Playa El Tunco, Parque Nacional Cerro Verde, and El Pital
Leaving El Imposible, we decided it had been too long since we relaxed on the beach and so headed to Playa El Tunco on the Pacific Coast.
El Tunco is a laid back fishing and surfing community with beautiful black sand beaches, and according to the multitude of surfers hanging out there, some killer breaks. Upon our arrival at the beach we also met up with the melting heat/humidity that is to become our friend for a good portion of the trip. We found a place that would let us camp near the beach, but when we got out of the truck it was hot, humid and there was no breeze to speak of. We felt like at any minute we would look down to see our bodies becoming little puddles on the ground. We made a quick decision and decided to treat ourselves to some air conditioning, so yeah we wimped out . We are going to have to get used to this heat and humidity soon or else it will take a heavy toll on our budget.
El Salvador as we found out has some world class surf waves, and a growing population of surfers (tourists and local). We hung out for a few days, thought about taking up surfing a few times (but still haven’t taken the bait), tried in vain to get used to the heat, and checked out the beautiful black sand beaches. One night while having a few drinks with some friends we met, a storm rolled in and all of a sudden we felt like we were in a hurricane with wind whipping rain all over the place and the palm trees swaying away, horizontal rain defying gravity. Coming from the north coast of California, we like to think we know what rain is all about; however, tropical rain storms are a whole other breed. We were waiting for the news forecaster in a yellow poncho to show up any minute with a microphone in hand and the news crews to get some footage in the rain in front of the wind whipped palms and tell us about the oncoming hurricane.
The climate and geography in El Salvador make it a land of contrasts. Along the coast you’ll find hot and humid beaches, and within a short drive can climb up one of the country’s many volcanos and find yourself in a cool lush climate. Leaving the beach, we headed back up into the mountains to Parque Nacional Cerro Verde, headquarters of 3 of El Salvador’s many volcanos. We could feel the air getting cooler as we drove up the mountain, and by time we made it to the top, we found ourselves surrounded in thick fog and a lush green forest. It was so foggy we almost ran over the guy at the entrance station because we couldn’t see him standing in the middle of the road. It was an amazing change in weather going from melting humid heat to thick cool fog all within the space of a few hours. The Cerro Verde park is absolutely beautiful and the views of the volcanos were stunning. There is a tourist police headquarters at the park and we ended up talking with the second in command there for quite a while. He was a really cool guy, we talked about history, politics and he gave us tips on good places to go within El Salvador.
The next morning the fog was still laying thick around the tops of the volcanos, but we decided to hike one of the volcanos anyways. After a really long hike down the volcano we were camped on (the whole way thinking that is was going to be hell coming back up), we came out of the thick forest onto an old lava flow. Looming before us was the cinder cone we were going to climb: Volcan Izalco. The volcano was straight up, loose dirt and rocks. The climb almost killed Luis, and both of us had a heavy dose of reality of how not in shape we really are (despite trying to convince ourselves to the contrary on a daily basis). The views from the top are reportedly totally amazing; however, due to the fog we couldn’t see much. One cool thing about the Volcan Izalco is that there are spots where pure steam is blowing out of the mountain. You can sit up there and it is like sitting in a sauna, the typical sulfur odor present in most active volcanoes is simply not here. It probably would have been more appreciated if we weren’t already drenched in sweat from the hike up, but cool nonetheless. On the way down negotiating all the loose rock and steep incline, it was hard to stay on our feet. Luis ended up doing a long stretch sliding on his ass and when he finally recovered he realized he’d torn the ass out of his favorite pants!
After returning to camp we decided to follow the advice of our cop friend and moved to a small campground next to Cerro Verde at the base of Volcan Santa Ana, and were rewarded with a clear morning and a spectacular view of Volcan Izalco on one side and Volcan Santa Ana on the other.
Another recommendation from our cop friend at Cerro Verde was a visit to El Pital, which is the highest peak in El Salvador and is supposed to be a beautiful place to camp (we also liked the idea of staying at the higher elevations after our brief encounter with the heat in El Tunco). We made a stop in Suchitoto and parked at a balneario (a public pool) that let us camp and use their pool. We were back into the heat again so the pool was heaven on earth. That is until we jumped in and the water was the same temperature as the air! Oh well sometimes getting wet just to wash off the layer of sweat is worth it. The moon did not bring a break from the heat, but the darkness did bring one of the most wonderful sights we have had on the trip. Thousands of fireflies filled the night, no exaggeration. We have both seen many fireflies, but never this many. It was like looking at a very beautiful starry night but around the grass and trees. We wish we could have somehow taken a picture of this.
The road up to El Pital was insane! It wound straight up the hillside, so steep, we were lucky to get out of second gear. The last part of the road was pot holed and so steep we had to put the Landcruiser in 4 wheel drive low just to climb up. We finally made it to the top and what an amazing place it was. We found a nice little place to camp, overlooking the valley so far below. We are finding that we are here in the wrong time of year because all of the tall peaks and volcanos are perpetually shrouded in fog all day. From what everybody keeps saying, during the dry season (November through April) the views are amazing. From what little we could see through the fog, the views would’ve definitely been amazing.
El Salvador is turning out to be yet another wonderful country… do you see a trend here?