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My first ascent of Santa María

Sometimes it’s worth paying a professional guide. By Susana Raymundo

I had walked in the hills of my village with my father – not as an adventure, but as work. When I started living in Xela, he wanted to climb Santa Maria, which would be my first volcano ascent.

At 4 am a pick-up came for us, to take us to the trailhead for the volcano. Some people in the group had flashlights but they weren’t necessary because of the full moon. We formed a line, and began to climb.

When we came to the first fork in the path we took the left and about 15 minutes later, our friend who was acting as our guide told us that this was the wrong way and we needed to go back to the junction. So we did, and took another path, this one with cliffs, and thorny plants and branches lying across the path. The youngest of the group began to have breathing problems and soon began to vomit. Nobody knew what to do because we had no experience of situations like this.

We found some people on the road with their horses laden with firewood. Some were cultivating the land by moonlight, others walking alone with a machete or hatchet with their dog as a companion. Our friend the “guide” asked one of these farmers where the road was that leads to the volcano? He asked this question in Quiché and nobody but me understood this. The farmer said, “not so far off the path, but first you must cross a small forest and some fields, but be careful of the crops”.
Some of my friends had worn shorts, and I could see their legs were shaking excessively. Most of us had scratches and cuts made by thorns and branches and the times we had fallen.

After five and a half hours we reached the top.

The panoramic view included Santiaguito erupting, the peaks of the volcanoes of the shores of Lake Atitlan and San Marcos, the Pacific Ocean and the villages around the volcano. Some of the group were sitting on large rocks found on top and others standing on the sand that had been expelled by Santiaguito.
Satisfied with the landscape, we descended without problems, but on reaching the plateau, the farmers were waiting for us, angry because we had trodden on some of their crops. They wanted us to sow their crops again, but as good bribers, we paid them so we could make our way home and end our adventure with the volcano.

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