Last month, I was busy celebrating my birthday. There were always things to do, new hobbies to try, events to attend, and a whole world to explore. I went to the aquarium, saw Harriet at the library, attended VIP Comedy Night, learned about pollinators, went to Drag Bingo, enjoyed snowshoeing, skiing, birding, various activist events, a Cat Video Festival, had Mexican food on my birthday, got a new tattoo, and read poems for a poetry night. The world felt more like a smorgasbord. Now, it feels like life is an empty grocery store shelf. It has been shocking to go from a socially engaged person to a homebody. Two weeks ago, I was thinking that I might be able to go on an international trip next month. I thought maybe things would not be so bad. Now, I had to cancel plans to see my brother on Friday. Two weeks ago, staff at my job had a taco pot luck. Last week, we started having staff meetings by zoom. My world has become quiet, small, and uncertain.
Like most people, I really didn’t take COVID-19 seriously. In the past, there had been Zika, H1N1, MERS, SARS, and other viral outbreaks. These all seemed to pass without much impact on my life. It was on my radar as a distant thing. I was substitute teaching when Italy went on lock down and there was the first major stock market crash. Even then, it didn’t seem like something that would impact me other than the fear that it would complicate my trip and that my meager retirement had lost over 10% of its value in a day. Later in the week, I met with staff at my job for a potluck. We ate Mexican food and laughed about the mystery of the missing green Jell-o. Did a resident abscond with a giant container of Jell-o? Trump’s travel ban for Europeans coming to the U.S. seemed mysterious and even excessive at that point of time. I still worried about my trip. Within the next few days, there were more travel bans, closed schools, the cancellation of my trip, the sudden cancellation of meetings and community events, and mounting deaths in Italy.
I was slow to comprehend what flattening the curve really meant in practice. I attended my final in-person activist meeting on March 16th. It was bittersweet, since I knew it was the last activist meeting I would attend for a long time. I went out for Mexican food that day because I knew that the following day at 5pm, all the restaurants in Wisconsin would be closed. Had I really understood the importance of social distancing, I would not have gone out. But, there was not that many official cases in Wisconsin. It felt like one last opportunity as the sun set on something I enjoyed. Within the course of a few days, almost everything that structured my life collapsed. There were no more activist meetings. There would be no more trivia nights, reading at coffee shops, eating out alone, going to movies, spending time with friends, no more community classes or lectures, no birding field trips or presentation, no side gigs as a substitute teacher or the Easter bunny, no more travel plans, no more plans at all. I felt completely lost. I felt as though a cruel wind had passed through and destroyed the scaffolding that held my mental well being together. This existential crisis was coupled with my obsessive surveillance of the news for the latest terrible thing.
What is left when everything is gone? I was left with work. This is better than many people, who suddenly lost their jobs. My job at a domestic violence shelter is more secure since it is an essential service. This is something to be thankful for, but also gave me a sense of impending crisis. Work over the next few months will become harder. The population at the shelter is often sick. With more people restricted to their homes and more services limited by closures, we will almost certainly be busier. My shifts have been busier with hotline calls, more cleaning chores, and more intakes. Residents will have a harder time connecting to services, finding housing, and finding employment. Staff themselves may become sick. There are challenges ahead. Normally, I could face these challenges with the hope of travel, escape, hobbies, or other distractions. Many of the distractions and promises of escape are gone.
All of this has been rather depressing and paralyzing. I thought that I was a more resilient person and have been disappointed by my response. On March 17th, I had a panic attack, which is something I haven’t had for quite a long time. I sat on the floor, trying to breathe. I felt anxiety again on the 19th. It was that feeling I would have before running in a track meet or performing in a play. A fluttery feeling that my heart is too fast and my stomach is too empty. It is hard to explain to other people. My feelings are, after all, very selfish and privileged. While people die, lose their jobs, become seriously ill, or face innumerable traumas as healthcare workers, I am thinking about when I will travel again or the emptiness of not having many of my hobbies, doing activism, or going to restaurants. And other people seem to be coping much better. They are watching more Netflix, trying new recipes, organizing online yoga classes, and creating online communities for mutual aid. I haven’t felt as able to transition.
