Missing Out on Fuego from Acatenango

In Mexico, we started to hear about travelers hiking a dormant volcano to watch the very frequent eruptions of another nearby active volcano in Guatemala.

Everyone: “It’s hard, but it’s worth it.”
Some: “The food is terrible. Bring snacks.”

All of these conversations with people occurring while they proudly held up their phones to show beautifully captured photos and video of Fuego erupting, the vivid red of the lava exploding in the darkness. We were enthralled. Okay, we’re hooked.

We picked Agencia de Soy after numerous recommendations. They provided great food and had all the camping equipment at their basecamp on the volcano already. We learned once we arrived at their headquarters/Gilmore’s house that they hire single mothers as cooks and men as guides from the community. They also fund community development projects such as a playground for children. After seeing too many Gringo-owned hostels, where they charge for everything, it was nice feeling that some of the money from a tour returned to the local economy.

Our group was small, six in total. Our guide, Rudi, was knowledgeable and made sure we moved up as a group. Patricia and I saw about seven different people we have met along the way through Mexico and Guatemala during the first half of the hike.

I feel like I’m in pretty decent shape. I don’t consciously exercise but we eat well and obviously walk around a lot, usually with a 55 liter backpack. We have both commented on how light we feel after switching to a 100% plant-based diet. But, it was still a slog. The weather turned bad about an hour up. The backpack with rented winter clothes weighed me down. Me legs burned with fatigue.

Four and a half hours later, we reached basecamp. It wasn’t at the peak, but an hour down from it. When groups camp out, they wake up early to hike the remaining distance to the summit and watch Fuego’s eruptions. Basecamp is simple; some tents tied down and to each other to prevent the strong winds from taking them, a big tarp over a fire, and tons of firewood. Rudi chopped wood as we huddled around the fire or took naps in our tents and waited for dinner. The mist and clouds were too thick to see Fuego. A little after sundown, we ate pasta, mashed potatoes, and beans.

Rudi and another guide who met us at basecamp explained that if Fuego wasn’t visible from this altitude, it would be even worse at the summit. He said sometimes this happens and it’s disappointing and “Es naturaleza.” But he would stay up all night and wake us up if it cleared up. We were too tired to be bummed and most of us thought it would clear up at night. We all went to bed, destined for a sleepless night. Fuego erupted constantly, with a thunderous sound but any shred of light from the lava obscured by the thick mist and clouds. The rain howled, almost flattening for a few moments before popping back up again.

We woke up on our own. It had not cleared up. We ate our breakfast — cereal with milk and coffee — and prepared to head down. The disappointment would hit me later when we reached Antigua. We had still accomplished something: hiked 3,500 meters. Before we left, as if some small mercy for us, the clouds broke and we saw how close Fuego was to us. A few seconds later, it disappeared once again.

The hike up was difficult and the way down was strenuous, especially on my knees. It continued to rain. It wasn’t as cold as the day before. Along the path, we saw how many trees fell to the wind and rain. It looked apocalyptic. Closer towards bottom, the trees were thicker and there was more forest cover.

After about two and a half hours, we reached the bottom and were picked up by a shuttle to head back to the Agencia de Soy headquarters to give back the rented clothes and do a little debrief. After that, they dropped us off at our hotel. Two of our friends were there who we had seen the day previous. We explained what we didn’t see and they thought it was strange that the guides could not have predicted this storm that had came through Mexico. I’m not sure.

Either way, we were treated to Fuego’s eruptions from our hostel terrace that night. It was a small consolation. The day after, we left Guatemala and its volcanos behind.

Cañón de Sumidero, Humanity’s Trash Problem, and Personal Footprints

One of the main draws to San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas is heading to Cañón de Sumidero and taking a boat tour. It’s incredibly beautiful; huge waterfalls on the sides of the canyon, monkeys and crocodiles by the banks, a nice breeze. But halfway through the tour, we ran into a huge swath of plastic trash in the water. The boat operator said that it usually comes from the streams and rivers that run off into the canyon and river during particularly rainy periods.

Everyone in the boat shook their heads, tsk, tsk, tsk. We shouldn’t be littering, etc. At the end, where the the state of Chiapas has built a hydro plant, the boat had to turn around. But before, we connected with another boat that was selling chips and sodas in plastic bottles. After an hour or so, people wanted a snack. No one was tsk tsk tsking anymore.

Our problem with trash is systemic. It might not be enough to just throw our trash in the proper receptacle.

After seeing this, Patricia and I decided we would try even harder to abstain from buying plastic. We have Nalgene water bottles. When we are at a restaurant or tienda, we ask if we can refill our bottles (and offer to pay). Usually, they use bigger reusable water jugs. It’s not perfect but it does cut down on our personal footprint.

We can get mad, sad, (eco-)anxious, and wring our hands about the future of our planet. But let’s remember that we can take action in our own lives and communities. It might already be too late, but we can at least try.

Later, I’ll write something about our move to vegetarianism. Much later, I hope to write something about how Islam has informed my socialism, and how socialism has informed my choice for vegetarianism.

Farewell Mexico

This isn’t going to be a long post. Just a quick note about these last two months in Mexico, the first country on our Latin America trip. Mexico is an extremely special place. I especially enjoyed our time in Oaxaca and Chiapas, but also had fun in Yucatán, Mexico City, and Cuernavaca. Here’s some of our trip by the numbers:

  • Time spent in Mexico: 76 days
  • Total time spent in buses: 81 hours
  • Average spent on accommodation: 4.47 USD per night

We’re in Guatemala now and plan to spend about a month here.

Hostels and Airbnb

Yesterday I noted how amazing it was to meet and spend time with new friends from our hostel in Zipolite. I think many of us these days would rather choose the comfort, security, privacy, and wifi of an Airbnb over a cramped but cheap hostel with abysmal internet. I count myself in that group as well. But if we had done so, Zipolite would have just become another beach town; devoid of memories, countless opportunities to talk with interesting people, and practice Spanish.

I’m not saying every single hostel is fantastic and your new temporary roommates are always amazing and friendly. In fact, the last hostel we stayed more than a night didn’t have the best community spirit. But those other experience. led us to this one

Staying in hostels allows us to meet great people with totally different worldviews; Rasta artisans from Mexico and France, gap year travelers from Australia, Argentine immigrants looking to open a cafe or restaurant, and surfers from Japan. We saved a lot of money. We went out to dinner and to other beachside hangouts. I also met another Jimmy, who introduced me to a breathing meditation practice.

It can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there so much. Luckily, my travel companion is much better at socializing with new people than I am! But try it. You’ll meet more people, laugh more, and save money. Maybe someone will also teach you to breathe?