Sunday, January 1, 2012

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

I truly feel that this has been one of the most action-packed New Year's Eve I've ever had!  We awoke early Saturday morning for our planned hike to Cerro Quemado, a volcano just slightly smaller than Santa Maria, the largest volcano in Xela.  My Spanish teacher, Mario, was our guide on one of his favorite hikes.  We met at 7 am near the school and took a short bus ride for Q1.50 each (~$0.19) to the "trailhead".  I am sort of amazed at how this much nature that is mostly untouched is right up against the city.  I use the word "trail" lightly, because this hike did not really have a defined trail - more like the desire paths made by previous trekkers, that often split and reunited depending on how some group went.  Surely, without Mario there is no way we would have made it.  There has been some thefts in this area recently, so at first, when the trail passes several small farms/houses, we did not talk much, but when we got more into nature, we didn't hold back talking as we went, though some parts were so hard that we didn't talk much for need of breath!  That said, we only saw two others on the volcano all day, so there was no trouble at all and I somewhat regret not having my camera to take some amazing photos! 

The first stage was a lot of up and down, amongst trees, and the second stage was through a crater shaped field that had high grasses and flowers.  The third and fourth stages were quite intense ascents.  As I mentioned, the path was not very defined and often narrow, and we had to be careful with our step to make sure there was solid ground.  There was a lot of underbrush and mulch, so we wore long sleeves the whole way.  We tried to keep a slow and steady pace, as opposed to stopping to rest often, however at times, it was necessary.  By the fourth stage, we were in the crater of the volcano, and stopped to inhale some of the natural steam that came sneaking out from under the rocks.  Then, we came to the fifth stage, which was rather more like rock-climbing than hiking.  All three of us were using our hands to help maneuver from rock to rock as we came to the peak.  The last bit is rather like a wall and I wasn't sure how we would get up.  Mario told us, that at first it was impossible to reach the top because of many rocks, but locals had used tree trunks and large branches to make a path.  It was very narrow, at points I could feel the rocks on both my front and back as I slipped through, and there was a well placed rope and tree trunk for guidance to the top, which also helped cross a gap in the rocks.  Finally, in about 3+ hours, we reached the top - 3100 m (10,000 ft).  The view was unbelievable!  You could see the entire city and surrounding suburbs/villages and all the volcanos and mountains that surrounded it.  We were, literally, above the clouds.  And the air was quite thin - Matt didn't feel so great, so we just had some water and snacks before beginning our descent.  

Going back down the rocks presented it's own challenges, especially when your legs are as short as mine.  Mario led part of the way, showing us how to cross, and Matt went first down some big steps to help me reach.  It's one thing, to lift yourself up a rock, but quite another to put all your weight down on a foot that hasn't quite reached solid ground!  Once past this stage, going back down the rest of the way was less challenging.  The biggest danger was loose dirt or slippery leaves.  As before, it was important to be careful with footing.  At some points, it was easier to sit down and sort of push off to the next level.  I found myself amazed that we had actually climbed up this path!  We were back to the bus stop shortly after 1 and home by 1:30.  This was easily one of the most difficult hikes, or rather climbs, I have ever done.  (I would say equally as challenging as half dome, but obviously less time.  Whereas with Half Dome, you take half the day just to get to the rock, you get there rather quickly at Cerro Quemado.  But the actual last climb part is harder than Yosemite.). 

Needless to say, we were quite tired, but we had plans.  We showered, had some lunch, and said goodbye to our Quetzeltenangan family.  We did think about putting off our plans, but the family had bought a dog for Christmas and it arrived at the house that day; there wasn't a way Matt could stay.  We were a bit concerned that the transportation wouldn't be running on the 31st so we took a taxi to the central bus area and luckily found a bus quite quickly.  Originally the bus assistant told me they expected to arrive in Panajachel by 6.  Of course, the chicken busses don't leave on a certain schedule - they leave when they are full.  Full means 3 people per seat bench.  Full means stuffed.  Finally, we left but the bus continued to make stops as people got on and off.  We had arrived in Sololá, the second to last stop, just before 7, when the bus driver decided he didn't want to continue on, so they returned 3 quetzales to everyone left and told us to find another bus!  We ran and luckily found one headed our way.  As Matt paid, he asked the assistant which stop we should get off at for the lanchas (boats) to San Pedro.  The assistant told us there were no more today, because it was after dark and the 31st.  We started to worry.  Our friends had already held a room for us at San Pedro.  A Peace Corp worker, who happened to hear our conversation, told us he would tell us what stop to get off for the pier.  If we were lucky, we might be able to charter a private lancha across the lake for 150Q.  Well, we were more than lucky, because the regular lanchas were still running, and we caught one for 25Q each (~$.3.20).  The ride across the lake was rather smooth and we arrived in San Pedro la Laguna around 8:15, none the worse for wear.  

We grabbed a quick bite at a British-style pub near the dock as we waited to meet our friends.  Unfortunately, our friends had bad news: the manager at the hotel was a jerk and had double sold our room.  But they offered to share their room with us.  Then, at the last minute, we were able to get "the last" room at a "nicer" hotel where some friends of friends were staying.  (in hindsight, the nicer hotel has ants and a clogged drain.  The hammocks and view are nice, but we are switching hotels tomorrow morning when all the new years crowds leave town.)  Both of us were quite exhausted after this day, so we took a short siesta in our room and headed down to the Buddha Bar for the party.  We had been hoping to run into some friends, including Derek, another student living in our same homestay, who had gone on a three-day hike to arrive in San Pedro for NYE.  It had already been a lucky day, and so we did run into Derek at Buddha and had a great time.  At midnight, everyone headed to the roof for fireworks, which after Christmas, were expected.  The displays did not disappoint.  And while safety regulations here are non-existent, nothing burned down and everyone had a great time.  After midnight, Matt and I got a new years snack at a taco stand and headed back.  We texted and spoke to some family and were asleep by 2 am.  

Our New Years Day has been quite restful.  We slept in and enjoyed long showers before heading back to British Pub to watch the 49ers win!  We ate there and then wandered around town.  The pueblo is very small, only 13,000 people, built on the hill by the lake.  We wandered uphill toward the less touristy part of town and through the market where a New Years Day celebration concert was taking place with local musicians.  Down near the water is the more touristy area, abundant with (real) hippies and lots of Israelis!  All the tour companies have signs in Hebrew and there is a hummus bar.  On our way back to the hotel, we ran into another friend from Xela and will likely meet up with him and others later.

This little lake town is quite charming - the views are great and the daytime temps are nice and warm.  It's a little chilly at night, but not freezing - nothing the glow from a few drinks can't help!  We plan on staying here no later than Wednesday, then we'll take a shuttle or bus to Antigua.

Happy New Year to all!  Hope your 2012 is fun-filled and action packed.  If we're lucky, we'll see you in Central or South America sometime this year!

1 comment:

  1. Ano Nuevo was fun. It was great to meet and hang out with you guys while studying at the same school. I had a great time, enjoy the rest of your trip!