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Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Laguna Espino, Ahuachapan, Tacuba and Ataco

Have finally answered my recent cravings for outdoordom...yay! Have spent the last few days based at the very chilled Mamá and Papá Hostal of Tacuba so that I could visit the famous Bosque Impossible. I´d heard a lot about it, and it is a really beautiful place. A protected area, the forest covers 30 square kilometers and my first foray into it with my nifty guide Avel covered a lot of land, we were walking for hours, tasting fruits and gazing out over the lush green mountains to Guatemala and the Salvadorean coast. At one of the miradors he pointed out a mountain in the distance where apparently there are pumas, according to the park rangers, although Avel hadn´t seen them for himself.
This part of El Salvador is relatively high, so it is ideal land for cultivating coffee... Avel got me to taste the raw bean of one strain that was sweet and apparently really strong, needing very little attention. I also visited Manolo´s coffee farm... Manolo is the son of the Mamá and Papá of the hostel and is the one who organises the tours into the Bosque. His Dad, Papá, or Osiles Gonzalez (once confused for Speedy Gonzalez over an airport tannoy so he tells me!) gave me the tour of the farm, which was a large area of land covering a really steep slope leading down to a river. The gradients of the slopes the coffee is grown on is sharp...I was totally amazed by how the campesinos can tend and harvest the plants when I was struggling to even keep upright on them! Likewise I was astonished to see a really young girl of maybe 6 balancing a large urn of water on her head (the common way for girls and women here to carry wood, water, baskets of produce, balanced on top of a rolled up towel) and zipping up the steep slopes behind her older brothers (the boys and men carry their loads on their shoulders, which looks less comfortable than the perfect-posture-inducing head option, though both look really hard work).
I was able to do a second tour on the Friday when another tourist turned up, another Brit called Mhyr, who it turned out had walked on the Volcan Izalco tour last Sunday, it took us nearly a day to recognise each other, odd seeing as there seems to be so few foreign tourists in El Salvador (most tourists being El Salvadoraneans form other parts of the country, or living abrroad and home for the holidays)... it was his knee brace that gave it away. We took the famous cascadas tour, which was beautiful but also slightly terrifying... I had to admit to myself after only doing 4 out of the 7 jumps freely plus one in a harness, that I am a big wuss when it comes to juping off rocks into pools! Oddly I managed the highest jump... just about, in that I took one rock lower than the recommended one... it was something like 10 meters high, but you didn´t need to do a run up which seemed to be my major downfall on the ones I missed completely, I just couldn´t make my legs move into a run... doh! Overlooking the quivery knee moments, it was a stunning walk, the highlight being walking down to the top of a 70 meter waterfall drop... gorgeous.

I had another waterfall-filled day today... 30km of a serious amount of uphill brought me back through Ahuacahpan where I was the night before Tacuba and to the high-enough-to-feel-chily town of Ataco. Happily I had company to distract me for the last 9km or so when I cycled with a young lad on his fixed gear BMX.. that´s some serious muscle power on these gradients I tell you. After a wild goose chase for a non-existent hostel recommended by the Rough Guide I checked into Hostal Cipi and the really lovely owner Elena gave me a lift to the stunning Don Juan waterfalls where I sat and drew for a good few hours while large family groups came and went... I swam briefly in the topmost of the naturally very level pools and was surprised to find the water too cold to stay in for very long.

Wild goose chases seem to be a side effect of using the Rough Guide as a few of its recommendation don´t exist. Although it can seem irritating while I´m going round in searching circles, it can actually lead to good stuff, like the other afternoon when I got to Laguna Espino just outside of Ahuachapan. I was hoping to camp at a restraunt which just wasn´t there, but came across Restraunte El Gran Rancho instead where I was allowed to camp (after some confused hesitation). It was a beautiful spot... I pitched up on the wooden pier so that my sleep could be wrapped in lapping water and when I woke up was spoilt by the beautiful early morning skies. But even more so, I was spoilt by the hospitality of the owner´s son, Artur and his friend, who entertained me for the evening in that incredibly generous way that I´m finding is typical of Salvadoreans. They drove me to see the local toursit attraction, the Ausoles, a geothermic plant just ouside town which apparently is one of five plants in El Salvador, and supplies 15% of the country´s energy. They showed me around town, treated me to yucca and took me to their mate´s coffee bar where they gave me my first ever chess lesson... I was uber slow, I got the rules, but couldn´t see far enough ahead to know what moves to make...

Ahuachapan is a really pretty town, covered with lots of murals that show traditional campesino life in bright colours with manga-large-eyed characters. I noticed the painted lamposts again, like we´d seen in Juayua, and Artur explained that it was to stop political parties painting on them, which is banned in the town, though you see it a lot in the countryside.

I popped back to Ahuachapan yesterday after my sandals broke on the cascadas walk, and managed to get them repaired for just 50 cents in the main square by this really skilled shoemaker... there is something really satisfying about being able to have things repaired, not just because I don´t want to spend travelling money on buying new ones, but I feel guilty about our throwaway culture where it is cheaper to replace than repair, when repairing reduces personal waste. At the Mama and Papa hostel was lucky to be able to install myself in the rooftop mirador with a beautiful view out across the town and surrounding mountains to draw and make jewellry. I had used up almost all of my seeds on these few pieces, so Manolo brought me a huge bag of guanacaste from his farm, which I shelled with some help from the smiley duck man of the house... so thepierce-the-seeds-mission starts again! I´ve also got another good luck talisman to add to my collection, Lydia,. the Mamá of the house gave me a lovely carved wooden ring.

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