Santa Maria is the Volcano that dominates the sky line here in Xela. Last night I dominated it. Or I guess you could say it graciously allowed me to make an ascent. Santa Maria towers above the skyline at 12,375 feet tall. It’s not the tallest volcano in Guatemala, but it is rather impressive. The ascent, 5,000 vertical feet from bottom to top, took us around four hours to accomplish. We started a little after midnight and got to the summit a little after five. You might notice that the time frame here doesn’t fit. The four hours is actual hiking time and does not count the 30 to 45 minutes we hid bellow the tree line to stay warm.
The hike takes you up through onion fields and burnt-out trees. All of this was hard to see at night even though we had a full moon. So with our head lamps on we reached the top and huddled together for warmth. Around 6 am the moon vanished beyond the horizon. Because we were up so high the moon looked as if it had several turquoise and orange rings circling it, so as it vanished it created a beautiful other worldly image. I have been reading A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard and she talks about how ancient Europeans used to think that birds would migrate from the moon. So I had this picture on my mind as I stared at the moon. If birds really did fly to the moon and back I think I’d want to ride with them. How cool would that be. Once the moon slipped away it took the sun about 45 minutes to break the mountainous horizon. It was a cold 45 minutes and the instant the sun appeared the temperature jumped about 10 degrees. With the light of the sun I could see all of the other volcanoes lining the horizon. They looked like large ant hills poking through a sea of clouds.
Right below Santa Maria is Santiaguito, which is a small active volcano. It erupts about every twenty minutes and so we waited for nearly an hour just to see it erupt. You can see it by walking to what is called the look out point. Because it is an active volcano it is dangerous to get too close. This look out point is on the west side of Santa Maria and so in the morning it is still a very cold spot. I froze as I waited for an eruption. Nothing. Just a couple puffs of smoke. Frozen stiff I gave up and walked back into the sun leaving Santiaguito out of sight. It erupted a couple minutes later. I guess that’s my luck. After a couple more pictures, we hiked back down. It took 3 hours and the constant down hill hurt my knees. I’m glad God invented volcanoes and gave me strong legs to hike them, two good eyes to enjoy his creation, and friends to share the memories with. The pictures above are from my trip so I hope you enjoy.