As we drove to the base of the volcano, we stopped at a gas station to use the restroom before heading up the mountain. There we found a typical Guatemalan juxtaposition: puppies and guys with big guns.
The parking lot for the Pacaya hike was full of people (mostly kids) trying to sell us walking sticks and horse rides. Ironically, in making the walking sticks, these kids are significantly deforesting the very area the tourists have come to see. The kids followed us on horseback for the first half mile up the volcano, hoping that one of us would get tired and change our minds about hiking and decide to rent a horse. We didn't, and they finally left.
As we approached the volcano, we were in awe of the strange scene before us: glowing red-hot lava tumbling down the mountain within feet of the (many) tourists. Our guide laughed at the insanity of it all, swearing that we would never be so reckless as to get that close. But we did! As we clambered up towards the festivities around the veeerry slowly moving lava, we could see that there seemed to actually be little danger of it suddenly flooding down the mountain. That being said, we were a little more careful than some of the other tourists in our choice of where to stand — at least we were uphill of where the lava was tumbling! It was hilarious to watch one group of tourists who had brought up bottles of wine and sticks to roast their marshmallows on over the hot lava. Then there was another group that appeared to be attempting to climb to the top of the volcano, weaving around the active lava flows. It was fascinating to watch the whole crazy scene, with horses coming down along the trail, tourists from all over the world milling about — all while the molten rock continued to slowly move down the mountain.
The lava was different from other lava that we've encountered before. This molten lava moved so slowly that it allowed for the rock on the outside to cool into chunks and roll off. It was easy to distinguish by color (and by temperature!) this new flow from the flows of years past.
After exploring the lava for awhile, we ate sandwiches as a cold fog rolled in.
Driving home, we passed a new Guatemalan suburban housing area — a gated community of identical row houses.