It all started with an invitation from my friend Josemaria:
Luis, do you want to climb Acatenango and photograph the erupting Volcano of Fire?
I had already seen his photos of the place and it seemed extraordinary and totally different to what I had photographed before. I had always dreamed of photographing an active volcano. So we set the dates and booked the tickets to Guatemala. Chema was the leader of the tour so I decided to relax and enjoy the itinerary he had planned for us. We were joined by Chino and Pablo. The team was complete.
We flew to Guatemala City and headed to Antigua. A small colonial town full of architectural beauty and cultural richness. The next day our goal was to climb the Acatenango volcano and camp in front of the impressive view of the active Volcano of Fire.
The climb was difficult and very hard, we arrived at the camp tired and the sky completely cloudy not a sign of the Volcano of Fire in the landscape. We decided that this would not discourage us. We set up the camp with the help of our guides and we began the hike towards the top of Acatenango. The climb was steep and complicated, the earth was formed of volcanic ash and for each step you gave you back up two. The photographic equipment increased its weight with every passing minute. The last stretch felt like it took forever, we could see the sun lighting the summit and it was the only thing that gave us the strength to continue, the possibility of an incredible sunset from the summit and a cloud-free Volcano of Fire.
We did it. The view was overwhelming. The golden clouds surrounded us. The Volcano of Fire began to break free and peek out. Night fell and the cold intensified. Suddenly, the most exciting roar I’ve ever experienced, the intense red bathed the sky, Volcano of Fire woke up and began its night show. An impressive view of the lava exploding in the air as the stars began to appear in the sky.
It was very emotional, I finally had photos of a volcano erupting. A dream come true and it was only the beginning of the night.
In the dark we had to return to the camp, because of the cold we could not stay at the top. We began our journey back. The descent was complex, the earth unstable and ash everywhere. We arrived at the camp and without even thinking about eating, we continued photographing the volcano, which was still active and surrounded by stars. A scene from the dreams of Tolkien and Middle-earth. A world of lava and power of nature.
Each explosion filled us with an indescribable emotion, only comparable in my opinion, to see the aurora borealis.
Sleeping was not an option, no matter how tired we were, hearing the roar of the volcano made us want to continue. Dawn brought the last show of Volcano of Fire. A roar gave way to one of the strongest lava blasts we could see, the sky was lighting up in warm tones and the volcano began its rest. Volcán de Agua made its appearance on the left side, showing itself among the clouds. A surreal scenario to witness and admire the summit of three volcanoes at the same time.
We hiked down Acatenango and returned to Antigua. Exhausted but completely satisfied. One of the best experiences I’ve had the privilege of living. We took a shower, and got ready for the next adventure.
We embarked on a trip to Pacaya volcano, which is also active. We were told that the hike was not so tiredsome. They lied to us. A three kilometer hike uphill was waiting for us the day we got off Acatenango! Thank god a good sales man followed me with his horse until finally I agreed to finish the journey on horseback, I was exhausted for carrying the weight of my photo gear.
The place completely cloudy and with little visibility. The tourists left disillusioned without being able to see the volcano. We decided to enjoy the location with a campfire and marshmallows.
At nightfall, we were going back to the car as we began to notice reddish tones in the mist. We decided to wait and set up our photo gear. Seconds later, Pacaya revealed itself with lava rivers breaking the density of the clouds.
We were so excited. We shouted with joy. We were able to see another active volcano. Nature really was on our side. Our guides were happy and they let us stay late into the night.
I think that a lot of times we believe that we have to go very far away to live experiences that can change us. I know for a fact that this is not so, these experiences can happen in our own country or even in our neighboring countries, as Guatemala was for me. Not knowing what to expect, this volcanic land surprised me and I fell in love with its natural beauty. It has become one of those experiences that I will not forget. It demanded a great deal from me, but gave me much in return.
Luis Solano Pochet
CEO & Founding Photographer
“Climb mountains not so the world can see you. But so you can see the world.”
Until the next adventure!
This post is dedicated to my friend Josemaría for organizing this incredible, life changing adventure and to the entire Volcano Hunters Team: Chino, Pablo, Lucas and Juan Miguel.