Monday, December 03, 2007

on top of the world

well, not exactly on top of the "world"....that'd be more like everest or k2 or something. but i did stand on top of el salvador...2,700 meters high and freezing. el pital is the highest point in el salvador and it's located in chalatenango and sits just a little bit south of the border of honduras and el salvador.

after a whole day of bus travel, antonio and i made it to la palma - a pretty well-known pueblo. it was basically the first "pueblo pintorado" in el salvador because artist fernando llort came to la palma and painted a bunch of murals on the buildings there….before anyone else in the country decided to start painting postes and murals (like they are in apaneca and salcoatitan and other places around here). he then taught the citizens of the town how to paint like that and now the majority of people in the town are artisans. i'd only passed through la palma a couple of times on my way up to the border so it was nice to stop and take a look at everything. we walked around town and took some pictures and then stopped in the catholic church by the park. it's a simple church, but like the church i visited in guatemala, near lago atitlán, it had it's own decor, specific to la palma. all the designs fit within the same type of painting that you see throughout the town. also, the church was filled with photos, posters and information about oscar romero. romero was the salvadoran catholic archbishop that was assassinated in 1980 by a someone representing the ARENA-sponsored salvadoran death squads during the civil war. romero was giving his sermon and whoever it was, stood in the back of the church with a rifle and shot him in the heart. anyway, i was startled as we walked through the church, to see a big photo time-line of romero's assassination. the first photo showed the congregation getting up as romero had just been shot. then the photos that followed were closeup photos of romero laying there in a pool of blood while various nuns and other church members surrounded him. the photos went on to show him being lifted out of the church and into a waiting van and carried off to the hospital or morgue. it was so weird to see all those photos like that in the middle of the church. romero famously spoke out against the war and criticized the violation of human rights in the country during the war. thousands of people were being killed on a daily basis, and romero spoke out against this. he was seen as a threat to the military and accused of siding with the guerillas. anyway, this photo mural was dotted with famous romero quotes and it was quite sad.

nativity scene outside the feria de artesanias in san salvador

antonio in front of one of the murals in la palma

the church in the park

poster of romero (the instituto de maíz issues a poster every year in rememberance of romero)

another romero tribute

one of the signs of the cross, painted with bright colors on a piece of wood

so, this church was he site of the peace accords struck between the government and the FMLN (the guerillas) putting an official end to the war in 1994 and this plaque is a commemoration of that

the ubiquitous ¨che¨ mural, every latin american pueblo has one somewhere

later that day we tried to find out just exactly when the bus to río chiquito, the desvio to el pital, left the next day. nobody seemed to have a real answer, and in true salvadoran style, we asked about 6 people and got 6 different answers. so the next morning we left the hotel and 6:00 a.m. and ran into an old man that said the bus to san ignacio (a neighboring pueblo) didn't leave until 7:30. so we went back to the hotel and let ourselves in. the night before, the woman at the hotel told us she had to go home that night and was going to leave us the keys. she left us alone in the hotel that night and all night i kept thinking about all those horror films where people are alone in a hotel and some axe murderer does them in. anyway, we waited until about 7:00 and then re-exited the hotel and stopped and asked this woman when the bus to san ignacio left and she's like - oh, you missed it. we were like "what the hell!" then this bus that says on the front that it's going to san ignacio, pulls up around the corner and she says "but maybe this bus will take us." so we three got on and we asked the driver if this bus was going to río chiquito and he said yes. so we sat back talking about how we lucked out by catching this bus. so the bus stops for gas and then makes its way to san ignacio, where the driver pulls up next to this building and turns the bus off. then the cobredor goes "so we're leaving at 9:30 for río chiquito and las pilas." antonio and i looked at each other and were like "what the hell is this??" we were seriously confused. so we had two choices: sit on the bus and wait for 2 hours until the bus left; or go up to the road leading out of town and wait for a pickup and hopefully hitch a ride. we opted to take our chances with a pickup and started walking through town up to the road that led out of town and up into the mountains. at the desvio we stopped and waited around with this other woman for probably an hour. finally, a pickup passed that was willing to take us up and we were finally on our way to el pital.

from rio chiquito it's about an hour and a half hike up to el pital, so it wasn't like we had to climb all 2,700 meters ourselves, thank god. the pickup driver left us off at the desvio and the hike was on. it was a great hike, i've hiked worse on the full moon hikes...or even chichontepec volcano. this was a nice little hike, steep at times, but not too steep. it was freezing though, as we got near the top. not one single person passed us - except for one little kid that passed us going super fast, making us look like sloths. no vehicles passed us, no other tourists, nobody. it was quite tranquilo. from the dirt road we could see all the way to the santa ana and cerro verde volcanoes, and the mountain chain that leads all the way around apaneca and onto ahuachapan. we could also see el boquerón, the volcano in san salvador. then from the other side we could see chichontepec as well. it was so cool seeing the flat land, and then the volcanoes rising up out of nowhere.

