Yo necesito un descanso. That´s all I could think. It was on the tip of my tongue. Yo necesito un descanso. It was pride, it was stupidity, it was my own refusal to show weakness. Yo necesito un descanso. It was so easy. I knew the Spanish. I just needed to say it. Yo necesito un descanso. I kept repeating it over and over in my head, hoping it would distract me from my burning lungs.
¡Yo necesito un descanso! I need a break. Finally I just said it. The world did not crash down around me, my friends didn´t scoff and laugh, God didn´t smite me with a thunderbolt. We sat down for 5 minutes while I caught my breath, and then we continued on.
Let me catch you up. Saturday night, at midnight, me and five of my buddies from my Spanish School, Juan Sissay, met a guide in El Parque Central so we could climb a volcano, el Volcan Santa Maria. Our guide, Carlos, directed us to two waiting taxis. The taxis took us the short jaunt to the base of the volcano, about 25 minutes away, over what could loosely be considered roads. I´ve driven over some, shall we say, harsh, terrain in cars completey illsuited (a overstuffed minivan on a washed out backcountry road in Big Bear, a good old fashioned camry on a potholed, vertical dirt path barely suitable for 4 wheel drive, which I did not have, in Colorado) but this was ridiculous. These cars were probably 25 years old, clearly a little scant on the upkeep, with a cracked windshield so dirty I could barely see through it. In the middle of the night. Welcome to Guatemala.
At about 12:30 on an absolutely perfect night--clear and fresh and just a little cool--we began our ascent of the 3,772 meter volcano--a climb of about 1500 meters. (It took me a little while to remember that meters are BIGGER than feet...that´s 12,375 feet at the summit. Probably good I didn´t realize that before I left.) Six extranjeros, one guide, and four stray dogs that had actually made the trek many times before with good ol´ Carlos. At first I tried to kick the puppies away--starting a rather intense hike with rabies was not my idea of a good time. But the dogs quickly became our companions, completely harmless and rather good motivators.
Though I´m no mountain climber, I consider myself in relatively good shape. After all, Erin Reeves and I just returned from THE most badass trip of all time, where we did some pretty strenuous hiking through the Rockies in Colorado and New Mexico. I don´t exactly have a butt of steel, but I thought it was something close. At least firm rubber. How wrong I was.
To my credit, I was a tad sick, which already made breathing difficult. And my friends are all a bit older (some more than a bit)--and mostly experienced hikers. Needless to say, I dragged behind. I thought I would at least be better off than the smoker who had drank herself silly for two days and barely slept. But she was born in Minnesota and now lives in Colorado with her dog and Subaru. She jogs up 14ers for fun on weekends. Not so much.
Thus we are brought back to my first point. I needed a goddamned break. I couldn´t figure out why my companions didn´t need one, and I was loath to be the one asking to stop. I was never more than 20 or 30 feet behind, but finally I was seriously concerned about my ability to finish the hike. The fucking straight up climb to the top of a volcano in Guatemala. So we rested, and life went on.
We actually got to the top in record time, according to Carlos--about 4 hours. I have no idea how many steps, how many feet, how many miles. I just know that as I stood on top of a volcano in Guatemala, the freezing wind drying my sweaty skin, watching an active volcano shoot off redhot lava into the dark below me, the lights of Xela shining in the distance, all I could think was "I need to work out more."
It was truly incredible to watch the sunrise from my lofty position. It was a sunrise just like any other, except that I was on top of a volcano, speaking Spanish (sort of), watching a foreign terrain appear around me through the fog. That just doesn´t happen to me everyday. My friends complained about the cold, swapped makeshift breakfasts, or chatted about nothing in particular, but I was perfectly to content to stand there in my Lara Croft Tomb Raider shorts and hiking boots (my host brother Liam even said I looked like her...but with a smaller chest...a little awkward...) and my badass REI rainjacket and stare down at my accomplishment. Booyah.
As we practically ran down the mountain, making that in record time, too, I refused to fall behind again. Even though my legs shook with embarassing frequency, I stayed in front the entire time. I was too out of breath to participate in my friends´conversations, but I wasn´t about to tell them that. I was just in a hurry--streaming past exotic tropical plants, marveling that I had really climbed up this ridiculously steep path, tripping over the dogs and my own feet. I fell once, barely stopping. It wasn´t until we got to the bottom that I realized my leg was gushing blood. I got brownie points with my oh-so-hardcore companions that I had kept running anyway. Why this matters to me...
The real beauty of this day is how deliciously unreal it felt. Hayley Currier. Guatemala. Volcano. Middle of the night. Near death. Lava. The top. Aaaaaah.