I wanted to write a blog post about how easy it is while on a trip, to start the day out with a plan and everything goes awry. And, it’s O.K. It may change and be good or bad, but it leads to so many different experiences.
Here is my journal entry from Day 2, in Santa Ana, El Salvador:
Today was an adventure to remember! We were up bright and early at 6:00 a.m. because Luis, our host at the Guest House was making us a breakfast of pancakes and fruit. His coffee was really good and strong. He was taking us to the bus station on the other side of town and we had to be there at 7:15 am.
Our plan was to hike the Santa Ana Volcano. We covered ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray and went to the bus station. Luis instructed us to ride the Chicken Bus for 1.5 hours to the end of the line. This would be the National Park for the Cerro Verde Volcano and the Santa Ana Volcano. He said we would meet a guide after we got off the bus, and for a few dollars each he would take us and any other people wishing to hike up to the top of the volcano. It would include a police escort, which was required for our safety. We would start the hike at 11:00 am, and it would take a couple of hours. Then we would hike down and wait for the bus which would return to town at 4:00 pm.
We arrived at the bus station and hung out in the terminal for a while. We met some other people from Austria and London who were going to hike the volcano as well. A nice looking young man came into the terminal and asked if we planned to hike. He told us he would like to be our guide. He explained, for $10.00 each he would take us up the mountain as soon as the bus arrived (so we wouldn’t have to wait until 11:00). He told us that after the hike we would go to Coatepeque Lake for lunch. We all said yes! As we got on the bus some more people joined us, which brought our group to nine, and Ivan explained to them our plan. Ivan was wearing a nice polo shirt with his tour company name “Real Trips”, and appeared very professional. He talked with us on the bus ride up to the mountains. At one point he told us all to get off, so we did (we determined later, it was the exit before the end).
We hiked through some beautiful jungle in the rain forest with clouds and fog along the way. The temperature was 80 degrees (F) and really comfortable, despite the humidity. As we hiked, we learned about the other people in our group and chatted a lot. They were a well-traveled bunch! The couple from Austria had been traveling for a year and hiking volcanos in every country that had one.
As we hiked higher, the trail gave way to only rocks and agave plants. The volcano had erupted in 2005 so the plant life still hadn’t grown back yet. We had beautiful views of the Izalco and Cerro Verde Volcanoes. It was amazing!
After reaching the top we took so many pictures. The water in the crater was bubbling and was a greenish-blue color. We also had a beautiful view of Lake Coatepeque. It was one of the most beautiful places I have seen.
Ivan told half of our group we could start heading down when we were ready, he would stay back with some of the others who were doing a semi-professional photo shoot. The four of us hiked a while and then stopped to take in the views and drink water. It was getting hotter the lower we descended. We figured the rest would catch up soon, so we continued on. After a while, we came upon a group of hikers and greeted them all as they passed. At the end of the group were two policía, who were their Police escorts. They stopped us and wanted to know what we were doing alone. One of the people in our group spoke decent Spanish and explained our situation. The policía weren’t happy at all. We were supposed to be on the one government sanctioned tour of the day not with an independent guide. We waited on the trail with them for about 30 minutes. I wondered how safe the other group now was without their policía escort! Finally, one of the policía went to look for our guide and brought him back with the rest of our group a few minutes later. Ivan got a ten minute lecture while we all waited in the sun. We weren’t sure what was being said, but eventually we went on our way. I figured the policía must not have felt that it was that unsafe or they would have separated and one could have gone back down with us! Ivan said it was a big government racket.
Ivan had us take a short-cut at the bottom so we could catch a bus. Unfortunately, we walked a mile down the road and the bus had left. We had missed the 1:00pm bus! Ivan thought if we walked another mile or so we could wait at a bus station and catch another. He ran down ahead of us all and we started walking down this winding paved road in the middle of forest and jungle. It was beautiful and peaceful. We were all starting to get tired though. We had put in quite a few miles that day. A Police car came up the road and asked what we were doing. We explained the situation and they said there were no more busses for three hours! They said they would stay with us until we found a ride or the bus arrived. So, we walked the rest of the way to the bus stop. We sat on the benches and chatted with the policía. Ivan was confident we would find a ride down to the lake (about 30 minutes away). Every time a car went by Ivan tried to flag them down, but who would stop to give nine people a ride?
The policía were very friendly and even took pictures with some of our new friends. They really wanted us to have a good visit to El Salvador. They made sure we were safe. They have problems with robbery and extortion, as well as kidnapping for extortion.
Finally, about thirty minutes later, a man was driving a van down the road. The policía stepped into the road with his machine gun and made him stop. He asked him to take all nine of us to a bus station, which was twenty minutes away. We all loaded up and thanked the policía and away we went. Next, Ivan the optimist and great salesman he is, talks the man into taking us down to the lake and to a restaurant for lunch! He said yes! We couldn’t believe our luck. As we chatted with the driver we found out he was on vacation in El Salvador from California, and had been part of the group we had seen hiking up! He was alone because his family was visiting relatives and he wanted to hike.
He took us down to the lake and we had a primitive lunch of fried chicken, fried sardines, rice and lettuce. I could have really enjoyed a cocktail at that point, but it was a pre-arranged food only lunch. It was just okay, and we were all wiped out. While we ate, Ivan took our driver to go smoke pot, (which we didn’t know until later) and then we piled into the van and headed up the hill to the nearest town and bus stop.
He was really sweet and dropped us off so we could get on the public bus which would take us the rest of the way back to Santa Ana. It was rush hour and standing room only.
After returning to the bus station where we had started our day, Ivan walked us all back to our hostels and guest houses. He was a good guy, and he wanted to make sure we had a great day. We made it back just in time for a huge thunderstorm to arrive and it rained all night long!
Now, when I look back on this day in hindsight, I wonder did we have poor judgement and make bad decisions, or did we just have a great adventure to remember? I’m going to go with a great adventure!