"Plain old Hamiltons and Jacksons come right out of the ATM."
"A big hole to the center of the earth."
"While making slashing gestures to his neck, he said his mother and father were dead."
Headed for Izalco March 14, 2003 Cerro Verde, Sonsonate, El Salvador
The Volcano Cerro Verde, Sonsonate, El Salvador
Saturday March 14, 2003
I said by to the clean, air conditioned world Karla and John had been kind enough to let me share in San Salvador and boarded a chicken bus for Cerro Verde, a tiny town in western El Salvador that's home to a big, slightly active volcano.
I arranged for an outrageously expensive cabin with a perfect view of the volcano. $12 may sound cheap, but this place had no shower and no electricity. The toilet was a privy. I have no problem with roughing it, but not for $12 a night. There also was no blanket, even though I asked for one repeatedly. There were only two sheets provided and it got quite cold. I wound up wearing all my clothes and stuffing my legs into my backpack. Seriously. But I lived.
"It was bizarre seeing American money again." And by the way, another great thing about El Salvador is they use the dollar. I dunno if this is good for their economy or not, but it's fantastic for American tourists. Plain old Hamiltons and Jacksons come right out of the ATM. It was bizarre seeing American money again.
Especially after so much time with huge Guatemalan Quetzal coin, the quarters felt so tiny, light and almost counterfeit.
So the next morning I start walking toward Volcan Izalco from the cabin. It's about a mile and a half straight uphill. I start walking figuring a truck or maybe even a bus will come by and give me a ride. Nothing. No one passed. But I get to the entrance and I'm the only one there. I figure I'll have the place to myself. While I waited for the guards who go up the volcano at 11am, a handful of tourists and a bus load of San Salvadoran school kids showed up. It was quite crowded and loud. But when you're climbing a volcano on a Saturday afternoon you can deal with that.
"I always wondered what the crater of volcanoes looks like." This was yet another volcano that kicked my ass. This one wasn't nearly as bad as the others, but I was worn out when we finally reached the top. I always wondered what the crater of volcanoes looks like. You kind of expect a big hole to the center of the earth
with lava roiling around in there. It's just an indentation with rocks and dirt and steam venting out here and there. I suppose it's different when one's erupting.
While we were on top of the volcano and thunderstorm approached, which isn't supposed to happen in the dry season. The guards hurried us off the top and people started running down the side of the volcano. At one point a large rock was dislodged and rolled down to wipe out a schoolgirl. A guy I'd met and I stopped to check on her and she didn't appear to have broken anything. (De, the guy I'd me, happened to have all kinds of medical training.) It was quite exhilarating running down the volcano, completely exposed without trees or shelter of any kind, amidst sliding rocks and lightning. And I was the tallest one there.
"Maybe we should stop thinking of "orphanage" as a bad word." De was also going on to Santa Ana, where he works at an orphanage. We went by there and I hung out with some of the boys for a while. Simply amazing. Many of them are orphans from the war, while others are there for a thousand different reasons.
At the Soccer Match
But they all seemed to be doing rather well considering. I've heard stories about the problems with the foster care system in the US. Maybe we should stop thinking of "orphanage" as a bad word. It sure seems to be working here.
Later that night I got on a bus loaded with boys and girls from the orphanage and we headed for a soccer match. Santa Ana was playing San Salvador. This was the place to be that Saturday night in Santa Ana. Not knowing the first thing about soccer, the kids enjoyed the match more than me but it was simply fascinating talking with them and hanging out. At one point this 15 year old kid asked me about my family. When I got to describing my parents, it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't be going there. After I told him of my family he proceeded to tell me, while making slashing gestures about his neck, that his mother and father were dead. What do you say to that? I tried "I'm sorry" but it felt rather lame. One of the workers later told me they actually enjoy hearing about ordinary families. I probably learned more that night than anywhere else I've traveled so far.