On Thursday my plan was simple, I was going to spend the weekend with a nice relaxing trip to the beach town of Monterico, get some sun and watch some turtles race. By Friday my plans had changed dramitically as I sat in the offices of OX and listened to the preexcursion speech on the dangers of the trek we were about to encounter. Instead of cervezas and hammocks I would be ascending 13000 ft in the air and camping out inside a volcanic crater. Things would certainly be different but then again ive never really liked the beach much.
On saturday morning we got up around 5 and took off for OX[outdoor excursions]. We were to meet up with 9 other brave souls and trek up one of the largest volcanoes in central america. Our day began with the early morning trot through antigua, running late as usual and needing to hustle to not seem like the dead weight slackers of the group. When we arrived we finished filling our packs adding more weight from shared gear, my job to carry up the huge container of curry for that nights dinner. A quick stop at a cafe where we scarfed down some chicken sandwiches in hopes of getting those last tiny bits of protein to propel us up the volcano and we were off.
We were told the first 45 minutes would be a flat out bitch and it couldnt have been more true. We trudged through loose dirt and passed local farmlands on our way into the first trails of the volcano. It wasnt long before i was breathing heavy and i was nervous that i was the only one struggling from the onset. The pack already felt like an albatross around my neck and we were bolting up the mountain at breakneck speed.
When Stefan our guide turned to me and asked me if i did much trekking I wasnt sure wether to lie or not so i blurted out the truth. Nope it was my first time, i havent really done anything like this before. I once tried to climb a small mountain in Massachusetts but ended up driving around a tiny town lost and barely made it to the opening of the mountain before i had to turn back. He was not amused and the look of worry on his face was priceless.
We climbed and intemittently took breaks to ensure that we were doing alright and properly hydrated. As we climbed higher i hit my stride, keeping up with the pace of the group, listening to stories of how they had climbed the alps, the sierras and the matterhorn and trying to keep it a secret that the closest i had come was reading about stuff like that and once watching the movie with chris odonnell where his sister gets stuck on a mountain and he has to go save her and they are carrying that supersensitive explosive gel, you know the one im talking about.
When we reached lunch i realized that this was going to be ridiculously hard but it was also incredibly doable. I had been nervous the night before and for much of the early hike but reaching midway and feeling good instilled me with confidence for the rest of the hike. We ate and took an hour to rest and acclimate ourself with the increasing altitude. Vanity got the best of me and as we were told it would be dress to take off our shirts to dry them i obviously decided to try and get some sun and in typical tim fashion i burnt up my entire chest and back turning once again into a fresh steamed lobster.
Along with us on our trip was Chela, a dog who lives at the tour house. That dog carries its own pack and busts up the mountain playing and bounding up some of the more treacherous passes as if they were nothing. She was the best despite her incessant desire to eat our food and her lack of preocupation with knocking you right off the trail with her pack.
We climbed for several more hours eventually passing the fake summits and reaching our first summit. It was amazing and we took off our packs to stare at the clouds below us and admire the other volcanoes that made up the panoramic landscape infront of us. We climbed to a small peak and practiced our handstands and jumpkicks above 10000 ft, you never know when you are going to need them.
By this point our legs were spent, drained of all energy and we were dying to just leave our packs on the ground and be done for the day. Unfortunately we had 45 more minutes of hiking to the final peak and the crater which would be our bedroom for the evening. The last 45 minutes was brutal as we sloshed through gravel and volcanic ash struggling to reach the top. Once we got to the top of the crater it was relief and it looked like the moon.
We walked down into the crater and dropped our packs sensing the end of the first major part of our adventure. The wind blew huge gusts in our faces as we set up the tents and changed into our down jackets for the night. The temperature had dropped signifigantly and we were now close to freezing. Our guide let us know that we had arrived about 2 hours earlier than expected and now our only course of action was to go drink a ton of wine and watch volcano fuego erupt over and over. So we headed off to the side of the volcano, cups in hand and picked our spots to drink and watch the magnificent vistas.
The combination of altitude and booze, which went from red wine to rum to bacardi fairly quickly, led some members of the group to get a little tipsy and as we started to hurl boulders down the mountain and sing all sorts of partially remembered pop songs the sunset on us and the temperature dropped to ass kicking point.
We ate our curry dinner and then headed quickly off to bed, the security and warmth of our sleeping bags a welcome treat. Our tent was shared with Chela and she was not the most accomadating tentmate. By midnight my face was pressed into the side of the tent as andy and lindsey had shoved me from my spot into my tight squeeze. We came to find out that as we were packed like sardines the dog had taken over the tent and had occupied 2 and half spots for herself and was not going to be moved easily. We struggled with this all night eventually realizing that tiny bits of uncomfortable sleep were the best we could ask for.
When i woke up from my last 5 min rest i was completely nauseous suffering from altitude sickness and thought i was going to throw up or fall face first from dizziness. I did my best to walk up to the edge of the crater to watch the sunset with everyone but could only sit and pray not to vomit in front of everyone. Chela came over and joined me, she must have sensed i needed a little support at that time or she just wanted to steal my warmth as her down jacket wasnt providing enough. We watched the sunrise together and i began to start feeling like myself again. Apparently i just wasnt getting enough oxygen as i slept and recuperated quickly, thank god.[this is also why i have no pics of the sunrise]
The descent was another adventure altogether. Our first inclination that it would be something different was when our guide told us we needed to be safe and do exactly as he did and then he sprinted down the first major part of the descent sending volcanic ash flying as bolted down. We all gave each other that look of holy crap i guess we have to do that too and we followed in hot pursuit. The descent was a series of sprints down mixed in with ridiculous jungle leaves in your face as you weaved down the mountain and silently prayed to not fall on your ass. We took little to know breaks asking each other what the big rush was.By the time we reached the homestretch my knee was throbbing, Lindseys toes were brutalized, andy was exhausted and the rest of our group was suffering from blisters and varying other ailments. Our guides had left us in their dust and our only course of action was to fend for ourselves. Somehow we made it to the bottom jelly legged and covered in sweat. When we reached the van our guides gave us high fives and told us we made it in record time, i was too tired and cared very little for records though i will say i smoked that cocky swiss kid who stole my walking stick[he know he stole it too and deserves eating my dust]
We took our van ride back cramping up on the ride and then hobbled back finishing our day with lunch at Rainbow cafe, sharing our moments of self doubt, our favorite moments[sunset for me] and our shared knowledge that we would not be attempting this again anytime soon. In closing I know many of you have done some crazy stuff and maybe its much more impressive than 13000 ft but lay off this was big for me and im pretty proud of myself because i did pretty damn well.
Sidenote we are all walking with decisive limps and Brenda, one of the daughters at our homestay, thinks its hilarious to sneak up behind us and then grab or poke our quads and watch as we freak out.