Safety first

My time spent in the Australian mining industry has given me a much deeper appreciation of health and safety, hazard awareness and risk management than most tour companies. My geology and natural hazards background puts me in a unique position in the Guatemalan tourism industry of being able to fully understand and assess the dangers of climbing active volcanoes. Those companies claiming to be experts in adventure are not experts in volcanic hazards. “Pero no paso nada” (“but nothing has ever happened”) is a phrase often heard here but is not an adequate response to the question “could something go wrong?”

From a volcanic hazards perspective there are certain places that I won’t go to which other tour companies will. “La Meseta” (the flat ridge separating Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes) is one such place. A number of tour companies offer the “double whammy” of climbing both volcanoes on one hike via La Meseta. This area is well within the ballistic range (ie. lava bombs) of Fuego volcano and the scientific monitoring branch of the Guatemalan government (INSIVUMEH) state on their daily volcano report: “The explosive activity which Fuego volcano presents can generate the fall of ballistics in La Meseta. For this reason it is recommended not to stay or camp in this area” The likelihood of being hit by a lava bomb is admittedly quite low, but the consequence of being struck by lava potentially moving at 150m/s would be significant. For this reason I deem going that close to Fuego as an unacceptable risk. Adventure tourism can be fun without being unnecessarily dangerous.

I apply those same risk management techniques to other aspects of my tours. I do my best not to travel at night. Most roads are potholed and a lot of drivers are quite happy driving with their headlights on full-beam all the time. Guatemala is such a beautiful place that travelling at night is a wasted opportunity to see the country's rich agriculture and culture as well. The journey is often as important as the destination!