the small shuttle bus takes us to the foot of the mountain. With all kinds of warm clothes, a lot of camera equipment, even more water and a food package we set off. Ok, we have added a few sweet snacks to the supplies we have been provided to counteract a possible sugar low ? The ascent is indeed very steep! The hike starts at 2’400 meters and climbs up to 3’700 meters during only 5 kilometers! Above 3’000 meters, the air gets a bit thinner and with every step we breathe a little harder. What will that be like in South America? The city of Cusco in Peru lies on 3’500 meters…
But then the night becomes unique and compensates us for all the exertions! Several times an hour, the Fuego spits smoke and fire and we watch this spectacle what feels like a stone’s throw away from our tent. The rumbling sounds of the volcano that sometimes make the ground vibrate, the cold and the altitude make it difficult to find sleep. Again and again we put our heads out of the tent and marvel at the fireworks that nature offers us.
The next morning, we slip out of our sleeping bags at 4 o’clock. We want to take more photos and videos of the volcano and we think the freezing in the dark was totally worth it! Two hours later, the breathtaking sunrise brings the first warming rays and we take off our clothes layer by layer and let the sun warm up our cold bones. After a hearty breakfast, we set off for the descent which, by the way, is pretty hard on our knees and hips. Tired but happy and richer by another adventure, we arrive in Antigua at noon the next day. The pictures in our heads and the aching legs will accompany us for a few more days…