The firecrackers and fireworks went full force on Christmas Eve until just after midnight. It was our first night in Sochitoto after a climb of El Salvador’s highest peak. As we sat beside the square waiting for dinner, we all jumped out of our seats, each time a noise maker went boom. It was unnerving for those of us unaccustomed to hear what sounded like bombs and gunfire. As it turned out, the gun-powder inspired flashes and loud blasts has me in a vert reflective mood the next day as we set out on our climb of Gauzapa, a volcano towering over Sochitoto.
Our local guides for our climb of Guazapa were Orlando, Orlando, and Orlando. Orlando Senior was a rebel combatant in the Civil War. He fought in the area of Gauzapa for 12 years as a young man and he led the way up the volcano. After a brief and exciting ride in the back of a red Toyota, we followed Orlando up through the remains of a rebel camp and hospital. Stone rings marked where tents used to stand. Orlando pointed out a trench that the doctors and nurses used to dive into during air raids.
Further up the hill, Orlando stopped at a small hole under a stand of bamboo. This opening was the entrance of a tunnel system used to hid supplies or people in. At nearly 60, Orlando still moved up the volcano like a much younger man. When the old rebel paths needed clearing, he deftly removed the machete hanging from his belt holster and removed any impediments with a single blow. Further up the slope, we stopped for a break and Orlando pointed out that the canyon we were standing beside had been used to hide the wounded rebel fighters. The army would camp on the upper edges of the canyon and throw garbage down into the canyon, never discovering the folks below.
With each step behind Orlando, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to traverse these same slopes while bullets and bombs were flying and dropping. All of the firework explosions the evening before had provided a minuscule taste but I know I know nothing like it, having been privileged to live in a peaceful place. Orlando told us that he leads some longer cultural tours where they delve deeper into the war. He said when he tells stories from that time, both he and he audience often end up in tears.
It was a long climb up Gauzapa, taking nearly four hours to reach our high point, Orlando leading the entire way up. Orlando Junior, a doctor took up the sweep position and Orlando Junior Junior keep the middle moving. We contoured our way up to the bottom of the extinct volcano’s crater and then climbed the crater in a giant, sweeping arc. We were fortunate to be under the jungle canopy the entire way up because it was a 30 plus degree day. When we broke out onto the edge of the crater, the trees gave way to five foot grasses. Turkey vultures circled above. We stopped for lunch and watched the vultures soar, perhaps jealous that we couldn’t ride the air currents in the same way being cemented to ground level by gravity and a lack of wings.
After enjoying the view of Suchitoto, we headed back down retracing our steps until following the river out back to the truck. At Gauzapa Tour’s headquarters, we celebrated the new partnership (Gauzapa Tours is a budding cultural tour operator) and Christmas with a lovely cake. It was another fine day climbing our fifth (and longest to date) volcano of the Volcanopalooza.