The International Writers
the previous two months Guatemala had been my home. Sitting in
a roadside cantina, a mere tortilla toss from the El Salvadoran
frontier, there was a decision to be made. Should the Guatemalan
adventure continue, or should El Salvador be the next port of
From my current location I had firm control over my immediate destiny,
I was at a cross roads. I dont mean that metaphorically either,
I was actually at a cross roads. Reluctantly abandoning the relative tranquility
of the cantina, I headed toward a cluster of chicken busses on the opposite
side of the road. Still unaccustomed to the thick, black exhaust fumes
and swirling dust clouds, my advance must have appeared rather haphazard.
The approach of this slightly bewildered gringo served only to intensify
the honking of the air horns and the feverish hollering of the chicken
bus jockeys. In his wild attempts to get that fourth bum on a two bum
seat, one incredibly enthusiastic jockey stood out from the others. I
checked out the garishly decorated windshield to find out his vehicles
destination - it was heading to the Border. A decision had been made;
I was bound for El Salvador.
If ever a nation had an undeserved reputation for danger and hostility
it would, in my humble opinion, be El Salvadors. Maybe I have just
been fortuitous thus far, but I find that particular notion difficult
to give credence to. I accept that the electrified razor wire atop the
perimeter walls, the steel doors and the bars on almost every window arent
solely erected due to a nation being overly obsessed with home security,
but one can only speak as they find. Without exception, the folk I have
met have been hospitable, good-natured and ever helpful. The visitor is
made to feel a most welcome guest in this wonderful country. Together
with the people and places, the smatterings of organized tours on offer
are also decidedly enjoyable. Possibly due to the relatively few tourists
that El Salvador receives compared to her neighbors, the excursions remain
zealous, flexible and, with tourism seemingly in its relative infancy,
personal. Constantly evolving, the fluid nature of these tours irrefutably
adds to both their charm and excitement, and provides us, the tourismo
guinea pigs, with an unforgettable experience.
Our introduction to this phenomenon occurred during our first evening
in Tacuba. Shortly after arrival we were tracked down by a local fellow
who turned out to be the tourism wheeler dealer for this particular town.
If he couldnt be your guide for a desired activity you could rest
assured that he either knew someone who could or he could at least supply
you with the necessary equipment to undertake it yourself. Be it visiting
nearby villages, horse riding, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, swimming
or whatever your elected pursuit, he was the man.
The following day I was privileged to test drive a new tour that our guide
was shaping. This new trip, to a collection of natural hot springs, was
all made possible thanks to one of his associates and a few well directed
US Dollars. A friend of a friend was currently house-sitting for the wealthy
owner of the coffee plantation in which the springs lay. With the owner
out of town, we visited the plantation. Before we had even reached our
destination you could sense that this was no tried and tested operation;
it promised to be a fun day out. Appearing from nowhere at the last moment,
the main residence was first brought to our attention when we almost drove
into the ornate hot water fountain that fronted it.
We parked up outside a grand building - the Hacienda at the heart of the
plantation. Although now in the vicinity of the thermal spring, we felt
it prudent to remain in the stationary car for a while longer. Approximately
about the same amount of time as it took the two sizeable and extremely
ferocious guard dogs to calm down a fraction. They were big, smart and
very good at their jobs. It would have come as no surprise if, after brief
debate, they had actually left and returned with hydraulic cutters to
remove their lunch from the tin.
Fortunately they chose to settle. Our intrepid guide cracked the door
open and, growing in confidence, stepped out among the hounds. I half
expected the driveway to turn into a scene from a 1970s bad taste
B Movie and to see our windows become covered with bloodied
smears from a pair of desperate, clawing hands but mercifully this
was not the case. We gathered our belongings and followed his lead.
These so called guard dogs werent so bad after all; they now calmly
trotted around the turning circle and were generally enjoying the morning
sun. Pursing my lips and making that I can talk to animals
squeaking noise, I addressed the smaller of the two pooches and waited
for the reaction. He looked at me with his large, brown eyes and could
not suppress a little tail wag. Encouraged by this, I moved closer and
repeated the noise that mustered the initial feedback. The response this
time was a very deep, unsettling growl and a display of teeth the likes
of which I had only previously seen through fenced enclosures. Instantaneously
remembering that I had urgent business to attend to in the back of the
jeep, I tentatively edged away to an altogether safer distance.
handcrafted, cascading pools were wonderful. The highest, with a
diameter of 10 feet or thereabouts, was the smallest of the six
and almost completely obscured by steam.
