I’d not planned to tell the rest of the story here but after yesterday’s post many people wanted to hear about the rest of the day.
We pile into the van for the ride up the mountain. This is no bus or minibus. This thing was made to climb. Eddy makes fast and aggressive turns on the switchback road. We rise quickly and soon have a view of La Palma below. We can see some buses, cars, and other charters on the road above and below us. Joaquin keeps pointing to the highest point and telling me, “You see that; that is not even the summit yet.”
Finally, we pull not onto the summit but a town holding a festival. It is Rio Chiquito. We get out and the air is very different from Santa Tecla and the capitol. It is cool crisp mountain air. I still feel good in only a t-shirt and jeans, but Joaquin is now wearing a long sleeve top over his polo shirt. There are tall pine trees that look more at home in the White Mountain National Forest back home.
Joaquin and the driver resume speaking in rapid Spanish but this time I understand a bit of what is being said. The driver is leaving the mountain at 4:00. That is after the last bus back to San Salvador. I ask Joaquin what is going on. It turns out that we paid for the ride up. The other people in the van had paid to spend the day at the festival.
“Don’t worry; there is a bus that does back to La Palma.”
He then proceeds to ask around and we find that the next bus to La Palma is at 12:30. We quickly walk through the festival which consists of about twenty food and craft vendors in a small field and a stage with a band. They are playing an interesting mix of jazz and popular music if it was played well. Actually they do a nice cover of a Santana song but then counter it with a rather rough version of the Enrique Inglesias song Bailando. It takes us about 10 minutes to figure out that there is nothing at the festival that interests us. Joaquin tells me, “Let’s go to the top of the mountain, it is not far.”
We begin hiking up a steep dirt and gravel road to the top. We pass homes and people selling vegetables and canned fruits from their yards. Every turn brings amazing vistas. We started out at 10:45 and it was “not far”. If we make 11:30 our turn back time, we should be fine.
“Wait until you see the top. It is amazing. If we miss the bus, we can just start walking down and take the first ride we are offered.”
This makes me rather unsettled. I don’t really live this way, though many people do. Also, I am not prepared to
spend a night. But the truth is, Joaquin is great with this kind of thing. He’d talk his way into a ride back to Santa Tecla or room somehow or someplace. The man who sold us the ride up the mountain already said he can arrange transportation back to San Salvador. I encourage myself to chill out.
We start doing some rather steep climbing on the road and I need to rest. Honestly, when we started out, I had no idea that we would be approaching 9,000 feet. Joaquin also seems to be feeling the effects. He looks up and sees that clouds are building around the summit.
“Let’s stop here. I don’t want to get to the summit and find it is all cloudy”
There is no argument from me. We end our climb at a small campground with a rather spectacular view. I ask if he thinks I can enter. Sure he says. Off in the distance I see a lady and wave. She begins to approach.
Joaquin tells me, “You take photos, I’ll pretend like I am interested in getting a campsite another weekend to keep her busy.” The two chat while I make photos. We say goodbye and head back down the mountain. We wanted some canned fruit from one of the stands, but it makes more sense to buy it on the way down the mountain.
We stop at a stand that has two women working there. Also present are two boys and a girl ages about 10-14. The kids seem to be hanging out and helping when people stop. They seem interested in all of these strange people going past their home and up the mountain as part of the festival. They come running over as we ask about the contents of the jars. The women tell us they have peaches and strawberries for four and two dollars respectively. “Quisiera, un y un, por favor” I say pointing to the peaches and strawberries in turn and producing six dollars.
One of the children is trying to speak some English. Joaquin jokes with him. I make some photos of the children. My wife sent me some brightly decorated pencils that I’ve been handing out to children we meet in the countryside as a good will gift. I pull them from my pack and let each of the children select one. They are delighted and wave goodbye as we leave.
Back in Rio Chiquito, we take the bus back down to La Palma. This is a much slower affair. The driver uses primarily the brake rather than the engine. What took twenty minutes to climb in a van, takes forty minutes to descend in a bus. We also have to take on and let off passengers. This is not the express bus.
When we get to the city, we are mission oriented. I need gifts, so we head to the craft market. Many of the products are similar to things I can find elsewhere but a few things stand out. Many are painted in the unique style of La Palma. After visiting a few shops, we have the gifts I need. We find lunch a place for lunch and enjoy a meal of carne asada and chorizo for four dollars each.
Finally, we catch the bus for the long ride back. We begin waiting at 2:30. We arrive at 6:30. The ride was long. We got rather wet changing buses in the capital. It is dark. But, oh the memories.