In January 2008, I went on my first backpacking trip to Guatemala in Central America for a total of 10 days. It is by far the most intense and exciting trips I've had. I barely spoke any Spanish and only had about USD200 to last me a week - which turned out to be a real treat. I stayed in cheap hostels for about USD5/night and met a number of other backpackers from all over the world who were really friendly and outgoing - that helped a lot.
I must say, climbing an active volcano in Guatemala and being the only female tourist sitting in a chicken bus filled with about a ratio of 4:3 male to female Guatemalans WAS not just an unnerving experience, it was almost suicidal. Who would have thought that very volcano would erupt 2 years later...
This is the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala 2 years ago before it erupted. Taken from my hostel in Antigua. Sometimes you can even see smoke coming out from the top of the volcano. Yup, it was still active when I went up there!
My guide. He took a group of about 10 people (including me) up to the volcano. Pacaya rises to an elevation of 2,552 metres (8,373 ft). It wasn't an easy climb at all! Mind you, what he's standing on is hardened lava and underneath it is 1250° Celsius of hot lava!
Sitting on the igneous rocks (hardened lava). The climb took about 6 hours - we started at 730am and ended at about 1pm.
It was worth the thrill. However, I still find it hard to believe that Pacaya volcano erupted recently. My condolences to those who have lost their loved ones from the disaster.
I'd really like to climb Mount Kinabalu next.