Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Illegal Mezcal, Oh My!

Antigua, Guatemala

As my good friend Mitch informed me via a text this morning, “el terremoto” is Spanish for earthquake (Mitch comprenders Spanish). However, “El” and “terremoto” were certainly not the first words that came to mind as my shaking bed woke me around 11 pm in my room at the Yellow House last night. Rather it was “Wow! This wind is…strong!” As I came to and slowly realized that an earthquake, as opposed to a stiff breeze, was the likelier cause of my shaking room, I hopped out of bed and racked my brain for the proper response to this category of natural disaster. My extensive terremoto training in elementary and middle school taught me to leave the classroom and kneel against the hallway wall headfirst; however, this training was not translating well to the hostel environment. (“Is an outdoor patio the same as hallway? Where’s the teacher? The pretend shaking floors is a for real shaking floor. Hmmm…”). The barrage of panicked, mostly incomprehensible Spanish coming from outside my room certainly was not helping, although the fact that the shaking was slowly subsiding was. In the end, I decided to do what I did in the only other earthquake in which I’ve been involved — leave the relative safety of my shelter and go find some people to talk to about how crazy this earthquake thing is outside. (PSA: This is the #2 WRONG thing to do in an earthquake. Best thing to do is drop to the ground, cover your head, and move under some sturdy furniture if possible. Doorframes are not a good option.) After I socialized with my hostelmates through several minutes more of shaking, the ground returned to its normal, nonmoving status. Once we learned that this earthquake was a whopping 8.1 on the Richter scale (earthquakes of 8.0+ strength quality for the highest grade of intensity — “Great” — on the scale), we were relieved that the effects were relatively mild for our spot in southwest Guatemala; unfortunately, this certainly was not the case further north and into Mexico.

In an interesting twist, a few hours prior to the ‘moto, I had booked a trip to rendezvous with another notorious geological phenomenon — an active volcano. A hike up Volcan Pacaya is actually a standard tourist activity for visitors to Guatemala City and its environs. And it’s certainly safer than a trip into Guatemala City itself. (A fellow hiker on the Pacaya trip reported that a car directly in front of him had been robbed at gunpoint in traffic in Guatemala City; another member of the hike described how he physically fought off three potential muggers at once in the streets of the city — impressive because he actually got away with all his valuables but…really? Downsides to the “fighting back” strategy are extreme.) So this morning, I began my Pacaya adventure from Antigua by packing into a large van with me and 26 of my new best friends. The van drove us roughly 1.5 hours into the Volcan Pacaya park, taking care of a lot of the elevation gain before the hike began. I signed up for the the standard, guided hike, which took us from the parking lot (~5500 ft) up above the treeline (~7200 ft), which offers a fantastic view of the volcano’s dome, the opportunity to hop around an open field of volcanic rock, and a trip to the “Lava Store” (Motto: You will “lava” our trinkets and things.) Aside from coming face-to-face with a real, live volcano (last eruption: 2014), which is, well, friggin’ cool, I enjoyed meeting the other turistas. I spent some time chatting with an international couple (Australia and Switzerland, respectively) taking ~10 months to take the scenic route from Berlin to Brisbane (Australia), an Australian guy cycling (no joke) from Berlin to Argentina (via the classic Berlin to Amsterdam to France to the UK to NYC to San Francisco to Guatemala City to Argentina route), a guy from Atlanta, Georgia in his late 20’s who had quit his tech job to spend some time traveling before moving cities (read: me?), and some British gals that had just graduated from “uni” and were doing traveling before starting Life. At the end of the trip, we all agreed to meet up at Café No Sé this evening, where a Dutch woman I met on my shuttle from Guatemala City to Antigua works. (Don’t worry ladies, she moved here for her boyfriend!) The “illegal mezcal” bar coupled with nightly live music makes this one of the more popular spots in town for those looking for a little nightlife.

I will be in Antigua, which is exceeding my expectations as a town of historic, quaint beauty and tourist-friendly vibes, until Sunday morning, at which point I will grab a ~3 hour shuttle to report for duty at San Pedro Spanish School up in Lake Atitlan. I’ll be checking back in here in a few days for those interested souls. Muchos besos!

Upper left: Volcan Pacaya and I, Upper Right: Roasting marsmallows over a fumarole blowing hot air from the volcano, Bottom: From Antigua, Volcan Fuego spewing ash

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