Eventually, I will rise to the occasion. The abrupt end to a version of my self was bewildering. I couldn’t look at my goal book until yesterday. The goals are a relic of another reality. I won’t be going to RSOP’s spring frog walk or nature photography class. I won’t be on the Audubon warbler walks this spring. I won’t be substitute teaching or taking hot yoga classes before the Groupon expires. I won’t be going to union meetings or really, any other meetings. I might not be camping at new state parks this summer. The list of 140 New Year’s will remain incomplete. I need to find new things and exist in new ways.
Today, I felt a little better. I had another activist Zoom meeting. It was again bittersweet. But, I am thinking more about the future. Later, I spoke with a coworker who was stressed about her financial situation. It snapped me out of the selfish mourning of the way things were and the things I hoped for. I have to start rebuilding myself with new scaffolding, so that I can be strong enough to weather this. I have to be strong and dynamic, vibrant and capable. I need to find the fuel to fight, support others, and do the things that need to be done. I will attend educational meetings via Zoom. There is a talk on Alexandra Kollontai in April that I don’t want to miss. I can write and read more. I can look for ways to re-engage in activism. I can start some seeds next month. I can join virtual yoga classes and write new to-do lists. This doesn’t change the fear for the future. The worry over death or that we are headed for conditions unseen in the U.S. since the Great Depression. The social distancing seems to remove some of the sense that I have agency in changing society for the better. Things just seem to happen. There is endless happening and the powerlessness of being atomized into households. Still, I think I can pass through demoralization and loss and discover the emotional means for mobilization. I can do, and fight, and support, and find new ways to be busy. I won’t be quarantined with my demons.
Despite the grandiose name of this blog post, most of these freebies were not actually fabulous. But, getting something for free is still pretty good. Hence, I decided that this year for my “birthday month” I was going to try to get as many free things as I could. Now, there are certainly more free items that one can obtain for their birthday. But, I feel satisfied with my efforts and what I obtained. While they might not all be fabulous, I can’t argue with something given to me for free just for being alive! So, here is the list of my free birthday loot.
Reward Members can get $5 off of any purchase in store or online. I chose to buy a pair of snake earrings for $5.90. Thus, the earrings cost less than a dollar plus tax. You might think that I am too old for Hot Topic. The large amount of Disney products they sell seems to support this claim. However, I learned that uneven sized earring sets and friendship necklace sets seem to be popular right now. Yep, I am old and keeping up with the trends of the youth. The offer expires about one month after the birthday. Free earrings are pretty fabulous, so I will have to try to get another pair next year!
Photo from Hot Topic.
This is a pretty good deal, considering that desserts are over $7 at Olive Garden. I almost forgot to take a photo. Like all of these promotions, you need to be a rewards member to obtain the free dessert, which appears as an emailed coupon. The featured item is a Black Tie Mousse Cake. I don’t believe that a purchase was necessary, but I ate other food so I am not certain. The value cannot exceed $8.50 and the coupon expires within a few days of the birthday.
Starbucks rewards members can receive a free drink of any size. I redeemed the offer on my actual birthday. Unlike other promotions, it expires on the birthday, so it is good for one day only. The pictured item is an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk. No other purchase was necessary.
Noodles and Company Rewards members can get a free cookie or rice krispie bar for their birthday. The promotion expires near the birthday. If I remember correctly, it expires within a few days. I redeemed the offer on my birthday. No other purchase was required.
This is one of the better deals, since most places only offer a dessert item. Rewards members can have a free entree for their birthday. I forget when it expires, but if I remember rightly there was at least a week after my birthday to redeem the promotion. The pictured item is a vegetarian burrito bowl. No other purchase was necessary.
I don’t really like breakfast, but hey, it’s a free meal. I actually planned on letting my friend Adam eat this, but he was not feeling well. So, neither of us was keen on eating the eggs, pancakes, and meat item (for Adam). I ended up eating some of the pancakes. No other purchase was necessary, but I ate an appetizer and iced tea.
Photo from Perkins
Caribou Coffee offers a free any sized birthday drink. To access this deal, you need to be a rewards member. No other purchase is necessary, but the promotion expires a week after the birthday. My drink of choice was an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk. It is less sweet than the Starbucks version. It was pretty fabulous!
