I had been travelling in a chicken-bus for a few hours from El Tunco to Juayua – costing me just $3. There was a catch though, I had to share this wonderful, iconic bus with about 80 other people!! Music pounds loudly for the entire journey and some of the people on the bus start rapping to try and get money from you. There are wonderful xmas-like illuminations at the front which respond to music vibrations, its like an 80s pop disco! (You simply have to get on a chicken-bus to understand!)
My bloody suitcase was carried from the door into the upper rack and rammed in by this conductor who kept walking up and down the bus, climbing between people in both directions. I was aghast and lost for words as I saw him pushing down my suitcase hard into the rack space, it was new!
When we change buses in Sonsonate my suitcase had another experience… it was put slap-bang in the middle of 8 big bags of coconuts. But the person who had moved it from my side was an elderly lady of Salvador origin, probably in her late 70s, with the petite bone structure of a bird. She was tiny and yet so strong. She was so anxious for her bags of coconut to survive the journey to Juayua. I kept looking at her in amazement as she held one hand against my suitcase and waved to me with a few teeth missing!
The need for space on a chicken-bus cannot be overestimated. If you’re unlucky, you find yourself sat on a bench that is situated right next to the “roof” of a tyre and hence you’ve got to cram your legs up as it’s the only way to sit! I sat like this painfully for 15mins and gave up, kindly swapped with a child elsewhere in the bus, bless him. The driver has no clue about maximum numbers, people pile on in vast numbers on to the bus. As people start just managing to hold on to the front door rails, you mutter to yourself “Can we just stop people climbing on?!” And then you remind yourself to respect culture and keep quiet!
Arriving into Juayua, you’re meant to have passed one major part of the Ruta de Las Flores, which has been sold to us tourists as an amazing thing to see – where flowers are in view en masse. I am afraid I wasn’t impressed, most of the flowers I saw on this second part of the journey were typical to that of what people see on a normal road trip. Maybe I will see more as I explore this village and other villages over the next few days.
I wheel my suitcase along a couple of long roads from the bus station where there are signs kindly pointing me to my accommodation, the Hostel Dona Mercedes. I checked in with a level of tentativeness. I’d booked this place for two nights via Booking.com simply because it was the only affordable place I could find ($21 for two nights), everywhere else was too expensive for my dwindling budget. Booking.com had emailed me to remind me of my confirmation and innocently (by automatic programming) pointed out that this hostel has a rating of 0.0 which means “very poor”. I emailed them back to ask how they felt about sending me such a booking confirmation and asked why this place only had 0.0 rating. They replied soon to confirm that the hostel was a new addition on their website and hence no reviews which meant such a low rating. They wished me a great stay. Well that was very reassuring(!)
Luckily the hostel is lovely and I felt at ease immediately. They even gave me a free late breakfast and helped me settle in. Maybe its because I will be the first person to review them on Booking.com!!
I knew I wanted to do a few particular activities whilst staying here. One was to see Los Chorollos – a beautiful waterfall just 40mins away. I asked reception for directions only to be well advised to go with a guide as its just not safe to do it alone, especially with various paths in the forest. It would cost me $15 and having thought about it a while, I decided to go for it.
I sorted my stuff out quickly, especially the important valuables as I was sharing with others in a dorm room. I made sure I was wearing waterproof shorts given the waterfalls include a swim. I update my handwritten journal, there’s about 14 pages left for the next 6 weeks left of my travels, I really hope it will be possible and hence it will be just one book to put into my box of travel journals in my loft at home. This box is padlocked and none of the books have been censored yet which would be shocking reading (joke!)
I went to reception to check something about the laundry services and there you were, Eduardo, my tour guide for the day. My immediate impression of you was that you were short and you had one of those “yoof beards” where its neither a beard nor a stubble but somewhat half a beard that suits you. You had a very sincere expression, one of kindness but gratitude to the hostel staff.
I guess it can be hard to find work and that this booking at 20mins’ notice was greatly appreciated. You wore this official Tourism cloak on top of your t shirt. You had some nice jeans on and some old trainers. We shook hands and you were very clear that I was deaf. I think the hostel staff must have told you before I arrived.
I let the manager’s wife kindly put a bottle of water and 3 tangerines into my bag. We set off out in the gleaming sunshine, its about 11am and doesn’t feel too hot and the sunshine is gorgeous. We walk down a few streets and then on to the path towards the waterfalls. You type some messages for me on your phone, asking me where I was from and asking about my plans.
You continually wave to people we walk past on the way, this village community certainly knows one another. There’s something about the wave itself, its with a good deal of respect. There’s a regard for your neighbour, a kind of code of conduct. I did wonder if it was to do with religion, but I think its more cultural than anything.
