beach, mountains, and sad goodbyes
17.06.2015 - 22.06.2015 50 °C
Erie and I had spent far too much of our time in Guatemala being cold. Despite Erie picking up a sunburn (somehow…) on her first day in Antigua, we had been wearing jackets, had been sick with colds, and I was suffering due to lack of appropriate clothing and my terrible lungs. Erie desperately wanted to go to Leon, Nicaragua with me to do volcano boarding but it just seemed like too much time sitting in a bus (it would have been over 48 hours in 5 days) in order to get her back to her flight on time. Other than skipping her flight home (my grand suggestion) we decided to instead hop on a 5 hour bus down to El Salvador and spend a couple of days at the beach and maybe go into the mountains.
We boarded the bus from Antigua (Big Foot hostel really was our base for our time in Guatemala as we seemed to return there between our other destinations) and we arrived at El Tunco around 2pm. Our driver was on crack, I swear it. He made several inappropriate jokes at the borders about selling everyone’s kidneys as he pulled out a large knife – he wanted all except mine because I was the only one who spoke Spanish.
He drove like a maniac and everyone was convinced we were going to die! He seemed to be totally oblivious to the fear he was putting us through, chuckling wickedly as we squealed and held our breath around each dodgy corner and close call. Finally, Erie and I were free and we arrived in the tiny town of El Tunco. Known as a bit of a surfer haven for most of the year we were immediately overwhelmed by the strength of the heat. We could do nothing more than sit in the pool with the rest of the hostel – for about 10 hours a day! On one of the mornings we woke up and saw that it was 38 degrees at only 9am! We went out to party one of the nights and met some cool locals who took us dancing. The town itself seemed to pop out of nowhere once venturing down a side street from the main highway.
It reminded me a lot of Cabarete, the town I lived in the north coast of the Dominican Republic, or how Cabarete would have been maybe 30 years ago.
Sadly the beach was covered in a lot of chunky rocks, something about that time of year brings thousands of them up onto the beach for a couple of months. We saw the beach during the evening but decided not to venture far from the swimming pool due to the torturous rocks that blocked our desired swim in the pacific. After two nights in the world’s worst ventilation – 4 fans that did NOTHING, we moved ourselves on to the mountain town of Santa Ana where we had heard there was a fantastic hostel (Casa Verde) run by a friendly (slightly OCD –but in the good way), overly organised, kindhearted man named Carlos. And boy, where the stories true! The most organised, functioning, he-has-thought-of-everything hostel (with the continent’s best wifi connection) was buried within a typically grotty Latin American city. We were able to breathe, enjoy the sunshine, and move without drowning in our own sweat as the town was at the perfect altitude to give both heat and a fresh breeze. We wandered around the market, found a gorgeous cathedral and centre of town, and we found a place to get super cheap pedicures together.
We faced two choices for our last full day together – a food market or a hike up another volcano. As we had already gorged ourselves on food during our time together (family feast, 20 pieces of fried chicken, and the burritos from heaven) we thought that our souls may be happier if we burned a few of the million calories off rather than adding them on. The other factor being of course, a vegetarian may not do too well at a food festival famous for barbequing lizards on sticks! So, another early morning had us up and walking up the road to catch a public bus through the city and out into the wilderness to the base of what looked like A HUGE WALK OF DEATH!
But off we walked, sadly to discover that the first part included descending the mountain we were already standing on top of. I knew we were going to have to walk back up it at the end too and I was not at all impressed! However, there was no backing out now – the bus to the food festival was long missed, and so we kept going…
The hike was not for the faint of heart - I fell over a couple of times, and Erie fell once badly on the way back. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought. And the views on the way up were spectacular!
I had to laugh at one point when there was a man who had hiked up with his ice creams and frozen chocolate bananas – naturally we stopped for a feast on the side of the volcano!
The last part up the volcano was quite rough. There were parts where we had to literally scrabble up on our hands and knees because it was really hard to find where the main track was.
Once we got to the top, the crater lake was amazing to look down into. The colour of the water was like a milky Caribbean sea!
The lake was boiling away, and there was no way down to the bottom to get any closer. It was actually really scary to stand on the top because the cold wind was blowing so fiercely that it really felt as if it might blow us down into it!
Watching the people with their selfie sticks standing far too close was a great source of amusement for us both, and the screams and grabbing for each other was almost unbearable as we waited for someone to fly off! Thankfully no one did and soon enough everyone was trudging back down the volcano and then up the other mountain to make it back for the bus home!
Once we got back to the entrance (after what felt like an eternity climbing back up the first mountain we stopped for snacks and drinks. We were literally cheering each other on and pushing our way past lazy and slow people who didn’t understand the Kiwi determination of “get to the top quickly so we can die there.” But the snacks were well worth it – including pupusas which are like a cornflour patty filled with beans, cheese, and optional meats, some strange tapa style delicacies made from yucca and corn, and the most delicious fruit I ever tried…
The Paterna is a huge green bean shaped fruit that has cotton candy textured (and flavoured!) fruit surrounding the beans on the inside. The white, sweet, cotton candy part is the part to be devoured and my god, it is DELICIOUS!
We finally made it back onto the bus, absolutely exhausted and ready to make our way back to our hostel. We fell asleep on the rickety old bus and made it back to the hostel where we collapsed in front of a movie with a giant pizza to share between us for our final night together.
The next morning was a sad one, helping Erie to pack her things into her overstuffed backpack, and realising that our wonderful 3 weeks together had come to an end. We had done so much, seen so many amazing places, and been so active together. I was so proud that our time together had included partying but not been only about that. We had toasted marshmallows over lava, jumped off a cliff into a sacred lake, hiked up two active volcanos, swam in a hot water waterfall, gone caving underground using only candles for light, swam in the most beautiful turquoise tiered water holes set in the jungle, partied on top of a mountain as we celebrated my one year on the road milestone, and we had talked and laughed and cried together as we caught up on all of the gossip from a year apart.
Erie, I love you so much and I am so grateful that you came to join me on this crazy adventure – and so glad that you had a great time having your own adventures both with me and after me when you spent a couple of days in LA. I hate not knowing when the universe will bring us back together, but I feel confident knowing that it will. And that when it does, as was before, it will feel as though nothing has changed at all.