Having reached Antigua earlier than expected and wishing to sample more of the city that weekend when it would be Semana Santa (Easter weekend), I took a chicken bus out of town on my first day and visited the nearby town of Santa Maria de Jesus about 30mins away.
The town is charming itself. Many of the women wear traditional colonial dresses, huipiles, which are constructed from the most beautiful patterned material which gives the town a very distinct feel – that and that the town was completely void of other tourists, I believe I was the only gringa there.
Sitting high above the town is Volcan Agua, a distinct peak rising more than 3500m above sea level. The volcano is very impressive and is covered in the most beautiful green foliage. Attracted towards a good hike as I always am, I headed towards the base of the volcano to find a guard standing at a dilapidated church near the start of the volcano track. He told me I needed to pay 40 Quetzales for a guide, I told him I only had 3 Quetzales and I just wanted to look. He said that was ok.
The base tracks of the volcano were filled with farmers, horses, mules and stray dogs. The volcanic soil makes the place a very fertile place to plant crops and it was rather intriguing seeing all these people in colonial dress carrying what looked like extremely heavy sacks on their back. They were all very nice and greeted me “buenas!”
The track was dusty and strewn with rubbish, and I followed a sign pointing me towards a “crater”.
I don’t know when the idea to climb the volcano popped into my head. I had originally planned to only walk for an hour or so and return. This turned into a 5-6 hour trek up a very lonely hillside.
The tracks began to get steeper and steeper. And suddenly I was out of farmland and into the deep, dark wilderness. Well, not quite, the track was actually quite nice, bordered by green trees which shaded me from the sun. I even managed to purchase a banana at about 2500m from a Tienda which consisted of a shack and a very nice old man.
Honestly, I have to admit that climbing this volcano on my own without much water or food was one of the stupidest things I have ever done. I carried on up the mountain and soon found that I was the only one on the tracks – the farms disappeared and so did some of the groups of Guatemalans who were also hiking the volcano. But I kept on going. “You can’t stop now” I thought, “almost there”.
It got very cold at about 3250m and the air got quite thin. The view was the most extraordinary thing, I literally felt so high up and I think I was slightly delirious which made it all the more impressive.
Becoming slightly hysterical at around 3550m, and realising that it was actually quite late and I needed to get back to the town before the last bus left to Antigua, I called it quits. Coming down again, I met a lot of the groups I had passed before – they were going to camp out overnight, so I didn’t feel too bad for ascending and descending as far as I did all in one day. I basically ran most of the way down too, slipping and falling sometimes. To put it in perspective, Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales is 1500m. Indeed the guard at the dilapidated church was very impressed with my efforts and congratulated me upon my return.
Passing back through the sweet little town, I ran into a procession with a brass band and drums for Semana Santa, but unfortunately could not stay long to watch it and had to run for the chicken bus.
Upon reaching my hostel back in Antigua with aching legs, I decided to look up Volcan Agua. About the third result down on google was a post on the Lonely Planet Forum “DON’T HIKE VOLCAN AGUA – ROBBERIES”.
It turns out Volcan Agua is known for its robberies – machete wielding thieves who target hikers. Although the post was from 2009, it is still not advised to hike the volcano alone. Especially a solo girl; who knows what could have happened. Soldiers aim to shoot and kill the robbers, but the place is still not completely safe.
Hiking Volcan Agua alone with little water and no food – pretty much the stupidest thing I have ever done. And I have done a lot of stupid things.