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Erupting Vans And Volcanoes

Erupting vans and volcanoes

Another chance of trying to kayak ruined. The second day in Pana I wasn’t feeling to well and decided to sleep all day. At noon one of the security guys with a shotgun knocked on my van to make sure I was alright (and to collect another day of money). With this extra day of rest I had the perfect timing of heading to Chichicastenango for the twice a week market. This market is the biggest in all of Central America. In town I park at one of the lots where they just shove in as many cars as they can and you have to leave your keys so they can move your car in case anyone behind you wants to leave. The market is pretty big but also quite touristy. It takes me a while to find the part of the market where the locals shop for food. I also visit two catholic/Maya churches. Not as special as Chamula but still loads of incense and candles. While walking through town I see a graveyard in the distance on the top of a hill with very colorful graves and of course I’ll have to take a look and some photos. Chichi is interesting but there is not much except for the market. So I decide to head to Antigua that day.

*Drama time*

While driving out of Chichi my radiator fans clearly weren’t running, the road wasn’t to steep but I only noticed the engine got to hot when the alarm lights already came on. The only place to stop was pretty awkward so I didn’t want to stay too long. Since the car already dumped quite some of the coolant through the over-pressure valve, I needed to refill this. Because I’m an inpatient idiot I opened the reservoir before the coolant had time to cool. That was dumb… Very dumb… A one meter high fountain of boiling water erupted over me emptying almost all the coolant. Luckily I was wearing safety googles (AKA sunglasses) and jeans so I “only” burned my hand. This could have ended soo much worse. I guess sometimes you just get lucky. Some locals came to help with water for my van and an ice pack for my hand. Now I did wait, topped up the water and cooled my burns. After some time I decided I was ready to drive again. Not even five minutes later the coolant light comes back on. The engine isn’t hot at all so it must be the coolant. I wait, carefully open the cover and see the coolant is far down again. I use all my drinking and cooking water to fill up the tank again. Maybe it just had to run for a bit. Well the next three hours I stopped at least four times and gas stations and restaurants to get water to top up the coolant. I don’t know how big the circuit is but something is definitely wrong. The last gas station guy shows me how to remove air locks out of the system by topping up the water with the engine running and revving it every few minutes. Still the lights keep coming on and I limp the van to Antigua. I find a hostel that has parking. They let me choose between a private room or  for half the price a private dorm (since I’m the only guest). That night when I go to sleep I decide I would not mind my van getting stolen that night.

Chichicastenango cemetery

The next day is debug day. After spending some time online, I really think this might just be an airlock: air inside the system pushing the coolant out. I don’t see any leaks or wetness so I’m not sure where the water goes. But I do know I want to know more before I go to the garage. I spend all morning trying to get all the air out of the system. I get a lot of it out which seems hopeful to me. I decide to let the van rest overnight, try to get some more air out tomorrow and then go for a test ride. The afternoon I head to town. Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala (hence the full name Antigua (Old) Guatemala). The city was destroyed by a few major earthquakes. Sad for the city but it now has some really cool church ruins. I walk up to a viewpoint overlooking the city (and three volcanoes if it wouldn’t be cloudy). Visit the local graveyard (did I mention yet I like graveyards?) and the market. That night I have to share my dorm with one other person.

Antigua market and the base of Volcan Agua

More van work! I inspect the van in the morning. The level didn’t change and I see no wet spots. I try to remove some more air from the cooling and check for leaks while the engine is running. Looks quite promising. I take the van for a test drive (and bring a 8 liter jug of water, just in case). After 20 min of city and mountain road driving I just want to call it good when the light comes on. I stop and check and see the level dropped by 2 cm. Maybe a last burst of air. I drive some more and it looks good. But just when I turn around to head back to the hostel the light comes on again and the level dropped by 2 cm again. I guess I’m really going to need a garage for this one. Luckily there are a few recommended ones in town. But all of those are closed on Saturday and Sunday and I’ll have to wait until Monday. Good news is I can now finally enjoy the city since I have nothing I can do with the van. I park the van at the hostel and go explore some of the church ruins that collapsed with the earthquakes. Also Sunday will be a great day for a hike up Volcan Acatenango. When I want to book it, they tell me the two day option where you camp on the volcano is the cheap option because they already have a group for that. More for less is a deal any Duthc person likes. When I get back to the hostel it is completely full with families from Guatemala City for the weekend, I get moved to another room with 2 more people.


