In Guatemala I did an overnight hike up Volcano Acatenango, which towers above the landscape at almost four thousand feet above sea level. The summit provides incredible panoramic views as well as a birds eye view of the Volcano Fuego, an active volcano since colonial times which just last year killed nearly two hundred people.
As we were in wet season the conditions weren’t ideal, we had experienced torrential rain just a few days before the hike and I’d heard that a group had to be air lifted out as the tracks quickly turned to mud. I figured if that happened it would be an adventure and my insurance probably covered it so I decided to roll the dice. The first hour was the hardest part of the hike but gradually my body adjusted as I moved at the glacial pace of a snail up the mountainside. It's necessary to move slowly and take regular breaks as the air becomes thinner.
Most of the people on our hike were Australian, several of which all inadvertently took on every Australian stereotype imaginable. If I had to recite a typical conversation on that two day hike it would be as follows;
Bloke 1: “I’m gunna pop a squat.”
Bloke 2: “Go head mate. You know I heard about this girl who refused to do a shit on a trek in the bush so she actually exploded.”
Bloke 1:“No kiddin?”
Bloke 2: “Yeah mate, nothin’ left of her."
Funnily enough in San Marcos I actually had met a girl who experienced violent diarrhoea when she reached the summit. I can only imagine the irony of trying to appreciate molten lava spill down the face of the volcano as she experienced her own version. A guide had to come to collect her at the summit and she continued to shit herself the whole way down to the mountain.
When we reached base camp we were exhausted but so happy to see it wasn’t completely overcast, If there are too many clouds at night you can’t see the lava, the group before us hadn’t seen anything. The camp was a modest set-up with a few tents and a fire to roast marshmallows. A middle aged Ukrainian guy whipped out a novelty sized pipe and began making himself a ‘happy meal’ which essentially was a hash filled weed sandwich. He then passed around hemp spiked Horilka around which he served in a horn he kept around his neck. Supposedly he was the CEO of a corporate company in the Ukraine, after being told his lifestyle was about to cause a stress induced heart attack he took a new lease on life and quit to travel the world.
Before day break we hiked to the summit which was one of the scariest experiences of my life. Using only a torch for light we climbed the remaining peak, the tracks were tiny and the likelihood of slipping on the cliff face was very real indeed. I had to stop at one point as I lost my footing completely and held on for dear life as my heart nearly beat out of my chest. It was worth it though to see a scene that in likeness I can only compare to that of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Photos did no justice and so we all sat in silence and absorbed the spectacle of molten lava before us.
A few hours after we got back to Antigua I started to get cold, really cold. I asked my friend if he too thought it was cold and he said, “no, it’s 30 degrees outside."
An hour after that I experienced what can only be described as explosive diarrhoea from acclimatisation poisoning. I have never been so Ill and was bed ridden for three days almost passing out from dehydration returning from the bathroom. After the ordeal I had shed a ridiculous amount of water weight and burst out laughing when I looked in the mirror, it was ironic that I looked like Gollum having returned from Mordor.