travel

[More Info] Extra info and tips for the Acatenango Hike November 2017 (Part 2/2)

This post is about extra tips and information of the Acatenango Hike. Read this other post first.


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In this post I will cover:

  • Trail Details
  • Difficulty Level
  • Toilet
  • Descent / Going Down 
  • Other Tips


1) HIKING TRAIL DETAILS FOR ACATENANGO VOLCANO

Summit : 3,976 metres
Basecamp : 3,175 metres
Trailhead : about 2,300 metres
[Antigua: 1,533 metres]

Elevation Gain:
Day 1 Trailhead to Basecamp :
875 metres
Day 2 Basecamp to Summit : 
801 metres
Total Elevation Gain :
1,676 metres

2) DIFFICULTY LEVEL

Okay, the Difficulty Level, really…

Some people said that this is the most difficult hike they’ve ever done, and to be honest I was getting a little bit psyched whether I should do it since my knee has been “off” from a half marathon about a year ago. Here’s what I think:

 It is “Definitely Difficult,” as they say BUT….

.
.. Is it that difficult? 
In my opinion…No, not IF you’re physically fit. Because:

(a) you stop every 20-30 minutes or so for breaks
(b) everyone in my group, even those in sneakers (don’t wear sneakers) finished. Struggled, but finished.

A 1,500m elevation gain and hiking up at 4AM in scree is not fun, nor easy. And the elevation makes you short of breath much quicker, hence the frequent stops. If that didn’t makes any sense, you will struggle. If you don’t know what “scree” is, you will learn what scree is and hate it going up. And you may hate it or love it going down.

It’s so do-able though so don’t let anyone scare or discourage you if you’re a decently fit person.

If by any chance you’re from a mountainous region, you’ll be even better off. A Norwegian couple in my group didn’t find it difficult after recently been hiking in the Rockies in Canada, where I’m from. My tent mate a 49 year-old runner managed just fine too (3 litres of water was not enough for him btw).

I found it to be a mixture between 2 hikes I know from the Rockies: The first 2-3 hours were like of the mid-section of Yamnuska, following 2-3 hours (completed in the wee hours) to be like upper part of Cirque Peak in Banff National Park.

4) TOILET
There is almost no coverage for peeing or pooping up at basecamp. This is especially more difficult for women.

There was only one makeshift outhouse shared by two sites. Bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Best to empty your bowels before you go up.

3) GOING DOWN
Scree (loose rock) it the funnest part. You hated it going up but you’ll love it going down.

If you’re not used to it can be a little bit scary going down on. But you just lean back and keep lifting your legs.

Something to try is linking arms with a partner and bolting down as fast as you can. It feels a lot more stable and insane fun.

Also, going down can be a little hard on the knees, especially if you have had trouble from them before (like me!). Getting knee guards in Antigua beforehand may be a good idea.

4) OTHER TIPS
Hiking pole: Not necessary but helpful to have. If you don’t have one you can buy a stick for Q50 at the base.

Water: Drink all day the day before to make sure you are properly hydrated. Dehydration increases your risk for pulling muscles and injury. At high altitudes, you are losing more water than you would at lower elevations.

Food: Bring extra food. The food portions are Guatemalan. And you will be hungry.

Camera: If you want to capture the lava at night, bring a proper camera. It was hard to capture on my phone.

Altitude Matters!
Don’t neglect this important part. Altitude sickness occurs 2,500 metres. If this hike is scheduled at the beginning of your trip and you are not used to that elevation, just take that into account. If you don’t know what the elevation of your current city is find out. 3 people in my group were affected by it.

Cold: I’m from Canada and it’s cold. Warm jacket (can be borrowed from Gilmer’s place) gloves, scarf and the likes.

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travel

Watching Volcano Fuego erupt in Guatemala. (Part 1 of 2)

[Review of the Acatenango Hike November 2017]

Q: Was watching a volcano erupt lava on my bucket list?
A: What, you can do that? Then YES.

That’s pretty much how it went down for me.

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WHAT IS IT?

  • A 2 day, 1 night hike to the top of dormant Acatenango volcano to watch active Fuego volcano erupt every half hour or so.
  • Overnight stay required to see the lava clearly.
  • You need to be in Antigua the night before since the companies begin pickups at 7.30 AM. The hike doesn’t actually start until about 10:00 AM.

HOW MUCH?

  • Going rate is 400 quetzales (about $55).

Some companies  charge more but in my opinion you’re still tenting at the end of the day. And I got a Marmot tent, so there. Baller.

WHAT’S INCLUDED IN THE PRICE?

  • Transportation to/from your guesthouse/hostel
  • Guide(s) fees
  • National Park entrance fee of Q50 (about $7)
  • 3 meals (lunch, dinner, next day’s breakfast) and hot cocao
  • The use of sleeping pad, sleeping bag and tent (already set-up at base camp)
  • Warm jackets to borrow. My company let us borrow daypacks too.

