After a rest day in Cobán’s homely hostel: Casa Tenango, it was time to make tracks. The plan was to make it to Xela (or Quetzaltenango as it is officially known). I’d heard about a 2-3 day walk that would take me to Largo Atitlan… But then, seeing I was so close, I might as well make a side trip to climb the dormant volcano Tajumulco. At 4220m, Tajumulco is the highest point in Central America.
I figured the 230km I had measured on the map would take a few hours plus time to find the buses… In the end it took all day. Around 12hrs.
I walked to the service station at the edge of town trying to hitchhike whilst reading the discriptions of the passing busses. An engineer gave me a lift to the San Cristóbal cruz. There I got another two opinions on what busses existed. I was waiting a while when a guy stopped and offered me a ride… Unusual. But why not? I couldn’t feel any bad vibes. We started talking, Mario(?) ran a clothing service for companies. I think he was gay. The only reason he’d probably stopped is because of my new shoes with purple laces. I’d bought them in Cobán after my others were lost in Río Semuc Champey… Well one of them anyway.
He dropped me off on the other end of town where I soon got a ride a bit further with some building inspectors… I hadn’t thought there was a building code here… Naive I guess.
The buses were few now, and pretty much unlabelled. One had a town I couldn’t find on the map… It ended up being a company name.
An hour or so later whilst walking the rd, a ute stopped. I was lucky! He was heading all the way Huehuetenango (or simply Huehue). For an hour or so we talked whilst descending the deep valley, traveling slowly on the dirt rd that was marked as a highway in OSM. Crossing the blue river on a one-way bridge the rd was sealed as we climbed the other side. Weariness hit me and I grew so lethargic I couldn’t keep the conversation going… soon I drifted in and out of a poor sleep… Maybe I should have rested another day? I wasn’t feeling too well. I hadn’t had any questionable water recently…
It was late when we finally arrived in Huehue. We had passed some potential canyoning routes on the way. It’d be nice to open the first route in Guatemala! (I also found out later that there is a trekking route between Nebaj de Cuchumatan… Good things north of Huehue apparently…)
I got dropped off near centro and managed to get a free ride to the bus terminal where I quickly hopped on a bus headed for Xela… Several bumpy hours later I arrived exhausted.
I went to the nearby Macdonalds to use their wifi… But my phone froze. I borrowed one from the guy at my table (also an engineer), half an hour later with no reply I decided to call it; Kenith was probably resting. I headed back along the rd to the potential camping spot I’d spied as we’d driven into town. It seemed suitable.
In the night I was woken by bright lights… The police questioned me cautioning me that it was ‘peligroso’. Mucho delincuencia. ¿Tené alcohólicas? ¿De donde eres? They soon left me alone and I wasn’t bothered by anyone for the rest of the night. I rested well into the morning. A lady living nearby was concerned for me checking in me a couple of times and even offering we water…
My phone still hadn’t gone flat (I needed this to happen for it to reset) so I decided to walk to the parque central. It was closer than expected. I explored some buildings and soon paid for a Internet Cafe (I paid Q3 but you can find them for Q2… Maybe much slower internet though?) and just before my hour ran out I got in touch with Kenith (who I’d supposed to meet the day before). I’d meet him in half an hour… Imposible… Over an hour later, I finally arrived at the Interplaza and was happy to not only find free internet access, but also that my phone was dead. Yay! I was soon in contact with Kenith.
After talking for a while we headed out for some dinner. We grabbed some pupusa (like oversized gorditas), they’d ran out of chipilin so I got loroco(?). Kenith ran a tour company on the side, offering guided trips around Guatemala as well as in South America. He was off to climb some volcanoes east of the capital on the weekend… Of extra interest to me was a trial trip into Venezuela… It would be cool if I could meet up with him there!
Day 1: Xela to Summit
In the morning I got a lift to Kenith’s work and was soon on a chicken bus to San Marcos/Pedro (Q10), and then another (Q5) to the start of the volcano hike.
I met met a British guy who had just come down from the peak. It had only taken him a few hours so I figured I had heaps of time. He’d been climbing the highest peaks in central America (excluding Belize) and was heading to Costa Rica for his final one…
As I headed up my normal pace set me out of breath… The air was a lot thinner here (3030m). I was forced to slow my pace and take plenty of breaks. I hoped I wouldn’t get AMS.
After heading past the last houses the ridge steepened and a delightfuly happy dog joined me. For me it was a good enough excuse for a rest as any. I sat down and pulled out a packet of Oreos and gave one to Chepé as she was soon to be named.
