Friday, August 19, 2011
El Salvador Birthday Round Two
I just had my 23rd birthday on the 17th, and this one was definitely better than the last. My 22nd was during Peace Corps training, and I had to spend it sitting through lectures. However, it was made better by a birthday card signed by 30 of my fellow trainees and a surprise birthday cake from my original host family.
This time, my friend Sarah and I decide to try to climb the tallest volcano in western El Salvador, Santa Ana. It is a moderate hike with police escort to the top, where I have heard there is still a gurgling pit in the crater, along with incredible views in all directions. It is made even more exciting by the fact that it erupted only six years ago, killing two people.
However, when we arrived we were told we needed a bigger group to go, but we could join the group of 60 high schoolers who were there on a field trip that day, who planned to hike the adjacent peak, Volcán Izalco. This volcano is not as tall and has not erupted lately, but has the traditional volcano shape of a steep cone with a crater on top, while Santa Ana is more of a ridge. I have read that Izalco is the youngest (most recently formed) volcano in the Americas. It has a very dramatic appearance since it has almost no vegetation on the sides, just loose rock.
Both hikes leave from Cerro Verde, an older volcano between the other two. To summit Izalco one must walk down Cerro Verde and then up Izalco, then come back the same way, making for a very strenuous hike. Going up Izalco is a very steep grade on loose rock and sand, plus at over a mile high I definitely noticed the air being thinner. Sarah flew up the slope while I slowly huffed and puffed my way up, pausing every few minutes to catch my breath. My struggle was downgraded by having 15 year old girls passing my on the way up. It was just more proof that Salvadorans have more strength and endurance that I ever will.
The top was worth all the effort though. Steam billowed out of vents, and the views were incredible. We saw the dried lava rocks at the bottom, where the last eruption had eaten into the vegetation. We walked around the rim of the crater and then headed down, which involved sliding down loose rock and sand.
We got to the bottom already exhausted but still had to climb back up Cerro Verde. This involved some 1400 stairs winding up the mountain, which nearly destroyed me. We soon deteriorated to climbing about 100 stairs and then resting for a few minutes. When we finally got back, I promptly downed two Gatorades and passed out.
We finished off the day with steak for dinner, a swim in the lake and some wine drinking. It turned out to be really nice birthday, but the next day turned out to be a challenge.
The next day we headed back to our nearby city, Sonsonate, to try to receive the money donated to girls camp and put it into a bank account. This turned into a multi-hour ordeal of visiting western union offices and banks with red tape blockades at every turn. After that, I headed home, picking up a cake I planned to share with my host family to celebrate my birthday. The bus drops me off about an hour walk from my house, which is a solid uphill climb. Usually I don’t mind it too much, but this time I had a heavy backpack, a cake, and legs that felt like jelly from the day before. To make things worse, the sky opened up and poured nearly the whole way. All I could do was try to cover my cake, phone and wallet in plastic and trudge on. I finally got home soaked and exhausted.
I was soon informed that my host dad’s father had just died, and that I should come to the vela. When someone dies in this culture, the whole community gathers with their surviving family and stays late into the night, praying, singing, eating and drinking coffee. This is supposed to show support and keep the family too busy to be sad. Grieving is very communal here, which I think is a good way of dealing with death. I have been to these gatherings (velas) before, and should have known better, but I went anyway. We left around 7pm, and I was told we would be back around 10. We ended up getting back around 1AM, making about 5 hours of sitting around doing nothing trying not to pass out. I was stuck for a good portion of that time with the an old man explaining bible verses to me on my right while simultaneously a gay teenager hit on me from the left. Not my idea of a good time. I was definitely happy to leave, and that was the last vela I will attend for a long time. I am used to these kinds of things happening though, and I can now take everything in stride. Its just another day in E Salvador.