We left Lake Atitlan with Matt, a trained geologist from the UK who was living and working in Guatemala, more specially around the volcanoes of Antigua and the famous Volcan Fuego, which has been erupting since written Spanish records began.
Matt had worked in the government observation station during this placement when completing his Masters programme, which was based at the bottom flank of Fuego. Since moving back to Guatemala permanently, the connections he made here have now allowed him to begin tailored camping trips, observing the volcano. The plan was....
- Arrive at the government volcano observatory for Fuego volcano around mid afternoon.
- Hike up to the camping spot for sunset over the coast.
- Prepare a steak and red wine bbq with Guatemalan sides.
- Discuss a lot of geology whilst hopefully seeing the volcano erupting that night, weather and activity permitting.
- Plan to get up at 4am to watch some more explosions.
- Following morning learn more about geology in the volcano observatory after a traditional Guatemalan breakfast.
The camping was as described and was absolutely amazing! One of the most memorable experiences of the trip so far.
Starting off a bit shaky as the weather turned and rain fell, during the 2 hour trek up to the camp clearing within the forest we couldn't see much around but Matt kept us enthusiastic by explaining everything about the local plants, crops and animals. Including the first info about the volcano and past eruptions.
We arrived to base camp (around 1700m above sea level and 3.5km from the summit) and the local porters set the fire, we pitched tents and as the rain stopped we changed into dry clothes! The air was thick with a low mist making the scenery and the volcano invisible. Most exciting, but also frustrating at that point was that the volcano went into a higher phase of activity and sounded like thunder going off! This was the increasing eruptions we could hear.
Before dinner we learnt about World and local geology and about the volcano. We all pitched in to prepare the bbq and it turned out to be some of the best food we'd had in Latin America! After which we learned more about geology over a few wines! Luckily I'd forgotten a lot of my A-Level geography so there wasn't too much repetition!
After a while Matt was convinced the clouds would clear but we had doubts. At various points the clouds cleared but quickly covered again, once we saw a small red glow. However by about 11:40 when we were anticipating a no show, the clouds cleared really quickly and bit by bit the volcano became more visible! At this point as well, the noise was getting even deeper and louder!
Once the volcano summit became clear it was an amazing sight and all 4 of our group stood in amazement! The volcano was spitting lava continuously, every now and then it would also spill lava down one of the sides of the volcano. Exactly as you would see on TV. Standing in awe for ages Matt explained that the lava bursts we're going hundreds of meters into the air and spitting out boulders the size of cars!
Never seeing a volcano in action before it was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen! We watched the firework display for a good time, then woke up through the night for some more views! At day break the bright red lava was swapped with colourful clouds of ash bursting in a big line through the sky above. The next morning a lot of this ash had settled over the camp and forest!
The next day we headed back to the observatory, learned more about geology and about the observations completed there. Unlike the movies (or in the rich Western counties) though, the observatory was a small wooden building with a computer, radio and phone, not masses of complex equipment! Many of the things in the observatory were even donated rather than being bought by the government. Matt used handouts, posters, rock collections and all sorts in his teaching, definitely one of the most interesting things we'd done so far!
Even on the way back we stopped in the car to look at old lava flows and how the environment had been shaped over time.
As Matt kept saying, the 'Raw power of Nature' was witnessed and it was well worth the trip!!