After a three hour slog up the side of a volcano, this is what you find when you’ve arrived. It’s one of the weirdest stores I’ve ever seen. I can’t figure out what it sells, other than the purses you can see there, and why does it need to advertise a phone number? What possible reason could you have for calling this shop?
After taking a tuk tuk up the volcano we were on our way back to our boat when we passed a colorful garden. We asked our driver to stop and hopped out to explore. We climbed the stairs into the garden and realized this little white church and interesting statue was positioned at the far end.
The first view of Lake Atitlan was from up high on a winding road. Across the lake I could see the volcanoes I had read about. They each had a cloud sitting on top of them like a little hat. I managed to catch this one before the cloud moved on as the day heated up.
The dock in the foreground is one of the lake’s ferry stops, the little white boat is a ferry. I couldn’t figure out if there was a schedule or if they just bounced around the lake. People would wait for quite a while for a boat to turn up heading to where they were going.
Today’s shot is of one of Lake Atitlan’s many volcanoes. This was taken while a tuk-tuk driver offered tours, eventually leading to my visit to the evil saint Maximon. It is one of the weirdest experiences I’ve had. If you haven’t seen the picture and read the story, I’d recommend you click here now.
In Guatemala, just outside Antigua there’s a Macadamia nut farm, owned by a German from California, and named after Viking paradise. It’s called the Valhalla Research Center. I decided this would be an interesting place to visit. When I booked a hike up a volcano, I saw that the tour shop also offered tours to the farm and the surrounding villages. The problem was, the price would vary depending on whether or not the tour was filled up, and two days in advance there was currently nobody booked. After I said I’d have to think about it, the nice lady behind the desk mentioned that her brother was a tuk tuk driver and he could take me on the tour for a very low price. I thought this sounded like a much better solution and quickly booked the tour.
As it turned out, the volcano climb I had booked for the day before the tuk tuk ride was pushed back by a day due to inclement weather. I was in Guatemala at the beginning of the rainy season, and it was coming down harder than any rain I’ve ever seen. As a result, I had an early morning ascent scheduled followed almost immediately by a tuk tuk tour of the surrounding village.
As it turned out, I met another solo traveler from Singapore while climbing Pacaya who was looking for something to do in the afternoon. Once he’d heard my plans, he decided to join me.
The odd thing was, the rain held off all day. It was cloudy and miserable on the ashy slopes, but it wasn’t raining. Five minutes before the tuk tuk was due to pick me up the heavens opened. Luckily, when the three-wheeler arrived, the usually open parts had a nice vision obscuring plastic cover. So, off we went, two guys in a tuk tuk that felt like it was going to get washed backwards down every hill we ascended by the torrent cascading down all around us. There were times when I had to wonder if we were actually floating.
After hopping out in one of the towns and finding a couple of hundred somber looking people standing around, we sidled up to one of the onlookers to ask what was going on. My Spanish isn’t the greatest and all I could pick up was something about a husband and a wife. I interpreted that to mean it was a wedding.
We stood back and watched. Then, two coffins exited the church and were carried up the street followed by a brass band. It turned out my interpretation was incorrect. We decided to make a quick exit, but while on the way back to our trusty stead, I snapped a quick shot of it in front of the silhouetted volcano in the distance. We asked our driver where the cemetery was as the pall bearers were carrying the coffins. He told us it was the cemetery we had passed on the way into the town. It had to be two miles away and uphill, and they were going to carry them all the way there.
This arch seems to be the number one landmark to pop up when searching for Antigua, Guatemala. It’s understandable, its bright orangey-yellow color and placement in front of the Volcán de Agua make it very distinct. It was built to allow cloistered nuns in the convent to reach the school without having to set foot in public. The arch will certainly be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s visited the first capital of Guatemala. Considering that the capital was moved due to the regularity of earthquakes in the area, it’s quite amazing that it’s even still standing.
