Nikki is an avid hiker so over a quick lunch we decided that the next day we would meet at 4:30 am to begin the journey to the highest point in Central America. Volcán Tajumulco rises a grueling 4,220 metres (13,845 ft) and the journey to get there is about 3.5 hours but we were both excited by the challenge.
|Yes that is a goat strapped to the top left of the chicken bus
Waking up at 4:15 comes early no matter where you are in the world or what you have planned. I was ready in 10 minutes and laid back down on my beat with the faint hope that Nikki would sleep in. Not a chance. I heard the bolt on her door open down the hall. Ok, this is going to happen and off we went. We daringly walked the 20 minutes to the Minerva Terminal at 4:30 am creeping along eerily quiet streets. We had to take a our first chicken bus 90 minutes to San Marcos. We messed up a bit trying to find the right bus location in Xela but as usual locals, and there we lots of them prepping for market day, were helpful when asked. At San Marcos we switched to another bus to Tacana. We were told to let the driver know that we were hiking Tajumulco and he would drop us off at the trail head. A couple of westerners with packs and hiking gear looking out of place early in the morning with a bus load of peasant farmers and school kids, it was obvious were we were going.
Using a great blog post about the hike as our guide we were on our way.
|And so it begins
|The summit peeking at us
Spread up before us was our Yellow Brick Road. A cobble stone road/trail would get us started along with our hearts pounding and blood flowing
buenos dias" from locals starting their day. We could see Santa Anna rising through the clouds in the distance. We also had discussed climbing Santa Anna but reports of robberies on that volcano were confirmed when I asked Quetzel Trekkers in Xela about it and they said they take armed police with them. That choice was easy.
I have hiked with armed guards on Volcan Verde in El Salvador. It was an odd feeling knowing that in the forests around us there were bandits lurking. They knew better because these guards were heavily armed and would shoot to kill.
practical and focused on reaching a goal).
|Celebrating by standing on the highest rock on the summit
|Selfie Celebration..and yes Nikki is wearing a Subway hat
We were on a deadline for the last bus to San Marcos but were well ahead of schedule so we did not need to push it. Finally the Uneven downhill cobbles of our Yellow Brick Road added a bit more pain but lead us to the trail head and the main road.
|Hiking down through the clouds
30 seconds later a collective pulls up and after some confusion we were told he would take us to 97 where there is a bus to Xela. So we jumped in the GuateUber and off we went a bit confused but knowing that we were being helped. A block from a busy corner a sweet lady taps Nikki on the should and lets her know that is where we need to go. The GuateUber kid running the show told us to wait until we turn the corner. We did and lo and behold sitting alone in what looked like some guys personal garage was a single colourful chicken bus with Xela on the sign. It turned out to the be the same bus we took to San Marcos. With grateful smiles and thanks all around we dashed across the street and jumped aboard. Our timing was good because this bus was going to get busy.
|The decent begins
With 30 minutes of Guatemalan confusion out of the way we settled in for the 90 minute ride to Xela. However, things got more interesting as we waited to leave. More people kept climbing aboard. It was time to loose any perspective of personal space. A larger lady sat beside me and we were now three on a seat create for 2 or 3 school age kids. Remember these are old American school buses. As we lumbered out for what was now going to be a hot and cramped ride home there were people 3 and believe it or not 4 abreast, to many standing in the aisle and some sitting on the floor. We did a general count and there were 85 people on a school bus designed for 42 kids.
Now the greatest spectacle of all of this was the money guy. He calls out to people to get them on the bus then collects the fares. Well there was no way he was going to get through the throng on the bus, although I have seen money guys climb over seats and people in the past. Nope what this guy did, while the bus was in full flight, was climb up a side latter, run across the top and appear at the back door. Opened it, jumped inside and worked his was through the crowd he could not reach from the front. When he was done he disappeared out the back, ran across the top, down the ladder and stood at the open front door like nothing happened. Freaking badass! It was the best entertainment possible.
We pulled into Xela and thanks to Nikki's smart phone GPS skills we jumped off the bus at a corner near the bus station saving us about a 20 minutes of walking. As we talked and laughed about the experience rising out in the distance like a beacon of happiness was the golden arches of McDonalds. We finish the day with McFlurries, me Oreo, her Smartie agreeing they were so much better than a cold beer ever could be after the day that we had.
|Nikki climbing to meet me for the final ascent to the summit