This morning we awoke at 4:30 am to catch a 5 am bus. We arranged a guided trip through Adrenalina Tours to climb inactive Volcan Santa Maria, the volcano we can see from our bedroom window. Xela is at 2335 m (7780 ft) elevation, so it is chilly in the mornings and evenings, and we were warned that it is cold on the volcano. We bundled up in our warm clothes, gloves, hats, and long underwear, and started the hike under a half moon. After an hour, the sun rose and we were shedding clothes, throwing them in our day packs. However, as we continued to near the peak of Santa Maria at 3772 m (12,573 ft), a cold wind started blowing and a dense fog settled over the mountain trail.
After watching for 10 minutes, a stream of smoke erupted from Santiaguito, and we watched the growing cloud billow high into the sky. After 20 minutes of miserable cold and shivering, we couldn’t take the arctic winds anymore, and begged our guide to lead us back down Santa Maria. By the time we were halfway down, it was sunny and warm again, so we could better enjoy the views of the mountains around us, the farms and towns below us, and the wildflowers that grew on each side of the trail. Chris finally regained feeling in his numb hands and pathetically complained about frostbite. Streams of people continued past us climbing to the peak, many of them grandmothers carrying children on their backs or bundles on their heads, wearing beautiful indigenous hand-woven dresses, and hiking in heels and flimsy sandals. They really put us to shame as we battled the elements decked out in expensive Gortex jackets, nylon pants, fleece gloves, and hiking boots. (Click here to see a video of our day on the volcano)