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XelaWho by Issue

Daytripper: Cool Trips. Close by.

Daytripper is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on day trips within easy reach of Xela. This month’s article is called: Santiaguito

by Fedor Petrenko

Once in a while, even the hardworking Quetzaltrekkers need an adventure of their own. Last month, we closed up the office for two days and embarked upon a mission to Guatemala’s most active crater, Volcan Santiaguito. Local Guatemalan and good friend Eduardo who runs Kaqchikel Tours and often works with geologists and volcanologists lead the way as we set off for a ridge not 200 meters from the volcano. We trudged through miles of cloudforest, along the flanks of neighboring Volcan Santa Maria, down ancient lava flows into the valley separating us from Santiaguito, and up a series of new craters, the last of which is Santiaguito itself.

Incredibly, the erosion around these newborn peaks has formed perfectly smooth, soft, football field-sized expanses of sand in their interiors. These misty playas are not only great for pitching a tent, but make for an excellent barefoot frisbee session as well. The volcanic range is completely covered with iridescent green moss. In places, hot steam seeps from cracks in the rocks, giving the impression that you’re climbing around a sleeping green dragon, and have happened on one of its nostrils.

That evening, we sat on a fog-enshrouded precipice directly across from the active crater, listening to the geological tumult. As the wispy cloud cover dispersed, the mysterious sound effects materialized into Santiaguito itself, looming alarmingly close. Through the mist, one of its flanks glowed a crimson red, and the lava cooled into giant bus-sized rocks as it came up to the surface. We watched with fascination as these behemoths then broke off and careened down the mountainside, steaming and shattering into a million pieces as they rolled.

The next morning we scrambled out of our beach camp and up to the lookout. My image of the mountain as a living, breathing beast proved true – as the light of dawn mingled with glow of lava, we suddenly heard a sound like the rush of a jetplane, and a gigantic column of ash, gas, and rocks shot several kilometers upwards with unbelievable speed. We quickly put on our facemasks as embers swirled all around and we were enveloped in the volcanic blizzard.

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