Dec 4, 2013

Guest Post 3 - Santa Maria Full Moon

Interested in a Quetzaltrekkers hike? But not sure if it's really going to be everything that those (somewhat-full-of-themselves) Sexy QT Guides crack it up to be? Well... being a Sexy QT Guide myself, I can't really help you out... but if you want to hear the report straight from the words of a recent client, check this out!

Guest Post #3, Written by Travis McMullen, Client on November 2013s Full Moon Santa Maria Trek. 
The night sky. It was always only about the night sky – the moon and the stars. The statement has multiple meanings: the way it illuminated the path ahead, how peaceful the night seemed, how clear the stars and constellations were, just how the full moon seemed the glow – regardless of whether or not you were looking at it. That night was all about the sky.
Once a month, Quetzaltrekkers offers a full moon Santa Maria hike, where clients get to hike up Santa Maria during the full moon, commencing at 10:00pm. A few quick facts about Santa Maria:
  • It provides the perfect mirador (scenic overlook) of Volcano Santiaguito – one of the most active volcanic craters in the world – erupting every 30 minutes to 60 minutes
  • Elevation of 3,772 metres (12,375 feet)
  • Stratovolcano
  • Its eruption in 1902 was one of the biggest eruptions of the 20th century
It was a cool November night when I, along with other clients, partook in the full moon trek. On the bumpy truck ride to the starting point, the cool breeze tested our layers of clothing and left the face feeling cold. As the sides of the truck were quite high, we had no choice but to let our gaze wander up, taking in the full moon and all the different stars as the truck weaved through the city and into the surrounding countryside. That was when the mind really started to appreciate it all. You can climb a mountain or volcano at any time, so during the full moon, it became clear it was all about the sky.
Once off the truck, it was gear on and up the volcano. Given the ambient light produced by the full moon, only a few headlamps were needed for the trek. The combination of moon and artificial light illuminated the ground below us so we could see where we were hiking.
Despite the frigid air, we were soon heating up from movement and we paused to start shedding layers, many of us going all the way down to just a t-shirt. Cool air met with warm body heat, counterbalancing to keep us slightly warm as we continued.
Throughout the night and early into the next morning, the ascent became gradually more and more steep, becoming more taxing as we neared the summit. The elevation also started to come into play, an excuse I used when I started to confuse the landscapes I was looking at. As we crested up above the clouds, the moon illuminated the clouds below us in a beautiful grey tinge. With the other mountains visible in a dark black outline, and the lights of the surrounding towns illuminating the points, it looked like the clouds were a large lake—similar to the view I had seen at Lake Atitl├ín during another Quetzaltrekkers trip.
Turning to one of the guides, I managed to gasp out my amazement in the cool air. “Look at that lake! Isn’t it just beautiful?” After what I’m sure was a quick mental assessment on the guide’s behalf to make sure I wasn’t suffering from altitude sickness, she calmly replied in a humorous fashion, “they’re clouds, not a lake.”
With my pride damaged, the group continued the ascent, using the frequent rest breaks to converse with each other – to find out each other’s stories, remark on the views, and discuss the uniqueness of hiking during the full moon. At times, when you looked at the full moon, you were blinded, like a deer looking at a car’s lights. It was an interesting experience, to see just how much the moon can light up the surrounding area.
Just before sunrise, when the sky was beginning its shift from dark to dawn, we found ourselves just below the summit. Our final task—a steep ascent up the volcano peak, the distance being a couple of hundred meters. Exhausted, short of breath, yet full of a sense of accomplishment, we made it to the top just in time to witness the sunrise.
Sitting on top of the volcano, we watched the sun slowly crest above the other mountains on the horizon, casting different shades of orange and red across the sky. Slowly but surely, the sun illuminated the other mountains across the ridgeline.
With the sunrise completed, many opted to pull out their sleeping bags for a few hours of well-deserved sleep. Others, myself included, were content to just sit on the volcano, looking at the scenery and down into volcano Santiaguito, which seemed like an arm’s distance away. Throughout the morning, we were able to witness the volcano erupt – smoke being pushed into the air with a roar as Santiaguito showed its power.

After a hearty breakfast, we began our descent. Even though we followed the same route, it was a different experience being able to see everything in the daytime. A few hours later, we made it to the bottom and returned to Xela—memories full of the night sky. 

