21 December 2008


A purely hypothetical perfect day:

I wake up in Jungle Boy's arms and we're out the door by seven grinning foolishly and striding through the cobblestone streets of Antigua. We dash to catch a chicken bus trundling around the corner with SAN ANDRES ITZAPA emblazed on its side and bound up the steps to find a place among the crowded school bus seats. The bus rumbles off, bumping along narrow twisty roads, and we gape at the mountains and valleys as they unfold. I look past Jungle Boy to the fields roaring past us and I can't think of any other place on earth I would rather be.

In Itzapa, (where the streets are paved with concrete) we hike up the steep calles to reach Maya Pedal—home of bicibomba, bicimolina, and bicilicuadora—nestled on a hill between other narrow cinder block buildings. The gates are wide open and we take a whirlwind tour around through the workshop. On the top floor are piles of bikes from Bikes Not Bombs, and I reflexively scan them, on the chance I'll recognize a bike I loaded in a container or flattened at a bike drive. Nothing, nothing, nothi-woah! Turquoise handlebars! Nah, couldn't be…wait…a red frame…and…yes! It's missing its rear brake cable! It's the same bike Ste used for IDDS in Boston and then donated when he left. I took care of this bike for a few days before Gwyn came with his pick-up to take it to BNB. Great blazing whales, of all the places that bike could have ended up…

At 9 am, we scramble back down the hill to see my good friend Carlos, bicycle machine master extraordinaire. We jump in his pick up and he takes us further down the winding roads to Technologia Para Salud to meet Julio Cesar, another Guatemalan mastermind. He takes us on a tour, explaining their improved stoves, latrines, recycling program, dehydrating system, waste water treatment, and crazy enough I understand everything he's saying, or at least enough to ask him to clarify words I've never heard. My Spanish is finally becoming functional, a huge victory for my "things to do before I die" list.

Carlos drops us off at the side of the road and we flag down another chicken bus. We make it back to Antigua just in time to catch my brother leaving the house, eat lunch with my host family, say goodbye, and I race off to my last Spanish lesson. After, I meet my dad and my brother in the hall of the Spanish school (they've just finished up their last Spanish lessons, too) and we make our way to the other side of town to meet our guides.

A few hours later we're all hiking up Pacaya, an active volcano. The first part is easy and peaceful, and my dad tells stories about his life that I've never heard before. We set up camp and watch Fuego erupt in the distance and eat curry for dinner that we've carried up the mountain. Night falls and Pacaya begins to glow and stain the darkening sky red. A few steps from our campsite and we can see lava pouring down the mountain before it cools enough for great glowing boulders of molten rock to break off the flow and tumble down the slope. We leave our bags behind and begin the harder part of the hike, scrambling up a steep slope of sharp black volcanic rock that slides out from under our feet every step we take. Soon it's dark and the only light is the pale white of our head lamps on the dark rock and the glowing blood red clouds sweeping overhead, reflecting the light from the lava now hidden behind the dark razor silhouette of the ridge that looms above. The wind is blowing cold and it's more of a struggle than I want to admit to progress up the sliding slope. I marvel at how strong my dad must be to have made it this far—he's a polio survivor who was told he would never walk again. If only his childhood doctors could see him now, I'm overcome with respect and pride for everything he's done with his life.

It seems like the peak never comes closer, no matter how many sliding steps we carve up the mountain, but suddenly the air feels much warmer, I look up and see the top of the lava flow. The ground is now solid-old rolling lava flows that radiate heat as we walk over them. The new lava flow throws off enough light to paint the entire scene neon red. I begin to believe the stories of Prometheus when my brother braves the blistering heat to get close enough to shove his walking stick in the lava. It instantly catches on fire. It's easy to picture him smuggling the flame down the mountain to bequeath it to the poor shivering fireless mortals below, minus the liver-eating vultures part. Time is suspended. We relax, trade more stories, watch the blood red clouds race by, lose ourselves in the mesmerizing glow from the lava , roast marshmallows (of course) and throw in whatever we can find into the flow to watch it burst into flames. I can't imagine any other place I would rather be. Finally, when we descend, and it feels like we're skiing as the black volcanic rock continuously slides from under our feet. We arrive at our campsite, crawl into the tent, and call it a night.

I wish my mom could have come.

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