Antigua is known for its remarkable volcanic landscapes nearby, so our Central America Program students embark on a multi-day hike in search of volcanoes and high-altitude lakes. Climbing Volcan Acatenango is on the bucket list of most travelers, and our students certainly understand why after this adventure! Read all about this adventure from a student's point of view.
When our hike began, the group was already a bit overwhelmed. We were fraught with emotional turmoil through homesickness, physical sickness, and the general stressors of entering a new country. Nonetheless, we strapped on our heavy backpacks and marched onwards towards the fierce face of Acatenango. The trail was much steeper than we had anticipated, and as we climbed higher into the clouds, the air got colder, the wind got harsher, and the oxygen dwindled. We were grateful for every small break, dropping our backpacks and huddling for warmth like a group of penguins.
As we trekked towards camp, the cloud-infested sky began to darken, and frigid raindrops poured down on us. We scrounged for our rain covers, floundering through the mud like a bunch of Americans (and Duchies and Aussies/Nepalis) who had never been on a mountain before. We arrived to camp after about 6 hours of hiking, our bodies shivering in the cold like a rumbling car engine. We all scurried into our tents for the night, the hidden volcano grumbling in the distance like a raging thunderstorm.
The next morning, we rose with the sun and were greeted by a monstrous neighbor: Volcán de Fuego. Its sharp peak reached up into the azure sky and coughed up dark clouds of ash into the swift breeze. Long story short, it was awesome!
After a delicious breakfast, the group hiked further up Acatenango towards the summit. As the tip of the mountain came into view, we mustered our last bits of strength and carried ourselves to the 3976m (13045ft) peak. We did it! Walls of clouds surrounded the area, making it appear as if we landed on the surface of a foreign planet. After many minutes of patient waiting, the stubborn clouds finally decided to iron out, providing us with an unbelievable aerial view of distant mountains, Guatemalan cities, and practically untouched forests. Nothing could beat that moment, or so we thought.
The hike down the mountain was not so much a hike as much as a ride. The volcano’s side was home to a multitude of pebbles which congregated to produce a makeshift slide. As we ran down the mountainside, we felt weightless as the pillow-like pebbles caught our feet and guided us back down to base camp.
After lunch, five students, Ave, El, Pete, Ben, and I, along with Jack and Tari, decided to take the extra mile (figuratively and literally) and hike up to Volcán de Fuego. Mother Nature’s work of art was already breathtaking from afar, so to be right beside such a force of nature was an experience for the memory books. To have the privilege to admire something so dangerous yet so beautiful from so close is something that we are eternally grateful for.
As the sun sank behind the mountain and casted a warm tint on the clear sky, Volcán de Fuego let out a powerful roar and lava sprang out above the mountain, illuminating the night like a lighthouse of fire. Shouts and howls of awe (mostly from Jack) echoed through the mountains, and the radiant lava glowed through the dark, chilly night.
The next morning, we were woken up by a spectacular sunrise. As the sun crawled up the side of Volcán de Agua, the horizon was painted with vibrant layers of orange and yellow. We watched with amazement as Mother Nature once again provided us with an astounding performance.
The group then packed up all our things, placed our large bags on our sore backs, and made one last arduous journey down the mountain. Reaching the bottom perhaps held a greater sense of achievement than reaching the summit. The group sighed with relief and sat on the bus, pain pulsating through our legs and shoulders.
Despite the journey being extremely challenging, I think we can all agree that every painful step was worth it. The views were unforgettable, the volcano was an incredible force of nature, and the knowledge that we accomplished such a difficult task is something we will always hold with us far into our futures.
- Jonathan Mount, Central America Student