Hiking Up A Volcano

By Chelsea Murray

   My father can be the most aggravating person in the world, especially when he is pushing me to climb up a volcano in the blistering heat of Guatemala. Every teenager can admit that their parents drive them batty, but my father has a very unique talent to persuade me to do things that I would never do in my wildest dreams. He persuaded me to run for class president, to stand up for myself, to get up on stage in a big clattering tin costume as the Tinman in the Wizard of Oz, and to challenge and question everything. These are all good things, but initially it felt like a wet fish being slapped in my face.

    My dad’s pushiness is why I journeyed to the top of a volcano and back during my vacation, when I should have been relaxing by a pool and studying my AP History book for my exam.

   My dad and I had packed our bags and had made our way down to Guatemala for spring break. I have to admit, I was very excited to immerse myself in Spanish, a language I had been studying for what seems like a lifetime. We had attempted to go down to Guatemala together a few times, but things always went wrong.

   The first time we made it to the airport and were checking our bags when they announced that my passport had expired a few days before. We basically ate a thousand dollars from our nonrefundable plane tickets and took a road trip down South through Mississippi and Louisiana instead. Our second attempt to go down to Guatemala didn’t work when we had some family drama last August right as we were planning to go. It felt like it was against God’s plan for us to ever get to this place together, but when we were hovering in the air this past April, flying towards our destination, it started to feel quite real.

   The first night we adjusted to the heat and the culture shock. The language, food, clothes, people and the town of Antigua where we stayed was perfect for a sixteen year old trying to implement her Spanish skills. I quickly learned that I needed to brush up on my use of the language. Back in the United States, I thought I was good because I had been studying it since 5th grade, but in Guatemala I was derailed. That first day I was lucky if I could squeak out an “Hola” to the waitress.

   The first part of the trip consisted of studying, eating Guacamole, people watching, and having a normal vacation, which I can honestly say I’ve seldom had with my father. It was relaxing and I was surprised that Dad was capable of going on this type of vacation, but it seems I spoke too soon. He found out some information about a hike up a volcano and of course we couldn’t pass it up. He asked me first if I wanted to keep doing what we had been doing the past few days or if I wanted to go on a hot, day long hike up a volcano. I chose the former and wanted to continue to relax before my life kicked into gear again when we returned to Morris. Of course, whatever Dad says goes, so we ended up purchasing two tickets to go on this grueling hike the next day. Needless to say, I was not all that excited about a massive hike with my old man. I haven’t been into exercising since soccer season ended in November. I did not go into the situation with a positive attitude.

    I pried my eyes open at the crack of dawn in our hotel room and couldn’t believe I was awake that early. I dragged myself out of bed, threw on some clothes and Dad and I went out on the patio area and ordered some breakfast before the shuttle came to get us. The only good thing about that morning was that I was about to receive a pot of the best hot chocolate on the planet. When I was little I used to watch ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and wonder what Wonka’s river of chocolate actually tasted like. The second I tasted Guatemalan hot chocolate, I knew. It was a creamy, wonderful, rich, chocolaty liquid that ran down my throat and made me forget that I was about to go trekking up a volcano in an hour. A few minutes later a small man with a clipboard came up to the desk and we knew that it was our shuttle coming to get us. We boarded the bus and it was filled with an eclectic mix of people in their mid-twenties. No one spoke most of the way to the volcano. It was a 60-minute ride and everyone was catching up on their sleep and mentally preparing themselves for the hike.

   I was physically in trouble right off the bat. The first ten minutes of the hike was a steep up hill climb and our guide was moving like the Road Runner. I was out of breath and starting to feel ill and we weren’t even a sliver of the way through the hike. I kept shooting my Dad evil looks, which of course he documented on film. We had a short break after the first ten-minute climb. I was hot, out of breath, and felt nauseous, but everyone else seemed to be fine. I was the youngest person in our group and science says that I should have been doing jumping jacks while the other people caught their breath, but it was the other way around. Even though we were in Guatemala, climbing up a volcano, which is an amazing experience to tell stories about, I was not happy.

   I felt awful.

   It’s the same feeling that I get after the first soccer practice of the season. When we continued the hike my arms and legs felt like jelly and my head was spinning and I felt like I was going to barf.

   The second time we stopped I listened to the guide jabber in Spanish while a few group members smoked cigarettes and chugged water. I squatted down and waited for the group to continue onward without me. Dad thought I was being a baby, but a few seconds later I threw up the contents of my breakfast, and a banana that I had ingested on the bus. After wards, I felt better. This hike was already turning into quite the story to come back and tell my friends, ‘I threw up on a volcano!’

