We are mostly unimpressed with Santa Ana, known as ¨the colonial seat of old money,¨ according to our guidebook.
Our arrival, after a two-and-a-half hour bus ride through nasty back roads from Juayua, is met with a smelliness that deeply offends our olfactory senses and so much dust we form instant boogers (and you´ve all seen the size of our noses!). At the bus stop, a round man with an ancient-looking Chevy that boasts a missing window and only partial steering wheel offers to taxi us to our destination, the Casa Frolaz hostel. A seemingly innocuous shop girl assures me that the man is okay, so Chris and I climb in the one operable door of his car and zip off at frightening pace.
The Casa Frolaz is a grand old house in a sort of oasis within the city. If we don´t happen to notice the razor wire around the top of the garden wall and roof of the house, we might think we´re in a garden paradise, complete with an outdoor pizza oven and citrus trees.
As Chris deposits our packs upstairs, I wander through the first floor of the house to the kitchen and a pot of hot, local coffee. Just as I´m pouring myself a cup of this glorious liquid from the gods, I hear an all-too-familiar voice with a British accent say, ¨I thought you lot weren´t comin´ ´til tomorrow.¨ Yes, you guessed right. Kevin is here.
¨I thought you were going on to San Salvador,¨ I say through clenched teach, hoping Chris comes down soon to save this horny maniac from that of which I am capable when made cranky. Kevin has apparently realized that the El Salvadoran girls most likely to invite his desperate self home prefer to hang out in clubs (not historic churches) and that clubbing is good only on the weekends in the capital cities. Thus, he thought it might be nice to surprise us with his presence at this leg of our trip. Lucky us.
Javier, the casa´s hospitable owner, insists our 7:50 a.m. arrival is nearly too late to catch the one and only bus to Parque Nacional Los Volcanes, and shoves us into his pickup to whiz us back to the bus stop, leaving behind a pouting Kevin without enough time to join us.
Thanks to Javier, our opinion of Santa Ana may very well be redeemable.
In other news, I seem to have a thing for walking uphill both ways.
That was the case in Pullman and is still the case here in El Salvador. To get to the base of Volcan Izalco, the volcano we plan to climb, we must first hike down the side of Volcan Cerro Verde. This of course means that on the way back, we´ll hike down Izalco and climb back up Cerro Verde.
The bus ride up to the top of Cerro Verde is horrible. Cramped, hot, scandalously dangerous. The bus is running so late the driver barely slows enough for exiting passengers to jump out along the way. Hungy as we are from having missed breakfast, we can´t bring ourselves to purchase any of the liquidous vegetable-with-chili baggies vendors keep bringing onto the buses.
The view from Cerro Verde of Izalco to the south and the beautiful, brilliantly blue Lago de Coatepeque can´t be beat. A brash Brit named Nikki (in her tenth of twelve months backpacking through the South and Central Americas) and a reserved Brit named David (who lives and works in Costa Rica) befriend us at the park station where we must wait for and hire both a guide and a crew of tourist police. Both take our money, neither do much.
A field trip of irritating pre-teens celebrating their last day of school herd up the base of Izalco like little dynamos, then, to our dismay, lay themselves panting all over the trail about 20 feet past. This is a cycle. They´re like a group of lemmings, only dumber, as they have only sodas with which to hydrate. Fotunately, we don´t understand enough Spanish to agree to share our precious water supply, which thins out the lemmings after their instructors command several of them go back to fetch water for the group.
The volcano is magnificent–completely void of life in the midst of lush forest. Toward the top, steaming holes sear our legs. The four of us (the brashy Brit, our much-welcome Kevin replacement, Chris and myself) stand along the ridge, watching the clouds descend. Soon, the fog is so dense we can barely see each other. When it starts drizzling, you can tell who the Enlish are, floral umbrellas and all.
Below, we hear the screams of some of the stupider of the youth being burned after jumping into the cone. I suppose not many people can say they´ve gone inside a volcano, for obvious reasons: they all die doing so before they get a chance to brag about it.
Still, and despite the hike back up Cerro Verde that nearly kicks our asses and leaves us literally dripping with sweat, the experience is our favorite so far. Fabulous views, good new friends and a plate of pincho asada and some cold cervesas as a reward…life could be worse.
And Nikki assures us Izalco is nothing compared to Concepcion, which is about two weeks in our future…