Author Archives: Aaron


The area around Guatemala City is elevated, mountainous, and volcanically active. One of the most prominent of the volcanoes in this area, Fuego (Spanish for “fire”), has been erupting regularly and has recently produced enough ash to close the airport in Guatemala City about thirty miles away. Right next to Fuego lies Acatenango, a dormant volcano from which hikers can obtain a stunning view of the eruption from less than two miles away. It’s not an easy view to obtain though, because unless you hire a helicopter, you’ll have to hike eleven miles round trip with a pack full of water and cold-weather clothes to the summit, where the eruption can be seen. Even without the added twenty-to-thirty pounds of backpack, climbing up the 5,150-foot elevation change on volcanic gravel trails would be tough.

On a recommendation from some friends, and because we knew we didn’t want to miss such a cool opportunity, we decided to do it during our week-long visit to Antigua in April. After talking over what we knew about the hike, it was apparent that the whole family would not be going on this excursion. We reached the conclusion that only Eli and I would go with Walter, a trusted guide recommended by Joaquin, a friend of ours who had previously done the hike with him. We each packed five liters of water, some snacks, and all the warm clothes we own. We would be hiking about five hours up to base camp, then remaining there until 4:00 AM, when we would be getting up to hike the remaining hour and a half to watch the sunrise from the peak. At an elevation of 13,045 feet, the temperature can drop below freezing and the wind chill can be wicked, though it seldom rains or snows due to lack of moisture.

We met Walter at the Parque Central of Antigua at 7:00 AM, said “adios” to Mom and Dad, and followed Walter to the bus terminal. The first bus took us to a neighboring town outside the old city from which we rode a second bus to a town lying at the foot of Acatenango. There Walter made some last-minute preparations, then we rode in the back of a truck up to the trailhead. We disembarked from the truck, bought hiking sticks for five Quetzales apiece (less than $1), shouldered our packs, and started hiking around 9:30 AM.

Acatenango Hike, Before

The first part was probably the worst, because it took about an hour for us ascend the dusty trail that runs between cultivated fields before we started getting any shade—we were prepared for cold, but not for heat. From there we basically trudged uphill for four more hours until we reached base camp. The scenery was actually quite nice, but when we weren’t resting, all we really cared about was making it as far as possible before we had to stop again.

Rest stop Acatenango Hike

We were by no means the only ones doing this; we saw several other groups going up and several more going down from the previous day. The last part of the hike to base camp was probably the best (that and bumming around base camp just watching the volcano) because it was mostly flat. Base camp consists of several terraces in the mountainside where rows of tents can be set up.

Acatenango Base Camp

We arrived around 2:30 PM and were immediately presented with an amazing view of Fuego. We set down our packs, sat down, and watched for a while as occasional plumes of ash and smoke billowed from Fuego like a chimney. Every once in a while we’d be able to hear it exploding and see chunks of rock go flying. But most of the time there was not much more to see than some cool cloudscapes. We decided that clouds are only interesting from above; from below you only get to see the flat bottoms.

Fuego from Base Camp 1

Up to this point we had been wearing pants and T-shirts and had been rather hot. Now that we had ceased our strenuous exercise, we started packing on the layers. We helped Walter pitch our tent, then we took a little nap until it came close to sundown when we put on more layers and went to watch the sunset from a nearby vantage point. We took pictures of ourselves in front of Fuego, but it refused to erupt dramatically as long as we were holding the camera. It was still a sweet view, pretty high up on the list all the awesome things that I’ve seen. Erupting volcano? Yeah, definitely in the top three.

It got better after dark, because it was possible to see more color than in daylight. When it erupted, we didn’t just see clouds of ash, we also saw the reddish orange of the glowing lava spewing out from the top of the barren rock cone set against the darkening evening sky. It really was that dramatic; I’m not exaggerating. It was just like the cover of a national geographic magazine, with little orange lava particles being ejected with considerable force from Fuego just a few miles away. Unfortunately it was impossible to capture pictures that reveal what it looked like—when we tried to photograph fountains of lava, all we got was black background with orange splotches.