This isn’t the best deal, since you must buy one to get one free. But, if you happen to have a friend who wants a Blizzard or feel like eating two, you can get a “free” Blizzard for your birthday. This promotion appeared in the Dairy Queen app. I forgot to take a photo until I was nearly done, but this is a Double Fudge Cookie Dough Blizzard. This was the Blizzard of the Month for February.
To my great surprise, when I went to see the movie Parasite, I was informed that because it had been my birthday, I could get a free junior sized soda. Even a small movie theater soda is around $5, so this was a pretty good deal. To get the free soda, you must be a Magical Movie Rewards member. I didn’t get a free movie, but I went for $5 movie night, so it was a pretty cheap visit to the theater. That was pretty fabulous!
The final free food item that I received for my birthday was a cookie from Subway. To get a free cookie, you must be a rewards member, but no other purchase is necessary. The coupon was valid until about two weeks after my birthday. It was not the most exciting birthday freebie, but nice to end the month with one final thing. Yes, this was a bit anti-climatic, as my brother pointed out, but I was happy to add another item to my collection of birthday freebies.
It’s March now, so the birthday fun is over (mostly). I had a fun time trying to find some birthday freebies and it gives me a starting point to up my efforts next year. Other places with freebies include Applebees (dessert), Texas Roadhouse (appetizer), and Jersey Mike (sub sandwich). Of course, none of this is really “free” as I am doing the labor of providing free advertising for these corporations by sharing this information. I also get more advertisements from these companies because of my reward memberships. The companies most likely recover the cost of these “free items” in my spending over the year. Nevertheless, it is fun to get something for mostly free!
Typically, I would try to write up a “Year in Review” in January, but I just haven’t had time. Where does the time go, I don’t know! Thus, my year in review is ready near my birthday instead. I will say that 2019 started off on a low note, but improved towards the end of the year. My health, mental health, and finances were a little topsy turvy, but it was also a year of adventures and perseverance. By the end of the year, I pulled things out of the fire and ended feeling optimistic for 2020!
One downside of 2019, was the return of my depression. This was a struggle between December 2018 and August 2019, with the worst symptoms occurring in December through the spring. Most of the depression was probably work related, which isn’t something I am at complete liberty to share. I will only say that there was an intense period of labor struggle accompanied by a high attrition of staff. In the end, I was one of the “last ones standing” or staying at my job. During the struggle and once it was over, I felt rather bleak about it all. I was depressed enough that I withdrew from some people and actively considered suicide. However, since it wasn’t my first experience with depression, I also sought out some therapy. While I only attended a few sessions, it helped me hold myself accountable for my mental health. Eventually, things improved and I was better able to get a handle on my depression. It is good to be at a place in life where I’ve had enough experience with depression that it will never be as destructive and debilitating as it was in my early 20s.
Another downside of 2019 was the sudden onset of painful attacks in my chest and back area. One of these mysterious attacks sent me to the ER in February 2019….while celebrating my birthday! It turned out that I needed gallbladder surgery. I had my gallbladder removed in April. The downside of all of this was the financial cost to it all. Even though I have health insurance, the entire ordeal cost me about $6000.
Owing to the unexpected expense of a visit to the ER and gallbladder surgery, I felt more stressed about finances than usual. Coupled with student loans and car repairs, there were some financially stressful moments this past year. However, in the end I was able to manage these expenses, develop a payment plan for the medical bills, and pay off my car early in September. I also picked up overtime on every paycheck between January and August at my primary place of employment. This helped with my financial security. I even increased my 401 b contribution and tried out a few new financial tools such as Acorns and Mint. I am also proud that by the end of the year, my credit score reached a peak of over 760.
I worked….a lot. As mentioned, I picked up quite a lot of overtime at the shelter. Aside from this, I continued to work at the WE Health Clinic, as the mall Easter Bunny, and substitute teaching. A downside of the year was when the work schedule I had enjoyed for four years was changed. However, I was able to eventually move to a work schedule that seems to work just as well. This caused some distress during the interim between the old and newest work schedule. Also distressing was the loss of many of my coworkers after a protracted struggle. Thankfully, things have settled down into a less conflict ridden status quo (even though the struggle was lost). It was an empowering experience, even if all consuming for a while.
