Volcano Fuego literally means ‘Volcano of Fire’ – imaginative eh? For the geology nerds out there, this is a stratovolcano which means it is built up from lots of composite layers of minerals and ash from lots of eruptions. It is 3,763 m (12,346 ft) high although you cannot climb to the summit because it is constantly spewing lava and ash. It is slightly lower than the other volcano it is joined to – Acatenango but still much more spectacular! Most people would think that the biggest danger from a volcano is the hot lava but actually it is the ash and rock debris which is the most hazardous. Every eruption shoots out ash and rocks which often settle into channels carved out by lava on it’s sides – creating valleys of ash. With the more active volcanoes this can cause problems when there is a heavy downpour of rain or even hurricanes – causing this to slide downhill very quickly. Because this is not paper ash – but rock ash – this makes it extremely heavy and just a 10cm deep layer of this will collapse a corrugated roof! When the ash is flowing downhill with heavy downpours of rain it is called a Lahar and will easily move boulders the size of trucks and destroy villages.
So, we booked a tour with a geologist called Matt to camp overnight on the slopes of Fuego! On the morning of the tour (Saturday) we went for coffee at the Sky Cafe to see if Fuego was looking active and it was!
Matt picked us up in Antigua along with Wendy and Cameron and a lovely Dutch couple called Quinty and Yre. Somehow we all squeezed into his land cruiser along with his dog Spike and headed up to the observatory based in Panimache – the highest village on the volcano.
INSEVUMEH stands for Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia e Hidrologia which basically means it is the monitoring and logging institute for volcanoes and earthquakes – although they also record weather and water readings. These guys are responsible for predicting disasters before they happen and alerting the appropriate authorities. The sad thing is that the village it is based in could potentially face a wipeout in just 5 minutes. An evacuation of the village will take a lot longer, and the only route is down a long dirt track which is blocked by a river which is often impassable!!! Now feeling slightly concerned that we were about to hike for 2 hours beyond this village AND sleep up there! The last evacuation was a few months ago but nothing terrible has happened in the last few years so we were happy to press on!
Our group trekked through fields and then into some steep forest before reaching our campsite which was at approximately 1700m (or 5500ft) . We had an armed guard with us after being warned by locals that there were ‘bad people’ around. He was payed £12.50 to carry some equipment to the top and to sleep overnight at our campsite. Most locals hope to earn about £8 a day.
It was already dark when we arrived but we all prepared the bbq feast of steak and chicken with delicious local vegetable dishes over a big wood fire! Matt explained more about volcanology and the science behind earthquakes and volcanoes over some beer and red wine!
Sadly our photos didn’t turn out too well in the dark but our tents were facing the peak of the volcano and we were treated to an awesome explosion pretty much every hour which we could watch from bed!
The morning after found us very tired after watching explosions all night! The view from the campsite was spectacular.
We were covered in ash and everything tasted gritty! After being treated to an awesome sunrise we took our time on the way back down to take in the views.
After a quick ‘breakfast burrito’ in the observatory, we all crammed into the land cruiser for a sweaty 4 hour journey back to the lake!