We arrived in Antigua early afternoon and set about finding our hostel. Our new home turned out to be a wonderful madhouse; a modern day, low budget, Fawlty Towers kinda place. The owner, a lovely Russian lady, slept on a mattress behind the counter with her rum thirsty, Costa Rican boyfriend; whilst her ex husband lived in a camper van out the front. Despite the hostility between the two men, there was a great feel to the place. Backpackers had come for a night and stayed for a week such was the good vibe here. In fact, there was only one thing wrong with the place. If you asked a question, you had to listen to a hundred answers before you heard the one you needed.
We booked a two day hike up a volcano for Monday and headed out for a few drinks and some food. As the sun was shining, a roof top terrace was the obvious choice, and so we settled down for a couple of drinks and got chatting to a group of lads who had just finished studying at Cardiff Uni. They informed us of a party that was being held in a disused swimming pool and so we agreed to hook up with them later. Alas, once we had eaten, we went back to the hostel to stick on our dancing shoes and were told that the volcano climb is serious business, and you shouldn’t drink or smoke for a few days beforehand. Advice heeded, we decided on an early night.
On Sunday we hit the market to stock up on supplies. We needed food and some winter wear as the trek would be cold and demanding, and apparently the packed lunch supplied by the tour company would not be substantial. As we are on a budget we stockpiled nuts and bananas, bought children’s hats, and socks instead of gloves. Well bad pleased with our shopping trip, we dropped off our goods at the hostel and explored Antigua.
Antigua is beautiful. We walked around for ages and stumbled upon a Palm Sunday parade and so we watched that for a while. The streets were paved with colorful murals. Some were made of sand, some of leaves and even some of vegetables. It looked like a lot of hard work had gone in to it. The hard work was undone pretty quickly as the parade of floats and musicians marched down the street, followed by street cleaners who shoveled up the murals, emptying them into bins. After the parade we ate and went home to rest up before our volcano climbing adventure.
The big day arrived. We packed our bags, ate breakfast and waited for our shuttle. The shuttle arrived and drove us to our destination. We were met by a few kids who hired us sticks; a stick I didn’t want, but one I would be grateful for. We were then given a packed lunch consisting of an apple, a banana, two hard boiled eggs, two sandwiches and a poor mans pot noodle. We were also given sleeping bags and a tent which we would have to take in turns to carry. Luckily, the guy we shared a tent with, carried it the whole way up. Legend.
The walk began and it was murder from the start. The sun was beating down, the hill was steep and the ground was like quicksand. No one spoke. It was physically impossible to for a while. The only sound I could hear were my footsteps and my lungs gasping for breath. It was like a strenuous solitary confinement.
After what felt like forever, we stopped for a much needed break. One of many which would see my packed lunch slowly but surely disappear. Unbeknown to me at this point, we had forgotten to pack the bananas that I’d been banking on for breakfast the following day, and so rationing wasn’t on my mind. The ascent was slow and hard. My mind would ask itself why I was doing this to myself. My other mind would blame my first mind, and my body just kept going forward.
At long last we reached base camp and the guides set up everyone’s tents before making a fire. They were beasts. They climb the volcano three times a week. I’d be lucky to do it three times in my life. Camp was about 300 metres shy of the summit, we had that bit of the climb to look forward to early doors the next day. As you can imagine, at that altitude, it is very cold. I was bastard froze. I wished we’d gotten gloves instead of socks. The view was amazing though. We were dead lucky. The cloud cover dispersed, the active volcano next to us kept erupting, and the moon was full.
We sat round the fire eating our noodles and enjoying the occasional fire bursting out of Fuego. All of the grueling hike forgotten now. After dinner and an amazing hot chocolate we retired for the night, a four thirty am start awaited us.
We hardly slept. It was far too uncomfortable. We also didn’t have breakfast and so faced the toughest part of the climb, hungry, tired, cold and miserable. It was pitch black and blowing a gale, as one by one we struggled up the hill. The socks offered my hands little protection and I could barely grip my stick and torch. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and both of my minds were to blame. One of them could’ve stepped in and stopped me doing this. I’m glad they didn’t though. Once the sun made an appearance and I had fished the dust out of my eyes, the view was incredible. Plus, going down was a whole lot easier. Well for me anyway. Dom did her knee in and it took her ages to limp down.