|Woke up this am to a clear sunny sky, volcanic speckeled vista to embark on our first ever active volcano ascent. Pictures of this particular tour to Volcan Pacaya posted in most agencies show the spectacle of a fiery red cauldron of lava, spewing and sprouting from the perfectly cylindrical opening of the volcanic summit. How many of you believe that we would actually see these promised images? Being seasoned travellers, I was skeptical and though we didn't get the promised view, we got a memorable real-live volcano experience....
On the way to the volcano, I sat beside an American who just had a first hand experience with the devastation from the recent hurricane/storm. Staying at a popular resort destination near Lake Atitlan (about 2 hours away from us), the rains started and by the 3rd day of rain, the mudslides began, wiping out entire villages nearby with nearly 40 feet of mud. Five days later rescuers continue to dig out bodies from the mud, leaving thousands dead and missing. American guy was stuck in his village for six days without electricity the entire time. Him and some other fellow travellers were holed up in the small village, eating rice, beans and eggs, smoking lots of pot, and playing chess all day. Turns out this guy is used to staying put as he spent a few months behind bars for selling narcotics and another few months in house arrest wearing an ankle bracelet (btw - check out a hysterical movie called "Cherish" about a convict wearing an ankle bracelet, its a really good flick). He's now cleaned up his act (except for the pot), and spends half the year running river rafting trips in Oregon for rich Americans, and the other half year on the ski slopes...not bad. Gringo travellers and locals continue to volunteer digging out the mud from homes in surrounding villages. The outpouring of human compassion and support is impressive, reminding me of the potential and beauty of human nature.
Returning to our volcanic ascent, we were briefly titalated by the magnificent surrounding scenery of rolling green hills and other distant volcanos, until the clouds rolled in covering any further viewing of the surroundings. The ascent on the lava was tricky because the rocks were small and loose, easy to lose your footing. At the summit, though no red flames of molten lava were evident, we were greeted by warm air and sulfuric smoke from fresh smoldering lava. We really felt like we were in a place unlike anything we've experienced before. There were breathtaking multi-colored lava rocks of reds, oranges, purples that we gazed at with awe (see accompanying pics). Descending down the steeper side of the volcano was a whole new experience we called "lava surfing". It was like skiing down a hill with a couple feet of powder, with the small rolling rocks covering our feet as we surfed down the vertical. What a long strange trip its been.....