|View of the volcano on the climb up|
I remembered my life-long dream (okay maybe not life-long) of one day returning to Nepal to climb up to the Mount Everest base camp. If I was ever going to do that, I needed to make sure I stay in shape. This might just be the type of challenge that my body needs right now. And being a self-proclaimed “very practical person”, if at some point I felt things were heading in a hazardous direction, I could just stop and not go further. The reasons were quickly stacking up in favor of climbing. And there was one over-arching reason above all that just could not be argued against: I wanted to see lava!
With the decision made, all I needed was a good pair of shoes (rubber soled shoes would melt I’d heard). A generous friend lent me her running shoes. They were two sizes bigger nonetheless they were a lot better than my sports sandals -- which would quickly get filled with ash. With little trepidation, I packed some snacks and water. After an hour and a half of driving to get to the starting point, we had barely gotten out of the van, when little kids selling wooden sticks came barging in through the windows. I bought one for 5 quetzales (about 60 cents) and marched on with my size nine shoes. The ascent was steeper than I expected, and oxygen was in short supply. Within the first five minutes I was completely breathless and wondering if I had made a good decision. I tried to take three breaths in for every two breaths out and avoided all conversation with anyone around me, since I couldn’t spare a single breath. The English guy, who was bent up on knowing where everyone was from, would just have to wait. :) I avoided all eye contact with him and strutted forward like a woman on a mission.
A huge ball of clouds followed overhead threatening to rain any second. And true to their word, ten minutes later they thunderously delivered on their promise. Everyone mumbled their surprise but kept moving along like troopers. I actually didn’t mind the coolness of the rain, being drenched was better than being hot and breathless. However, I did wonder about the effects lightning and thunder might have on an active volcano. Might not be a good combination to reckon with. Trying to be optimistic, I kept my thoughts to myself and focused on putting one size-nine foot in front of the other. If I could just get through the first half an hour, I would be fine. That’s about how long it takes for my heart to acclimatize to the steepness and the higher altitude. And then my trusted legs would carry me forward. At every twenty minute interval, men ready to rent out their horses waited preying on the hikers that had given up. With my sulfur-filled lungs, I tried not to huff and puff while passing them and put on my most courageous smile to let them know I would not be defeated. :)
Step after step I finally made it to the last half an hour -- to the ash part of the mountain, where formerly lava flowed, in some places as recently as ten days ago.
I’d never seen anything even remotely like this.
|Roasting marshmellows at the top of the volcano|
On the way back there were a few scraped elbows and bloody knees around but most people survived. The ash part is pretty sharp, so any little tumble led to cuts and scrapes. Mountains, I’ve always felt were not something to be “conquered” -- that’s the delusional Western ego talking, since it would only take a second for the mountain to toss you over to your descent. They are aged-old-masters who’ve lived long enough to teach you the lessons that you need to learn. You offer them your toil, your own sweat and they reveal to you the secrets of the universe. There are reasons why many sacred temples in the world are on top of mountains. I couldn’t help but feel reverential to the great volcano for letting me climb it and to push myself beyond the personal boundaries of my own mind (and body).
|Lava streaming down on the side of the mountain|
|Life - still finds a way to grow between the crevice|