Volcano-Adventures by Colum Muccio
Volcano Adventures: IXTEPEQUE, December, 2005
Hugh Paxton’s Blog has climbed quite a lot of volcanos but times change. The days, then the years, pass, a certain lassitude sinks in and my sort of volcano now is one that erupts at a safe distance and doesn’t need climbing before it fires a lava bomb into my face.
Yeah, right! I’m a cowardly lazy old fart.
But I’m a bit more than that gentle reader!
I’m a manipulative cowardly lazy old fart! And I’m delighted to say that Colum my intrepid friend and gallant conservationist in Guatemala has been manipulated into climbing every volcano in Central America. And telling us how (or how not) to do it. We’ll kick off with one he climbed a a few years back. Ixtepeque. Pronounce it if you can!
We will be hosting his volcano adventures as and when he sends them in. Dates of climb are always important when you are reading about volcano climbing. Hughg Paxton’s Blog will ensure that you are informed of when the ascent was made.
Over to Colum and start the ascent!
Volcano-Adventures by Colum Muccio
Roberto and I drove out what was now becoming a familiar route to the eastern volcanoes: Carretera Salvador, Barbarena, Los Esclavos and then Jutiapa. When we got close to Ixtepeque, we stopped in at a love hotel to ask for directions. It only occurred to me later the logic of stopping in at such a place, the hotel was pathetic, with only plastic sheets for doors and the owner sitting outside shirtless, potbellied, with a mouth full of gold and a pistol packed into his belt. That is something characteristic of this part of Guatemala, a little bit of the wild west, where every male over the age of four years old by obligation must wear a gun. It makes it hard to know who the thieves are.
Antonio, the owner of the hotel, had a friend and we drove him up the road so that he could introduce us. Robin was a quiet, handsome cowboy, who apparently did a lot of hunting and after some explanation, agreed to take us up the volcano. He had a spider monkey in his front yard chained to a ceiba tree and Roberto walked too close to him and got bit on the arm. The monkey was uncharacteristically muscular and swung continuously from limb to limb. We squeezed lemon on the wounds and drove to the starting off point in the village of La Tuna. I mistakenly left my sunglasses on the roof of the car, and driving along heard the sound of broken glass as they hit the pavement. Damn! On the dirt road to La Tuna, we saw beautiful green tree snake sunning itself on the road. It slithered away casually through the brush.
Ixtepeque is an interesting volcano being composed almost entirely of obsidian and as we started walking we saw it all over the trail, chinking like pieces of broken black glass. Ixtepeque is thought to be one of the principal sources of obsidian for the Mayas. Our hike was slowed by frequent stops to pick up especially interesting-looking pieces. Robin explained to us that the shards were so sharp that at locals had to be careful when walking cattle up the trail.
The trail was an easy grade, climbing with stone walls on each side with cattle grazing in pastures. We were glad that we had Robin along with us as it was easy to lose the path. Several cattle farmers were pushing their herds down the trail, and we had to climb the stone walls to get out of their way and let the cattle pass. And, of course, each one of them had the ubiquitous pistol in the belt. We stopped briefly to pass the time of day, explaining that we were climbing the volcano (and not robbing cattle). You could tell that they were enjoying their lives as cowboys.
We got to the top of the trail, which crossed the volcano in a saddle in between two hills. Robin indicated that the summit was to the left and we followed him as he cut a path through the brush with his machete. I remembered again that it would be useful to take a machete along on these trips. After about 15 minutes of climbing through the brush, we came out onto a summit covered with tall grass and small trees, but with a fairly decent view of the surrounding volcanoes.
Apart from the obsidian, Ixtepeque isn’t a spectacular volcano, but a nice easy walk. What really set the day apart for us was the particular, increasingly funny series of events that staged themselves throughout the day. First the monkey, then my sunglasses, then the green snake… and to top off the day, when we returned to the car and popped the ceremonial Gallo beers, Roberto and Robin had already grabbed the only nearby rocks to sit on, and I decided to sit on the ground, landing my ass on a very sharp, 3 inch thorn which I had to tug furiously to get out of my butt, leaving a spot of blood on my ass. We all laughed at the eventful day.
Apart from the volcanoes and the views, these walks were interesting in giving a window, though a fleeting one, into the lives of rural Guatemala campesinos. Robin took us back to his house were his wife and mother offered us glasses of lukewarm Pepsi. The real refreshment, however, came in the form of a cool “juacal” full of water from the pila poured over our dusty heads. Robin had a three year old daughter who looked at us untrustingly with tears in her eyes from behind her mother’s skirt. Robin explained to us that she was sick, had a fever from infections in her front teeth. Roberto explained that he was a dentist and told the child to come over to him so he could take a look, which she only did when her mother picked her up, crying, and carried her over. Roberto explained that teeth infections are dangerous because they can grow up, into the brain, and that they should have the teeth pulled. It’s sometimes too easy to blame things on poverty, that poor people do what they do because they have no other choice. It’s also true that people simply make bad decisions out of ignorance or superstition, like the decision to chain a wild monkey to a tree in their front yard. I looked at the child’s feverous face and wondered what her future was.