Tag Archives: la palma

La Palma – Part II

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.

La Palma

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.”

Of course.