A Trip To The Top Of A Volcano


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Categories: Life Stories

Story and photos by Melanie Wood, m/v Diamond Lil

“Stick! Stick!” “ Taxi! Taxi!”, chanted the Guatemalan children from the little town of San Francisco de Sales as Captain John and I descended the steps from the bus.  It was the end of the road and the place where the trail began on our tour to the top of the Pacaya Volcano, one ofGuatemala’s three highly active cones, rising to a height of2,250 meters.

Looking Down Into The Volcano

We were far from Diamond Lil, the 38’ Bayliner that we call home, wherever she might be which these days is at Mario’sMarina on the famous Rio Dulce in Guatemala.  In order to break up the routine of life on the Rio for the 6 month long hurricane season most cruisers take advantage of the economical land travel around the beautiful and diverse country of Guatemala.

“You simply must take some of the land trips”, we heard over and over as soon as we arrived at Mario’s. Our fellow cruisers, many of whom had spent several seasons on the Rio, were anxious to share their “land trip” experiences with us and make suggestions and recommendations of where to go, where to stay and what to do when we got there.   As boaters we became as excited when planning a “land trip” as we once did when we planned our “boat trips”.  A little terra firma is a pleasant change when you’ve lived on board for long periods of time, about 2 ½ years in our case.

The destination -- Volcano Pacaya

The colonial town of Antigua was high on the list of tourist attractions and climbing the active Pacaya Volcano was equally high on the list of what to do once we were there.  The weather in Guatemala is as diverse as the landscape and we had been transported from the oppressive heat, humidity and torrential rains of the Rio in rainy season to a highland paradise much more deserving of the “land of eternal spring” title that we had heard describe Guatemala when researching the country.

We were advised to pack warm clothing for the much cooler temperatures in the highlands.  I had dug these items from the depths of our forward hatch storage and we dressed for our excursion layered in t-shirts, sweatshirts and rain wear, wearing jeans, socks and shoes for the first time since our last trip to Canada, our home and native land.

Captain on a Taxi

The Captain and I had not been able to resist a couple of hand carved walking sticks that we stumbled upon in a little market in Antigua, however most of the tourists purchased walking sticks from the young entrepreneurs. 

Walking sticks

Walking Sticks

Many children in Guatemala work to contribute to the family income, often from a very early age.  I find it impossible to resist their beautiful bright faces, big, brown eyes and friendly smiles and I’ve bought Spanish newspapers that I cannot read and trinkets that I have no need or room for, simply because I cannot say no.

Armed with bottles of water and boxed lunches in the knapsack on my back and my trusty hands- free waist pouch where I carry my cameras, we set off from Antigua and traveled towards and along the western outskirts of the nation’s capital of Guatemala City.

We had snagged the front seat, with me at the window, my favorite spot for filming our adventures.  Part of the excitement of any Guatemalan tour is the bus ride there and back and I love to have an up close view as the driver navigates traffic like a stock car on a race track, passing slower vehicles at every possible opportunity, uphill, downhill and around blind curves, dodging rubble from landslides or animals that have wandered into the road, leaning on the loud horn as a warning to any who might be tempted to step into their path as well as to friends and other drivers that they see along the way.


The Captain pointed out the gun that our driver was carrying, a common sight inGuatemala. Apparently in the past some tourists had been robbed by banditos in this remote area leading to Pacaya and subsequently security had been increased.

Vendors, including small children, position themselves between the lanes of busy traffic, selling newspapers, drinks and snacks and passing them in through open windows as vehicles pass by.  A fruit vendor jumps on our bus and makes his way down the aisle, peddling small bags of peeled oranges and tangerines, chunks of pineapple and tasty looking treats that I don’t recognize.  He has a little bag of sugar to sweeten the fruits, if so desired.  A couple of miles down the road, as we slow for traffic he jumps back off to wait for the next bus.

Molten Lava! Watch Your Step!

Leaving the southern suburbs we continued along the Carratera al Pacifico, the highway that leads to thePacific Coast, past the town of Villa Nueva and through the narrow valley between Volcanoes Agua and Pacaya.  Turning east we left the main highway and began our climb up the hills towards Pacaya.

This road is in much poorer condition and I begin to rethink my choice of seats as we near some machinery blocking most of the road.  The driver decides that he has room to squeeze past the obstacle and as I glance down the front wheel below my window appears to be inches from the edge of the eroded, rain-soaked road.  It must be the angle I’m watching from, I reassure myself.  Besides, the driver makes this trip every day, right?

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