Today I was super excited about the trip to Chicobal, the volcano that had once erupted, leaving behind a perfect crater on top to create a lake, Lake Chicobal which became a sacred Mayan area. It was about a 40 minute drive in vans and there were beautiful views the entire way. We were told that the hike wasn’t too bad, but I got concerned when we got to where we were going and while climbing a hill to park the van, the van wouldn’t move forward. It kept rolling back and me being in the back seat, I saw my life flash before me as I saw us descend farther back towards the car that was behind us. Several of us offered to get off to reduce the weight, but we simply would go with the gas floored until we would start to roll backwards then stop for a while and try it again. We finally got to the parking space and I had yet another “oh shit moment.” I had only been hiking once before and it was a life threatening experience as my friend and I didn’t think to bring food or water to our 5-6 hour trek, but at least there were stairs the entire way. This time I stood staring at the steep incline before me and wondered why the people who created these paths didn’t know that you can’t just make a road going straight up the side of a mountain/volcano, but you need to weave and wind back and forth to reduce the incline. Nonetheless, I had signed up for at least 2-3 miles of extreme uphill climb.
Now I am well aware that I am not the most athletic person in the world, but I try to make sure I stay somewhat physically fit and don’t get too terribly out of shape, but I realized that my lack of hiking experience combined with my body not yet adjusting to the altitude and me having problems running out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs may make this trip a bit difficult for me. After about 30 seconds, I felt like my lungs were on fire. I realized then that I would officially become the fat kid at the back of the pack who just can’t keep up with the group. I had realized a few times before while exercising in the cold that I have a bit of a wheeze sometimes, so after getting to a point where the entire group felt the need to rest (about 100 feet from our starting point) I asked a friend if I could use her inhaler. It definitely made my breathing easier, but after about 10 minutes, I became so lightheaded that I once again saw my life flash before my eyes as I envisioned myself falling backwards over the steep incline that would be more similar to falling off of a cliff than falling down a hill. I once again felt the need to rest and realized my heart rate was 180. What was I thinking taking albuterol? It had been at least 8 years since I had last taken any! I have spent the last few years studying drug side effects and knowing how problematic using another person’s medications are, but still, I figured it would be better than feeling as if one of the characters from mortal combat created a fire ball to destroy my existence and instead placed it in my lungs for me to feel the eternal fire. I couldn’t help but feeling like it was a catch 22 when I found the relief of a decline, realizing that as much as that may help me at the moment, it meant an incline on the way back. After a few hours of seeing signs that I thought meant “the lake is in 200 meters,” but instead basically said “congratulations, you have made it another 200 meters” We finally got to the top. The lake and the view of the volcano Santa Maria were beautiful. From there we took some very steep (1-2 feet height, at least) steps down to the lake and had lunch. This was again a moment where I realized that the downside of my descent was knowing that it meant only another incline with my jello-esque legs. We got to the lake and enjoyed about a half hour of lunch. There were four other girls there from Iowa and a Guatemalan kid with an Iowa Hawkeyes shirt on, so of course we had to have our little celebration and take pictures. It was amazing being amongst the clouds and seeing that the clouds did not hide the sun and make everything dark, instead we watched as the clouds encroached upon us and made it so there was simply a fog so dense that it would be very generous to say we had 20 feet of visibility.
After lunch came again the steep incline back to the highest point surrounding the lake before the steep descent. We chose to take the “easier” way back up and instead of taking the stairs, the path was pure sand. I am sure that not everyone has tried to walk on sand (not the packed and hard stuff, but the fluffy, move every time you move stuff) before, but that definitely did not seem like a walk in the park to me. I got to the top and began the descent and couldn’t believe that I had actually climbed up that thing. I don’t know why we decided to try to walk it instead of simply climbing it because I’m sure it wouldn’t have been much different than rock climbing, except we were dealing with dirt, sand, rock, and mud. I looked at the slide down realizing it may have been worth the extra 20-50 pounds to carry a sled up so I could just slide right on down the thing. Still, I was much happier to be going down than up. Although my lungs were no longer on fire, my legs were still jello and I was afraid to take too big og steps for fear that my legs would give out on me and I would then find the quickest way to the bottom.
We got back to the bus to leave, and realized that one of the vehicles that we brought was blocked in by a cliff in front, a fence to the right, a truck to the left, and a Rav4 directly behind it. Of course this presented quite a problem as the owners of that vehicle were somewhere amidst the hellish terrain with no method of contact. I was extremely amused by the effort of 4 men who attempted to pick up and move the rav4. A pickup ended up attaching a rope to the rear bumper and instead of trying to move it back, they simply attempted to pull it to the side. After hearing a loud CREEEEEEEEKKKKK, they decided to go back to the effort in manually picking it up with their hands and moving it. To my surprise, it worked. They turned their attention to the pickup truck and turned it enough that our vehicle was able to be moved with quite impressive maneuvering.
We all packed up in the van to go, and with 17 people in a 15 passenger van, I was surprised at how many people we were stopping to pick up. All of the seats were clearly full with us in them, but at one time there were 9 people standing in the van in the small amount of space there was between the seats and the window, with the sliding door open and several people with only their feet in and them hanging on for dear life as we drove through many twists and turns and an extreme decline. At one point during the return trip, it started pouring rain and there was definitely rain coming up from the floor of the van. Rain soon turned into hail more forceful that I have ever seen in my life. The ground looked as if it were covered with 3-4 inches of snow composed of pea sized hail.
After returning and feeling as if my body would never move again, a group of us decided to meet up at the local hot chocolate café and do a bit of studying. I ended up trying to find my way walking through an area of town I had never visited before and by the time I arrived, the group had left. Luckily, I saw a group of other students from school who invited me to join them. Afterwards, we met up at an El Salvadorean restaurant for dinner and decided to head to a bar afterwards for a couple of drinks. We saw a bit of lightening and heard some thunder as we left the restaurant, but it must have really decided to come down when we were at the bar. We all sat there drinking our Cabrio as the electricity went out. Throughout the bar cell phones created an interesting atmosphere as we continued to enjoy ourselves until we decided to leave and call it a night.
Just to add a disclaimer to the day. As always, I talk as I think and am not concerned with how things are coming across. Overall, I had a fantastic day. Even though it sounds like I complained about the whole day, it is only my odd sarcasm as I relay the thoughts that entered my head throughout the day. Will I do that hike again? Maybe after I lose half of myself and begin running marathons for fun, but am I happy I did it? Absolutely.