Posted by: janetwright2guatemala | 04/21/2011

Mi Cumpleaños Inolvidable- A birthday to remember!!

20 abril 2011- miércoles 

“Too early!” was my thought last Saturday as the tiny black travel alarm stung into my consciousness…  “it’s my birthday after all, so I should get to sleep in!” Instead I dressed quickly in layers, anticipating both extremes of temperature. Soon my volunteer friends, Claire, Yuna, and I headed out into the early dawn to catch our taxi into Xela…Humberto, our driver,  looked far more awake than us. Hmm…a foggy morning, but heck, we were now committed. We tumbled out in front of a church, awaiting the bus to Llanos del Pinal…4-5 buses passed inbound within 15 minutes. How big is this town we wondered? Across the street, a flower vendor used a bunch of dried flowers to sweep dirt from the sidewalk…creative.

How much farther?

Soon we were on our way, through the twists and turns of Xela streets, leading to our destination of Volcan Santa Maria…a cone-shaped volcano 12,375 ft tall. Other volunteers arrived, including the crucial Esther who would lead us correctly, having taken a wrong turn the last time. As with every hike, each of us settled into our pace and subgroup, and although in the rear group I was thankful to not be the last. The path was steep, and challenged all of us as we wound our way through the pine trees, pausing frequently in the small patches of shade. A group of American college students passed by us, collecting trash and sharing that they have a 9-day trip of service projects in Guatemala. Nice. Other hikers who descended had spent the night, looking dusty and ready for a real bed. Amusedly, I watched a  small group of French hikers, clad in their LaFuma brand clothes and gear (REI equivalent), step lively  in their descent, looking spiffy and ready for a photo shoot. I envied them their high-tech hiking poles.  With effort I managed to speak a few phrases in French, but my brain doesn’t like to switch quickly…. I am now stuck on the Spanish language channel.

Above the clouds on Santa Maria!

A grassy meadow provided a nice break before the real ascent…yikes, it was already feeling challenging. More sunscreen and words of encouragement. Despite  living at 6-7,000 ft in my town, climbing steep trails is still a challenge.  Our hike began at 7:45am, and nearly 4hrs later I was greeted with the end of the treeline  near the top…I pushed myself  faster at the end, watching in dismay as clouds continued to roll in. No! I want a view after all of this…supposedly one can see the Pacific ocean and other volcanoes, Fuego, Agua and more. Well, we saw the outline of other mountains, but alas, our late start had cost us the clear view! …no great disappointment because we (I) had made it!! I had quite a few more years on me than my companions, so I basked in their respect and admiration.  Happily, they treated me with the “Happy Birthday” song.

Going down was both dusty and nerve-wracking…sliding on volcanic silt, and trying to stay upright. The huge group of Guatemalan school kids descending with us were each kicking up dust storms worthy of PigPen in Charlie Brown comics. Finally I tied a scarf around my face, looking entirely like a bandit  with a sunhat….a hiker heading up laughed at me, “Just you wait” I thought. Despite their antics, we still appreciated that the Guatemalan kids were also collecting trash on their way down…nice to see the mountain cleaned up by various groups. Some Mayan men and women also headed up for religious ceremonies, humbling me as the women clad in scanty sandals easily carted children on their backs.   About 2 ½ hrs later we finally reached the end, and our knees thanked us for the break in constant tensing. An adult church group of Guatemalans was heading up with their overnight gear, some  looking fatigued even at the beginning…”Buena suerte” I thought…good luck.

Celebration after the climb!!

For a few days later my leg muscles complained, but calmed a bit after relaxing in our  baños termales ( hot springs)….the next volcano ascent will need to await another day, but I am proud to have hiked two volcanoes in the last 2wks. Yep, hanging out above the clouds on Santa Maria was a memorable celebration for this birthday!!



  1. congratulations and happy b ‘day you look wonderful with all that fresh air. martha morrison

  2. What a great way to celebrate your birthday! Hiking two volcanoes in two weeks that should keep you young and fit. Great picture of you above the clouds on Santa Maria.

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