People in Guatemala anxiously wait for the next raging eruption of El Fuego: with two major built ups this year that led to hundreds of victims, many locals are scared for their homes and families.
El Fuego is one of the three active volcanos in Guatemala, besides Pacaya and Santiaguito. If one sits on the slopes of El Fuego twin Acatenango at night, one can admire burning lava in both corners of one’s eyes. Unhurried Pacaya spills slowly and easily, while El Fuego bursts with explosions every half an hour.
The floor trembles in the time when El Fuego starts growling. Louder and louder, like thunder, until the ashes appear. Blowing blazing stones far up in the sky it wounds the dark night, this immense raw power of the planet, never restricted in its ancient history. Nature always takes its course, no matter how hard little humans try. But they forget, quite frequently, about their lack of competence, angering immortal creation.
El Fuego is enraged this year, forcing around 4,000 people to relocate again last week. His fury killed almost 200 people in June, with another 200 still missing, affecting 1,7 million in total. Whole villages were buried under the avalanche of molten rock in the most powerful eruption in recorded history. While the officials in Guatemala City knew what was happening in the fire mountain, the locals were guided only by their intuition. The evacuation came too late for many. Since June, those who lost their homes reside in improvised shelters, waiting for the government to build a housing project. With Guatemalan government, this could mean forever.
The indigenous population, which settles on the slopes of El Fuego, is accustomed to living with the beast. They know how irritated combusting creature can get, that is why every spring, on the last Monday before Semana Santa, they pilgrim to the top of Acatenango. Children, women and the elderly start ascending early in the morning with a goal of reaching the top and coming back in one day. Most foreigners take a two-day hike, reaching a 3000m altitude in the afternoon, spending the night there and finishing the rest of the walk early the next morning. Geared in top-notch sports apparel, good-gripped footwear and with tons of protein snacks. But the locals aren’t bothered by the cold wind, dusty air, and slippery slope. They conquer the mountain in their regular clothes, simple skirts for women and plastic slippers on their feet. Bypassing girl of six was wearing pretty sandals with a splash of artificial diamonds, possibly the only shoes she has. Their respect for the majestic peak overcomes the difficulties, gods are always greater than human troubles.
Evening gathering around a fire at the campsite reveals anecdote after anecdote. The native guides know the land by heart, every stone and turn in a moon-like landscape. Stories about frozen tourists, who set a camp above the urged altitude. Memories of hundreds of climbs they completed in their lifetime, of getting to close to the craters or admiring explosions from afar. Volcanoes are their life, a privilege, and a curse. These beautiful wild brutes, never truly asleep, just waiting for their next grand performance. One can not help but be genuinely astonished.