Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Winter Holidays

Geoff and I had an amazing trip back to the States for the holidays! Not only did we get to see a lot of friends and family, but we also got to spend some time in the city, revisiting our favorite restaurants and checking out the current Broadway shows -- and we even managed to swing-dance for a hot second! It made us miss being back in the States, for sure, but also helped us appreciate things back in San Salvador (ie. the ridiculously warm weather and things being reasonably priced). In any case, it will likely be a good while before we get to take another vacation to the New York area, so we cherished this opportunity to catch up with everyone.

Since it is costly to fly directly from San Salvador to the States, Geoff and I had decided a few months back to try instead to fly through Guatemala. On paper, that saves us about $200 per person round-trip, which is a kickass deal. But, in reality, the bus + extra nights in a hotel + extra food expenses just about balance out the savings we would have had. And actually, the hassle of traveling by bus through Guatemala isn't worth the savings, regardless of how comfortable and luxurious those busses may be.

Still, Geoff and I thought this particular trip through Guatemala was well worth it, because we got a chance to check out Volcano Pacaya, which had been our only regret from our previous visit to Guatemala. There is a reputable tour group that takes people up the volcano at night, camps overnight, and then hikes up to the flowing lava just before sunrise. But unfortunately, 1. they're not too flexible with their dates, since they need to rally 4 people in order to make it worth their effort to lead such a trip, 2. the boss is kind of an asshole to his employees. In the end, we booked another day trip instead. The day trip only costs $10 per person, plus about $5 for entrance fee to the park and tips for the guides. The afternoon hike, which Geoff and I had gone on, left at 2pm and was supposed to catch the sunset as we were descending the volcano. But, since our group had a few old ladies and children, the group hiked extraordinarily slowly, and it actually worked out to be to our benefit. We didn't get to the flowing lava until sunset, so we saw an amazing sunset right over the lava stream, and we got to enjoy the lava in the dark before descending the hill! (Most other day-hike groups only see the lava in daylight, which just isn't the same.)

The experience was truly phenomenal, and I would highly recommend it. Although, you definitely feel when you are up there, that you are tempting fate. Even as we were climbing the volcano, the local guide pointed out chunks of rocks where lava had flown only months -- or weeks! -- ago. He said that the lava flow changes its direction or location sometimes within a day. Then, when we got to the mini-crater about 200m from the main (top) crater, the hot river of lava was breath-taking. At one point, the rocks near where Geoff had been standing collapsed, and everyone was pretty freaked out from the keen awareness that we were standing on only a thin shell of rocks above a huge reservoir of hot lava. Later, as we got further away from the lava, and we looked back, we could see two different places where the volcano was erupting, and see heavy smoke coming from the top crater. One of the guides told us "no es normal", which only hastened our steps down the mountain.

Geoff and I spent the next couple of days just relaxing in Guatemala, getting over our sickness (which we had acquired in the below-freezing weather of New York) and easing our way back home to the tropics. I posted the complete set of vacation pictures on Flickr: , which you can watch as a slideshow.

Take care! Hope you (whoever and whereever you are) had a lovely holiday season. :)

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