18 Years of Coffee and Morning To-Do-Lists

November 24th 2013. Another day of showing up at the Quetzaltrekker office, rummaging around in the kitchen, cooking everyone breakfast, pouring all some hot drinks, signing the early bird clients up for treks, and finally, sitting down: pen and to-do-list in hand. Eighteen years of morning coffee, pens, and to-do-lists is keeping this organization going. Wow. At two months into my period as a trekking volunteer here, I’m basically a seasoned pro (or at least I should be), and yet I am still captivated with wonder at what Quetzaltrekkers does. Look at it like this: you take a group of ambitious, fun, and hopefully-diligent wanna-be world-saving volunteers, teach them to be trekking guides, sell treks, take people out trekking, climb volcanoes, make a lot of money and then… hand that money over to EDELAC and Hogar Abierto where it will fill the brains, stomachs, and hearts of the most wonderful children you’ve ever met. Sounds a little bit like a magic formula to me.
If you hadn’t already figured it out by my gushy writing, I’m in love. At two months in to my three month minimum commitment at Quetzaltrekkers, I’ve come back from my honeymoon phase, learned the ropes (or at least now I can act like I have), and settled in to that sweet spot in my volunteer time frame between only knowing how to do the dishes… and completely burning out. Thus, this morning as we sat down at breakfast to write our to-do-list, I decided to leave the dishes to the new folk and take on the task of the Quetzaltrekkers blog.
Like many of things at Quetzaltrekkers, there is no set formula for how you are supposed to do a blog post, or what it should be about, or why we have a blog, or really any other instructions for what exactly I’m supposed to be doing. Luckily, one of the things you learn pretty quickly at Quetzaltrekkers is that even if there are no specific instructions for some set circumstance, you’ve still got to just put it on the to-do-list, and then figure it out. And, poco a poco, you start crossing things off and writing in new ones. Eighteen years of that, and there you’ve got your Quetzaltrekkers magic.
So, I can by no means speak to all 18 years of Quetzaltrekkers’ to-do-lists, and I’m still not really sure what exactly I’m supposed to be doing with this whole blog thing. But, if nothing else, I figure I can give you some details on some of the to-do-list items that have been checked off lists in the short time that I’ve been here. That way, if nothing else, you will at least know what exactly we’ve been doing in that back corner of Casa Argentina all this time anyways.
Okay, well where to start? Since trips are a big part of what we do we’ll start there with recent updates to our treks. First off, Quetzaltrekkers has been for the past couple months offering Rock Climbing treks to La Muela/Las Ventanas with a trio of three super “rock-star” climbing guides. Besides sending some dope routes and munching on some delish veggie sandwiches, the climbing guides have been hard at work trying to figure out what exactly is going on around them when they climb (the area QT goes to for its climbing trips is also sacred/religious area, so its visited by 100s of people every day to pray). From what we’ve picked up:  the praying Central Americans all around us are mostly (but not entirely) Evangelical Christians, who come to the area to pray because it is up high and therefore close to God, the Israeli flags hung everywhere throughout the sight are a symbol of the holy land that many religions share, and finally, if you hike a few kilometers to the west-ish from the best climbing and religious sites, you get to the site where an evil brujo (wizard) lives, practicing black magic and sacrificing children.
Ah. And so it goes. Life at Quetzaltrekkers always leads to a new surprise. Besides black magic near our climbing site, a recent surprise involved everyone’s favorite Tajumulco dog, Doris, who on a recent trip, climbed into the client tent (we told them they shouldn’t leave the tent door open), and well… gave birth to puppies. We definitely didn’t have any instruction manual for that one. But, a good washing out, and a few Woopah’s to Doris later, and the QT train was back on track.
On our other classic, the three day Lago Atitlan trek, we’ve also got a few new special treats. As of October 2013, a local family has started performing a play/dance/concert for our Quetaltrekker groups in the municipal centre in Santa Catarina. Their work reveals the history of their people in a fascinating mix of exuberant music, dance, and costumes. Additionally, another newer touch to the Lago trek is a stop at a coffee cooperative in San Juan in the morning of our last day of the trek, a delightful way to exchange contact details and reflect on the past few days of trekking.
Back in Xela, our days are spent busily crossing of items on our to-do-lists. Bit by bit, the little changes keep the organization running smoothly:  improving our water bottle rack, updating prep sheets, answering emails, inventorying gear, and finally throwing away all those random found items that should have been trashed a long, long time ago. And once all those tasks are completed? Add a few more things to the next morning’s list… paint some new signs, clean up the miscellaneous medical supplies, put some quick Spanish lessons on the wall in front of the bathroom…. Check, check, check. And then, finally, find some more ambitious, fun, and hopefully-diligent wanna-be world-saving volunteers, teach them to be trekking guides, climb volcanoes, and make a lots of money so that with a cup of coffee and a morning to-do-list, they’ll keep that magic formula going… filling the brains, stomachs, and hearts of the most wonderful children you’ve ever met.