After nearly three and a half hours of travel, we reach La Palma in the mountains bordering Honduras. It is a pace known for colorful murals and numerous craft shops. Our plan is to do some gift shopping for some people back home, make photos of the murals and to enjoy life. We get off right next to Joaquin’s favorite restaurant and hotel.
As we enter the hotel, we can see the La Palma styled paintings on the walls of the buildings. They are bright and colorful with a Pablo Picasso like flair to them. Fernando Llort Choussy is credited with teaching the people of La Palma this style and also helping them to find a way of making a living through their art.
Walking into the restaurant, Joaquin asks for a table out on the porch. He’s told they are all full and the wait staff seats us inside. As we peruse our menus Joaquin has his eye to the porch. He’s notices a table opening up and quickly flags down the wait staff to have us reseated. I can see why. The porch made of post and beam style construction juts out into a jungle like area of bamboo and leafy plants. A painting of a church is hung from a beam by thin wires and almost looks to be suspended in mid-air. It is furnished with simple wooden chairs and tables covered in a multi-colored checks. Sunlight filters through the trees and the sound of the local birds fill the air. We sit and place our order; three pupusas and a Coke for Joaquin and pancakes and coffee for me.
“You know, tours here cost a lot of money from San Salvador. They can cost over $100 or $200 to come here and then go up the mountain.” Joaquin tells me. “I think once you need that much money, people think of other trips they could take for the same price.”
He has talked about the mountain a lot. It is 2,730 m (8,957 ft) tall, and is the highest point in Salvadoran territory. Looking on the map, it is right on the border with Honduras. I could throw a ball and have it land in a foreign country. Joaquin has already told me about a group of volunteers who neglected to get off the bus in La Palma and accidentally crossed into neighboring Honduras. For security reasons, we do not travel with our passports, only a copy of the photo page. They were stopped by police and detained overnight until Joaquin could get their passports to them the next day. Add spending a night in a jail in Honduras to the travel experience.
“If I were living here or owned this hotel, I would have a van and run tours to the top of the mountain.”, Joaquin tells me. He continues talking about developing tourism in this area. After such a long ride, I need to use the bathroom. There is a long line, so I decide to return to the table and wait a few minutes. When I return, there is a man seated at our table talking to Joaquin. He looks outdoorsy or like someone who wants to look outdoorsy. He is wearing a shirt with leather lacing and a ball cap with sunglasses up over the visor for safe keeping. They are chatting in rapid Spanish and I cannot understand what they are saying or even the context.
Joaquin turns to me and says “We are traveling with the stars my friend. There is a festival on the mountain and he will give us a ride up for only $5. He started the van company that I told you would be a good idea.”
I want photos of the town and to get souvenirs but this does seem to be a good opportunity. The last bus out of town is at 4:00, so it seems that we should have plenty of time. “Lets do it”
He has other clients, which means that we need to eat our breakfast rather quickly. I try the bathroom again and once again return to find another man at our table talking to Joaquin. He looks less outdoorsy, a bit heavy and is more dressed like the innkeeper. Their Spanish is fast and again I’m lost. I manage to introduce myself to him. His name is Eddy and we exchange “Mucho gustos.” As we get up to find the van, I say to Eddy in Spanish that is has been a pleasure.
“Oh”, says Joaquin, “He’s not going anywhere. He’s our driver.”