The trail was quite boring as I gained elevation. I cut some of the corners using well used trails. A couple of hours later the closer houses had faded from view and were replaced with colourful wildflowers.
I passed many bins on the way up, but I’d encourage anyone visiting not to use them. They are pilfered by dogs, and it looks like the locals just dump everything out and burn it, leaving a hard soupy mess.
At the end of the road was a beautiful meadow full of small pines and white flowers. Chepé liked to rest beneath the trees and then quickly catch up and pass me. A group of women past by in the distance, they were probably catching firewood which was technically ilegal.
Crossing the meadow the trail steepened and there was a distinct increase in the girth of the trees. The others had probably been logged. Gaining the ridge I finally managed to get a photo of one of the many brilliant green lizards I had seen basking on rocks.
About 200m below the summit I began developing a bit of AMS. I was kind of expecting it, and after getting to know my body on Orizaba I was fairly certain I’d make it to the summit.
There was a sheltered camp below the final camp. It looked like there used to be a structure there. Most (all?) commercial groups camp in a treed area below the summit, but my preference was to find a place near the top.
There was a dripping spring about half way up the final climb. Catching the drops should supply a few people with enough water if you bring a small tarp.
Following the crosses up to the summit I was overall underwhelmed with the trip. I found a good camp spot not far from the summit, Chepé was still with me. I couldn’t really see a thing. I dug out the larger rocks, flattened the area a little and soon had my tent pitched and secured by many large rocks.
I settled in, pulling out the sleeping bag I’d borrowed from Kenith. It took up about half of my pack , and i knew it would make my night immensely more comfortable.
At some point it started hailing. Chepé came under my rain fly and lay against me on the outside of the tent. I gave her a bit more food.
The night was cold and at some point another dog started barking at us continuously. Eventually Chepé went to explore . It turns out they were friends and the black dog soon joined our small group.
I woke around 5. A sea of clouds stretched out before me. It was the best sunrise I’ve seen in a long time. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
Eventually, after many trips in and out of the tent to take photos the sun finally rose sufficiently so the light no longer refracted into the reds oranges and yellows.
I watched the shadow of Tajumulco grow on the other side. It had been an amazing experience. The summit ridge parted the clouds as they streamed across the highlands. As they reached the volcanic chain at the edge they slowly faded and disappeared.
My tent was still covered in ice. I went for a quick walk around the crater rim. On the way up I had passed a small shelter in the shape of an igloo. I hadn’t been able to see it on the way up because of the thick clouds that had enveloped the peak.
Once it warmed up a little more I packed and headed down (the dogs following me all the way down of course). It took about a third of the time to reach the road. Near the bottom, I met a large group guided by Quetzal Treckers, a company that had been recommended for the Xela to Atitlan walk… Some of the volenteers seemed interested in talking, but the main guide wasn’t very friendly. I’d pretty much decided to do it myself anyway.
I then took two busses back. I was a little annoyed with how things were organised in the San Pedro/Marcos terminal. When you walk in everyone tries to herd you to their bus. I went into the closest, not realising that others would leave well before it. After seeing some pass, I got out of the bus and was soon nearly surrounded by people trying to drag me to their bus. I almost left the bus terminal, indeed, you’d be better off waiting just outside. I wondered why they didn’t just fill one bus up at a time. It would save everyone time. I jumped in the next bus to leave.
I missed my stop in Xela, adding over an hour of walking. It did allow me to grab some groceries as well as utilise the free WiFi. Kenith let me stay at his home again despite being away to climb several other volcanoes. I tried to clean up a bit before I left the next day. I we get to meet up in Venezuela!
11am: Starting to head up. Just met a British guy. Only took him a few hours to get up. I’ve got heaps of time 🙂
13:30pm : Well over half way. It’s getting better now. Lots of wild flowers 🙂
13:55pm : My befriended dog is still with me. I share my food with it sparingly. I’ve named it Chepé
14:58: 200m below the summit. Slight AMS developing
16:10: Made it to the summit. Can’t really see a thing. I’ve cleared an area for my tent.
16:37: Camp is set. Chepé is still with me. I gave her some Oreos. I wonder if she’ll stay the night?
07:44am : Amazing sunrise above a carpet of clouds at around 5:15. Bag is packed. Heading down now.
09:38 : Down
10:56 : In San marcos
12:48 : Back in Xela,but missed my stop 😦