Our plea for an early call ignored, but fortunately Val was up at 8, so no great harm done. Breakfast an improvement upon dinner, + correspondingly expensive. They make a sort of runny porridge here, called mash, which is tasty + filling. And then we said cheerio to Santa Maria, a town we found really thoroughly disappointing, + set off up the volcano. The path out took us thro’ the town cemetery, thus serving, I suppose, as a salutary reminder. The road up was very steep, so that we both found it very hard going, Val in particular really struggling for breath. Then it was my turn to suffer, when my legs seemed to drain of all strength, + I had to stop every few yards. Eventually, we found the best way to keep going was to amble along very slowly, at about the pace of a romantic hand-in-hand stroll, tho’ not nearly so pleasant.
Then, an unexpected boon. A group of workers, heading for the antennae at the top of the volcano, came along in a pick-up, + gave us a ride. It wasn’t all that far, because a little way up the road had been wiped thro’ by a landslide, but it came at just the right time for us. And we still weren’t anything like as close to the top as we’d thought… or hoped. There was another hour’s heavy slog, with Val in trouble again, before suddenly + unexpectedly we arrived at the lip of the crater. We’d arrived at the lowest point of the crater’s edge, with the antenna still a fair way above us, but we thought we’d earned a break, + cut open a melon we’d brought, sharing it with the workers, who’d come up behind us. The weather had been teasing us all the way up, offering us glimpses of blue before the cloud swirled in again, + we were pretty much enveloped in grey up there. The crater was disappointing too, filthy with litter, + a scrappy little shrine in it. However, we did climb to the highest point, + just momentarily the cloud swept away + gave us a beautiful view – the sun shining down on fluffy white clouds below us, + the top of another volcano showing thro’, looking just a stone’s throw away.
Got a lift most of the way back down, then the bus back to Antigua, a hot shower in the Refugio, a great meal, + a couple of beers in the Galeria, where we were able to say goodbye to everyone we wanted to. (Oh, some fabulous banana cake, too!)
Climbing has always been my least favourite part of walking, but at least we finally stumbled upon the best approach, which is to take it very slowly and steadily.
And yes, this was to be our final evening in Antigua. Next stop is Lake Atitlan, much recommended to us by various travellers: a beautiful lake surrounded by six volcanoes and six small villages – I think that’s right, at any rate.