I became Vice President of my union this year. I feel proud of that.
In January 2019, I visited Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. I spent the most time in El Salvador and had a really great time. Highlights included seeing many wonderful birds, visiting the Copan ruins, hiking up two volcanoes, not getting sick, and visiting historical sites related to the civil war in El Salvador.
Another travel highlight was completing the Inca Trail. I visited Ecuador and Peru in November and December for three weeks. The Inca Trail was physically challenging, but I am proud of myself for having made it!
I also visited the Galapagos Islands in December. I loved seeing the unique wildlife and celebrating evolution.
I went on a road trip with my mother to Winnipeg. For me, this was in part to observe the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg general strike. We kept a busy schedule, visiting museums, the zoo, camping, spending time in nature, catching an outdoor concert and First Nations festival, and much more! Visiting Lake Winnipeg was also a highlight. We learned the hard way that the U.S./Canada border point that we wanted to cross closes at 8pm.
One of my goals is to visit all of the state parks in Minnesota. Each year I try to visit a few new ones. One of the parks I visited was Forestville Mystery Cave, which is located in southern Minnesota. Although I usually go alone, Dan was kind enough to go with me, indulging my desire to see the largest cave in Minnesota. I also visited Itasca State Park, which is the headwaters of the Mississippi River. After visiting the park, I stayed with my father in Bemidji and we went to Lake Bemidji State Park together. We walked along the bog walk. Another nearby park was Schoolcraft State Park, which isn’t that impressive but is known for an old white pine. I also visited Father Hennepin State Park on a day trip, but did not see the famous albino deer.
Where the Mississippi River begins
I can always be thankful for my friends. Adam, Lucas, and I went to Madeline Island and Houghton Falls for a memorable adventure together. The three of us also went for a hike up Carlton Peak, while Adam and I did a few other hikes. As I mentioned, Dan and I also went on an adventure to Forestville Mystery Cave. I also had a great Halloween, as my friends and I dressed up as the seasons. Although we didn’t win the costume prize, I felt proud of our costumes and had a great time dressing up as dry season!
I read 39 books last year. To some people this may seem like a lot and to others, this may seem disappointingly low. Some highlights include The Last Days of the Incas, Handbook for a Post Roe America, The End of Roe v. Wade, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, 1491: Before Columbus, Eels, Frankenstein, and a few books about Yemen. I always try to “read my age” so, I will have my work cut out for me when I am 80.
I attended 135 activist events. This includes meetings, protests, pickets, social justice educational events, etc. The number is down from the last two years.
I saw 133 new species of birds in 2019, many of them in Peru and El Salvador. A highlight from Minnesota was my first Boreal chickadee.
The socialist group I have been a part of since the early 2000s split this past year in November. This was a bit awkward since I had been the Vice Presidential candidate for the party. While this role was far outside of my comfort zone, on a personal level, I really hate disappointing people. So, I regret if I disappointed the SA comrades over this matter. On the other hand, a large number of comrades were expelled over dues payment (which followed a long debate over Syria, analysis of imperialism, and trans issues), so leaving was the principled thing to do.
From Leftist Trainspotters, the cover of SA news shortly after the split, before my photo could be removed…
Those who left or were removed from Socialist Action went on to form a new group called Socialist Resurgence. There is a healthy energy within the group, even if we are small. The new group has made my local branch more politically engaged than it has been for a long while.
Each year, I try to challenge myself to try new things. A few things that I did that were new this year include attending a burlesque show, attending a mycology club, visiting new state parks, visiting Madeline Island, trying some new foods like Lingonberry ice cream, rose apple, cherimoya, rambutan, and Hibiscus Lacroix, making a bat house, attending a roller derby event, hiking at high altitude, becoming certified in mental health first aid, etc. I wish that I had enough time to do roller derby, as that seems like a really fun sport. I also wish I had time to become more knowledgeable about fungi.
