The hardest hike in my life so far.

I broke free from the confines of my yoder genes and did something I didn’t plan to do while I’m in Guatemala. I hiked the third highest peak in Central America. Acatenango. It’s an eleven mile hike with a 5,000 foot elevation. I’ve never been that high before, outside of an airplane and I’ve never before gone on a hike as hard as that one. I waited a day to write this in order to have a more clear view of how it really was (also because I spent a good part of the last day sleeping) and my legs are still aching with every step I take. I’m quite sure that I now know how it feels to be old. I feel a great deal of sympathy for my grandpa.

We started up the trail around lunchtime and fifteen minutes in I knew that it was going to be a long day. The trail was volcanic ash and it was similar to slogging up a sand dune. There’s nothing like a gently curving uphill slope. The trail goes straight up.

And then, before we even made it to the forested part of the mountain, the rain began.

Keep in mind that we were carrying 20 pound backpacks with our food, water and clothes for the next two days.

Thankfully we had taken the advice of everyone who had gone before us and bought rain ponchos. I felt similar to a walking tent but at least my backpack stayed dry.

We slogged on, one foot in front of the other, stopping every 30 minutes or so for a break. We stopped for lunch. Everyone ate their plates of cold chicken and rice. This struck me as funny for some reason. I mean who packs chicken and rice when they go on a hike? And here we were, a group of twenty strangers from all around the world, sitting in the rain eating chicken and rice.

Not long after lunch, the hail started. Real balls of ice pounding down on us. The water rushed down the trails. My shoes were soggy and squished with every step. I had a breif moment where I thought “I’m going to get hypothermia and die on this mountain” And then the common sense side of me took over and said, “no you aren’t, you’re not even cold inside”. So I picked up my head and kept on.

And then, much after and sooner than I expected the guide said that we only have 15 minutes until we reach the flat part of the trail that leads to camp.

The rain stopped and the mountain mist turned everything into a fairyland that reminded me of Narnia for some reason. Something to do with fighting hard battles in another world.

Flat is relative, of course, and we wound around the mountain for another hour and took a tiny winding trail up a little higher and there was our camp, a row of tents, facing Volcán de Fuego and a larger tarp covered shack with a hot fire underneath.

We rushed for the fire with no time to worry about watching a volcano. And here again I found myself intrigued with the fact that I was here. The French Canadian beside me stripped of his shoes and socks and roasted them over the fire, his girlfriend told us about how she was here for a month and then he came to surprise her. The young girl fron germany shivered uncontrollably until she finally changed into a dry shirt, the Polish man turned his pockets inside out to dry. The guides didn’t seem fazed in the least. They set to work making hot chocolate for everyone.

Slowly the clouds cleared and the active volcano was directly in front of us. We watched in amazement as it spewed out clouds of smoke and bursts of fire. The two mountains are connected so our mountain would shake whenever Fuego erupted.

The light faded, we heated our bowls of spaghetti over the fire and ate, in between racing out to see the the eruptions.

Wanting to practice our spanish and also being a bit nosy we chatted with our tour guide. A young man who told us interesting details. His father lives in Ohio. He climbs acatanango twice a week carrying an 80 lb pack (I can’t imagine) he gets paid 100 quetzals a day to do this. (About $14. That’s just wrong, the 15 people had each paid 225 quetzals, who’s getting all the money?) He showed us pictures of the best eruptions he’s seen and I was amazed.

And then it was time to go to bed. We were cold, still a bit damp, and very tired. We had mats and sleeping bags but the ground was hard packed ash. It took me a long time to get warm and even longer to find a relatively comfortable position. I slept in short intervals.

The wake-up call came at 3:30. We scrambled into our borrowed coats and hats, and grabbed our hiking sticks and flashlights. We still had an hour and a half to the top and we wanted to see the sunrise.

That last stretch is indescribable. You’re climbing through ash. I regretted my coat at first because I was promptly soaked in sweat. but as we got higher it also got colder and I was having a hard time catching my breath. It was bare now, except for patches of moss and here and there a daisy-like flower peaking between the rocks. I stopped to look down at the panorama. And then I looked up and I kept going.

The guide was at the top waiting. “welcome from the United States” he said and shook my hand. I smiled back, too out of breath to say a word.

It was cold. The wind was strong and I was thankful for every layer of clothes I was wearing.

But it was beautiful. From the top you can see three more volcanoes, mountain ranges, Lake Atitlan, and far in the distance, the ocean.

I was on top of the world.

Unfortunately you can’t stay long. It’s frigid up there and you’re exhausted and it’s windy.

And so amazing.

It’s not describable, and pictures aren’t the same.

And then we started down. We skied. I think that’s the best way to describe it, sort of half run, half slide.

