La Muela sits outside of Xela (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala) like a giant molar waiting to grind out puny little hikers like raw meat. During the dry season, a hike up to La Muela, which isn’t the summit of the actual mountain, but the main destination for day hikers and therefore I refer to it as the summit from here on out, is a quick but challenging trek that offers a beautiful view of the city. During the rainy season, hiking La Muela is a completely different monster. It is best to start the hike early in the morning, as the skies can almost be guaranteed to dump rain anywhere from 12 o’clock on.
On tuesday the 7th, my plan was to start climbing early so I could avoid the rain. I had invited some of my students along and had asked them to be at my house at 9 am. Maybe I should have asked them to be there earlier. Only Hugo showed up at 9, but I wasn’t too worried, Guatemalans are typically late and I was following Michael Slocker’s (my brother-in-law) statuses on facebook, because Katie, my sister, was at the hospital about to give birth to Lincoln, their second child!!!
Finally by 10 o’clock everyone arrived and I was pulled away from my computer scene. I only found out later that my nephew was born at 7 pounds 7 ounces. He’s going to be a John Elway fan for sure! As we headed out of the house I should have pushed my fellow hikers, Jose Pab (otherwise known as Little Pablito), Sani, Skyy, Marcos, Skippy, Hugo, Juan, and Dani (the only girl to brave the trek), to take a taxi up to the beginning of the trail, but the boys wanted to hike the entire trail, which includes a good section on the road out of Xela up to Almolonga (an outlying town). Cars speed up and down this steep road, but the boys ran up it with a fearless attitude only boys seem to have. Dani kept telling me that I was trying to kill her. So we hailed a taxi as soon as we saw one, which wasn’t very soon. He charged us an exorbitant amount, for the distance he took us, but it was worth it. I could tell Dani didn’t want to walk up that road much further. Most of the boys decided to hike the entire way, so we waited for them where the dirt trail leaves the cobbled road.
We pushed our way up past the random soccer field that sits at 9,000 some odd feet and then climbed up the rocks that would soon be slick with rain. As we climbed higher, the clouds dropped lower. Shortly before noon we were enveloped in a cloud, it was dry, but I could tell the rain was on its way. As the cloud draped itself around us, several of the kids mentioned how it made them feel like we were on the moon. I felt more like I was on a volcanic adventure. In fact the rocks that make up La Muela used to be part of a volcano, which exploded, littering the terrain with giant volcanic rocks. We were in a different world than the one we’d hiked out of a couple hours before. We’d left behind houses and busy streets. We were now all alone. Just us and nature. The cloud made it feel like God wasn’t even there.
But we climbed higher and the cloud drifted away. Like children freed from the watchful gaze of their parents we clambered up toward the summit of the molar. The tip of La Muela is a sharp volcanic rock that juts toothlike up into the sky. Often Mayan worshipers can be found offering sacrifices at this tooth like structure. They climb from grass to boulders to the tooth to reach the top. On the 7th we didn’t climb to the top to offer any sacrifices to the Mayan gods, yet I wasn’t sure with the thunder growing louder that we might be sacrificed anyway.
“Let’s get out of here,” shouted a couple of the kids as thunder cracked right above us. “NO, I need a picture to prove we were here,” I replied as I scrambled to the sharp summit. We snapped our pictures and began our descent. To make it down from the summit rock climbing skills are required. Some of the kids were a little nervous about this part of the hike. I made sure I stayed right behind them and showed each where to place their hands and feet. I love helping people challenge themselves so they can reach goals they never thought possible.
Climbing down off of the summit was hard, but all of them made it. And I think because they challenged themselves they now know they can do more than they thought they could before.
As I stepped down from the rock we’d all just descended the rain started. It started slowly but it was consistent, making the rocks as slick as a Guatemalan politician’s hairdo. While we were off of the summit we weren’t down yet. The rocks bellow the summit almost form a rigid crown around the molar creating a natural burier.
We decided to continue our descent through a small hole in one of the rocks in the burier. Normally I go around the burier, but the kids wanted an adventure, so we ducked down between the small opening in the rocks. I had forgotten that going through this crack was a bit trickier than the way we had ascended. Skippy, Dani, and I made it through the crack, but the other boys backed out. Skyy, Hugo, and Juan and flat-out disappeared and I had told the other boys, Marcos, Pab, and Sani, to descend the way we had hiked up, which would mean they would meet us on the other side of the crack, but as soon as I made it through the crack I realized they had not followed my instructions. So as quickly as possible I leapt back up the wet rocks to find where the boys were. As I reached the place I had last seen them I realized that Marcos’s group had followed Skyy, Hugo, and Juan. I spotted them bellow going in the opposite direction from which I had told them. I shouted down to them through the rain to come back up and follow me, but they refused. Wet and needing to go help Dani and Skippy I told them to meet us at the soccer field.
Hikes always go awry as soon as people split up. I knew things could spin out of control if I wasn’t careful. Fortunately Dani, Skippy, and I made it to the soccer field safely. Sani, Pab, and Marcos sauntered out of the woods opposite of us about 10 minutes later. Relief. We called Skyy to find out where they were on the mountain. “Oh, we’re already almost home,” replied Skyy calmly. We stood perplexed. How did they make it down so quickly. We made our way down to the road in the rain and waited for Susan, Skyy’s mom, to pick us up so we wouldn’t have to walk for another hour in the rain.
As I stood under the cover of a little tienda, near the trail-head, waiting out the rain, I started thinking about how much I am going to miss these adventures. My hikes up La Muela have made the mountain familiar, yet each time it surprises me with a new fun challenge, like hiking it in the rain with a group of crazy kids. Although, I think the kids challenged me more than the rain. That’s why I am going to miss the relationships I have forged over the last three years more than the hikes. As I have spent time with them, inside and outside the classroom, they have challenged me to become a better teacher and friend. Hopefully these friendships will last as long as the mountain we climbed. The rocks may move during each earthquake, and it’s rather scary when they do (I know from experience, but that’s another story), but I know these friendships will last the next shake up in my life.