Full moon hike on a volcano, where you watch the sunrise and get to see another volcano erupt? Count me in. Sounded fun, but I was cursing volcanoes by the time I got to the top. It was a blast, though.
Quetzeltrekkers, an amazing nonprofit group leads tours through Guatemala and Nicaragua. I can't recommend them enough - they donate all the $ they make to different nonprofits (like housing for street kids) and you just tip them - and after what an awesome job they do, you do tip them!
We started at Quetzeltrekkers HQ in Xela by packing our packs - I had my backpacking pack stuffed with a sleeping bag, warm clothes (they lent me a fleece, down jacket, hat, scarf, gloves, mittens), water (they provide), and a sleeping mat. I also brought sunglasses, lip balm, and a few other assorted things. After stuffing our packs, chatting, and eating yummy vegan soup QT gave us, we took a 20min ride in the back of a pickup truck to the mountain.
Being an ultrarunner, everyone made me start in the "fast" hiking group, which was a mistake. My asthma flared up almost instantly. I had a hard time enjoying the amazing views because I was too busy wheezing. People were AMAZING - this one French Canadian guy saw I was struggled and took my extra water bottles to save weight on my back. I had to stop periodically (as did most people) to catch my breath. I used my inhaler heaps. I love albuterol - it has saved my life like nothing else.
Towards the top, Louise from England and I were hiking alone. We chatted a bit, but were very silent due to the difficulty of the hike. It was cold and we could not believe how long it took - we didn't reach the summit until around 4:30 a.m. Towards the end, I was hallucinating with lack of sleep and hunger, and my breathing got worse and worse.
The top was instantly insanely cold. We struggled as quickly as possible to put on all of our clothes (I had on a cotton sleeveless top, a long-sleeved running technical t-shirt, a hoodie, a sweaer, a fleece, a down coat, pants, socks, mittens, hat), and stuffed ourselves inside of our sleeping bags. I couldn't even tell who I was snuggled up next to but we all were pretty close for body heat. I shivered in my sleep, a mittened hand stuffed in my armpit, another in my crotch, for heat. I slept fitfully, freezing, for nearly two hours until I heard,
"The sun's coming up!"
We all slowly rose. I took photos immediately, some of which are below. It was the most incredible sunrise I've ever seen in my entire life. It was freezing, so taking off my mittens to take photos was a big sacrifice.
After a while, we all got up. The QT made us hot water for coffee and hot chocolate. We ate PBJ and banana bread. We took photos, and watched the nearby volcano explode, which it does every 45 minutes. The insanely tough hike UP Santa Maria was suddenly worth it.
The way down was cake. I hate downhills, but it was fine. A guy from Alaska and I spent the entire time talking about failed love and our dreams. I fell about every five minutes, and no one paid heed. We were covered in dirt, but it felt good.
At the end, we took the chicken bus back to Xela. We were filthy, starving, and exhausted, but it was one of the most memorable and amazing nights of my trip.