As we walk on it becomes clear to me that this is going to be quite a climb, both downwards and upwards. I am well known for saying to friends who may feel low at times “When we climb a mountain, usually we have to go down before we can go up”. It was this saying that kept playing in my head as we walked down the first part of the journey.
Fluffs of sand and thousands of sharp stones, roots, more roots and even more blooming roots every step of the way. You walk with a confident stride, your trainers probably allow you to do this compared to my open walking sandals. There are moments when I slip a bit and you immediately turn because you can hear me. It is kind of you to help me on different challenging parts of the journey. We hold on to tree branches, strong barks, and sometimes low hanging long branches that Tarzan and Orangutans tend to swing on!
You continue to guide me through the narrow paths and rocks, and we have some moments where I am shaking as its either too steep or too low. You offer your hand and help me on these difficult parts.
You’re only 21 and at the time of writing this I’m 42yr. Its alarming to me how dependent I am on a young lad like you, but I guess the experience you have from growing up locally is something I have never had, growing up in London.
The Los Chorros waterfalls finally appear and there are some people swimming happily, or taking photos with the fall immediately behind them. The water is crystal clear, and I cannot wait to get in and refreshen up. The long climb here had filled me with sweat and I badly needed it! The water was cool, not too cold, and I loved it. You kindly take photos of me, and you start talking to other people in the water, asking them advice on taking good photos. Its kind of you to make the effort. I note again the level of respect you give to other people, the body language in you demonstrates a clear willingness to make people content. Its not a submissive one, no, its more of a clear kindness.
After the swim I dry off in the sunshine and then get my sandals back on. We head on to what I believed was the next waterfall. What I didn’t know was that there were seven! We saw number 1 in the distance at the beginning of the walk, you had advised we wouldn’t be visiting that one due to climbing challenges. Swam in number 2. Number 3 was next, and nearby were 4 and 5. The trek was okay despite some rock climbing for some parts.
There was also a stream to cross and I attempted to hop over a few rocks. Unfortunately I slipped due to balance more than anything, and my efforts to keep my footwear dry failed! I automatically remain cool, and smile, although I think you noticed I was pretty embarrassed. We walked on and my feet squelched against every step, causing me to worry about falling off or slipping off again!
After waterfall number 5 you presented me with a typed message, “Numbers 6 and 7 are 45mins away or do you want to stop and go back to town for the food festival?”. Feeling proud and ambitious, I said we should continue. Little did I know what was ahead of me. The climb and the downwards bits were even more challenging. I remember clutching to the huge bark of a huge palm tree, its bark was gleaming green and somewhat “plastic” to the human skin. We climbed through some very heavy terrain, I got scratched a few times.
There was one part where you stopped and told me you could hear me out of breath! Ah, we deaf people and our breathing issues! I remember running in Wolverhampton park with my good friend Rob, a CODA, and him explaining me I was breathing so badly, and needed to change my rhythm. I remember trying to and bursting into fits of coughs. It’s a terrible trait many deaf people have!
We got to number six and seven consecutively and I loved the views. We took more photos and you gave me some reassurances, that we would not be going back the same way and that there was a more gentle path back. I was tired, my legs were aching and my feet too. We made our way back and you kept saying it wasn’t far or that it wasn’t much of a climb – you liar! It was challenging for a good long while, but we got there in the end! 🙂
Before returning to the main path we stopped a while, you wanted to show me a magic trick. You picked a stone and pretended to lose it behind your head for it to suddenly appear from your elbow. Its one of those magic tricks that my Uncle used to show me in Manchester when I was a kid. It brought a smile on my face.
On another part of the trek we stopped by some fresh branches of palm trees that were a light green texture. You used a sharp bit of wood to carve my name into the surface gently – it was very sweet of you. I wondered if you do this for every trip you do? It was quite a highlight in my view.
We talked a fair bit at this point and I asked you if I could write this blog about you and our day. You were happy to agree and thanked me. You used the sign language for ‘thank you’, which I taught you earlier on. You told me you had never seen sign language until you met me. When filming me for my social media story, your face dropped as you kind of understood what I was saying visually, and you eagerly asked me to do the whole story again but to your own phone. You couldn’t wait to share the video with your friends and family.
You tell me you have 3 brothers and 2 sisters and that you all live with your parents. You do these tour guides daily and you also work in a restaurant as a chef in the evenings of week days. Your dream is to visit England, Spain, Italy, Germany and Australia. I asked if you have ever been out of El Salvador, you confirm you have not.
We head on back to my hostel and I give you a little tip as well as payment. You kindly agree to wait for me and show me the food festival. We ate happily together with some gorgeous pineapple juice.
It is wonderful to have met you Eduardo, good tour guides are really hard to find. I really do wish you well for the future, Buena Suerte!