If one was to take a survey of people who would ask what they like to do on their “day off”, I am sure very few would respond with the answer of hiking a volcano- but our Middleburg Academy students did. This was a very poetic way to end our Guatemala adventure; we began the 12+ hour explosion of the Volcán Fuego on Tuesday evening and bookended with hiking the Volcán Pacaya.
After opening our eyes at 5am, we made the one hour trek from Antigua to Pacaya to climb an active volcano. Along our hike our guide pointed out important flora of this particular region of Guatemala, like Pie del Diablo or “Devil’s foot”, and the Árbol del hormigo, the bark of which he used to give us what he deemed “Maya makeup”, an orange colored paint that marked us as true hikers of the volcano.
A cloudy morning, it was nearly impossible to see any views from the top of the summit, so our guide actually took us down into the lava fields from the 2014 eruption of Pacaya, and irruption which shot lava 8 kilometers into the air and which destroyed over 500 homes in the neighboring towns at the base of the volcano. Here, we encountered the only functioning store on an active volcano in the world, appropriately named “The Lava Store”. Here a small group of people from the village are using the lava rocks that destroyed their homes to create artesian goods which they sell. All the proceeds of the Lava Store go directly back into the community to rebuild homes and provide much needed disaster relief eruption.
Here, in amongst the sharp lava rocks and howling wind (man was it windy!) we roasted some marshmallows on the smoldering rocks and enjoyed the incredible vistas, where the molten black rocks starkly contrasted the bright blue sky and surrounding green vegetation.
After conquering Pacaya, we returned to Antigua just long enough to catch the public transportation to the Coffee Bean farm. Here we were introduced to a coffee cooperative of 6 farmers who are all natives of San Miguel Escobar (a small village in “Old Town”, the original portion of the city of Antigua dating back to 1527).
De la gente or “Of the people” as the cooperative is called has changed their small village in the past 25 years all thanks to coffee. Since establishing these fields and developing the cooperative, they now control all parts of the coffee-making process from picking to roasting and everything in between. That this has allowed them to do is make a higher quality product and this more money resulting in their children being educated (beyond the 6th grade), contrasting homes of concrete block in lieu of corn cane, and creating happiness and pride among the people of San Miguel Escobar.
Miguel, one of the farmers of the cooperative, walked us through the process of picking, processing, drying, sorting, and roasting of the coffee beans. As the end of the tour we were able to try our own beans which we picked and processed, and finish the day with a lovely afternoon caffeine boost.
The public bus takes us back to the mercado in Antigua, where we meander about and see all of the goods that can be purchased in the city. From there we grab a tuc tuc: a local form of public transportation comparable to a rickshaw but with a motorcycle in place of a bike to take us to the Parque Central. We meander back home through the historic parts of Antigua turning in to prepare for the day at Lake Atitlán.