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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Del Agua Volcano cache hunt, near Antigua, Guatemala






Antigua, Guatemala captivates me. It is the Christmas season and the place is decked out with decorations, Mayan souvenir stands and loaded with tourist from around the world. I quickly learned to distinguish between the exploding bomb sounds that were fireworks and the sounds of El Fuego volcano exploding. El Fuego is a good distance from the city so one is safe but there is a constant and distant exploding sound every ten minutes or so. Let’s pick up with the story of cache #2. I left off with Oficial Francisco Castillo transporting me from the Earth Lodge cache DNF over to the second cache. We were going after Agua Box (GC10DKC) on the top of 12,250 ft Del Agua volcano. This is a beautiful cone-shaped volcano that imposes itself on the landscape south of Antigua. The climb up to the parking area above the town of Santa Maria de Jesus was bumpy and difficult. I appreciated the kindness of Oficial Francisco in bringing me here. Hanging on the back of the motorcycle going up the hill would have been difficult. Along the way we picked up Guatemaltecos that were climbing the mountain and gave them a ride in the back of the truck. In the course of the day I observed that the Tourism Police are regarded differently from the average police force in some of Latin countries. There are great suspicions cast on the police forces of Latin America for their corruption. They typically look for the slightest thing wrong with a vehicle so that they can write a ticket and then pressure the driver into giving a bribe so that they won’t write the ticket. The National Tourism Police were regarded as community servants. I was impressed. Agents Freddy and Saul, my personal bodyguards, were there waiting for me. After a brief picture taking session with them and after posing with some Guatemaltecos who somehow thought they need a picture with the foreigner who spoke their language, we set off on the climb. The parking area is part way up the mountain. Unlike many climbs this one had very few places where you would descent before climbing again. It was basically a steady uphill climb through many, many switchbacks. It was a Saturday and many people were climbing. Later in the evening as we descended we saw a steady stream of folks climbing. Most had come from Guatemala City to climb the mountain, camp and see the special fireworks over Guatemala City. This climb was hard due to the terrain. We alternated between loose dirt and rock-strewn trails up the mountain. Even though I’ve climbed higher mountains than this I found myself tired and having to stop and rest along the way more frequently than usual. I supposed it was that I was still weak from surgery. The rule is to stop and breathe every now and then and then go on. Many young people were climbing and a number of them would speak to me in their limited English and then say “animo”, Spanish for “you can do it”. We got a late start on the climb, leaving the parking area at 12:45 p.m. We reached the crater around 5 p.m. I’m convinced that without me Freddy and Saul could have done it in much less time. They climb one of the volcanoes with tourist on the average of two or three times a month. These guys are in good shape. Both are under 30 years old. Within ¼ mile of the crater I started having cramps in my thighs. I don’t usually get these but because I was sharing my water with the Freddy and Saul I was short on liquid. That was certainly contributing to the problem. I had to stop several times and get through the cramps. I realized I wouldn’t make it to the GC, particularly as it appeared that we would be making our descent part way in the dark. I had trained both men in how to use the GPS so I sent Saul on the mission to get to the cache. The GPS was showing 520 ft to the cache but that was with an elevation of 500 ft or more. Saul took off running up the trail. Amazing! Freddy stuck with me. After the cramps passed we continued the climb and reached the crater. The crater was relatively small. This volcano is dormant. The whole crater was a bustling city of tents. There were a few foreign tourist there but I estimate that 95% of the several hundred people camping out there were Guatemaltecos. At the top of the volcano the wind was strong and the temperature was around 35 degrees F. That was a big change from 80 degrees at the parking lot. On the last part of the climb to the crater one of the many Guatemalteco climbers told us that they saw a policeman detour off the trail several switchbacks below. We figured that Saul had started tracking the needle at that point. To do this he probably was about 300 feet from the GC. Later he told us he was climbing on a steep grade in tall grass. Freddy and I started down the hill to position ourselves where we could see Saul when he came down. Freddy used his police whistle to get Saul’s attention. I’d sent Saul with the spoiler picture that showed the exact location of the cache in some very easily distinguishable rocks. He looked all over the place but found no cache. We think that this one is missing. That’s two DNFs for the day. Am I disappointed? Only a little. Again, the adage that geocaching takes you to remarkable places proves truth. Arriving at the summit of Del Agua Volcano is really what this was about. Soon Saul joined us and we continued our descent. Going down was easy until it got dark. Freddy pulled out his flashlight and we worked together to negotiate the rocks. It was slow going the last 2 hours of the descent as we had to move with care. I didn’t want to take a tumble and injury my shoulder. With the Lord’s help we made it to the parking area without any of us falling. I was amazed at the number of people climbing with flashlight. There would be 500 people on the top of the volcano by 10 p.m. On our way down we only stopped for several photo opportunities. Just before nightfall we got a view of Lake Amatitl├ín, just south of the capital city. As it got dark the lights of Guatemala City were beautiful. The fireworks had begun in a part of the city and they were clearly visible, as was a full moon behind them. We finally got down out of the cold and reached the parking area. With stiff legs I arranged my swag bag and hiking stick in order to ride on the back of the motorcycle with Freddy. Down the hill at a slow pace we went in the dark. At one point we actually took a tumble but everyone was fine but we had a busted siren. Sitting on the back of the motorcycle I had the pleasure of answering lots of questions about my faith in Jesus. We continued our journey down the mountain to Santa Maria de Jesus and the pavement. Part of the arrangement was that I would provide lunch to these men. Because they knew the climb would take a long time they didn’t even stop to eat so I wanted to take them to eat. They wanted to take the food back to the barracks so we pulled into a place they’d never been: McDonalds. With me balancing the takeout we sped through Antigua to the police barracks. While we were eating Oficial Francisco joined us to talk about geocaching. He insisted on taking me on a tour of the barracks. He told me all about their close relationship with the Del Camino Baptist Church in town. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that one of the Southern Baptist Churches has started a church in the police barracks, is teaching the Tourism Police to speak some English and has helped them by building much need bathrooms. We finished out the evening getting on-line in the office. Oficial Francisco is now registered on www.geocaching.com and has invited me back to hide a cache with him on Tuesday. He took me back to my lodging and a great day of geocaching, “cachevangelism”, real evangelism and social networking came to an end!
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