Have you ever committed to something without fully realizing what you were getting yourself into? And when you finally learned, was it too late to back out or did you brush it off and convince yourself that you would be fine?
I recently spent 2 weeks in Guatemala -- a country filled with luscious green trees, rolling hills, and active volcanoes. I knew prior to the trip that I would be hiking up a volcano while visiting Antigua. I had heard that it wasn't a major hike so hiking boots weren't needed (and I didn't want to take up the extra space by bringing them).
Lesson #1: When going hiking, always pack proper shoes.
When I arrived in Antigua I met up with my new friend Cory at the tour office to schedule the climb. It turns out the volcano I thought we were climbing was not the one we booked. I spoke with the tour guide and described our shoes - he said it might be slippery but we'd have walking sticks so we'd be okay. Okay, I can handle a few slips. That's cool. Cory asked several times if we were up for this adventure - yes, totally. We'll be fine. I like a good challenge.
Lesson #2: If someone from the Pacific Northwest says a hike is going to be challenging, listen to them. They probably know a thing or two more about hiking than someone from flat Texas.
We also learned that most people camp overnight on the volcano to break up the hike and to see the sunrise over Volcan de Fuego - one of Central America's most eruptive volcanoes. The tour office encouraged us to leave at 3 or 4 am if we were not going to camp. Pssh...I'm not getting up that early! 6 am is early enough.
Lesson #3: If the guide or tour company (aka the ones who are most knowledgeable) encourage you to camp or leave at a certain time - probably best to heed their advice.
We set out at 6 am the next day for the drive from Antigua to Acatenango Volcano. Acatenango is a one of the most challenging volcano climbs in Guatemala. Standing tall at 13,045 feet, it is the third highest volcano in Guatemala. The climb itself is more than 5,000 feet. Our guide informed us that it would take roughly 4-6 hours to hike to the top then another 2-3 hours to get down. He also wanted us to get to the top by 11 am so that we could still have a decent view of Volcan de Fuego and make it back down before rain hit.
Lesson #4: When the guide's only words to you are "Vámonos Chicas! Vámonos!" over and over (and over) again, just suck it up and hurry.
We set out on the hike and it was uphill nearly the entire time. My legs were burning before we even made it out of the cornfield. But being the stubborn and determined person that I am, I wasn't going to let a little muscle pain stop me from conquering this feat. We persevered and made it to the top roughly 5.5 (painful) hours later. The climb to the top was extremely slippery - rocks, dirt and even (at times) our feet sliding down. And to top it off, myself, Ashlie, and Melody were wearing the wrong shoes. We finally made it to the top and it was so cloudy that we couldn't see Volcan de Fuego; however, at that point, I didn't care. I was just happy that we had made it.
Lesson #5: The descent is often more difficult than the climb.
No matter the hike, I've always found the descent to be a lot harder than the climb. My knees are always wobbly and burning with pain, and Acatenango was no exception. It was a slippery descent and even started raining on us (just as our guide had predicted). To our surprise, the mud helped to add a little more traction. I reached a point at the end where I could barely stand anymore, and just started laughing uncontrollably. The more I laughed, the more unstable I became. I found my composure thanks to Ashlie and our little guide, Cesar, reminding me to pay attention to my footing.
29,000 steps, 13 miles, and nearly 10,000 feet round trip - we had made it. Our muscles were burning and we couldn't wait to sit and not move. But we had made it! We lived to tell the tale and have some wonderful, hilarious memories from this experience.
If there is a next time, I hope to remember my own words and experience and be better prepared. What kind of experiences have you been unprepared for yet persevered anyway? Were you glad you went through with it?