Gene and the Volcano

Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 09:49:26 -0800 (PST)
From: Gene-O Bean-O <>
Subject: the craziest day of my life
To: <endless cool people>

I havenīt written a group email since Palenque. That will happen later. There is so much that has happened. I have been all over Guatemala and I am sure this is the best country that I have ever traveled to. I will write an email soon that tells you everything I have done.

But first I need to write about Sunday.

Sunday is by far the most amazing day of my life. I took a tour I will never forget.

Please read this. THE FOLLWING IS ALL TRUE. It still all feels like a movie.

Of the other 16 or so people I was with on the tour, about 12 of them thought it was the most amazing day of their life also. The other four completely lost it. Like chicken little, they literally thought the sky was falling on them. The four of them forced a guy to drive them away as fast as he could. There was screaming, crying, it was a completely crazy day.


Sunday started out at 10am with me looking for a guy to go up this volcano called Pacaya. I was finding a guide for about 6 people. They wanted me to find the cheapest tour I could. Be careful what your ask for.

After some searching, I found a guide for only $5 each. He would drive us up the Volcano as far as he could. We would then climb Pacaya which has been active for the last 30 years and see the volcano shoot out some rocks and apparently there was always a small lava flow off the south side of the volcano. We had heard it was pretty kewl.

We met the guide and about 10 other people at the BUS. The bus was a 20 year old Ramada van with some of the Ramada signs scratched off. I could see the ground underneath the driver because the floor of the van was so badly rusted. He crammed us all in there, the ancient thing shimmied and shaked down the highway.

After about 20 mins of driving, the van lifted up and came down of the back rim. I looked back to see a wheel bounce off the road, down a gully. We were alive, but dead on the road.

The rim on the wheel had torn. THE RIM. The tour guide said, NO PROBLEM, and grabbed a jack and spare tire from the van. The spare tire was so worn that there was an inch of canvas exposed down the middle of the whole tire. (I swear that everything I say is true, I have photographic evidence of everything that you will receive in another email.)

Putting on another tire took about 1.5 hours. During the whole process me and my friends were looking at that worn out spare saying, I DONīT KNOW, I THINK WE SHOULD BAG TODAY AND FIND SOMETHING SAFER. Also, a few of the women were starting to yell, I WANT MY MONEY BACK, I WANT TO GO BACK TO ANTIGUA, THIS IS NOT SAFE. The guide told them to shut up (he had a real way with people) and we continued down the road with the women bitching in the back of the van. I sat near the driver, and I asked him very nicely is he would drive slowly and he did.

Later, I realized that without the tire breaking, we would have missed everything. Running down the volcano later, we talked about kissing that broken down van.


We made it to the volcano. The group spent an hour or two climbing the thing. Me, Suja and Cody, Greg and one guide went to the volcano as close as you were allowed. You couldnīt get any closer because the long slow lava flow generated so much heat, that closer was impossible. The guide mentioned that the lava flow had gotten bigger and hotter in the last few days. On top of the volcano, about every 10 seconds, there was an explosion and some lava and rocks shot into the sky about 40 to 100 meters. It was beautiful. (again I have photos)

The four of us were sitting there, watching the rock shoot up, when thick smoke started coming out of the crater. More and more smoke, the sun was setting behind it, we all foolishly took lots of photos. It was truly beautiful.

And then it happened. BOOM.

What else can you say?

A huge river of lava shot out. Then another. Then more but higher. AND HIGHER. AND HIGHER. The booming got louder. We sat there yelling, laughing. The guide was extremely excited. He smiled, he laughed, no one was worried.

After only 5 or 10 mins, photos were snapped off, we were still just laughing. I noticed that I was now flat on my back, so that I could see the top of the explosions. They just got higher.

There were three or four groups on the volcano. Each group had two guides and there were a few more guides that just stayed there to keep stupid tourists out of the lava.

The guides started screaming.

The explosions got bigger. Lava was now shooting .5 to 1 kilometer into the air.


Down the mountain, people started running. People were screaming. One of our guides took off, running as hard as he could down the mountain.

The other guide said, THIS IS VERY BAD. WE RUN NOW.

But he didnīt run. Neither did the four of us. In fact, about half of the (possibly 100) people ran. The rest of us were deer caught in someoneīs headlight. We couldnīt leave, the lava was shooting higher and higher. We stayed a another one half hour and were some of the last people on the mountain.

Then it started raining, ROCKS.

OUR guide said, VERY BAD, WE RUN!!!

AND we did.

Going down the mountain, running, small, about the size of peas, small rocks were hitting the leaves in the trees. It sounded like a very hard rain, and felt like hard hail.

The local cattle rancher was running his cattle off the mountain down the same trail. I didnīt see it, but the other guide grabbed my friend Jane before she got trampled.

We ran and ran and ran, always turning around to see the volcano explode bigger and bigger. Someone mentioned how lucky our timing was, about kissing the van because it broke down. The guide said, RUN, RUN, RUN!!

When we got to the busses down the mountain, there was laughing, screaming, crying running. The busses were filling up. We drank beers and laughed with our guide. He kept saying, SAFE NOW, WE SHOULD GO MOMENTITO.

The women who got upset about the tire, were already gone. Someone in our group who had gotten off the mountain sooner said that the women had jumped in someone elseīs van that was leaving and had no room for them. They were in hysterics and forced the other bus driver to take them down the mountain. Iīm glad they were already gone.

About 15 Mins or so our van left. The sun had now set and the view of all that lava shooting up was awesome. BY FAR, that was the most awesome sight I have ever seen. (the paper said 5 kilometers, that seems unbelievable, but I attached a picture from the paper that makes it possible. The little drops of lava you see in the photo are about the size of houses.)

I donīt know what else to say. Everything is absolutely how I remembered it. Me and my friends were over and over the details of it all. This was clearly the craziest thing I have ever seen in my life. The whole trip was worth this one day. I canīt imagine anything ever happening that would compare.

Like I said, there will be photographic evidence that I was there. Iīm going to take the film in now. I will send you all a copy of me standing in front of the volcano.

I will write more later about the rest of my trip.


Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2000 12:48:00 -0800 (PST)
From: Gene-O Bean-O <>
Subject: Pacaya photos
To: you

Here are those photos.

There is a picture in there of the van that had the tire rip off.

There is a picture of people running down the hill away from the mountain, including a dog.

And there is a picture when the mountain first exploded. (you can see many rocks blowing off the top)

The rest are self-explanatory.

Link to the Smithsonian's Pacaya page and Gene in the Smithsonian
NOAA Volcanic advisory
and realtime satellite imagery

Photographing a volcano is just about the most miserable thing you can do. — Robert B. Goodman