I stopped for a moment there, with my shoes half full of dirt. More dirty than I’ve been in years, with my too big coat and very ugly hat and I thought “I can’t believe how happy I am to be here”.

We stopped for breakfast at camp. We had hot coffee and yogurt and a banana. And we picked up our much lighter backpacks and started down. It was impossible to walk normally. We ran, slid, and picked our way down. It only took us half as long as the way up and it was perfectly clear.

Towards the bottom my toes began to complain. They didn’t appreciate being slammed against the front of my shoes over and over. I considered taking them off and going barefoot but decided against it. Now 24 hours later, I don’t want to see any shoes anywhere close to me feet. Actually I threw my shoes in the trash can the moment I walked into the house. They weren’t worth saving.

The van ride home was silent. All 15 of us dead with tiredness.

I’ve never been so thankful for a hot shower and clean clothes.

So. Was it worth it?

Yes.

Should you try it? Yes.

Would I do it again?

I’m thinking no. Once in a lifetime is often enough for some things.

Advertisements

Volcán de Pacayo

I climbed a volcano folks, an honest to goodness active volcano. If I had known that roasting marshmallows over hot lava oozing from the rocks was a thing, I would have put it on my bucket list. Some things in life come as an added bonus.

We followed our guide up a narrow mountain pathway. The forest is lush and green thanks to the years of nutrients that flowed down the mountain. The earth beneath us is coal black sand. The trail wound up the mountain, our guide stopped here and there to point out things of interest, an avocado tree, the lake below, a view of the volcano, or a nest of baby birds. It’s fairly steep so we stopped quite often but it’s not long. I’m guessing it took us only a little over an hour to climb to the top.

The trees became smaller and scarcer as we climbed higher, evidence of more recent eruptions. We stopped at the end of the trail to take pictures and to watch as now and again, lava would bubble up and roll down the mountain, leaving a trail of glowing lava.

Then we walked on, past the sign that said “entry is prohibited” (our guide took us) and we climbed across large lava rocks to a spot on the mountainside where the heat was flowing out between the rocks. The guide passed out sticks and marshmallows and we settled in to roast them. It took only a minute to have a perfectly toasted marshmallow dripping from the stick.

I looked around me in amazement. Honestly surprised to be here. How did I not know that people do this?

There was an incredible view of the city below us and the amazement of the volcano in front of us.

I’m always amazed at these times by how God makes everything beautiful. Volcanoes are dangerous, terrible things and still they are breathtakingly beautiful.

I walked down, a bit behimd the others. Content with my thoughts. Happy in the silence, with only the sound of my footsteps in the sand. The peace of the mountains surrounded me and for a moment I was back home in my mountains. Mountains all speak the same language, I’ve discovered. They speak of strength, of stability, of peace. Riding home in the darkness with the voice of the mountains still fresh in my mind, I am happy.

Why am I so blessed?

I have friends by my side, adventures in my life, a cookie in my hand.

I climbed a volcano.

Thank you, God.

Lake Atítlan

Today is Father’s day at home. I’m kind of missing my dad today. I have this vague feeling that I was gone for Father’s day last year too but I don’t remember where. But anyhow, cheers to the best dad ever!

I’m at a weird stage in learning spanish where my brain conjugates random verbs any time it’s not busy otherwise. Sometimes I can’t even remember what the verb means and still my brain insists on going through all the forms.

We took a break Friday afternoon and Saturday and headed for San Marcos. A tiny hipster town on the edge of Lake Atítlan. The town seems to be full of kombucha, marijuana, massages and barefoot backpackers. We stayed at a small airb&b way up on the mountain. It had a beautiful deck with hammocks as well as 2 dogs and possibly 5 cats although I never managed to count exactly. Emily and I went down the hill in search of supper and stopped at the first restaurant we came to. We asked if we could get food “to go” and they were like “sure, just bring the plates back tomorrow morning” It was starting to rain at that point so they carefully wrapped each plate in plastic and we headed back up the hill. It didn’t take us very long to decide we need a tuc-tuc. The combination of steep hill and rain didn’t make walking a very good option.

The next morning we explored the town and then took the ferry across the lake to Panajachel, another gorgeous village on the edge of the lake. The water was beautiful and the surrounding volcanoes and mountains impressive. We would gladly have stayed on the ferry all day.

After some adventurous exploring we found a street full of touristy market stands so we explored that for awhile and bargained with people for some souvenirs. We ate at a little local restaurant and had some delicious chicken, guacamole, and homemade tortillas with what seemed to be a cantaloupe drink. I love the food here. I honestly don’t think there was anything here that I didn’t like.