We sat around the fire with some people from a different group, ate dinner with the erupting volcano in the background, and then went into our tent to sleep. Or so we hoped. The hours between 8:00 PM and 4:00 AM ticked by agonizingly slowly. Neither of us could have gotten more than four or five hours of sleep and certainly not uninterrupted. The most probable reasons were the lack of pillows, the cold, and a mental giddiness caused by our location. Once during the night I became sick and spent some time outside the tent, though even now I can’t imagine why, because I felt fine afterwards.

We were awakened in the dark of early morning for the final push to the summit. Eli and I removed most of the contents of our packs to make them lighter, put on all of our extra clothes, and continued the upward journey. Not too long after we started, a little bit of light was visible on the horizon and we ascended past the tree line. There was no longer any vegetation at all, just black pumice for the rest of the way. The last stretch was possibly the most grueling hundred yards that I have ever traversed. Combined with lack of sleep and fatigue from the previous day, the almost 45° incline and the sliding gravel ensured that each step was as tortuous as possible.

Aaron at Acatenango summit, view of Fuego

The first thing I did when I got to the top was lie down and enjoy the view (and also the fact that there were no more uphill slopes in my near future). And the view was indeed worth all the trouble; from an elevation 13,045 feet we were actually looking down on Fuego, which was 700 feet below us at a height of 12,346 feet. We were also considerably higher than the clouds, which created a flat grey plane covering the ground below us. It was quite stunning.

Sunrise Acatenango

And the volcano was even better, because we could still see all of the color, but also much closer and from a different angle. We could see it explode upward then fall and ooze down the side. We were not the only ones to see it; after a while there was actually a bit of a crowd—maybe twenty to thirty people around one of the more prominent viewpoints.

Fuego eruption from summit

It was also really cold. Not just the temperature but also the wind chill had us freezing inside all of our layers within fifteen minutes. Not what you might imagine of tropical Guatemala.  We drank some blessedly hot tea that Walter had brought in a thermos, took some triumphant photos, and just generally enjoyed our sense of accomplishment. The top of the volcano on which we stood looked like the surface of another planet: only black gravel, pale dawn sky, several mounds surrounding a central crater, and a white metal shelter constructed as a memorial in the middle of the crater, looking like a habitation module from Earth. I also felt kind of like an astronaut in all of my layers, standing against the harsh, cold, alien wind.

Volcano Descent

After a little while, Walter suggested that we start down, so we picked up our packs and followed him back down. We took a slightly different path down which made it possible for us to basically run straight down. If I’d had a snowboard or something, I probably would have been able to ride it on the loose material. At any rate it was fast, fun, and not too hard on the ankles. Upon our return to base camp, we changed into lighter clothes for the hike down, ate a quick breakfast, packed up, and started walking. We were the first to start hiking, and only passed one solitary hiker near the trailhead who was the first person coming up for the day. It was all downhill and we ran some of the way, covering the same distance as the day before in less than half the time.

Five minutes from the end though, Eli and I both suffered the only injuries we received on the entire trip. Eli slipped and ripped his jeans, and I, in classic Aaron-fashion, tripped and landed face first, cutting my lower lip. It looked kind of messed-up for almost a week afterward. After quickly self-administered first aid, I rejoined the other two, and we took the truck and bus rides back to Antigua, where we met Mom, Dad, and Sam. We took leave of Walter and finished our trip with celebratory pulled-pork sandwiches at Pappy’s BBQ and went home for much-needed showers and naps.

Acatenango Hike, After

Stuff Day

Our parents have tried very hard to keep things like toys and games from becoming the center of our lives. We don’t have a big Christmas, and we don’t get birthday presents; instead, we go do something fun. This is generally a good practice, but it breaks down when we do get new things. Occasionally, we have a Stuff Day. It doesn’t come every year and it doesn’t come on a specific day, but when it does, we’ll be excitedly cutting packing tape and popping bubble wrap.

We made a big Amazon order recently because here in San Andres we can have things shipped to us duty-free in a container. The minimum cost is $80, which might seem expensive, but it’s measured in cubic feet, and when you order a bunch of stuff, it’s not that much. It only costs $130 to ship 40 cubic feet of cargo, which is obviously more than we were getting. All of our boxes but one made it onto the ship, and then we just had to wait for it come. It took four days to get to San Andres from Miami, all of which were filled with anticipation and speculation on our part. On the day of its arrival, we all watched, trying and failing to suppress grins and evil laughs, as the Jan Caribe, the ship bearing our goods, came into the channel.

