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《Kia Dental Mission to Guatemala_5: Last Day at the City》__Vincent Lee (65)

Our flight from Guatemala.City to Houston was "on time" at 6:40am.  All were aboard and seated, with both engines running and ready to go.  Then the pilot came on the sound system: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the pilot speaking; I am afraid I have some unpleasant news".  Brief silence, suspense, then: "There is a thick layer of volcanic ash passing by the airport at 16,000 ft.  Volcanic ash is very bad for jet engines......." (He didn't describe what "very bad" was.)  "We will be delayed for at least a couple of hours, possibly longer to allow the ash layer to pass.  I don't think you would want to wait inside the cabin.......".

So we all deplaned and sat in the waiting area.  

Then we learned from the attendants that volcanic ash which when cleaned/sterilized is "pumice", (the sandy stuff that we use to polish our patients' teeth) can burn inside the hot jet engine, forming tiny pieces of volcanic rock like solids clogging the engine which then stalls!  No wonder the pilot won't fly through that.

Then came more unexpected, somewhat scary news:  The volcano that coughed up the ash was the SAME volcano that my staff girls and I and a few other Chisec team members climbed the day before!  It is Pacaya Volcano.

Finally after 5 hours of waiting, reading and dozing off, we were allowed to take off as the ash cloud had moved out of range from the airport's air space. 

Fortunately our connecting flight at Houston back to Edmonton was not till 3 pm.  We just made it in 20 minutes before departure time!

All in all, it was another rewarding and successful mission, with some excellent touring after the work days.
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We left our hotel at 6 am.  Climbing up the volcano was a 6-hr+ activity: 1.25-hour drive one way from the city of Antigua, 1.5 hr climb up, 0.75 hr stay at a platform for photos, sightseeing and mesh mellow roasting (you can literally cook with a BBQ stick poking inside a small smoking hole at the side of the mountain!), and then 1.5 hr down for the return van ride.

I was told that years ago, you could climb all the way up to the rim of the crater and look down at the red smoking lava.  Now that is deemed too dangerous.  Visitors had to stop at that small platform; forgot how high up, at least more than half way.
 
My girls and I were worried that I would not be able to endure that climb, often more than 45 degrees incline. They did not want to go without me. Then they hired me a horse and would not allow me to go on foot.  First time ever in my life I was put on a horse. It took a bit of learning and it was not as easy as I thought.  And it took some effort as well, not just sit there and laid back.  Going up was manageable and coming down was scary at times. I had to learn to lean back instead of bending forward and falling off.  I got to the point that I could pet the horse on his neck and whistle, and he would move.  Spanish speaking horse could not understand English or Chinese!  It was very gentle, probably very much used to carrying people up and down, with the handler constantly talking to him.  Thank goodness; but it was worth it, for the experience of a life time.
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