I kept up my regular hobbies of reading, birding, camping, travel, hiking, and writing. I didn’t write in my blog as much, but I felt pinched for time. I took a watercolor class, continued gardening, took a community ed class about preserving herbs, played community soccer, went cross country skiing and snowshoeing, attended Planetarium classes and events, tried DuoLingo for Russian and Spanish, and so on. I also started to attend a poetry club and even read poems at an event about body autonomy. I failed to keep up with dancing, yoga, bicycling, and violin.
I also try to face my fears each year. Playing co-ed soccer meant facing a fear, since I felt uneasy about playing soccer with men. I also don’t enjoy substitute teaching very much, since I am afraid I will make a mistake, disappoint the teacher, be unable to control the classroom, or somehow my logins won’t work. So, each time I sub, I face my fears. My short tenure as VP for Socialist Action and doing more writing for SA and SR also means facing fears, since I fear that I am not smart or knowledgeable enough. I fear disappointing my comrades by “not being good enough.”
I had 100 New Year’s Resolutions. I completed about 64 of them. I don’t feel upset about this, as 100 is quite a few. For those who are curious, the black resolutions are ones that I completed and the red text are resolutions I did not complete. There is always room to grow!
I recently went on a short trip to Central America. With only a short visit to Antigua, Guatemala, I wanted to try to make the most of my time in the country. I figured that one way to do this would be to hike up a volcano. After all, the country has at least 37 volcanoes, of which, three are considered active (others are extinct or dormant). Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes and one that tourists can easily access for hiking. Another active volcano in Guatemala is Fuego Volcano, which made headlines when it erupted this past summer, killing 190 people (with over 200 people still considered missing as of October 2018) and displacing almost 3000 people. The eruption was the largest in Guatemala for about 40 years and was followed by another eruption in November that resulted in the evacuation of 4000 people. The nearby Pacaya volcano has been continuously active since the 1961 (Wnuk and Wauthier, 2016) and in a state of mostly mostly low grade eruptions since the 1990s, with a major eruption in 2010 that resulted in the evacuation of several thousand people, several deaths, and the destruction of land used for coffee growing. Pacaya’s volcano tourism took off after this eruption as tourists were curious to see active volcanism (i.e. lava, tephra (volcanic ash, rocks, particles) (Steel, 2016). Despite the destruction and human suffering wrought by active volcanoes in Guatemala, I wanted to visit a volcano and experience the dynamic geology of our planet first hand. My main worry is that I was going to physically struggle with the hike. And, I did! But not for the reasons that I thought! This is a story of a journey up a volcano, but also a voyage through sleeplessness.
Before leaving for the U.S., I booked a hike through Grayline one of many “day trip” companies based in Antigua or Guatemala City. My plan was that I would do the hike the morning after arriving in the country. The particular tour that I purchased included a visit to a hot springs and lunch and was a little less than $100. There are cheaper tours and more independent methods of travel, but I felt satisfied with the price and convenience. In any event, I departed for my trip with the idea that I would be hiking up a volcano on the morning after my arrival. This would not have been a problem but for a few complicating circumstances. For one, I worked a night shift on Wednesday night, then left for my trip on Thursday (directly after the night shift). I was able to get some fitful napping on my flights but did not fully sleep Wednesday or Thursday. Furthermore, my flight from Houston was delayed for several hours due to weather elsewhere in the U.S. which had stalled the arrival of my plane and disrupted the flight schedules of the airport. This meant that I actually arrived at my hotel in Antigua at 4:00 am Friday due to delays. It also meant that I was awake for about 36 hours. It also meant that I was committed to hiking up a volcano on a tour scheduled to pick up at my hotel at 6:30 am. It was not going to be a fun hike. I attempted to take a two hour nap before leaving for the hike, but failed to fall asleep.