It seems like in every photo of this arch the photographer has stood a distance away using a telephoto lens to let the volcano loom large in the background. I was determined to do something different with the volcano so I decided to get close to the arch and frame the volcano beneath it. It was pretty overcast the whole time I was there so the volcano was quite obscured. When it did decide to peek out from behind the clouds, this is the shot I managed to get.
I’d decided I wanted to climb one of the four volcanoes around Antigua, Guatemala. In the end, I picked Pacaya because it’s active and you can climb up and down it in a day trip. The first time I had booked was cancelled as Guatemala was entering the wet season and the afternoon rainstorms were really intense. I switched to an early morning departure, meaning leaving my hostel at 5am.
Stepping outside I realised it was pretty overcast as I waited for the mini-van to pick me up. I also concluded that my backpack was way too heavy for the two hour climb up a volcano, so I decided to leave behind my big zoom lens. I was glad I did.
When we got to the base of the volcano, we couldn’t see it through the clouds. It didn’t take long until the forced march up the volcano began. My guide moved fast and didn’t make any effort to stop and rest. He also decided to skip the many viewpoints along the hike as it was too cloudy.
I had looked around the group and realized that, with my pack of camera gear (and less than ideal fitness), I was probably going to be one of the people at the back of the group. That being said, I’m not one to ask for rest. Once, I went canyoning in Slovenia along with my mate Greg from university and John from Bermuda. We put our wetsuits on at the bottom of the hill and then had to walk up the steep paths leading to the point where we’d follow the river back down. We asked our guide how long the walk was and he said about an hour and a half. We were supposed to say if we wanted a rest along the way, but all three of us were stubborn and wouldn’t admit we needed a break. We completed the walk in an hour and a half and our guide was shocked! He said he always says it’s an hour and a half walk but most people take over two hours to get there.
Before heading up Pacaya, I’d decided I’d probably be alright. There were two girls from New York with us, who didn’t seem to do a lot of hiking. If anyone was going to crack and ask for a break, I thought it’d be these girls. Twenty minutes into the hike I was already in agony. I was shocked that no-one had asked for a rest yet and couldn’t believe the two girls I’d picked out hadn’t made a peep. I was sure they’d want to stop soon. Then, I looked over my shoulder and discovered why they hadn’t asked to stop.
They were on horseback!
So, I went on up the volcano asking myself why I put myself through these things. It was two hours straight up, with one break. I kept wondering if it was going to be worth it. Then, we emerged from the treeline and there it was – definitely worth it.
Operation Horseshoe Bay
First, a quick note on this. In case you’re wondering why I haven’t posted any photos from my successful sunrise at Horseshoe it’s because I wasn’t as successful as I’d thought. For some reason I had my ISO cranked right up. This has resulted in too much noise in the original images for me to merge them to HDR. Always keep your ISO as low as possible!
So, I’m starting again. Tomorrow I’ll be checking the weather reports and picking a few days I think will be good for the sunrise down there. Tonight though, I’ve used the Photographer’s Ephemeris to realise that it’s a good time to photograph the smallest drawbridge in the world. So, I’ll be heading up there in about an hour. Using this tool has also allowed me to spot a few other areas nearby that should be good at sunset.
A friend of mine mentioned that the moon is currently appearing larger than usual, so I’ve also identified a spot to capture the moonrise from, something I’ve never done before. I just hope the sky’s clear for long enough.
Sun Behind Clouds Behind Volcano Behind Clouds Behind Farm Land and the Boundary of Volcano National Park
Rwanda’s landscape really is stunning. Every corner leads to breathtaking views. Here you can see the typical Rwandan terraced farming in front of one of the volcanoes that gives Volcanoes National Park its name. It’s also pretty clear here why Rwanda is known as the Land of a Thousand Hills.
Mike has commented on a few of my posts and mentioned on Tea Time that this intensive level of farming must result in massive pressure on local reserves/wildlife. One thing I found interesting, while driving through the hills, was just how defined the line between the farmland and the national park is. If you look at the volcano in this image, just below the cloud level, you can see this line.