Our shuttle picked us up soon after four, and for 3 hours we wound through mountains and villages back to our own little apartment in Antigua. We had walked a lot and it felt good to be “home”. Unfortunately we hadn’t had supper and were hungry so we headed into town. The streets are slightly creepy after dark so we always stay close together. We found a small bakery and bought ham and cheese croissants and a piece of carrot cake. He offered th heat the croissants for us so we sat down and ate them there but brought the cake home to eat here. I almost couldn’t stay awake long enough to eat it. I took a cold shower, ate several bites of cake and fell asleep.

We woke up to a beautiful sunday and this week we made it in time to get a cup of coffee and a sweet roll. The church here is very interesting with people from all over. We sing loud worship songs like “You’re a good, good Father” and “God’s not dead” alternating randomly between English and Spanish. They had a Father’s day service today so all the dads got a candy bar and a devotional book. I really enjoyed the sermon about how God is a father too us and it was encouraging to realize that I really can understand more Spanish than I could last week although I still didn’t get nearly all of it. Sonya and I spotted 2 guys that we thought for sure were “beachy” but they managed to escape before we caught them. It was also cool to see one of our fellow students there. We had talked to him several times but it was just cool to see him in church.

We spent several sunny hours on the roof and now it’s pouring rain. We still have to get supper and I’m just hoping it slows down at least before we have to go out. My teacher told me that we should have brought raincoats but so far its mainly rained at night.

Antigua the Beautiful

It’s my fifth day in Antigua and my head is afloat with words like “olvidar” “comprender” and “partir”. Those are all Spanish verbs and now I know what to tell my students when they ask annoyedly (is that a word?) why they have to know what an infinitive is. It will make it easier to learn Spanish and since their teacher went to spanish school surely they’ll all want to go too, right?

Sonya hasn’t let me complain even once since I’m here but there hasn’t been much to complain about anyhow so that isn’t really a problem. We have a beautiful place to stay with a large roof. That’s where we spend a lot of our time since it’s the perfect place to study. We’ve been turning a shade darker each day so I’m not sure you’ll recognize us when we come back. We have wi-fi, good food, and it’s not hot. Actually I’m cold at night although my teacher says Antigua has a “clima perfecto.” There are about 6 or 7 other people staying here as well and they come from all over. One from France, another from England, and one from Italy. At school we’ve met people from Switzerland and South Korea. I don’t think I’ve ever met people from that many places in a single week, before. It’s quite interesting. I’m especially fond of all the accents. There’s one guy at the school who has to be from Australia, if I know anything about accents but I haven’t had a chance to ask him yet.

Our house mates are mostly gone for the weekend, some to the lake, and others to the top of the enormous volcano. I’m looking forward to hearing about it. We had classes on Saturday since we didn’t start until Wednesday this week.

I can’t believe how blessed I am with the two girls who are with me. We all get along great so far and understand each other’s sense of humor which is a big thing when you’re all living in the same room. I’ve laughed more in the last week than I have in a long time and I also have time to simply sit and meditate or have long discussions deep into the night. I’m loving it so far but I keep thinking it will be over soon. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in that I have another three weeks here.

This morning we go up and drank instant coffee and ate granola bars for breakfast (they don’t cook for us on sundays) and then headed off to church. We had just concluded that we might be a bit lost when we saw a mennonite lady coming towards us. Turns out she was also headed to church and a little bit lost so together we managed to find the church. Afterwards we ate papuses together while she told us a bit about her very interesting life. I’m so amazed by all the interesting people I’m meeting. (I think I already said that). We got pizza for supper and now we’re in bed quite early. I’ve never in my life slept as much as I have since I’m here. I think learning a new language and splitting all those brain cells makes you tired. I’ll blame it on that at least.

Of Travel and Opportunities

I’m headed for Guatemala, folks. I’m sort of surprised that I’m actually going but here I am, in the airport, waiting for the next 2 hours because of a flight change. And I’m going to learn Spanish. At least as much Spanish as a person with average intelligence and self-discipline can learn in four weeks.It just sort of happened, in one of those cool – this is what life has for me – sort of ways and I am thankful. It will be good for me to be a student again and to simply step outside of my normal life for awhile.I’ve been learning something lately, and I think it might be a big something.All of the really good and adventurous things in my life have happened because there was an opportunity and instead of being afraid I said yes.Take the opportunity in front of you. No you don’t know what will happen but you don’t know what will happen if you don’t take it either.Experiences are worth much more than their immediate cost. They change you and shape you and slowly, before you know how it happened, you are a different person.But maybe you’re happy about the person you are. Maybe your life is the best it can be.But for me, it is worth it. I like the person I’m becoming more than I liked the person I left behind.So I’m going to Guatemala. I’m taking this opportunity and we’ll see what happens.I think when God gives us an opportunity, He’s disappointed when we ignore it and keep going down the same old path. God is a God of adventure.I’m along for the ride.