Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ignoring naysayers

When we first arrived in El Salvador, we received a lot of advice - some of it helpful, much of it... negative. We were extremely lucky to have 'social sponsors' from the embassy who were very fun and positive people, encouraging us to get out and see El Salvador. Much of the negative advice revolved around security, which I understand. El Salvador is a dangerous place, but unless you want to spend your whole time stuck in your house or in the embassy, at some point you have to effectively compartmentalize that fear, take appropriate steps to avoid problems, and accept that sometimes... shit happens.

The other nuggets of negativity that we got was that there's just nothing to do in El Salvador. People warned us that we shouldn't do too much in our first year here, because we'd be bored the second year. You know what, we believed what they said, but what's the fun in artificially limiting yourself? I'd much rather find out for myself that having too much fun in the first year would mean a boring second year.

Anyway, as our time in El Salvador comes to a close, I've thought a lot about how we felt when we first got here, and how our perceptions have changed over time. Much of that is due to our last 2 weekends in El Salvador. We had what will probably be our last visitors. They visited for 4 days. Sophie scrambled to find something for them to do that was new and interesting for us. I'm sure there were moments when Sophie or I complained that there's nothing new to do, so we went looking for new things to do, which is how we arrived at rafting.

You'd think that rafting in El Salvador at the tail end of the dry season would be... terrible, and maybe a bit disorganized. At least, that's what I thought. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we showed up at the rafting place, there was water, and the equipment all seemed to be newish and in great shape. Aside from the rafting, the rafting place also has a bunch of river-fed pools, slides, a restaurant, and ziplining. Sweet.

When we started down the river, the guide asked us what level of fun we wanted. Of course, we chose 'extremo,' which basically meant that, if there was a rock in the river, the guide would aim us straight at it. This caught our friend off guard the first time, so the first rock we hit, out she went. This led to a fun game where we'd paddle straight at a rock and, just before we'd hit, the 2 guides in front would turn around with a huge grin on their faces, hoping to see the poor gringa fall out of the boat again. I must admit, it was a fun game.

At our first rest stop, the guides got out and strung a rope across the river, having us hold on to the rope and make our way across. This is of course a risky thing to do, since we'd be clotheslining any boat that came down, not to mention that it's always a bad idea to encourage anyone to stand in a flowing river, since if you get your foot stuck in a rock, you could easily drown. But, when in Rome...

The next stop was at a sketchy looking bridge (see picture). My first thought was 'no way in hell I'm going out on that thing,' but that changed once I saw someone else jump off of it. It looked like fun. Of course, we were all upstaged when Sophie's dad decided to make his first jump from the bridge be a backflip. He then followed that up with a 20' swan dive. After the swan dive, the guide told us: "I've never seen anyone do that before. I thought he was going to die." Hah.

The river then wound its way through some mango trees, so we ate (perhaps stole?) some fresh mangoes - awesome. We then floated down the river some more, before being loaded onto a truck and driven back to the rafting company's headquarters. Good times!

After the rafting trip, we spent a night at a hostel in Lago Coatepeque - cheap rooms, good food, and a beautiful view. Sophie and I then hiked Santa Ana volcano for probably the 8th time. Honestly, it hasn't gotten old yet. It's not too hard, it's gorgeous, and our guests always love it.

Then, last weekend, I surprised Sophie with a trip to the Santa Teresa hot springs near Ahuachapan. We'd actually heard about this place within our 2nd week in El Salvador, but we'd forgotten about it. I'm not sure what I expected, but the place is pretty cool. When you drive in, you are immediately greeted with a hot pool of steaming water, mudpots, and very active vents. We had reserved one of the houses for the night. The houses are very nice, if a bit basic, and in my opinion overpriced. Apparently we could have called ahead and gotten someone to make us dinner, but we ended up just using the hotplate in the room to cook some spaghetti. The atmosphere at the hot springs is very chill. I expected an official stand where people would take your money and give you a stamp or something, but instead there was just a guy that came around every now and then and who would find the people who hadn't paid and ask them to pay. It's $10 per person to chill out at the hot springs and $50 per person to stay the night.

The pools themselves are very pretty. The water is green with algae, which takes a bit getting used to, but there's a lot of water flowing into the pools, so I wasn't too worried about the safety of the water. As you go higher up, the pools get very hot - definitely at hottub temperature, if not a bit more (maybe around 105 F). We spent a lot of time in the hot springs. The hot springs are on a coffee farm, so you can walk around on some trails they have. There are steam vents everywhere. Very interesting.
the pools at night
the vents that you see when you enter
On our ride back, we decided to check out Los Chorros de la Calera waterfalls, next to Guayua. We'd heard good things, and the guide book we recently purchased gave it high ratings. To get there, you enter Guayua, take a right and drive until a block before the end of the road, turn left, go until the road ends, then turn right. It's a dirt road. We ended up leaving our car at a parqueo that was about half way there on the dirt road, but you could drive your 4x4 car all the way to the entrance if you want. On the weekends, this area is very busy. I wouldn't travel with much valuables.

Anyway, the waterfalls are spectacular. All the water for them comes out of the middle of the mountain, literally. Very cool. The first waterfalls you reach have a cool pool, and on the weekends you'll see crazy Salvadorans jumping from 20' into a tiny deep area, surrounded by rocks. If you keep walking past that waterfall, then you reach another, more tame waterfall area. When we were there, there were lots of families there, picnicking. I highly, highly recommend visiting this place. It's simply gorgeous.

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