Chapter 16: Acatenango’s Revenge

 

The following post details the Global Goulets’ journey from May 17 – 26:

Day 47 (continued): Our bodies were sore but our souls were pure. The aftermath of our successful Double Whammy expedition was a time of complete and utter relaxation and rehabilitation. No over-exertion we agreed, especially not for the next few days. After a celebratory brunch with all of our hiking teammates with whom we’d grown about as close as you possibly can after just a 24-hour span, we retreated back to the hostel and practically hibernated until the morning. We felt we’d deserved it. In fact, it was amazing just how proud we’d felt. Not only was the hike itself unforgettable, but the footage we’d compiled was a thing of beauty. Let’s not forget that the most important thing on this whole trip is to film everything we do to such a degree of excellence that it’s worthy of showcasing on TV. We felt we’d done just that with our Fuego-Acatenango hike. In fact, we were so proud of it all that we’d convinced ourselves it was strong enough to exist as a stand-alone episode, one of 13 with which we’d been commissioned to create.

big props to rainbow cafe for giving us some post volcano sustenance
big props to rainbow cafe for giving us some post volcano sustenance

 

We’d run up and down two volcanoes. We’d filmed the group and each other walk into and out of the camera time and time again. The sequences were supreme. All night we’d stayed awake and inevitably captured the spectacularly rare fury of Fuego on camera. In the morning we’d hiked to the highest altitude upon which you can climb while still standing solidly on Earth’s bounds. Best of all, we’d completed the Crater Challenge. And ya know what? That Crater Challenge footage was so incredible, so unique, so exquisite, it just may be the climax of the volcano episode.

With all of that sense of accomplishment still sinking in, we readied the next episode of our show. First, we planned to take Spanish class for the upcoming week; you see, Antigua is known as a world-class hub for learning Spanish, a place where you can work with a one-on-one teacher for the unbeatable price of under $5 an hour. This endeavor had a twofold purpose: generally speaking, we hoped to improve our Spanish in order to more effectively communicate with locals along the road on the rest of our journey to the End of the World. More specifically however, we thought it’d make for a nice pre-requisite to a visit we had planned to a small village in Guatemala’s deep interior. Way back before we left New York City, Alex was handed a bag with a couple sets of shoes from an employee of his uncle’s in Brooklyn, a man named Antonio. The goal was to carry these kicks with us all the way to Guatemala and ultimately deliver them to Antonio’s brother, Mincho, in a tiny town called Aldea Guinealis. We thought it would make for a great episode for our show and taking Spanish class would be a nice way to hype up the drama for the visit.

 

Day 48: Bright and early Monday morning we readied ourselves for our first day of school. You bet we had those classic first day jitters. Typical thoughts ran through our heads. What’s my teacher going to be like? I hope she’s nice! Will I have homework? How hard is this going to be? I hope I do a good job! Is this a cool first-day-of-school outfit?

with a name like this, how could we attend any other Spanish school?
with a name like this, how could we attend any other Spanish school?

 

We walked into our Spanish school, which was aptly called Entre Volcanes (Between the Volcanoes). There, we each paired off with our teachers, one at a time – Brian with the boisterous and chatty Johanna, Alex with the rather timid, but perfectly kind Anna, and Eric with the wonderfully friendly Zayda. It was a whole lot of fun to get back in the school mode, but even more fun to talk about whatever we wanted… in Spanish.

Our experiences in Spanish school were each profoundly different. On multiple occasions, Alex considered dropping out altogether. “All she does at home is watch TV. And then she asks me what I want to learn next. How am I supposed to know, you’re the teacher?!” Brian had his own gripes. “At 9:05 I asked what her favorite movie is. I looked at the clock on the wall to confirm. Until 10:10 the only words I said were ‘si’ and ‘bueno.’ She just goes on crazy rants.” Eric meanwhile had nothing to complain about. “Well I’m having a great time. Except we keep using the verb ‘casarse’ (to marry) to practice all the different conjugations. It all gets pretty personal.” While both Brian and Alex’s opinions of their respective teachers evolved for the better as the week wore on, neither of them left the same impression as had Eric’s maestra (teacher). For the remainder of our stay in Antigua, Eric would fondly reference tidbits of conversation from his time with Zayda. Eventually he’d admit, “I miss mi maestra.