I wearily watched the landscape pass from the window of the van that took me…and less than a dozen other tourists…to the volcano. There were several large hills and we approached a very steep looking volcano. I thought that perhaps this was the Pacaya volcano and dreaded the impossible hike ahead. Thankfully, it was probably the Fuego volcano, which is about 4,000 feet taller than the Pacaya volcano. The van veered away from the larger volcano to a park entrance, where we were descended upon by locals trying to sell/rent us walking sticks. A walking stick would have been a great idea, but I felt a little overwhelmed and pressed through the crowd to the visitor’s center. In retrospect, I should have supported the locals trying to make a little money from a volcano that might otherwise play a potentially dangerous or destructive roll in their lives. After all, Pacaya has erupted 48 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala (Steele, 2016). I felt vaguely nauseated from fatigue and not sure how I would tackle the hike ahead. Our group assembled near the start of the trail, where we were offered horseback rides up the volcano. Taking a horse cost about $15, which was a tempting idea but I went there to hike up a volcano and I was going to hike up a volcano! Hiking was rough. I felt dizzy with tiredness. I felt like a zombie, pushing my brainless body forward and upward with immense effort. I was slow. The hike was a relentlessly steep hill that never ended. There were no flat areas. Just…up, up, up, up. The only redeeming quality of the hike was that it was shaded by a forest. I wanted to cry I was so exhausted. By the time I was hiking, I had been awake for 40 hours (with some cat naps in chairs). The 40 hours had consisted of a nine hour shift at the shelter, a van ride to Minneapolis, two flights, a flight delay, a late arrival to my hotel, pitiful tossing and turning in my hotel bed for two hours, around two hours drive from Antigua, then THIS, the hellish hike. I took two caffeine pills that only seemed to make my head swirl. With each step I contemplated how far I would go before I gave up. All the way, my sluggish, slow self was hounded by horse escorts hoping that I would give in and take a horse the rest of the way. No, no. I’m okay. I don’t need a horse. I really don’t need a horse. No, I’ll make it. I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I checked my watch along the way. I had read that the hike up only takes one to two hours. At around the one hour mark we were told that we were close. I heard two thunderous booms. The explosive sound was exciting enough to re-energize me and I was able to complete the last 15 minutes or so through the treeless, drier viewing area. It was hard all of the way. I panted from exhaustion as I plodded along and cursed myself for signing up for the excursion. But, I made it! I made it!
The viewing area is not at the summit of Pacaya volcano, but it does offer a view of the summit as well as a view of nearby volcanoes. The summit crater exudes smoke and gas, which can be seen from the viewing area below. Another tourist I spoke with went on an evening hike and said that sparks can be seen flying from the summit crater. This would be an impressive sight, but for her meant precariously hiking down the volcano in the dark. The viewing area itself is located at about 7,500 ft above sea level and the summit is 8,373 ft above sea level. It may feel a little disappointing that the tour does not take one to the very top, but I was happy to avoid hiking up the steep, hot looking slope. According to blogger, Melinda Crow (2017), the actual hike to the viewing area is about two miles and covers an elevation change of about 1,300 feet or 650 feet per mile. It felt challenging, but not absolutely impossible, as obviously I did the hike with minimal sleep. In any event, I milled about the viewing area with the belief that the hike was done….but nope….the group then descended down some slippery dark rocks to a lava field. This was discouraging as I had little interest in climbing back up or climbing up anything more. I was quite content with the fact that we didn’t actually climb to the summit of the volcano as I was exhausted and it was hot and dusty out in the treeless black field of lava. I could see a plume of smoke at the top of the volcano and was glad to be where I was. The blackened valley featured a lava store and fumeroles wherein tourists could roast marshmallows. This was a big attraction for me. I had fantasized about roasting a marshmallow on the volcano, but with little sleep, mild nausea, and a strenuous hike behind me, I didn’t feel up to the task of digesting a puff of gelatin and sugar. There was also a shop nestled in the valley, which sold souvenirs and I believe some snacks. I really didn’t pay attention to the shop, as I was eager to begin the hike back while I had enough energy to keep myself from collapsing. The hike down was better. The lava area was quite dry and the air was thick with dust. My lungs were unhappy with me and I was glad to move away from the lava field and smoking crater. The rocks on the way down were slippery, as they were often small and easily tumbled under my boots like the wheels of roller skates.
