If I had a bucket list, it would include getting a tattoo, snorting cocaine off somebody’s stomach, and setting up a business renting pets by the month for people who aren’t actually sure yet whether they want a dog shitting on their carpet. One thing my bucket list definitely wouldn’t include is roasting marshmallows with an Amish lady on a volcano in Guatemala, simply because I’ve now done that. Achievement unlocked.
Here’s what happened.
Firstly, I bought a plane ticket to Guatemala. That doesn’t really need explaining. Secondly, I ate some bacon. Turkey bacon, microwaved, crispy, not the best. Thirdly, I went to the airport and flew to Guatemala by way of Miami. After landing, I went straight to the person offering a shuttle to Antigua, having heard Guatemala City wasn’t actually paradise — one website described it as offering a “strong travel experience”, presumably in the same way that a public toilet at a music festival offers a “strong bathroom experience”.
Antigua, by contrast, involves a lot of Spanish colonial architecture, quiet coffee shops, Spanish-learning schools, a tree-covered main square with a fountain, and a general air of unannounced satisfaction like they’d just discovered masturbation. The cobbled streets are beautiful to wander because at the end of them looms one of three volcanoes, making for some great photos.
Unfortunately, volcanoes aren’t like hills or mountains. They don’t sit there passively through the ages with an intimidating grandeur, a monument to history like a grandmother sitting in a rocking chair talking about times past. No, volcanoes are more like a borderline-alcoholic stepfather, fiery, abusive, prone to belching. And like an abusive stepfather, volcanoes are often violent, only instead of a thrashing with a belt across an already-sore backside, they pour down ash and ooze lava and destroy the entire city. Throw in some earthquakes and hurricanes and you’ve got yourself a bit of a problem.
But the people didn’t seem to mind. They’re friendly, they smile when you try and fail to ask for something in Spanish (donde esta el boulangerie, s’il vous plait?), and they don’t pester you endlessly to buy handicrafts. Maybe that’s what happens when you live somewhere where one day you could wake up in your bed on a pile of rubble in the middle of what used to be a residential neighborhood and go “Huh, it’s gone. Better go buy a broom and start tidying up.”
The next day I joined a 10-person tour to Pacaya volcano. Well, 9 people and an Amish lady. I feel like she deserves some extra recognition, not because she was Amish, but because she was the most irritating person I’ve ever met. She interrupted everyone, spoke obnoxiously loudly, and had to be center of attention all the time. She traveled the world “spreading the Amish word”, even though she herself had no problem flying across continents and using phones being a normal 21st century American twenty-something, and she told us stories about a time she worked on a reality TV show involving the Amish. Okaaay…
We hiked up a path through the trees (Amish lady was on a horse, naturally), then came to this place:
We roasted marshmallows in crevasses for a while. Nobody had yet taken the liberty of pushing Amish lady down a hill but I’d forgotten about her and was hanging around with a 30-year-old guy from New Zealand. He had a 19-year-old girlfriend who was a lifeguard, had a six-figure salary managing a property investment company, and was “addicted to volcanoes.” Other people I met were the long-term vagabond who’d been moving from continent to continent and seasonal job to seasonal job for three years, the woman who provides art therapy to abused children across Central America, or the young couple who didn’t even both speak the same language fluently who had gotten married last week on a beach in Guyana. For some of them, like that last one, my bullshit meter creeps dangerously high. But my point is, you never meet someone who says, “I’ve spent 15 years filing reports for a company that makes paperclips and in my free time I volunteer at a library.”
I ate my browned marshmallow on a stick.
Then we hiked higher as the sun was setting, getting some nice photos:
Right after dusk, when the sky is dark and purple, there’s a good chance of seeing a red glow in one of the other volcanoes. Sadly for us, it clouded over at exactly the wrong time and we all stood there lamely watching a volcano act like a mountain. No miniature volcanic eruption for me, but I did at least get to roast a marshmallow on a volcano with an Amish lady, however annoying she was.