Written by Orla Nad Ron with bits by Bob
Moist, windy, dark, cloudy, cold, insane, but mostly windy. We were huddled together, lying flat on our backs. To offer the wind any angle of elevation would be to risk being blown over the edge. We were on the top of an active volcano, it was nearly dark, and it was very windy. I could just about make out what Jim said – “Where’s the helpful guide?” or something like that …
Following the previous night’s group meal and one or two beers, the ten volcano climbers were subdued as we boarded the small bus bound for Volcan Pacaya. We were told to being water, food, warm clothes and a torch. We set off at lunchtime, packed tight for two hours of a bumpy ride to the musical accompanyment of plinkity-plonk zylophone music.
There was spectacular scenery as we left the city and headed up through the hills to Base Camp, a small village called San Francisco. As we started the climb, the group gradually became quieter as we concentrated on the climbing. After about an hour’s climb we left all signs of folliage and wildlife and started climbing the gravel side of the volcano.
At this stage the wind started to pick up and around and above us white clouds raced across the sky. The final stage of the ascent had us crawling up loose scree and rocks with the wind screaming in our ears while being sand-blasted by gravel-filled gusts. A free facial scrub on the side of a volcano was an unexpected hidden extra.
As we neared the crater the clouds seemed all around us and the landscape was lunar, or Lord of the Rings style. Hot from climbing uphill, cold from the freezing wind, wet from the cloud moisture, we whooped, cheered, and danced at the crater edge. The force of the wind soon put a stop to that and after a group photo, the ten were huddled on the ground behind a clump of rock.
This was the wierdest sensation as we quickly realised that the ground was hot – hot bots and everything else freezing cold. We was the red glow of the lava at the crater. The only one with common sense on the crater’s edge at that time was the local guide who scarpered down the hill, leaving us to the mercy of the volcano gods.
When we realised than an overnight stop was not an option, we commenced the stagger of the lemmings down the volcano side (we hoped). The descent was a surreal experience as we skieds, skidded and slid down the precipitous slope. Marianne and Lea took a more novel approach and had to be treated for gravel rash of the bot later.
While the visibility before was 2 metres, it disappeared altogether at the advent of nightfall. Still no sign of the local guide as we fished out our torches and continued the descent. Conversation dropped to an absolute minimum consisting of “Are you okay?”, “Who are you?”, “Ouch my boots are full of gravel”, “I need a pee but it’s too windy!”, “Where’s the volcano guide?”
After an indeterminable period, we finally reached the base, some of us nearly sleep-walking the final stage. Climbing onto the bus our final words before unconsciousness set in were “Turn off the music.”
In spite of the narrative, giving the impression that the climb was horrendous, it was in fact the opposite. Intense, exhillarating, and we’d all do it again tomorrow (well maybe not tomorrow …)