Following the volcano hike, the group was rewarded with lunch and some time at some hot springs. At that point, I had been awake far too long to have an appetite. Oddly, being sleepy tends to make me more hungry, but at a certain point of sleep deprivation, even digestion seemed like too much effort. I watched the others eat their meals while I sipped a diet coke. After lunch, or my non-lunch, we all set off for the series of pools. There were two levels of pools of varying degrees of heat. The hot springs were actually a spa resort called Santa Teresita. I had imagined that the hot spring would be an actual bubbling puddle of geothermal heated water. This was far nicer. The complex featured 11 pools and a thermal circuit of several pools that switch between warm and cool pools. I probably didn’t do the correct cycle of the circuit, but it felt nice to just relax in warm water. It was no substitute for sleep, but it was restful. While I didn’t sleep, I did take some time to lounge on a beach chair and vegetate in the sun. The hot springs were a fun addition to the trip, but also complimented the volcano hike well. For one, it was soothing for my weary body and two, the hot springs found in Guatemala are near volcanoes, where water may be warmed by magma. Pacaya volcano is located about 10 km southeast from Lake Amatitlan where the hot springs were located, so it is possible that the hot water that I found so relaxing was heated by Pacaya’s magma. (Warring, 1983). I am not knowledgeable enough about geology to know this for sure, but it was neat to think about the hidden connections within the earth.
When I returned to Antigua, I had been awake for 48 hours. My day continued with a walk around my hotel to explore the city a little. I also ate dinner with members of a travel group that I would be traveling with for about eight days. This kept me up until 10 pm, in what was probably one of the longest spans of time that I had been awake in my life. While it would seem that after hiking a volcano, working my shift, spending a day traveling, and then…walking and exploring, I might have fallen into a dead sleep. NOPE, I could not fall asleep when I finally had an opportunity for REAL sleep! I had pushed myself to stay awake for so long that awakeness had a terrible momentum of its own. At that point, I didn’t feel like a human being. Just some hollowed out husk flopped on a bed, with an empty, buzzing head and tired limbs. I finally dozed off at midnight, but was up again at 4:30 am ish for a day tour to Lake Atitlan the next morning!
Based upon this experience, I would offer the following advice to other travelers. One important lesson is to NOT book strenuous activities on the day after arrival…as arrival can be postponed by weather. I didn’t have much choice since my time was limited and I felt compelled to maximize it. Another obvious piece of advice would be to avoid working a night shift…then staying awake to travel. I also could not avoid this because I wanted to squeeze the most out of my accrued vacation time. Taking the night off would have meant exhausting nine more hours of accrued vacation time. Vacation time is precious. The loss of a day is one less day I get to spend somewhere else. My need to work and desire to maximize my time set me up for a very unpleasant hike. As another general piece of advice, wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bandana. The sun is pretty intense, especially on the lava field. So….I scorched myself. Also, the air is heavy with particulates. So much so that my lungs felt heavy. Wearing a bandana over my face helped my to endure the worst areas. Thirdly, while I had attempted to be in OKAY shape before the trip (by jogging several miles a few times a week, using a higher incline on the treadmill, and generally increasing the amount of exercise I was doing before the trip), I was still sadly out of shape and struggled up the hill. I don’t think the hike is something that needs to be taken THAT seriously, as with patience and slow effort, almost anyone without complicating health conditions can probably complete the hike. One lesson I have learned is that there really is no substitute for hiking hills (as treadmill incline really doesn’t seem to replicate the real impact of gravity). A better idea might have been visiting a place with many stairs and just forcing myself to go up, up, up. My biggest anxiety was over if I would be physically up for the task (as I would have felt embarrassed to be TOO out of shape) but I think this was unfounded. It wasn’t THAT hard, but it was challenging. A final piece of advice was carrying small binoculars. I brought them along so I could watch for birds (I only saw some hummingbirds during the hike). Aside from birding, I thought they were useful in getting a closer view of the summit (even if there was not much to see but smoke). In the end, it was worthwhile. It was arduous, but I can always look back and think…”remember the time you were awake for …like 40 hours…and climbed a volcano. I think you can handle this.”
Crow, M. (2017, September 24). The #TravelTruth About Hiking the Pacaya Volcano in 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://firstread.me/pacaya-volcano-2017/
Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts again (2018, October 12) retrieved 16 January 2019
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