   I felt rejuvenated after I threw up, so I kept going. I convinced myself that it couldn’t be that much further to the top, we had already hiked such a long way. The group was far ahead of us, but Dad and I kept walking. They stopped to take a break and silly me, I thought it might be the end. Actually we were at the half way point with the most strenuous portion of the hike still ahead. The group had stopped on a plateau that had a gorgeous view of Pacaya volcano and all the lava it had spewed out over the years. It was an amazing sight. The guide was talking in Spanish to our group, which he now referred to as his ‘familia’. I picked up a few phrases and my spirits dropped. We were going to continue up the volcano and it would take another hour or so. He said it would be hard and challenging and to watch out for slipping rocks.

   I took another look up the steep volcano and swallowed hard.

   I was going to have to climb to the top of that? I’m very much afraid of heights and was not looking forward to walking on slippery pieces of rock on the edge of a cliff. “Vamanos!” the tour guide said. He had mentioned that certain members could stay on the plateau and wait for the group to return if they wished.

   I looked up at Dad and sighed. I wasn’t going to quit if I came this far. I knew from this point on that this was going to turn into a mantra for my Dad. Every time I feel like giving up on school work, or during a play, or in life in general, he’d just say ‘Pacaya’. I knew at that moment that it would turn into an inspirational story if I could make it to the top.

   I will admit right now, that this was one of the most physically taxing experiences of my 17 years on this planet. I was out of breath most of the way up and stopped every few steps and sat down on the cooled lava. If it wasn’t for my Dad’s pushing and his painfully bad singing of the “Rocky” theme, I wouldn’t have made it to the top. At the time, my father was so annoying that I was ready to push him off the volcano. He was so irritating, but looking back, I really appreciate it.

   My Dad really drives me up the wall when he’s pushing me to study for SAT’s or climb a volcano, but I know that in the long run he is only doing it to help me out. Everyone needs a little push here or there to be able to get from point A to point B. I’m slowly learning how to push myself, but until I get it down, I know I have my father there to help me out.

   We huffed and puffed our way up the steep volcano. A little yellow dog had joined us on the journey and he stayed with us and watched and seemed to help push me along as well. I thought if this scrawny, little, weeny dog can do it, so could I.

  After what seemed like a lifetime of toil we made it to the top. It was one of the most gratifying feelings of my life. I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had trucked through the difficulty and made it to the top. It was an awesome sight. The volcano was spewing out molten lava pieces like the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. It was gorgeous. The guide explained that just days before the area we were standing on had been closed off, because lava was raining down on that spot. It could have killed people, so hikers were not allowed to come up for a few days.

   In all actuality it was still a pretty dangerous spot. I took a look around and spotted all the strange people that had made it up Pacaya with us. Our new familia. There was this one blonde couple from Austria that were simply gorgeous. The man stood and posed for a picture and he channeled Brad Pitt’s character of Achilles in Troy. He was well built and had this air of godliness to him, but when I attempted a conversation with him on the hike, he was not very nice.

   On the way back down the volcano Dad and I seemed to have been given a treat for our climbing effort. We met and became friends with three very personable Israeli guys in their mid twenties. One of the guys, Ofer, was one of the most out going and fun people I have ever met. He was completely interested in acquiring new knowledge. He wanted to know all the Presidents, which disgusted me, since I had to take an AP History exam the next week. We helped him out anyways. Ofer stayed interested in his history lesson right through to George.W Bush. I’ve never seen someone that so genuinely wanted to learn. The whole way down I chatted with one of his friends, Ariel.

   It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. We talked about life, religion, Michael Jackson and anything else that came to mind. We are both Jewish and I’ve never spoken to an Israeli person about the Jewish religion before, so it was a eye opening experience for me. He was a very smart and interesting looking man and he made the hike down the volcano seem like a piece of cake. Our whole familia seemed to have become closer and bonded on the trek up the volcano.

   The bus ride back was buzzing with conversation and laughter. We had all made it up a tough hike and back down safely. We all had something in common now.

   After the bus ride, Dad and I invited our three new Israeli friends out for dinner. They gladly agreed. We parted ways, but not before they gave me kisses on the cheek. Dad counted and in the entire time that we spent with them I received over 20 kisses from them. What a treat for going up a volcano. We had a very nice dinner with them. We all talked about issues in Israel and the world. They were all very interested in my life and in my school work and what I planned to do in the future. We had a great time with our new friends. We now have three friends in Israel when we travel there in the future. Over the months we have corresponded with them via-email.

   Besides the life lessons I learned from climbing the volcano, I learned that cool things can happen once you achieve something hard, like meeting these guys. I would have never met them if I didn’t climb Pacaya that day.

   As much as I would have liked to have sat around and relaxed on my spring break, it was a good experience to climb Pacaya. It seemed to make me stronger and make me feel like I could do anything I wanted if I tried hard. It was quite a story to tell when I came

   (When the school year begins at the end of August, Chelsea will be a Senior at Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield. She plans to attend college for Acting and Singing and continue working for the Waterbury Observer.)