Is this the first iPad 2 to climb a volcano? -

Thanks to a well-stocked campus Apple Store and quite a lot of driving around, I ended iPad 2 launch day with a shiny new tablet in hand. I didn't have time to start on my review immediately though, because my flight to Guatemala was only a few hours away. So the iPad ended up shoved in the bottom of my backpack as I made my way through security lines and customs stations and, finally, to the streets of Guatemala City.

The wing of our plane, twisted up courtesy of Photobooth

The wing of our plane, twisted up courtesy of Photobooth.

I took a bus from there to the nearby city of Antigua. It's a strange town - filled with nice ex-pat bars and fancy restaurants on one street and houses made of tin sheeting and crumbling brick on the next. Antigua was my base to explore rural Guatemala and, eventually, the top of an active volcano. My iPad 2 came along for every step of the journey.

A new friend uses the iPad 2 to check her email in an Antiguan coffee shop

A new friend uses the iPad 2 to check her email in an Antiguan coffee shop.

Unreliable hotel WiFi is just one of those things you put up with in a country still recovering from a 26-year civil war. Every morning, I'd flit into a nearby cafe to eat my breakfast and take care of my morning work. The place was always filled with ex-pats and missionaries working in the outlying villages. Within a few short mornings, my iPad 2 was the "go to" email machine for all of my new friends.

But it wasn't until I travelled to the sleepy town of San Lorenzo that my new iPad was really put through its paces. Five minutes of tooling around on GarageBand was enough to convince me that the iPad 2 was the perfect device to keep a gaggle of little kids entertained. A local youth mission was only too eager to help me test that theory out.

There weren't many kids hanging around when I first arrived, but I quickly found one little girl with a Hannah Montana t-shirt who was eager to play. I took her apparel as a sign that she wouldn't be offended by my complete lack of musical talent.

iPad 2 is easy

It took me about three minutes, total, to run her through all the basics on the app. How to switch instruments, how to play, how to set up the drums. By the time my demo was over, she was all but an expert. Despite the fact that she'd probably never seen a touchscreen before that afternoon, my little friend was running her own demos within the hour.

Already an expert on the iPad 2

Before long, it was time for me to head out and get some table-building done. But I didn't want to deprive my Guatemalan homies of their new toy before it was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, my good friend Magenta (who saw Rocky Horror for the first time that week) was there to take over. After a little more GarageBand, she decided it was time to fire up Photobooth.

The kids didn't know what to make of that one at first
The kids weren't quite sure what to make of that one, at first.

Magenta showed them how to use it - and they loved it

But then Magenta showed them how to warp the faces of their friends into weird, twisty blobs. They loved it.

If I'd had more time there, I'd have pulled out a Family Guy DVD to test my new theory on the convergent amusement trends of poor children in the third world and stoned college students.

The iPad 2's kaleidoscope view was a crowd-pleaser

The kaleidoscope view was a big crowd-pleaser too. If I hadn't had a volcano to climb, I'm sure they would have drained the battery and giggled the whole way.

Kaleidoscope feature still a big crowd pleaser with Guetemala kids

The Volcano.

This is a picture of the Pacaya volcano, 8,373 feet high, erupting in 1976.

The Pacaya volcano, 8,373 feet high, erupting in 1976

We arrived a little less than a year after the most recent catastrophic eruption, and things were peaceful. The ground was covered in a thick layer of marble-sized volcanic rock. Once we hit clouds, the whole world got real moist. I worried a little about the iPad, nestled (perhaps unwisely) in the very top of my pack.

On top of a volcano with an iPad 2 in a backpack

But I needn't have. The iPad functioned perfectly well when we hit base camp. Magenta stuck it into her giant adventure purse, and we set out with our Ox Guides to roast marshmallows on the tip of a volcano. I'd been expecting a giant rent filled with lava. Reality was somewhat less colorful.

The last eruption pulled open a tiny scar on Pacaya's tip. Raw, boiling geothermal heat radiated out from it. If you got closer than about a foot, it was hot enough to singe your eyebrows. Marshmallows cooked in seconds, no flame required. To help with the lighting, we tossed some sticks in. They ignited, providing me with yet another Photobooth opportunity.

Roasting marshmallows on top of a volcano

Kaleidoscope roasted marshmallows

There was also a giant heated cave nearby. At the top was a great vent, bleeding intense heat out into the sauna-like room.

A giant heated cave nearby

As I fiddled about, Magenta snapped this picture of the world's first iPad 2 to reach the top of a volcano. That's just my assumption. Maybe Apple really does get crazy with the stress tests.

The first iPad 2 on top of a volcano!

The iPad 2 is pretty darn resilient. I wasn't reckless with it, but I also didn't hesitate to toss it into a backpack and toss that backpack into the bed of a ratty old F-150 for a harrowing ride through poorly maintained mountain roads. If it handled all the moisture of Pacaya, plus being sat on for close to an hour by a nameless member of my tour group. I didn't even have a smart cover to protect the display.

Apple made this thing right. I'm frustrated by several aspects of iOS- the lack of widgets is annoying to a long-time Android user, and being forced to go through iTunes to add in media sucks. I'm considering a jailbreak. The iPad doesn't do as much as I'd like, but it does what it is built for exceptionally well.

The iPad runs smoother, provides a more enjoyable browsing experience and offers a superior volume and quality of entertainment content to every rival I've tried. And, between CES and MWC, I've tried nearly all of them. I'm sure Motorola's Xoom or HP's TouchPad could both have survived my trip around Guatemala. I doubt either of them could have kept a room full of hyperactive village kids entertained for hours on end.

For more of my Guatemalan iPad 2 adventures go here.

The view from the hotel roof, slightly modified
The view from my hotel roof... slightly modified.