By the third pool the water had cooled sufficiently to enjoy, thus
giving it the feel of the most luxurious hot tub in El Salvador.
Climbing out of one bath and easing ourselves into the next, we
loosely mimicked the flow of water as it made its way down the series
As delightful as the pools were, we felt that we should not outstay our
welcome. Not that this really could have happened anyway, since we hadnt
been invited in the first place. We made our way to the edge one last
time. As if almost sensing our growing sense of unease, our escort reminded
us of our busy schedule and pressed for a timely extraction from the thermal
bliss. Within half an hour we were dried off, back in the car and heading
away from the plantation. The feeling of driving through the gates and
back onto the dusty, rugged track was not dissimilar to that of climbing
over a fence and out of someones orchard. Hastily rolled up in the
damp towel, my wet swimming shorts felt like the supermarket carrier bag
full of apples. This was no ordinary tourist outing by the end
of this free play excursion I felt emancipated from the shackles typically
associated with organized tourism, and also somewhat relieved that we
didnt get shot by security or eaten by dogs.
Shortly before midday we arrived at the second stop on our big day out.
Continuing with the geothermal theme, we visited a collection of Geysers
on a patch of wasteland located a stones throw behind a huge geothermal
plant (that apparently supplies 15% of El Salvadors electrical power).
It didnt take our man long to put us among the action, effortlessly
locating a jet of steam spurting from a vent in the fragile moonlike surface,
the surface that we now gingerly traversed.
Having previously purchased an egg and preparedly placed it in a polythene
bag, the crazy guy approached the jet and nestled the bag at its base.
Dont try this at home kids. Being no stranger to the Discovery channel,
I had a sneaking suspicion that we would be returning to this very spot
at the end of the tour to be proudly shown a fully boiled egg thus
proving that the steam was indeed hot. As events unfolded we soon realized
that we wouldnt have to wait long at all to ascertain the temperature
of the vapour.
Look, you can feel hot steam is, like dis, si? he said, thrusting
his hand into one of the billowing clouds of steam. Almost instantaneously
and with staggering speed he whipped his hand away and tucked it under
his armpit, it was as if he had just been stung by something. Instinctively
reverting to Spanish, he spat out a word which I have yet to learn. I
made a mental note that upon my return to the hostel I would unearth my
English-Spanish dictionary and seek out the significance of the word.
Confident about finding the meaning upon first attempt, I would begin
my search under F.
Evidently new to this particular tour too, our guide was learning all
the time. Rather than being our leader or mentor, he had adopted a role
more closely related to that of a mineworkers caged budgerigar.
If there were build ups of noxious gases within the mineshaft, the hapless
budgie would take it for the team and inevitably go horizontal. If the
budgie bought it, the miner would exit the pit.
Similarly, if a jet of superheated steam or boiling water forcefully and
unexpectedly erupted ahead of us, then our guide would disappear. If our
guide disappeared then we would find his car keys, rescue his baseball
cap and head back to the hostel, not forgetting, of course, to briefly
marvel at the boiled egg on the way.
Two visits down, one more to go.
The final part of our day out would take us to the edge of the national
park at dusk. We would witness the daily spectacle of parrots roosting
in a 600 year old Ceiba tree. Even before this section began I was already
hooked on this new variety of tour. It kicked ass, and it was all thanks
to our eager and incredibly likeable guide. Both he, and his home grown
adventure that he was good enough to share with us, were up there with
the best of them. A wonderful day had been had already and there was still
more to come.
Much to our dismay, the final part of the tour passed remarkably without
incident. Enjoyable and diverting, but sadly void of mirth. This was rather
surprising considering the combination of inquisitive tourists, an incredibly
enthusiastic guide and a tree containing at least 2000 excitable parrots.
The probability of witnessing a comedy moment was high, almost as high
as that of me signing up for the waterfall jumping tour the following
nath richards <email@example.com> 12 May 2007 13:01
Freelance travel writer and fanatical backpacker Nathan Richards wants
nothing more than to inspire and encourage others to satisfy their wanderlust.
He relays this passion not only through the written word, but with endless
preaching to like minded individuals, folk he corners, and those too polite
to walk away.
Former service in the British Armed Forces and his current CBD (Compulsive
Backpacking Disorder) has afforded Nathan the perfect opportunity to gain
a better understanding of foreign customs and culture, and to whine about
lumpy mattresses the world over.
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