I have taken a break from ancient culture for a few months as after a while it gets repetitive...temples in Thailand and Inca ruins in South America. Now in Central America it's the time of the Mayan's and their key archeological sites. First stop was Copan in Honduras. Neat settlement with some cool ornate carvings throughout the complex. Great to climb over the pyramids and examine the carved obelisks. Like all these sites the one thing that amazes me is that they were all lost for centuries until travellers find them or an earthquake reveals lost civilisations. The sad thing is that they have all been looted but with a bit of imagination you can understand what life was like in c.500 AD.
Key highlight for Copan is the German brewery...arguably the best beer in Honduras!! My Weissbier and Schwarzbier washed down with a Bratwurst was a welcome respite from the rice and beans throughout rest of South America!
To continue the volcano hunting season I crossed into Guatemala and Antigua being first stop. The colonial Spanish capital of Central America until 1773 when an earthquake damaged it. Today it is a bustling tourist city with many ruins but certainly a lot of character. Cobbled streets, old churches and surrounded by imposing volcanoes.
Although Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes it was Volcan Fuego that caught my interest...most active volcano in Guatemala (maybe Central America) about an hour away from Antigua. It is also very dangerous hence could only find one operator who went there...trip called the "Double Whammy" as included the summit of Volcan Acatenango at 3976m. A 36hr trek covering 22km so was tough but very rewarding. Seeing Fuego explode, feeling the ground rumble and hearing the loud bangs was fantastic...a little unnerving was the fact that we trekked to within 600m of the explosions!! It erupts every 20mins of varying strength so always keeps you on your toes. As nightfall set in we retraced our steps to camp about 3km away that provided an awesome firework display of hot lava, rocks and ash. It obviously doesn't switch off when we went to sleep so was constantly awoken by ground rumblings and bangs. In terms of magnitude it is like a normal 5th November firework display but 10 times louder and 3 km away!
Early morning start of 5am for sunrise (ish as our guide overslept) for Volcan Acatenango summit was a tough wake up call!! Steep scree to climb up with tired legs but the reward was breathtaking (literally!!) being above the clouds and vistas of the surrounding volcanoes. We were lucky with the weather as only rained whilst in our tents!!
What it made me realise is that taking a year sabbatical was 110% the best decision I could of made...after a lot of exercise, exhaustion and tough conditions we made it back to base having thoroughly enjoyed it and the realisation that at aged 60+ and retired this might not of been possible.
Final stop on my volcano adventure was Lago De Atitlan. A 300m deep lake surrounded by numerous volcanoes. A lovely spot to chill out and relax...and scuba dive to see fault lines and sunken hotels. Diving at altitude changes all the maths and can be dangerous if you don't spend time post dive to recover...life can be so tough these days!! The cold water and poor visibility was in stark contrast to Utila the previous week. What was cool were the dives of swimming through sunken hotels and houses with the final spot of being 18.6m deep and cooking an egg!! Sticking your hand into hot silt was a bizarre experience but a great finale to my volcano chase.
The area around the lake is stunning with nunerous villages dotted along the way. I again sampled some German fare thanks to my new German travel buddies at San Marcos. A hippy village full of yoga retreats and meditation centres...i signed up for the 49 day silent meditation centre on the proviso i could play Playstation! This English old dude looking like an aged Neil from the Young Ones had this great philosphy of hating the west, thinking we should live in large greenhouses to be sustainable/self sufficient and that inventions led to war and were bad things...this is from someone from London who flew across the world by plane not raft to be in Guatemala so that he could tinker with his Apple Mac on the internet smoking Philip Morris cigarettes...talk about a hypocrite!! Reminds of a great song by one of my fav bands Primal Scream. Embrace technology and the new iphone 6 that i am definately getting!!