Friday, May 11, 2012

Xela & Volcán Tajumulco

So, I'm currently pseudo-employed. Basically, I'm still working, but at a much-reduced workload. This means that I have had a lot more free time. I've been trying to find things to fill the void. It just so happened that one of my good friends was doing a language study in Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala. Xela is very close to the highest volcano in Central America, Tajumulco, so I decided to meet up with her and hike to the top of Tajumulco.

The hike started at 5 AM from Xela, so I had to drive there the day before. The drive to Xela from El Salvador is a solid 7-8 hours, which passed by pretty uneventfully. It gets really spectacular when you start getting close to Xela, mainly because you are driving in a large, beautiful, green canyon. We went with a group named QuetzalTrekkers. I assumed that since I had never heard of Xela, that no one else had either, so I was quite surprised to find out that all 11 people who were doing the hike with QuetzalTrekkers spoke English. I had expected to have a nice weekend of Spanish. Oh well.

So, we met early on Saturday and took two local buses to the drop-off point for hiking Tajumulco. It was a gorgeous day - beautiful blue sky with a few clouds, and gorgeous mountain scenery. It took us maybe 3 or 4 hours to reach our campsite. The hiking wasn't really that hard, but you are pretty high, so your heartbeat is more pronounced and you will get more out of breath. The campsite lies around 13,100', so it's about 700 vertical feet from the summit. We ate lunch there and hung out until sunset. For sunset, we climbed a small hill next to the campsite, which gave us a nice view for a pretty sunset.
the start
Our plan was to wake up an hour before the sunrise and hike to the top, to view the sunrise from the top. However, since the temperature dipped below freezing, there was a lot of ice on the rocks, so the guides decided it probably wasn't a good idea to have us all stumbling up the mountain with the potential for slippage. Rather than hike to the top, we hiked for about 10 minutes and saw the sunrise above treeline. It was a great sunrise - just enough clouds to give the sunrise some definition. I was annoyed initially when some clouds rolled in, thinking it was going to spoil our sunrise, but alas, they moved. From that point, we made our way up to the peak, which took another maybe 30 minutes.

At 13,845', the peak of Tajumulco is pretty nice. There's a decent sized crater, but the walls of the cone aren't equal, so you have a sort of spiral up to the peak. There, we had great views of the world below. You can see volcanoes in Mexico as well as the huge valley below. However, for most of our time up there, we just saw a sea of clouds below us. It was breathtaking! We hung out for a good amount of time before making our way down for breakfast. The hike down was much quicker and with great views. We couldn't have picked a better weekend.

The return bus trip was a bit harrowing, since we had a lot of downhill. My friend and I were trying to talk during the ride, but every few minutes, we would both stop talking, fearing that this curve could be our last as our bus seemed to be on the verge of tipping over. Alas, we arrived safely back into Xela.

Xela is an interesting town. It's at 7,600' and it surrounded by beautiful mountains. The city itself is pretty dirty; I was very cognizant of the large amounts of diesel smoke being belched into the air around me. It's also pretty unsafe. That said, it has a pretty large community of traveling backpackers, due to its cheap prices and good restaurants. Most of the backpackers are doing home stay programs for weeks or months. I stayed at a hotel for $12 a night. Overall, I wish I had had more time to explore in Xela. It's a great area because it's cheap, it's close to lots of great mountains, and there's a good tourist industry there.
the views from the road out of Xela

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