Two weeks in Antigua
On the last day of 2019 we will roll into Antigua just before nightfall. Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala, but was destroyed by earthquakes several times in the past, so that the seat of government was moved to Guatemala City. The city is surrounded by the volcanoes Agua, Acatenango and Fuego. The latter is currently very active. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and is now a popular tourist destination. After a hard day we are so tired that our New Year's Eve menu consists only of a snack at a Chinese restaurant, we toast with a glass of water and slip into 2020 while sleeping.
Accordingly, we start the new year refreshed and full of energy. Some to-do's have accumulated, which we start to work off immediately. Baloo needs an oil change and a wash again, we also have to have a small part of the steering replaced by the mechanic due to wear and tear, and Mathias has also been hit by Montezuma's revenge in the meantime, so we have to consult a doctor who prescribes him medication. In addition, we let ourselves be persuaded to take another week of language courses in the alley and now go cram from our camping site every morning from 09.00 - 12.00 o'clock. In terms of quality, the school does not come close to the level of the Meztli in Tulum, but we pay only a fraction of that for the lessons. One week of language lessons for two people here in Antigua costs us a paltry 150 CHF! Pati is our teacher. She is a housewife, where we sit at the kitchen table and she speaks Spanish with us ... and in between she cooks lunch and plays with her daughter. A little bit of what we learn still sticks and we can improve our Spanish skills even more.
After class we stroll through the avenues of colonial and lively Antigua and enjoy the countless restaurants with tastes from all over the world. We eat ourselves over traditional Pollos al la Leña with cooked beans, Sushi, Schawarma, Spätzli pan and Rösti across the whole city to the probably most beautiful Mc Donalds of the world. We really like Antigua. It seems so different from other cities in Latin America. So modern, so open.
We walk through the streets laid out in a chessboard pattern back to our campground, which is located a little bit outside, but which we can reach on foot in 45 minutes. We pass a row of single-storey patio houses with colorful brickwork and flowering plants and in the distance we see the smoking top of the active volcano Fuego towering over the roofs.
Back at the campground we make acquaintance with other overlanders almost every day, who all seem to gather here like in the eye of a needle. Like everywhere there are sympathic and less sympathic people. Among the sympathetic ones are Steffi & Roman and Mägi & Werner, both from Aargau. Together we spend cosy, fun evenings and cave the odd bottle of wine, always with a view of the lava-spewing Fuego, which glows red at night. What could be better?
We climb the fire mountain
We had a lot of respect for this hike. But if you are at the right place at the right time and have the opportunity to see an active volcano up close, it is an absolute must. The spectacle that one gets to see after the arduous ascent is truly a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" that one does not forget so quickly.
Thus, we booked a guided tour to the summit of the Acatenango, from where one has the best view to the neighboured Fuego. Punctually! At 07.15 a.m. on day X "SOY Tours" will pick us up at our camping site and drive us to the starting point of the hike. Together with 26 other people (to our astonishment all young, fit and adequately equipped) we are instructed and receive our lunch boxes. Shortly before noon we start our ascent. Our group is accompanied by five guides, who from now on hike up the mountain at different speeds. Right at the beginning it will be very exhausting, because the underground consists of loose scree and sand (2 steps forward, 1 step back). During the entire ascent the guides regularly take extended breaks. Almost too often for our taste. This way we don't really break into a sweat and have to struggle with the cold early on. But of course they want to make sure that in the evening not half of the group has to struggle with altitude sickness.
Already at the start we were at over 2300 m.a.s.l. Around 4 p.m. we arrive at the base camp at about 3500 m.a.s.l., where our tents for the night are already set up. To our astonishment we even get a tent for two of us. We had rather imagined a mass strike ...
All in all, the whole hike was luckily less demanding than we had feared and we did the about 6km / 1200Hm easily (Alexandra) and quite easily (Mathias). Mathias had a slight headache despite the many stops towards the end, but this was quickly eliminated with a tabletli.
After sunset it quickly gets icy cold at this altitude and a biting wind blows around our ears. We are glad that there will soon be a warm dinner and we can warm up our hands and feet at the campfire. With the onset of darkness our reward for the long ascent finally shows. Fuego, which is only a few kilometres away, spits fire at regular intervals. Each eruption is accompanied by a penetrating thunder and we see a huge lava rain trickling down the sides of the volcano. We watch this unique natural spectacle for about two hours before we can't stand it in the cold anymore and go to bed. Finally, we are already woken up again at 04.00 the next morning...
...and climb the last meters, always with the erupting Fuego in view, to the summit of the Acatenango at 3976 m.a.s.l. We have never been this high before! Unfortunately shortly before sunrise the clouds move in, so that we cannot see it. But at that moment we are so overwhelmed that we don't care about it.
Only when we are down again with a cool beer in our hands, we realize what a breathtaking and unforgettable natural spectacle we were allowed to experience.