WHAT YOU NEED TO BRING?

  • Water. 2-4 litres of it. 2.5 litres was enough for me (I even had a little leftover and could have probably survived on 2) but I did the super hydration technique the day before in preparation where I drank 4 litres of water the day before, a technique I use before races or any dehydrating event. Try it yourself.
  • Warm Clothes. For the night and the early morning hike up to the summit.
  • Headlamp / flashlight

WHICH COMPANY TO CHOOSE?
I chose to go with Gilmer Soy. He organizes a co-operative model (not company) with profit sharing in the village employing single moms to cook and local guides.

The hikes are available every day, even on All Saints Day which was a holiday. As of now, he relies solely on email and Whatsapp but replies at lightning speed:

email: sologui5630@gmail.com
phone: +502 4169 2292

I am very happy with the way it was run. For me, the important thing is communication and professionalism. I cannot recommend them enough.

Many companies run this tour as well and you can find them all over Antigua. The guesthouses will use their own companies. At the end of the day, after you see the volcano erupt, you’ll be rating 5 stars anyway.


In the interest of keeping each post to the point, I’ve include extra tips and information in a separate post here.

Adventures in Thailand, travel

Koh Chang to Phnom Penh by Minibus

In this blog post, I will cover the following :

1) How much it costs
2) Where to get the tickets
3) How long the total journey is
4) What to expect

Intro

I had to do another visa run to re-stamp my 6-month visa and Cambodia is the closest country to do it. I like visa runs, they give me an excuse to travel somewhere new for a few days, and Koh Chang is super close to Cambodia, so that’s where I usually go. I did Koh Chang – Siem Reap twice already, and this time I wanted to do Phnom Penh.

I’ve always postponed Phnom Penh because I knew it would make my stomach crawl when I saw Tuol Sleng (S21) and the Killing Fields. I just knew it. And it did. But we’re here to talk about the journey itself. So let’s get started.

How much is the ticket?

700 Baht – because there aren’t (many) scams at this border (Had Lek / Koh Rong), they won’t go lower than 700 baht.

Where to get the tickets?

You can get them at any tour company kiosk on the island.

They usually will go through Virak Buntham or Rith Mony bus company. If you live on the isolated East Coast Koh Chang, you can call the company I used, Monday Tour which uses Virak Buntham +66 81 863 8144 and get your hotel to drop you off at the Centrepoint pier by 8AM.

How long is the total journey?

Approximately 12-13 hours.

I left the pier at 8 AM and was in my guesthouse in Phnom Penh by about 8:30 PM.

The travel agents will say 8, but it’s not. Google maps direct travel is about 8 hours and 40 minutes door-to-door, so it can’t possibly be 8. It’s 12. Then add an extra 3 hours for waiting around for the ferry, border crossing/immigration, and changing buses (twice)

The minivans start the pickups around 7 or 7:30, depending on where you stay. You get on the ferry around 8.30 AM.

What to expect?

A long journey, lots of waiting and some gross toilets.

Our minivan actually arrived at the pier well before noon. I speak Thai and the Thai driver told me the bus to Phnom Penh doesn’t leave till 1PM and to take my time and have some lunch. But then comes a hustler from the Cambodian side rushing towards us and wrangling everyone towards the border telling them the bus is leaving to get them to hurry.

After immigration, the (obviously commissioned) hustlers will wrangle you into little shop lots with plastic chairs that try to sell you sim cards, snacks and drinks. I got a myself a Cambodian sim card for 200 baht (normal price and always a must for me). But that’s not where they make their money. The shop owner will tell you that the bus leaves at 2PM and you need to wait 2 hours there unless you get a shared taxi, which is also a feasible plan if you want to get into PP fast.

I wanted to see my 700 baht ticket through, so I waited. I decided to ditch the uncomfortable shop lot in the heat and went to have a surprisingly really good lunch at Niche Cafe which was air-conditioned. Food was reasonably priced here for 200 baht. The shop hustler was not too happy about it, but I got back by 1PM and it was fine.

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The bus left at 1PM after the passengers piled on and headed westward. Note that most passengers from Koh Chang head to Sihanoukville and Koh Rong so you will be sharing the same bus with them until the road splits, one going south towards the islands and the other north towards Phnom Penh.

We got dropped off just before the road split at a shop and waited for what felt like an hour. We had to cross the highway and get on a bus packed full of locals and farang finally heading to Phnom Penh, finally reaching Phnom Penh late into the evening around 8PM.

From the bus station, I split a tuk tuk with an old French artist man for about $3/person. reaching my guesthouse at 8:30.

Other Ways

Check out another post on this topic which explains a more comfortable and easier (also more expensive) way to get to Phnom Penh.