Our Ship Coming In

This is what I’m talking about: we’re all excited and giddy about some stuff on a container ship. All right, it wasn’t just “some stuff,” that container held a waffle-maker, a five-by-eight-foot inflatable platform, four Wii controllers (we already had a Wii that someone had given us), and a 32” television (among other things like boat parts of course). The next day, we collected it all and got it onto the boat. Once it was all inside, the packages took up our entire living room space! Then we started unpacking. It took us an hour to open all the boxes, unpack them, and stow the loot. We got dock lines, a shore-power cord, orange cleaner, mail, a wind instrument, etc.; it was the biggest pile of new stuff we’ve ever had!


We inflated our new raft and played on it. We made waffles the next morning with our new waffle maker. We even got to play Mariokart on the new TV! It just shows that despite our best intentions not to become materialistic, there is no denying that new stuff makes us happy, at least for a short time.

Floating Island of Fun


Blood, Sweat, and Gasoline

Located on Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro, Panama, Agua Dulce is a small, privately-owned marina run by a guy named Bobby and his family, who have been living in the area for years. We heard about them from some friends we had met in the Keys who used to work there. When we got to Bocas, we looked them up. They have a reasonably long dock, a workshop with metal-working, canvas, and fiberglass sections, a guest house, and a medical clinic, in addition to their own house and large multi-purpose building. They have three home-schooled kids, a boy and two girls, ages 6, 10, and 14, respectively, so at least there are some other kids nearby with which to play.

Previous to our acquaintance, I had been consistently finishing my school work before noon, and had a surplus of free time, so the idea of getting a job sounded pretty good. I started driving the dinghy the two-and-a-half miles to Agua Dulce every day at around 1:00, to volunteer until 5:00. I basically did clean-up/sorting chores or helped a guy named Ben who works there, with whatever he was doing. A lot of the stuff there is related to panga work (local fiberglass motorboats), such as welded stainless tops, painting, motor work and replacement, wood floor pieces, and fiberglass, though they also do boat storage and other things. Ben does all the welding and metalworking, from door handles to tops for pangas, and taught me how to sand down and polish the welds to make them smooth and shiny. I also stripped things like cleats, lights, D-rings, and steering systems off of boats that needed to be sanded and painted. The sanding and fiberglass is handled by “the guys,” a group of indigenous workers hired from the two adjacent villages, led by Felipe, the most experienced of them.

Aaron at Work

Ever since I started working there, I noticed that the guys watched me a lot. One day I needed an extra hand, and asked one of them for help. Though my Spanish was not very good, I was able to tell him what I wanted, and it worked out fine. A couple of days later, now that they knew we could communicate, they asked me what my name was, so I told them. A week later, though I was sure that they knew my name, they started calling me “Crosh.” I didn’t find out what that meant for another couple of months, and as it turns out, the English equivalent in their native dialect is “skinny guy.”

There are several funny anecdotes about the guys, like one time when Ben, Bobby, and I were working on a boat and using the Sawzall. Michael (one of the guys) walked up and asked (in Spanish, of course) “Do you need the Jiggy-Jiggy?” and pointed to the Sawzall. We gave it to him, and when he was gone we all started laughing. The Inspiration for the name of this blog post came one especially hot day when I spent two-and-a-half hours pumping mixed gas out of a boat that was getting a four-stroke motor. I ended up soaked in sweat and fuel, and getting a cut on my hand, hence the blood, sweat, and gasoline.

Bucket Wall, by Eli

After a month or so, Eli began joining me every day, taking over most of my cleaning and organizing jobs, so I leveled up to tasks like preparing motors for removal and installing steering systems on boats. We got to know the place, where all the tools were kept, the names of most of the workers, and got into a regular routine. When a customer wants his boat totally sanded down and repainted, it is taken up the canal and pulled up onto the bank. It is then stripped (my job), sanded down (the guys), and whatever fiber-glassing is needed is done before it is painted. When it is ready, Felipe paints the exterior whatever color the customer wants, then paints the interior gray with black-and-white speckles, and then paints the bottom. Then we reassemble it and make a couple of improvements. If he wants a welded top, then Ben makes it, installs it, and then we give the boat back to him.

