Tuesday, January 27, 2009

To Summit a Volcano

We all met at the Quetzaltrekkers headquarters at 11pm to get ready for our important mission. There were about 50 of us, give or take 3. We had come from all over the world: Finland, Canada, California, and even a few from Guatemala. We had come to summit a volcano by the light of the moon. After giving us the proper gear of sleeping bags, backpacks, jackets, scarves, hats, gloves, and many warnings about how freezing it would be at the top, our trusty guides fed us potato soup and Guatemala’s version of French bread. Mmmm, so tasty, so comforting...can we go to sleep now? Oh no, we have a hike to do!

We set out to the base of Santa Maria in a rickety yet sturdy pick-up truck. With the wind blowing through our hair, we got to know about each other’s travels, goals, and intestinal tracts during the 20 minute ride to the base. Jumping out of the truck in high spirits, we started up the mountain. After more than an hour of relatively easy walking, we enjoyed a concoction of granola and peanut clusters, which gave us a midnight boost of energy.

One more hour of mercy and then the real climbing began. And it continued, for about 3.5 hours. And it was steep. Everyone had their own strategy of surmounting the slope which seemed like the equivalent of a rocky wall. Wishing for suction cups, using the trees for support, we hopped, crawled, and clawed our way to the top.

At the summit, I quickly started digging through my bag for those extra scarves, hats, and gloves, hoping to get them out before my fingers and limbs froze in place, rendering me a statue incapable of movement. Luckily, I made it in time and bundled up into my sleeping bag. Just when I had gotten thoroughly cozy, the smaller volcano next to Santa Maria puffed some smoke up at us, welcoming us with one of its frequent explosions.

Before we knew it, light began to infuse the world around us and it was time to walk around and marvel at the panorama of views and colors coming into focus around us before the rising of the sun. The feast we experienced through our eyes that morning made everyone forget about the difficult journey of the night before. We were surrounded by mist-covered mountains and volcanoes, set against a backdrop of alternating pinks and blues. Wow!
At some point, a light brown dog with long, smooth hair showed up and enjoyed the generosity of some gringos who shared their breakfast sandwiches with him. He belonged to no one in particular, but to the mountain itself. The perro joined us on the walk down the mountain, protectively barking at strangers we met on the path. At the end of our journey, this creature was possibly the only one who had any energy left. As the rest of us were drunkenly stumbling over each other and tripping over rocks, the dog seemed ready to climb the mountain again! We left him at the base to wait for the next bunch of sandwich-wielding trekkers whom he can assist and protect from all those trekkers who didn’t share their sandwiches. Although exhausted, everyone felt happy to have supported a school for orphans and a clinic through their support of Quetzaltrekkers, a volunteer organization which donates all of its profits to the Escuela de la Calle and the medical clinic, Primeros Pasos.