Thursday, June 19, 2014

La Palma, El Salvador

El Salvador is a pretty small country, but we didn't have a ton of time to spend visiting all the diverse places it has to offer. Instead, we took a route from the beach up to the mountain village of La Palma, which is known for its murals and folk art. In the 70s, Fernando Llort started an artisan cooperative, reproducing pieces of art - and that tradition lives on in La Palma. In fact, there is hardly a surface in the town that is not covered by murals. 

We loved spending time in the town, and really enjoyed the people here. They weren't super used to tourists, so we feel like we had a pretty authentic experience in the markets and restaurants. One night we decided to try a pupusa at every pupuseria - finally finding a street vendor that had the best ones in town. We told her that we had sampled several other pupusas, but hers were the best. She said the secret was to use a wood burning stove rather than gas or electric. She said that gives them the best flavor. Who would've thought?

While we were staying in La Palma, we decided to go on a little hike to the tallest point in El Salvador, which is about 8,957 feet above sea level. We didn't really know what to expect, so we naively set out for our hike, taking busses to the trailhead (or at least where we thought the trailhead was).
A lesson we learned very quickly on our trip: never blindly follow a Lonely Planet guidebook. Although the book was very informative and helpful, the instructions were not always 100% accurate. So as we were riding the bus up the mountain, there was a conflict in the book about where we needed to get off. I decided to rely on the book and stay on the bus a little longer... and that was a mistake. A few kilometers later, we got off the bus and had to back track to the trail head. I think it was only 5 kilometers, but we were determined to do the hike. The busses only ran every hour - so we didn't want to wait for one, and 5K didn't seem like very long to walk. Also, we only brought enough money for a bus ride up and back, so we had no spare change to go on extra rides. That was something else we learned through experience: even though the guidebook was from November 2013, the prices for everything had changed by April 2014. 

Anyway... we finally made it to the trailhead, and we were sweaty and tired already. Luckily the bus takes you pretty high so the hike doesn't seem so daunting. And although we may not be at the peak of physical performance, we didn't think we were in bad shape when we started out on this hike. But it is literally straight up the entire way. I know this picture doesn't really demonstrate the severity of the climb, but this is only the trailhead. It was a serious trek. And on top of it, the altitude killed us. There were several times we had to stop out of fear that our hearts were going to explode. 

But the hike was definitely worth it. Did I mention that this hill, Cerro El Pital, is located in the middle of a cloud forest? Yeah, we didn't know that when we started off either. And the average temperature year round is only 50 degrees. So we took off with shorts and t-shirts thinking we would be just fine. But instead we froze while admiring the unique vegetation. 

One thing that is so different about the US and Latin America is the lack of signage or direction for anything. Here we were on this hike, but really at every crossroad we had to decide for ourselves which path seemed right. We were really excited when we saw this sign - so we had to snap a picture. 

Once we got to the top we took a little break to eat our lunch. You actually had to pay to get to the top since it is private property - and we didn't have enough moneys (and there was nobody at the gate), so we sat outside and ate our lunch. It was so cloudy and freezing at the top, we didn't want to hang around for long. But if you look in the picture of me eating my lunch, you will see a bunch of calla lilies, which were growing all over the place. It was basically a forest of lilies. There were a bunch of men harvesting them up on the hill as well. I absolutely love those flowers, so it was a cool experience to be surrounded by them.
This was our last day in El Salvador. The next day we took busses to the Honduran border and crossed into the beautiful land of Honduras. Don't worry though, we took lots of pictures there too, so another blog will be forthcoming. 

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