Tag Archives: hiking

Quezal Tepeque volcano, El Salvador. Photo by Madelyn Given.

An Adventure Unfolds in El Salvador

It wasn’t until the third day in El Salvador that my guide situation had completely unraveled. Unknown to me, it had started before I had even entered the country. The first clue was when my guide did not meet me at the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport when I arrived, but he sent a transfer attendant to take me to my hotel. This is quite common if it is late in the day and no activity is planned.

I wasn’t concerned when the attendant handed me an envelope with a typed letter, explaining that my guide was going to be changed, and the new guide would meet me the following morning. On the drive from the airport to my hotel in San Salvador, the owner of the Honduras travel company called and asked to talk to me. He explained about the change of guides, assured me everything was OK, and welcomed me for a safe and pleasant trip. Before we ended the call I said, “What happened to the couple from Australia and family member from Vancouver, Canada who were joining me to make a foursome?” He said they were flying to the United States to get to Central America and had their flights canceled due to the border trouble with the US. They could not come. I was shocked.

I was dropped off at my high-rise grand hotel. In the distance, I could see the Quezal Tepeque volcano in El Boqueron National Park, where I planned to hike with my guide the next afternoon. My guide, Moises, met me on schedule and we visited museums, the cathedrals, parks, and many sections of the city. My guide was often on his cell phone, appearing anxious and apologizing to me after the call for interrupting our conversation while on tour.

In late morning, we drove out of the capital on the Pan American Highway to El Boqueron National Park, where we would climb the Quezal Tepeque volcano. It was not a difficult walk up the side of the volcano.

I had many questions to ask my guide as we were walking: “What kind of tree is this?” He always had an answer, telling me, “This is a cashew tree,” or “That one is the conacasta tree.” The path was well maintained with steps in several sections.

Quezal Tepeque volcano, El Salvador. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Quezal Tepeque volcano, El Salvador. Photo by Madelyn Given.

The volcano is 6,000 feet, and at the lip of the rim is a grand view into the crater 500 feet below. The volcano is considered an active volcano but it has not erupted since 1917. Outside the park entrance were several food and souvenir stalls and I bought a hat to wear, several nispero fruit, and a bottle of water.

Nispero looks like a kiwi fruit, but round, and inside, it has the fibrous color of a peach with a pit. The nispero and water were our lunch. It was hot weather for hiking and we met no one on the trail that day.

My guide was enjoyable and knowledgeable, but hints from his cell phone conversations (even in Spanish) were seeping into my ears, and I didn’t know what to think. Later in the afternoon, he said he must take his car to have the passenger seat belt repaired that day after he dropped me off. He said he would have a substitute take me the next day for only the morning, while he had to go to court. He said, “Don’t worry, it won’t be a problem.” I knew my next day’s schedule, the substitute’s name and information; I had my guide’s phone number, the owner of the company’s information and emergency phone numbers. I was becoming somewhat nervous but I believed it was not a set up. Tomorrow was to be my first time to see a Mayan ruin and I was truly excited.

The next day Manual, the substitute guide, came to pick me up on time and prepared to take me to the first destination, the David Guzman Museum of Anthropology in San Salvador. The museum was the best I had seen of anything in El Salvador. It had extensive artifacts from the Mayan sites in the country, and most were from the site we were going to that day, so it had particular meaning for me.

I noticed from the time Manual entered the museum that he was uncomfortable being there and I could tell that he was not a guide. I did not blame him, yet this was not what I had expected. I walked through the rooms on different levels, read the labels and information in Spanish, and absorbed what information I could by myself. This was not where we were to meet Moises, so I asked if we should leave.

Manual said, “I have a place I want to take you, I think l you will like it. It is a surprise; don’t tell anyone I am doing this.” This was not on my schedule and I was a little anxious. Before I got in the car, I asked him where is this place and what is it. He explained that it is a small museum at a nearby university and it is about the heroes of the rebellion of the 1970s.

The museum was close by at a private university in an upscale neighborhood. A security guard helped us find a place to park and it was safe. Each time something unexpected happened, I became anxious and when it turned out to be okay, I would relax a little until the next episode. Later, I learned that Manual was killing time by going here.