Brian y su maestra
Brian y su maestra

 

Alex y su maestra
Alex y su maestra

 

Eric y su maestra
Eric y su maestra

 

Days 49 – 53: During our week of Spanish class, we called nearby Bigfoot Hostel home. Cory the French chef spoiled the hell out of us with the power of his full-blown classically trained culinary artistry. It was nice to have some consistency in our lives for once. We’d wake up, have a cup of coffee, spend the mornings at school, and explore Antigua by the afternoon. When each day neared an end, we’d return to Bigfoot for a massive dinner that was undeniably un-Guatemalan, have a beer, and then catch some shuteye.

In the midst of this smooth routine of a week, we dove into some footage. Excited to see that amazing wide shot of the Crater Challenge, we started peering through clips from Acatenango. Ok, there was the shot of us stripping down to our red jumpsuits on the volcano’s peak. So the next clip had to be it. But wait a second, why is the next clip us breathing deeply, having finished the run? Ummm, where’s the run itself? Where’s the freaking Crater Challenge shot!? It was missing. No, it wasn’t missing. It had never even been recorded. Whoever we asked to film the run never pressed play. This meant it had never happened, as far as our show was concerned. “40% less oxygen means we’re all 40% more dumb up there,” Victor, the manager at OX, told us. This little mantra never felt truer.

"I don't know, it's not here! It's not ANYWHERE!!"
“I don’t know, it’s not here! It’s not ANYWHERE!!”

 

What could we possibly do now? The centerpiece of our volcano episode did not exist. Sure, there were the GoPro clips we’d each recorded individually, but without the master shot, it’d be near impossible to edit together something that would actually be presentable for TV. We let it sink in and took a shot of whiskey to soothe the sting.

In the back of our minds, we knew the only solution was to re-climb the volcano and re-run the Crater Challenge. Still, this was a reality with which we were not ready to come to terms. To re-hike Acatenango meant we’d have to re-live all that pain. It was an unrealistic and unfair proposition. So that was that. Even though we didn’t get the footage we needed, it was behind us and there was no turning back. That is, until we had to turn back.

when you realize you have to do the hardest thing you've ever done in your whole life AGAIN, all you can do is laugh
when you realize you have to do the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your whole life AGAIN, all you can do is laugh

 

Day 54: On Sunday, we got an email from our media sponsors with good news and bad news. The good news was we wouldn’t be the same three “under-excersized” guys in a couple of days. The bad news was we “definitely need(ed) to go back up the mountain” to re-shoot the Crater Challenge. Oh god. We don’t often get specific instructions from the media company that is funding our travels, so when we’re given such unambiguous directives, we don’t have much of a choice but to proceed accordingly.

We reached out to Victor once again and asked him to help us find the cheapest and fastest way up the volcano. A self-described “fixer,” Victor immediately got to work, setting the wheels in motion for a second, quite unique Acatenango adventure. He suggested if we really wanted to do it quickly and swiftly, a hike through the night was the way to go. He’d hook us up with a local guide, who we’d meet sometime around midnight and begin the trek right then, which would get us to the summit in time for sunrise.

 

Day 55: At 8pm on the night before the hike, we geared up for the journey. Things had to be way simpler this time around. There would be no mental preparation; the more we thought about what we were going to do, the crazier it felt. No, this time it was just a straight physical exercise void of emotional stimulation. Without sleeping bags, tent equipment or cooking supplies, our backs would be way lighter. All we packed was a burrito for breakfast and the layers of clothes we’d have to add on our way up and strip off on our way down. Bags packed and minds in the zone, we jumped into the Santa Maria at around 10pm and sailed into the darkness on the way to the foothills of Acatenango.

