Sunday, June 14, 2009

Beware....don't burn to death

The interesting thing about Guatemala that is so different than the superpowers of the world like the U.S., Canada, or the E.U. countries is the lack of regulations. This can be a great thing or a bad thing. In the case of trash and environmental concerns I think it’s disgraceful. When it comes to fun, I think it’s great.

My example of this is our trek to Volcan Pacaya. This is a very active volcano with lava flowing down the side and smoke belching out the top. What more could you want from a volcano? We got to the base of the mountain and started our trek to the top at the gates where there are about 15-20 children around the age of 6-10 that accost you to sell you walking sticks for the equivalent of 30-50 cents. This is after you’ve been accosted by children on the road selling you marshmallows. I’m a little slow so I had yet to see what the purpose of marshmallows is. I simply thought, “what an odd snack. People here are weird!”

The hike up to the volcano is magical. You start in the forest and follow a steep trail cut through the mountain. All along there are “taxis” to take you to the top. These are men on horses that yell out, “Taxi, Taxi.” These “taxis” leave a lot of poop on the trail so you have to walk carefully. Slowly you the trees thin and you’re suddenly in a barren waste of old lava flows. Lava when it cools is very brittle so it breaks quickly into the small rocks that you’ve seen in landscaping from the 80’s. Just imagine this covering an entire mountaintop and you’re about there. You could slide all the way down on a sled. It’s amazing. You walk past this part of the mountain and around a bend to the part where you start to smell the sulfer of the lava. About this time the clouds start coming in and you can feel the cool are drifting past your skin while the heat pours over the top of the next rise. As you come up higher in to the cloud soon you start to hear the thunder while you’re actually in the cloud. It’s an experience I had never had. Totally amazing.

The rain starts pouring down, but when you get to the actual lava it must be too hot to actually let the rain fall because it miraculously stops. The heat is amazing, but more incredible is the beauty of the lava flowing out of the side of a mountain. Like a little Dennis the Menace I cannot help but stick my stick into the lava and watch it catch on fire. You can scoop the lava out and watch it cool on the rocks on the side. This is something you could never do in the US, but here who are you going to sue? I mean really, the government can hardly pave a road, so I don’t know where they are going to get money to take care of you should you fall in, so it’s all at your own discretion. That’s awesome. Use your common sense and you can see something great in person and up close. Now that’s great stuff.

Now the bad news. You have to go down the mountain to get home and as soon as you leave the mountain top it starts to rain like there will never be another drop in the sky. The trail you hiked on the way up becomes a river of dirt and “taxi” poop. Lovely! But it’s definitely worth it!

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