Thursday, March 5, 2009

Final Weekend in Xela

For our last weekend in Xela, we resolved to complete some of the things we'd either been meaning to do before we left or had enjoyed the most while living there. So, on our friend Laura's recommendation, we joined the trip our school was running (teachers are welcome as well as students) to climb Volcán Santa Maria.

The volcano towers over Xela and the surrounding valley, lording it over everything around. The peak is visible from all around the town.

To get to the top early and get the best view, you need to start the climb before dawn (5:30am, to be exact). We arrived at the trail outside Xela (by pickup) and set off in complete darkness. It was pretty cold this early in the morning, as you can probably tell from the photos!

As the sun rose, we realised that there was a lot of low cloud blocking the sun out - and possibly ruining the view. As we climbed higher though, we broke through the cloud and were treated to a magnificent view of the valley blanketed in cloud. Our early start was well rewarded.

After 4 hours, we finally arrived at the summit. The view is absolutely stunning; the photos can't do it justice, I'm afraid. From there, it's possible to see at least six other volcanoes: Tajumulco (the highest point in Central America); Pacaya, near Guatemala city; Fuego, Agua and Acatenango, near Antigua; but most spectactularly of all, Santiaguito, which is highly active and right in the shadow of Santa Maria.

As luck would have it, within 5 minutes of our arrival, Santiaguito erupted with a loud rumble and a huge cloud of volcanic gasses.

To get a feel of the eruption occuring, you need to see it in motion. Well, I did my best. Apologies for the rather shaky camera work, but here's a little video to give you an idea:

Definitely an experience we'll remember, and most likely one of the highlights of the entire trip.

Apart from climbing volcanoes, one of the other things we've loved doing in Xela is visiting the hot springs at Fuentes Georginas. As I said in a previous post, we couldn't get any photos before. This time, however, it was less steamy and Rach managed to get this fantastic shot.

On our last night, we captured this sunset view from our roof terrace. Seems apt to close the chapter on our time in Xela. Time to get back on the road!


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