Truthfully, our bodies were particularly tired and sore that Monday night. Before discovering confirmation that we’d have to re-climb Acatenango, we’d spent Sunday at a BBQ party with Bigfoot Hostel, known across Antigua’s hostel community as “Sunday Funday.” Eric’s eyes felt like cinder blocks behind the wheel, a sensation substantiated by Brian in the passenger seat and compounded by our lack of a functional radio. The worst part was that sleep was a 10-hour hike away. Regardless, once that backpack was strapped on and our legs were moving, a wave of alertness followed.

the haunting memories of parties past felt real regrettable right about now
the haunting memories of parties past felt real regrettable right about now

 

when you can barely drive because you're so tired, it's not a good sign before a massive volcano hike
when you can barely drive because you’re so tired, it’s not a good sign before a massive volcano hike

 

At a quarter after 11pm, a flashlight approached us from the distance, piercing through darkness’s vastness. It was our guide Catarino, a local veteran of Acatenango. We excitedly embraced handshakes and without a moment’s notice, began the incomprehensible voyage before us. Within a couple of minutes into our climb, any semblance of drowsiness disintegrated in the midnight air. The serenity of the mission topped even the first. This time we were each truly and earnestly in our own respective ecospheres. Nightfall’s all-encompassing pitch-blackness insisted we climb as isolated entities, with nothing more than the faint sound of one another’s breaths to remind us of our company. Catarino moved fast. Without the lag of a big group or the added weight of an overnight stay on our backs, we could ascend at double the speed. Brief pauses served as nothing more than a quick chance to catch our breath.

into the darkness we go. when will we stop? nobody knows
into the darkness we go. when will we stop? nobody knows

 

little breaks like this were few, far between, and short lasting
little breaks like this were few, far between, and short lasting

 

Day 56: This time around, time moved in hyper speed. An hour passed and then two. “Dos horas mas,” Catarino proclaimed. “Una hora a la sima, (one hour to the summit)” he announced after what felt like 10 minutes later. The wind’s ire insisted we put on our winter weather wear with but 45 minutes to go. When you’re in such a constant state of motion, your body confuses near freezing temperatures with something more bearable. It was only at those irregular breaks that the cold would set in. Instead of more formal rests, we continued with more of a “3 steps up, 1 second for a pause,” type of strategy. We had nothing on our minds beyond the challenge at hand. Our bodies simply did not have the energy to multitask something as simple as letting our imaginations wander.

these bright headlamps were just enough to afford us vision of each step in front of us
these bright headlamps were just enough to afford us vision of each step in front of us

 

With the summit in sight, we took one final official break in the windless crevice of a rock. Eric and Alex both insisted the moment of respite was enough to send them into dreamland.

imagine the nightmare of being horribly exhausted but needing to hike up an insanely steep volcano... oh wait, that wasn't a nightmare, it was real life!
imagine the nightmare of being horribly exhausted but needing to hike up an insanely steep volcano… oh wait, that wasn’t a nightmare, it was real life!

 

Catarino told us he’d never been with a group who’d spent more than 20 minutes atop Acatenango’s defenseless apex. With absolutely nothing to shield you from the deathly combination of cold and wind 13,000 feet above sea level, it’s only logical to snap a few quick pics and make your way back down. But we were sent here to tackle a very specific assignment that required an abundance of time and energy. Yet, we could not go to work until daybreak, which was a solid two hours away, having summited at the unimaginable hour of 3:30am. The next day Victor would tell us Catarino’s lack of technical guiding experience prevented him from recognizing that we would have been better off hiding in a wind-resistant enclosure near, but not at the top to fend off the final hours of darkness’s inhospitality. Instead, fully exposed on the rooftop of the world, we huddled next to the only rock in sight in a desperate attempt to avoid the worst part of the wind.

huddled, freezing behind this rock, biding our time until sunrise
huddled, freezing behind this rock, biding our time until sunrise

 

The elements were fierce, but the sights were otherworldly. By some miraculous stroke of luck, we’d chosen to take on Acatenango on the one rainless night of the two plus weeks we’d called Antigua home. Not only that, but the sky was extravagantly open with not a cloud on display. Despite the cold, our nighttime arrival meant we’d have almost two full hours to marvel at nearby Volcan Fuego’s echoing eruptions. Time and again fire would fill the sky, distracting us from the pervading hostility of the atmosphere. Flares of red detonated from the depths of the Earth with such force it invoked nothing short our almighty sun’s own exuberance.

boooooom! you always see the lava before that explosion rattles your ears, so you better be watching!
boooooom! you always see the lava before that explosion rattles your ears, so you better be watching!