Turns out they have a big group for the hike, we’re 16 people! That’s a full bus. At the starting point of the hike we have to try to fit the food, tents and sleeping bags in our already full bags and off we go. The hike up Acatenango goes from 2400 to almost 4000 meter. You notice you’re on a decent altitude. The hike up volcan San Pedro last week was about the same height difference but much easier. Our group is pretty fit so we can keep going quite quickly. Also the group seems to be a good match with loads of stories and terrible jokes (yes, that did include poop jokes and no not just from my side). The last bit to the campsite at 3600m was very steep but you have a view of volcan Agua and volcan Fuego which is pretty good. Once at the campsite we set up our tents and start a campfire. The view is great with the two volcanoes, Antigua, Guatemala City and even the Pacific in the distance. Sadly enough volcan Fuego is a bit lazy and only throws out some smoke. Earlier this week there was loads of lava and explosions to watch. Sad I had to miss that, but there are plenty of other volcanoes on this trip. Dinner was a small cup of instant noodles. Luckily I was warned beforehand about the small portions of food and had brought plenty of extra food. At 3600m it gets really cold even with a campfire so I was wearing 3 layers of pants and 5 layers of shirts/sweaters/jackets. The sunset was spectacular and a box of wine and bottles of rum and vodka helped us keep warm to tell campfire stories. At 11 I was with the last people to go to bed and put out the fire. This might or might not have included my peeing out the fire (according to an old family tradition). The tents were pretty small for four people so we had to sleep shoulder to shoulder. The mats were too thin to sleep on your side. However, four people does keep the tent warm.

Acatenango surise watching

At 3:30 the guides woke us up for the last bit of the hike. We warmed up our apfelstrudels on the new campfire for breakfast and hiked the last hour and a half/400m height. It’s all loose gravel and it’s dark.  We were pretty happy we did not have to carry all our gear up. We were so exited about the hiking that we had to wait another half an hour once we got to the top because we were too quick. The city lights and stars were beautiful but it was sooo soo cold. Freezing and windy. Once the sun started coming up we had the prettiest colors behind the volcanoes. On the other side of the volcano you could see the shadow of our volcano over lago Attilan and all the volcanoes there. Impressive! Back at camp the other guide had prepared hot chocolate on the campfire. Awesome! We packed up our tents and almost raced our way down. Down took about half the time of the way up. Back at the pickup point we had to wait another hour in the sun (life is hard) before the bus picked us up again. Back at the hostel I decided that I was too tired for Spanish discussions with a car mechanic and will bring my van tomorrow. Also time for a much needed shower. Problem with suicide showers (showers that heat the water electrically in the shower head) you can either have volume or temperature. Not both… Hot drip it is. I was asked to change rooms again because in the meantime they needed my bed. No problem. In the evening we met up with half of the hike group for a beer. One turned into a few and that night I had some much needed sleep.

Volcan Fuego

Morning visit to the mechanic. They’re busy but can fit me in at 2. Sounds good. I hang around town and watch people and read a book. I drop the van off at 2 and they tell me I can pick it up at 4. At 4 they tell me that the problem was a leaking coolant filling cap. I’m skeptical, but if that’s all I’m very happy. I also asked them to flush the whole cooling system because by now it only had water and no more coolant. I get back to the hostel and the owner says he’s very sorry but he has to move me to another room again. But because he moved me so often I now get a private room with private bathroom and the best part: a non suicide shower. So I can have both warm water and volume. SCORE! One of the guys working at the hostel asks me if I want to join him and his friends at a local bar. Sounds fun. When we walk into the second bar I recognize Mike and Lyndsay: with them I spend five days on the beach in Tulum a month ago. Bigger coincidence is that yesterday they met Renzo and Mary, the Swiss couple who I met a few times in Baja California a few months ago. They are in Rio Dulce on the campsite I was planning to visit tomorrow too. While I’m catching up and sharing plans with these guys someone taps on my shoulder. The two people of the volcano tour that were still in Guatemala were in the same bar too. What a small world and a great way to spend my last night in Antigua.

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