Holiday for San Santiago
Thursday was a holiday here in Antigua
for my birthday for San Santiago and it entailed parades of marching bands, people waving from stage coaches covered in flowers. and all sorts of shenanigans near the Parque Central. There was a procession of taking a huge statue of the saint into the cathedral by the park as well. I saw a man lighting a small hot air balloon to set off into the sky. There were men trying to climb a slippery wooden pole as a competition. And puppet-like costumes worn by some people hidden beneath and dancing to marimba music.
KIDS Restaurant Dinner
Friday night we went to the KIDS Restaurant dinner which is run through the NGO Tess Unlimited. Once a month they offer it, and pair up with a local restaurant with a different cultural theme. Friday’s was Japanese inspired food. The kids are the wait staff and the cook staff – they learn some valuable work skills like accounting, English, and can hopefully be hired by some of the restaurants when they are old enough. It’s not so child labor as it may sound;) The food was yummy – I took a pic of the menu – and it was a nice experience to see an NGO in action like that helping give kids opportunities for their futures. My group surprised me by having them bring out a dessert for me with candles and everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” It was really heart warming.
Hiking Fuego yesterday was the hardest hike I’ve ever done. I don’t think I’ve done a hike at such a high altitude before either – we started at 7900 ft over sea level and went up to almost 12,000 ft! It took awhile to acclimatize, and I definitely got a bit of a headache at some point. The climbs were not your usual gradual switchback ones. They were like practically vertical it felt like and often with lots of ash in the dirt, so one step forward, and you would slide back – like hiking in sand. Coming downhill was hard too since it either meant kind of skating down the ashy dirt or letting your body come flying down at a running pace which was hard on the knees.
It was a long day – we met up at 5am, arrived to the trailhead around 6 ish, got our lunches, a photo, and took off! We went through a few “microclimates” which was really neat, but also meant donning and doffing jackets often. We started hiking up through corn fields, then entered the “cloud forest” zone which was almost tropical with lots of greenery, ferns, and moss-covered trees. Supposedly the national Guatemalan bird the quetzal lives here. It also seemed like a good place to find gnomes and unicorns, it felt a bit magical. After that zone, it was more pine trees and drier air with lots of pretty dessert-like wildflowers around. We had to hike up Fuego’s volcanic neighbor, Acatenango, to get to Fuego. So once we came around a curve and Fuego was in view, it was quite amazing. We stopped for lunch with a great view of Fuego, watching it continually puff small bits of smoke and once in awhile large bits of smoke, and nourished ourselves for the difficult climbs ahead to get to the narrow knife ridge summit.
We couldn’t go to the top of the volcano, obviously since it’s active, but the knife ridge summit was pretty darn close and because the ridge is so narrow, it’s pretty intense/scary – on one side was just clouds, the other a view of the Antigua valley, and ahead an active smoking volcano. The wind up there was intense that standing felt a bit dangerous, so we weren’t up there for a long time, and most of it I was sitting. While there, we heard Fuego let out a rumble, eek! The way up to the summit was the hardest for me. I hit a mental wall like I have experienced running marathons. I could only think how stupid this idea was, how grueling the hike was and how much more left I still had to do, but once I finally came up onto the summit, it was so powerfully amazing – the intense power of nature, the breathtaking view, being that close to something so scary, the adrenaline rush all came to a head. It definitely made it all worth it. Plus, we were hiking for Ecofiltro, which is a great cause. Our Hike for Water was a small semblance of the adversity in finding clean water that many rural Guatemalans go through everyday. It was an incredibly long day – we didn’t get home til 8 pm (after waking up a little after 4 am) and trekking for some 12 hours. Some people had to slow down due to injuries and other difficulties, but we all survived and got to celebrate at the base. It was a quite incredible way to spend my first day being 30 years old:) Once more pictures/videos get posted on their site, I will update here.