right before we made it to the entrance of the park a pickup passed us with a family of salvadorans. we made it to the entrance and paid $2 each to enter. the top of el pital is privately owned, but the public is allowed access for a fee. i completely agree with this. i wish they would do this with more areas of el salvador. the fact of the matter is, the majority of salvadorans do not care about the naturaleza here. they cut down trees, cut orquids out of the trees and then sell them on the street in juayua and san salvador and apaneca. you already know their relationship with trash. they just don't take care of the land. anyway, so this guy owns el pital, charges a fee to enter, and then uses that money to take care of the place. there are signs throughout the hike up to the top saying things like "take care of the trees and plants," "don't cut the plants," etc. anyway, so we get to the top and i see that pickup parked to the side and wouldn't you know it but the old lady that was in the pickup was cutting down some orchids from a tree. i was fuming mad. salvadorans do not follow rules. they don't. i've had a ton of salvadorans that used to live in the states at one point, come up to me and say "oh, in the states there are too many laws, too many rules." this is why they think that. they simply don't follow rules or laws here, and nobody enforces them. they drive as fast they want, they steal whole bus stops to sell the metal, they throw their trash on the ground, the list goes on. salvadorans simply do not like to follow rules, and so they don't follow them. i'm not saying that in the states, we LIKE to follow rules, but we do follow them, for the most part. obviously, we all don´t, but i´m comparing here. there's a simple unspoken etiquette about other things as well that we have in the states, that may not look like much in the states, but after living here for 2 years, to me, we seem so organized. and it's a nice thing. it's nice to get to the airport and have lines and organization and all that, as opposed to here where it's just a free for all and you have to become a friggin' maniac, pushing old women and kids out of the way, just to board the bus.

so even though el pital's a private place and all and it's a protected area in a sense, this stupid old woman is carrying her pirated orchid back to the pickup truck without any hesitation whatsoever. even though the orchid isn't going to flower again in her lifetime, or anybody else's lifetime, because she's taking it back to an area that's not suited for the orchid. the orchids here are native to high, cool, cloudforest climates.

anyway, so we hung out at the top of el pital for a while and ate our lunch of avocados and tortillas and apples. it was soooo cold, let me tell you. we then took this trail that said led to the "nacimiento del agua," (birth of water) which i thought would be like a waterfall or something. well we hiked uphill a while, then started into the forest and it was damp and wet and the trail was muddy and what-not. then the trail led down and down and i mentioned to antonio that we should pay attention to how far we were going because we'd have to hike up again and we wanted to make it back to río chiquito by at least 2:00 to hopefully catch a bus going back down. so antonio led the way and we kept following the trail and we get to one part and antonio hollers back at me "guess where we are?" and i have no idea and when i come up to where he is, i notice we are right back where we started, just on another side of the park. so basically we had just made a loop, up to the very, very top of el pital, where the "nacimiento del agua" was and back down. the nacimiento meant that the clouds pass through the forest, depositing moisture on the trees and plants and then that filters down through the mountain and into the land. duh.

so we hiked down again, in less than 45 minutes! we made it back to río chiquito and waited for an hour before the bus passed. the bus said it was going to la palma, but when we get to san ignacio the bus driver says "ok, we're stopping. everybody off!" seriously, i'm glad i live in an area where there's a bus schedule and they stick to it and the bus goes where it's supposed to go. but we caught a bus back to la palma and everything was fine.

view from the back of the pickup on the way up to río chiquito

view of el pital from the road on the way up to río chiquito

on the hike can see volcán santa ana in the distance, behind he clouds

volcán san salvador (or el boquerón) on the left and volcán santa ana on the right behind the clouds

flowers on the mountain

volcán chichontepec in the distance

antonio and i at the top

the sign welcoming visitors to el pital....official altitude, 2,730 meters

more flowers

weird plants growing out of the side of the mountain

in the cloudforest...antonio was telling me the official names of all these plants, but i couldn´t keep track of all of them

more of the nacimiento del agua

orchids growing happily on the trees (not yet flowering yet)

weird little salamander-like creature that antonio said was called a ¨candíl,¨ hanging out on the park grass

on the way down, just past the official entrance of the park

last view of el pital from río chiquito

so that was el pital. it was a beautiful place, a great hike and had some fantastic views of all of el salvador. i am so glad i finally went to check it out. hopefully i´ll get one last entry in before my trip home! until then, salú!