Sleeping Next to an Awake, Spewing Volcano

Just a few weeks before I drafted this post, Ms. Fuego, the fully awake spewing volcano, erupted on June 3rd, 2018 killing hundreds of people. I camped overnight within kilometers of Fuego in January 2017, not knowing the extent and imminence of the danger. But I saw lava spewing out, heard rumbling and felt vibrations when I was there. Maybe, she was getting ready for the big show. Maybe, she wanted to display to me its majestic powers.

There were two stops in Guatemala after crossing the Belize-Guatemala border and before meeting Ms. Fuego. The first one was Flores to visit Tikal National Park and other one was Guatemala City to be lost on its crowded streets.

An ancient Mayan citadel in the rainforests of northern Guatemala’s Petén Province, Tikal National Park is an UNESCO World Heritage site exemplifying an extraordinary  archaeological story of the Mayan Civilization. My camera could just collect the images, not the tales each temple reflects about its role in the Mayan society. A monument galore, the Tikal complex presents a great deal of insights into the Mayan culture and its evolution. Hours went by so quickly walking along the trails of park observing one structure after another. The day concluded with a beautiful panoramic view, from the top of a hill, of temples scattered in the lush green cover stretching for kilometers. A traditional Guatemalan dinner on the streets of Flores was a good way to say bye to the town and set for a long bus ride to Guatemala City. Skipping all the touristic spots, I chose the busy streets and local markets of the city to feel the buzz in the limited time I had before another bus ride to Antigua, my final destination in Guatemala. I was comfortable with chaotic, noisy streets, but the staring looks made me a bit jittery. I guess, a very few backpackers from India may have walked on those streets.

As I entered the city of Antigua, the scenic view in the backdrop greeted me with an assurance that the time here would be amazing. And, in a few days, it was new year’s eve too. In a new city with a bunch of new friends, I clinked my beer bottle with those of others forgetting everything for a moment. However, one thing was definitely in my mind- meeting with Ms. Fuego. A two day hiking and camping tour started early in the morning of the very first day of 2016. The itinerary on papers looked pretty cool. Little did we know that the meeting with Fuego would be back-breaking. A pack of 14 including our tour guide and a couple of porters set on a 15 kilometer long hike to the top of Volcano Acetanango. at approx. 13, 000 ft. The target was to reach there before sunset to mount our tents. As we settled in on the rocky camp ground on one of the peaks of Acetanango, the neighboring Volcano Fuego welcomed us with a firy and roaring show. All cameras were out to capture the lava spewing out. A hot dinner and red wine was nothing less than heavenly on that windy and chilly evening. Ms. Fuego kept doing the show for us every hour or so. It was a bit uncomfortable feeling sleeping near a rumbling, hissing, and roaring volcano. All was going perfectly as planned until altitude sickness forced two members of the pack to go down in the middle of the night. The remaining of us were scheduled to wake up at 3:30 AM to hike another 3-4 kilometer to get to the highest peak to watch the sunrise. A few more backed out knowing that the part of the hike was very steep and slippery. We were hiking against time as the sun would not wait for us. At 5:40 AM, the sun rose over the town behind the volcanoes and mountains.

Everything was worth doing for this moment: watching the sunrise standing on the peak of one volcano while the other one is rumbling and throwing out lava and thick smoke. It was a perfect timing for photography as well. The breakfast was ready when we came down to our base camp. Packed our stuff and back to the town. I had to catch a bus in the afternoon to my next adventure- El Salvador.



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