The canvas guy, Geoff, had to leave Panama for a month this past summer, and was later followed by Ben. While they were gone, it was just Bobby, the new addition, Zack, and us, working. Until then, we were referred to as “the Interns,” but after we took over some of Ben’s jobs, Bobby started paying us $3 an hour to do what we had been doing for nothing. When Ben got back, Bobby left for his first vacation in three years, leaving Ben to keep things under control until he got back, and nothing went horribly wrong.

I’d like to say that my performance is flawless, but I really can’t, because I still make mistakes now and then, like drilling a hole too big, or breaking off a screw. But that’s another thing I like about Agua Dulce: it’s a good learning environment. Bobby accepts that mistakes are made, and that everyone is still learning, so when someone messes up, we just try to find a solution, and learn from the mistake. The whole experience has been a good way to: (A) fill a couple of empty hours every day, (B) learn some good skills that I’ll use for the rest of my life, (C) hang out with some cool people, and (D) earn a couple of bucks.

Rock and Roll

I just turned 15, and in accordance with family tradition, we did something fun and memorable. I had been wanting to go four-wheeling for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity. There are miles of jungle and beach trails on Isla Colon, and you can rent an ATV for a half- or full-day. So we made a reservation for 10:00 AM for Eli, Dad, and me on the 21st of September (my birthday).

Flying Pirates, Bocas

When we got there, we had to sign some paperwork, then they showed us where to go on a map, showed us how to use the quads (gear shifting, brakes, etc.), and sent us on our way. The first part was a stretch of road, and we used the easy terrain to get used to the vehicles. At the end of the road, we reached the Flying Pirates property, and turned onto a trail that led off into the jungle. The trees and bushes turned to scrub, and the trail to sand. This is when it started to become difficult.

The trail was somewhat compacted, but it was littered with chunks of rock and other debris, then it sloped down to water on the right. We each got stuck at least once on this stretch, and needed each other’s help to get unstuck. Then came the mud pit: it was about 1 foot deep, 30 feet long, and very uneven. It was actually just a short stretch of really bumpy ground submerged in water. The guy who gave us the quads had warned us about this; he said you had to keep up momentum to prevent from flooding the engine. They had even put up a sign that said, “You can do it,” and we did. Eli went first, and gunned the throttle, bouncing and getting thrown around the whole way. I wasn’t any better; I also used too much throttle, lost control, and ran up on the bank, nearly rolling over. Dad went through without a problem. On the other side, we had to stop and get off, because the engines got wet and were steaming like crazy.

Next up was the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is one of the places you can reach on the trails, and is like a giant limestone tide-pool in which you can swim. We were hot, so we jumped in and went for a blessedly cool swim. The next segment of the trail was fairly difficult, and we each got stuck a couple of times. Most notably, there was a mud pit with a deceptively dry crust into which Eli plunged headlong. It created a typical scene with someone bogged down in the mud, spinning their wheels like crazy. Luckily, each of our vehicles was equipped with a rope on a bracket on the front, and Dad hooked Eli’s around his differential, and hauled him out of there.

We also got lost once, and went ahead on foot to scope out the trail. When we got back, my quad wouldn’t start. We thought it was a dead battery, and were pretty worried, until we figured out that the starter was jammed. After banging on it a couple of times, we got it going again. We then encountered a hill that might be considered hard for some people to hike up, let alone drive up on ATVs! Dad, of course, went up with no problem (he always makes it on the first try!), then Eli tried. He went right up, lost control, and began rolling down the side, off the trail. He quickly got off the ATV, and it rolled a little farther before hitting a tree. We then worked together to lift it up and roll it back to the bottom of the hill to try again. There were other times like these, when we just had to gas it, hold on tight, and try to stay on the trail.

On the way back, now that we were familiar with the vehicles we could go much faster—and are those things fast! Fast enough that when my helmet began to blow off of my head, I decided to slow down. When we got back, we had cold sodas (or in Dad’s case, cold beers), watched the parrot-mascot, “Maestro,” climb up the wall, and checked out the shop. Flying Pirates has a good number of ATVs, some of which are being repaired, and they run a pretty big operation, modifying, and even building their own vehicles. The people were also super-friendly and relaxed, which made us feel even more comfortable. To sum up, it was a loud, fast, dangerous activity, and pretty much the best birthday I’ve ever had.

