The emotions writing this post are so many that I don't even know where to start. We were in Antigua for a week, and we were seeing people at the hostel where we were going to go up the Acatenango. We got information, watched some videos and knew it was a unique opportunity. When climbing Acatenango we could climb a volcano but the best thing was the privileged view of another active volcano: Fuego.
On the day we were about to go, a Portuguese couple who are traveling from Alaska to Chile came through the door of the Hostel. They also wanted to climb a volcano and we decided to go the next day. I confess that I missed talking and laughing in Portuguese. We all decided to take this walk to Acatenango together.
There were two options: go up the Acatenango in two days, there are groups that go up during the day, take tents, sleeping bags, food and firewood and stay up there at the top, going down the next day or go up with a guide and go down on the same day . As the best thing is to see the sunrise, we didn't want to carry firewood, and we knew that taking the Dune would be stressful, we opted for the second one. How naive. It was 23.30 when we started the climb, our guide, experienced, and that I recommend to anyone who comes, Mr. Alberto said that we would go up in 4 hours and if we went up earlier we would have to wait a long time for dawn and it was very cold up there. We had dressed: thermal sweaters, a hoodie, and a kispo. We rented a stick to help us up and down. And we started.
The first 20 minutes were hell. We all thought about giving up. The climb was very steep and then another not so steep but super slippery. We're climbing a volcano, so the slope is volcanic sand. It was like climbing a dune on the beach, with the shoes digging in and every two steps forward we took one back. I thought about giving up. But then it lay flat for 2 minutes and eased the walk. I looked at the clock an hour had passed. The next path was always, always going up, very steep. We couldn't see anything because it was night, we heard people's voices following behind us. We weren't the only crazy ones. We made a first break for some bananas and our Portuguese friends for a chocolate square.
I don't know what was in that chocolate square but after that, they started to rise at a very fast pace compared to ours, or mine. We even call them “the arrows”. Ivo stayed with me and we slowly fell behind. At the next stop, neither guide nor them. We continued to climb at my pace, slow, slow, slow. I looked at the clock and it was already 2 am. It should be 50% missing but at this rate we should be at 25%. Suddenly we meet Alberto. He gave directions for them to follow and came to us. We stopped at another break for cookies and some guys were selling coffee. I told Ivo what I had already told him about 20 times on that journey: “come on, seriously, don't miss this. I go down. There are a lot of people going up and nothing will happen to me.” But either we were going to go together or neither was going, and there I pushed myself a little more.
We never saw the arrows again and the guide started to get worried, because if they got lost easily, they could start climbing the wrong volcano and in this case it would be Fogo, active. He saw that they had followed the far side, gave us directions and went to meet them, catching them ahead. When we reached the end of this path, we had two options, either we would climb to the summit, another hour and thirty minutes, at my pace, maybe a little more than two hours, or we would go to the nearest place to see Fogo, an hour away. distance.
Of course we opted for the second option, I had already cried three times. It's a constant struggle of the mind with the body, trying to get out of the way, thinking about fun things, measuring if it was more tiring to climb that or having a wedding,... and a side of the brain always saying: you can't do it, you're stupid, look what you got yourself into, and now you're going to have to get all this down,... and the other one asking: just a little more, nothing's missing.
On this route, where we were left alone by the guide, we sat down about 6 times, the last time another group reached us and we asked their guide how long it took to get to the place where Alberto was waiting for us. They are really amazing and to give us encouragement they lie along the way, 5 minutes and they are there. And we, with courage, ok, it's only 5 more but it's been 20 before we get there. It was 4.30 and we still had the last hour to go.
The guide was waiting for us with a fire lit. Our companions in this great adventure had already gone to the top. The group that had already reached us arrived and they tried to convince us to go to the summit with them. We don't give in. Alberto says that now the next hour is all flat and it won't cost anything. It wasn't that flat and we had to climb over rocks. Almost arriving at the place, still at night and we hear the volcano. We had already been listening to him but nothing like that, suddenly Alberto says: run, we hurry and we see a huge explosion of lava flowing through the volcano. I cried for the fourth time. What a privilege, what an emotion. This image of seeing a volcano explode will last in time. Nature showing all its power, saying “you are really small”.
We had come to nothing. There were almost no stars to be seen, the sun was already starting to rise, the volcano still gave us some explosions but none so big and so incredible. It was 6 am when we started to descend. For those who have already been part of the Camino de Santiago, Cebreiro is almost the same size as this volcano, at 3976m, and you know that the worst is not always the ascent but the descent to Tricastela. So I was prepared for the worst.
We waited for our friends, they were coming down from the top. They loved it, but they say the end was crazy, they had to go up practically on all fours. We go down, slowly, braking, with the sticks holding us, falling on our ass. We stopped here and there. The descent proves to be interminable, the end could not be seen. Then I was grateful for having gone up at night and not seeing the path that was in front of me if I didn't really think I had given up. Let's ask the guide like children on a car trip: and now how much time is left? And now? And now? And he goes on lying, he never leaves an hour. Says we're going too slow.
We got to that climb where two steps forward was one step back, and then it was always falling. I was tempted to go down lying down. There was no end, I went back to crying with rage for having agreed to do this. I screamed that it wasn't worth the effort, that it was incredible to see the volcano but that this was the most painful thing I had ever done.
We finally arrived, it was 10:00 in the morning. We took 11h00, maybe we were the slowest ever to do it. But today I feel enormous pride in having achieved it, in having achieved it together. The best things in life are really hidden in our biggest nightmares.
Along the way we discovered that it is possible to go horseback riding for €50 per person. And I sincerely recommend it. We all paid 35€ for the guide, and I think Mr. Alberto has the hardest job in the world, he proudly says that it doesn't cost him anything to climb it and that he does it 3 times a week. 47 years old, no knee problems and very strong. If you come this way, talk to him.