Fuego: A Volcano’s Volcano

Fuego erupting at sunset

Fuego erupting at sunset

Fuego welcomed us to Antigua on our first morning with a big eruption that made our day.  It is currently the world’s most active volcano since beginning to erupt steadily in 2002.  Perched high on the side of Acatenango, we had an intimate view of this hyperactive strombolic volcano (one which has it molten material above the earth’s crust–meaning it has an easier time of erupting since it doesn’t have to break through the crust).  We experienced our first eruption, not long after arriving in camp after summitting Acatenango.  It began with a low throaty rumble that careened from the crater followed by the telltale of grey plumes of ash laden smoke rising suddenly from the cone cumulating with explosions of molten material that cascaded down the slopes of the volcano.  A feast for the senses from our safe location!

The next time Fuego erupted, it was dark.  Instead of the grey smoke, we were privileged to see towering fountains of glowing red molten lava showering forth from the volcano.  Rivers of molten red ran downhill until they cooled enough to stop moving.  The crashing of boulders reverberated in the chasm between the two peaks.  Each time, the throaty rubble signaled eruption, we raced to unzip the tent fast enough to take into another spectacle.  We unzipped at least six times the first night!

We were awoken the next morning, not by the earth tremoring from a Fuego eruption, but from the sun baking us into another day.  After a yummy breakfast, we hiked down to the saddle between Fuego and Acatenango.  We would climb as high as Fuego and good, smart, safety judgment would allow.  The climb was step above the saddle and the ground shook as Fuego let loose a massive eruption.  One person said, ‘Fuego must be angry that we are climbing up.”  I said, “Let’s reframe that, Fuego is excited to see us and is showing off.”  (of course, Fuego is neither but anthropomorphizing is such fun).

After another tough climb, we reached the ridge that led to the summit of Fuego.  The wind was howling once again (temps reached freezing at night and with a wind chill it was quite cool up there) and we moved along the ridge as far as it made sense (given where we’d seen molten material landing during recent eruptions).  Given that watched pots never boil and watched volcanoes never pop, Fuego got a bit shy (or stubborn) and didn’t erupt while we were on the near ridge.

We decided to head back down (as sometimes it can be five to six hours between eruptions and we’d just seen a big one on the way up) and started off the ridge.  Not five minutes later, just when we were far enough down that we couldn’t see Fuego’s summit, it blew!!!

Fuego erupting as we headed down from the ridge

Fuego erupting as we headed down from the ridge

A massive cloud of smoke and ask and we missed it!  I was bummed.  It could have waited a bit longer so we were further away from our high spot!  Back at the saddle, we enjoyed a snack (and a few tales of woe about not having waited a bit longer on the ridge) and then hiked back to our amazing campsite.

We were treated to another amazing afternoon and evening of volcano watching and were very sad this morning when it came time to pack up the tents, turn off the volcano channel and return to Antigua for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve).  As we walked through town, the few shops and restaurants that were open had pine needles spread thickly on the floor–a Guatemalan tradition for fiestas and from what we hear, there will be much celebration tonight at midnight!  Now, as we look back to that view of Fuego and Acantenango that we first had a week ago, everything has changed.  By hiking and climbing their steep slopes, we’ve come to know those two volcanoes much more personally, rather like family.

Merry Christmas to all.  May there be peace and joy on earth.

To see more pictures of Fuego: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=587955&id=509940550&l=800e46f265

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