The Squall

It breaks like a giant gray wave in the sky;
The wind and rain are the weapons it wields.
I stay inside and watch as it passes by–
It moves across the bay as over an open field.
The rain comes falling like a hail–
Sometimes it hammers, sometimes it pounds,
Falling sideways, driven by the gale.
Somewhere nearby a thunderclap resounds.
The wind: those invisible fingers of persistent strength
Whose touch is chilling and will is on mischief bent,
Whispering and howling until at length
The storm recedes with power drained and anger spent.
Such magnitude without body and without shape!
The creation of such a thing comprehension does escape.

New Family Vehicle

One of the many things we decided prior to departure was to replace our old dinghy, a twelve-foot fiberglass-bottom inflatable AB, with a 2001 Mercury two-stroke 25hp. We were finding leaks and having to pump it up every few days. Because its days were numbered, we opted to buy a new one before leaving for an extended voyage. We eventually decided to go with the thirteen-foot aluminum AB, and bought a fuel-injected four-stroke Suzuki 30hp to power it.

Some of the differences are that the Suzuki has a lever shifter instead of the Mercury’s twist-shift, it doesn’t have a tiller extension, and you don’t have to mix the gas with the oil. Our motor is one of the newer models, with a built-in computer that tells us when to change the oil, and when it is getting too hot. It doesn’t get on a plane as easily with the whole family aboard (even with a hydro-foil), probably because the old dinghy had a custom prop. The new dinghy has more internal volume, and can carry all the necessary groceries, laundry, or snorkel gear wherever it needs to go. It can go at greater speeds through rougher seas than the old dinghy could, and instead of slamming, the deeper V-shape of the hull helps cut through the waves and makes the ride more comfortable. We have yet to try taking the hookah in the dinghy, but so far, it has proven itself worthy of the crew of Take Two.

Dive Boat

Rachel’s Bubble Bath

Last week we swam in Rachel’s Bubble Bath, located at the north end of Compass Cay, for the first time. Though we had already been here on a previous trip, it had been too cold to swim. It’s kind of like playing in the surf at the beach, only without the beach.

Bubble Bath

It happens in a place where ocean surge comes through a low place between rocks on the shore and flows into a tidal basin. As the wave crashes over the gap, it forms a large foaming pool, hence its name.

Bubble Bath

The cool thing is that when you jump in while it’s foaming, you sink, because it’s more air than water. Luckily we brought the GoPro, and I got a video of dad jumping in, as well as one showing how the whole thing works (coming soon to a blog near you). Unfortunately, we went at mid-tide and the Exuma Sound was relatively calm, so there weren’t as many big waves, or as much foam, as we’d hoped. So far it is my favorite thing that we’ve done.

Bubble Bath

Iguanas at Leaf Cay

We have visited Leaf Cay before in past trips to the Bahamas, to hike around and try to catch the iguanas. We would use lettuce to lure them in, and then grab them. Three years later, as we pulled our dinghy up onto the beach, the iguanas emerged from the woods and began advancing on us expecting to be fed. At that moment we realized how wise we were to have eaten our lunch at the boat. Frequent tourist trips to feed the iguanas had accustomed them to human presence making them unafraid of us. They were especially interested in Sam’s shoes (which were green), our turtle sand mold (which was green), and our tennis ball (which was, needless to say, green). To avoid further attraction, we hid the various green articles in the dinghy, or under buckets. I made a quick run back to the boat to retrieve our GoPro to take some footage of the iguanas’ hilarious antics, which you may see posted here soon, as well as a funny picture of mom sitting in her beach chair brandishing a toy shovel, surrounded by a crowd of hungry iguanas. My favorite video depicts Sarah holding out a shovel full of sand, while each iguana in turn runs up and takes a huge bite of sand, thinking it food, then retreats, opening and closing its mouth, trying to get the sand out. Yesterday we moved back to Highborne Cay to anchor in calmer water, still laughing at the stupidity and single-mindedness of the rock iguanas at Leaf Cay.

Tanya, Queen of the Iguanas

How I Caught My First Fish

I was fishing off the back of the boat with salami on a hook. I was talking to Daddy when I turned around and looked at the pole. It was bending so I went down to the first step and grabbed it. Eli came out with the blue net. I reeled in my first catfish and Eli grabbed it with the net. We used teamwork to catch my first fish. My next goal is to catch lunch or dinner one day!