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On the Road to San Salvador

8 February 2011

SOMEWHERE ON THE ROAD FROM ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA TO SAN SALVADOR–It was dark and the stars were out when I stepped from my room on the rooftop of Hospedaje El Refugio. Cocks were crowing and from somewhere came the smell of copal incense that seems to permeate the very stones of the Guatemalan highlands. Somewhere, someone set off a string of firecrackers and that set off the dogs and then it was quiet and dark again and in the first grey of dawn I could see the outlines of Mt. Fuego and Mt. Agua.

Dawn breaks over Antigua.

I was awake earlier than I had intended, having accidentally set my watch back two hours instead of one, but it was good to be there, alone in the uncertain quiet, preparing for the long day ahead. The denizens of the rooftop began to awake and I spoke for a few minutes with the old British-Irish shaman I had met the night before, an eccentric British traveler of the old school who had come to bring ayahuasca to the Guatemalans to heal them. Then it was time to go downstairs and just after 0800, on time, my bus picked me up and we were off and away.

We descended from the mountains, the mist and clouds burning off to reveal the peaks of Agua and Pacaya and the Mordor-like summit of Fuego which had glowed orange the night before. That peak is all browns and grays, covered halfway down its lean shoulders with scree and ash and new-burnt stone.

It gets hotter fast as we lose altitude and enter the plains that lead to the coast. The land becomes flatter and flatter, hotter and hotter and the mountains of the highlands are now hazy blue silhouettes and their misty cool a fading memory. The country is beautiful nonetheless and, in its hot and rugged way, refreshing after the dream-space of the volcanos. Sugar cane fields glow light green in the sun, cattle stand motionless in fields littered with black rocks and out of nowhere we turn a corner and a deep azure lake appears surrounded by green marshes and low hills and then is gone with the next wend of the road.

We reach the border and have to go through customs leaving Guatemala and entering El Salvador. After more hot agricultural plains we suddenly catch sight of the blue Pacific, washing ashore along endless curving strands of black sand. We pull into a few little towns with names like El Zonte and El Sunzal, crowded with thatch roofed hostels, surf shops and dazed gringos. Every other passenger gets out and it is just me for the capital. We drive a little farther, pull over and the driver tells me to out and get in the car in front of us, “Don’t worry,” he says, and I don’t. The next driver is a young Salvadoran man and we chat a while about his country. He seems pleased I know it–more than the surfing villages anyway–and that I speak to him in his own language. He drops me off right at the Hotel Via Real. I walk in and am greeted by Sara, the owner, as an old friend. I am starving and, apparently look it, because she immediately makes me a sandwich that I eat with a cup of coffee in the plant-filled, breezy courtyard. I shower and put on clean clothes and, just as I am ready and feeling fully human again, I hear the front gate open and hear John Gilberg’s friendly Midwestern voice, then Alan Mikesell’s and I know my friends are here. I open the door and great them with a big Ohio hola.


• Antigua

• San Juan Alotenango

• Escuintla

• Rio Guacalate

• San Miguel los Lotes

• Mazatenango

• Monte Rico

• Hunapa

• Guanagazapa

• Pedro de Alvarado

• Chiquimulla

• Platanares

• Guazacapan

• Los Cerritos

• Porto Carrero

• San Juan Tecuaco

• Aldea Margaritas


• Tapahuashusha

• El Corazal

• Acachapa

• Playa Dorada

• Sonsonate

• Sihuapilapa

• Sante Maria Mizata

• Texicio


• Metayo

• Playa Maja Hual

• Playa San Blas

• Tectepeque

• Taquillo

• Shutia

• Chiltiupan

• Jutalpa

• El Zonte

• El Palmar

• El Sunzal

• El Tunco

• La Libertad

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