 

Eventually, these iconic volcanic explosions lost their lava red glow, replaced in the sky by the sun’s ascension and the approaching light that accompanied it. The sunrise that morning must have been a side effect of our delirious perceptions. The morphing swirls of sapphire blue and apricot orange could only exist in a dream… or a Disney movie. Several other hiking groups joined us for the incomparable sunrise experience, corroborating its legitimacy. But they too could have been mirages; for as fast as these climbers arrived at the top, they promptly regressed back down. Soon enough it was just Catarino and we Goulets who remained as the brave few, peering down at all of glorious Guatemala below.

wow, sweet sunrise, bro
wow, sweet sunrise, bro

 

The sun carried with him a remarkably welcoming wave of warmth. It was all the energy we needed to begin the duty for which we’d come all this way. Without a second thought we turned on the camera, which stood watchfully on the tripod, and stripped off our many layers until we’d reached our red ninja base. We double and triple checked all of our cameras to ensure they were functioning properly – the three GoPros and the master Canon XF105 checked out. We feigned a basic stretching routine and, although futile in its effectiveness, sufficiently served as a placebo for our racing readiness. Lest not forget, we pressed ‘play’ on the camera. And just like that, we were off. Again.

ready and set! well, kind of... go!
ready and set! well, kind of… go!

 

We knew exactly what we were facing and autopilot was initiated. We cruised down, up and back down the first hill, adding speed with Fuego in the rearview mirror. We kept our legs pumping the whole time, a facet of the Crater Challenge fundamental to successful completion. ‘Just don’t stop, just don’t stop,’ we reminded ourselves as we neared the midway point. Alex set the pace with Brian in the middle and Eric in the back, indistinguishable from the first time around. It was imperative that we replicate the original attempt in case any of that footage could be usable for the episode’s final product.

off we went and not a second too soon
off we went and not a second too soon

 

5 points to anyone who can see those tiny red dots somewhere on the rim of the crater
5 points to anyone who can see those tiny red dots somewhere on the rim of the crater

 

While we knew the massive hill on the far side of the rim awaited us, there was no way to prepare ourselves for its punishing demands. In any normal circumstances a hill like this would necessitate the average person to stop midway to catch his or her breath; under the conditions in which we were running this sensation was aroused ten fold. We kept the GoPros on our fatigued faces so they could capture our animated, yet authentic agony. As impossible as it felt, we resisted the urge to finish that hill with a walk. Instead, we made it to the zenith, tapped on the cross that marked it, and allowed momentum to carry us down and through the last leg. With arms raised in blissful joy, all three of us triumphantly crossed the line from where it all began. This time Brian was right in declaring, “And that’s the last time I ever run the Crater Challenge!”

yaaa, we did it! we'd show more emotion but we're just too freakin tired
yaaa, we did it! we’d show more emotion but we’re just too freakin tired

 

It wasn’t time to descend quite yet. We needed this to be absolutely perfect with not a single flaw in the filming process. Again, this was going to be the climax of an episode; there was no room for error. We spent another solid hour or more rerouting Acatenango’s rim, bit by bit. We’d set up the camera and run in and out of the shot. Towards the camera frame; out of frame; a shot of our feet; one of our faces; a close up of our hike up that horrible hill past the midpoint; a shot of our hands touching the cross; a close up of the final stretch. We basically filmed every angle imaginable and all in those underequipped ninja suits. We may have overdone the whole shoot, but it was better than underdoing it. At last, after four full hours on the roof of Guatemala (that’s 3 hours and 40 minutes longer than anyone Catarino had ever taken up before), we said goodbye and trekked back down to safety. This time for good.

check out this great shot of us running past the camera JUST as Fuego errupted
check out this great shot of us running past the camera JUST as Fuego errupted

 

the more angles of this run, the less likely we'd have to do it a third time
the more angles of this run, the less likely we’d have to do it a third time

 

running up this hill is even harder the 2nd time... no wait, the 3rd time
running up this hill is even harder the 2nd time… no wait, the 3rd time

 

here are some wacky antics of us playing some make-believe ball to wrap up our time on top of the world
here are some wacky antics of us playing some make-believe ball to wrap up our time on top of the world

 

slippin' and slidin' our way to safety
slippin’ and slidin’ our way to safety

 

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 16: Acatenango’s Revenge

  1. Pingback: Chapter 17: Lessons from Guineales - #GlobalGoulets

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