I went through this small museum reading the Spanish labels and learning a bit about the 1821 Act of Independence, 1931 rebellion, many coups d’etats, the 1960s Football War, the 1970s to 1980s leftist guerrilla warfare, and the liberation movement. I learned the national hero, Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, was assassinated while celebrating Mass in 1980. During the 70s until 1992, 75,000 people died and hundreds of thousands fled to the United States and Canada. Half a billion dollars a year goes into this country each year just from relatives living in the United States sending back money. Since a 1992 agreement, the country has been more stable, yet very unsafe. It did not take long to go through this small museum and now I was anxious to go to Joya de Cerén, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993.

Manual and I were soon on the Pan American Highway out into the country to see the “Pompeii of the Americas,” a Mayan site with remains that existed of the foods they ate, the crops they grew, and their social structure. About 1,500 years ago, the Laguna Caldera volcano erupted and buried the village under layers of volcanic ash. This preserved the village including the remains of a tethered duck, a rat in a food storage area, corn stocks in a garden, homes, and a steam building used like a sauna.

Manual walked around the excavations of this village, but again he seemed out of place here, with a worried look on his face. It took a while to drive here and a while to see the different areas of the site, and then we went to the car and he was puzzled about what to do next. This was where we were to meet Moises and Moises did not show up. Manual said we are going to Santa Ana. I asked, “What is special about Santa Ana?” He said, “Not much, just the old church, which is beautiful.” It was another 30 miles to Santa Ana and off we drove along a paved country road in a small car that he rented on a weekly basis. To pass time I would view the landscape and also ask questions like, “Do you know Moises well?”

Without hesitating, Manual replied, “Yes, I have known him for 12 years and he is a good man.”

Before too long, we were driving through the narrow streets of a small old colonial city to a central plaza busy with locals buying and selling their vegetables and local wares. Manual drove up to the front of the cathedral and told me to get out and he would find a place to park. It was crowded with locals, I was not familiar with the area, it was not a tourist area, and I am a single foreign woman. I did not feel good about this situation.

He could see I had not budged from my car seat, so he said, “I will wait for you here,” and pointed to a place ahead along the plaza where he would wait for me. I went to the cathedral and at the gate, a woman told me in Spanish that the church was closed until two o’clock. I took a few photos and hurried across the street to the plaza where Manual was waiting beside his car and I got in, thankful he had not driven off and left me. In all my years of travel I have never experienced such fear of the unknown. I would get over it and something else would come up. Manual was always on his cell phone and I would ask, “Where is Moises?”

To be continued…

(posted April 25, 2017)

Live polka music made for a wonderful dinner experience in Poland! Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Poland, Part 2

The Third Republic of Poland is a vibrant country, part of the European Union, with working citizens living a purposeful life and proud of their heritage. In 1775, Poland became the second nation in the world with a democratic Constitution.

In Warsaw, there are statues everywhere of heroes and of characters in famous legends: Wars and Sana, from a story about a famous Prince and two poor fisherman; and Basilisk, a monster guarding treasures; in addition to a young cobbler, a golden duck, and mermaids. As you walk past these bronze statues in the parks and city squares, it is a reminder for today’s citizens to keep their values intact.

The parks are well maintained and nicely landscaped. There are many new skyscrapers and buildings. The rail road system is modern, with new central stations and efficient service throughout Poland and Europe. Universities are thriving and schools provide a good education. There is a new Olympic Center and a National Stadium.

Fryderyk Chopin, the great composer, was from Poland and spent his early years performing in Warsaw. He went to Paris to live and traveled throughout Europe performing concerts. I went to a drawing room in the Chopin Museum for a private concert with Adam Mikolaj Gozdiewski, age 15, a world-class performer. Then there were the evening meals with a Polish band playing lively polkas. The music in Poland is diverse and meaningful.

There is a famous zoo in Warsaw, well-recognized before World War II for saving certain species of animals. During the war, the zoo director and his wife, Jan Zabinski, gave shelter to many Jewish orphans, hiding them inside the animal houses and cages. The book, The Zoo Keeper’s Wife, describes what happened to this family in Warsaw, Poland during World War II.

The restaurants and cafes offer a variety of cuisine and it is fun to try the traditional Polish dinners with pierogi, meat-stuffed dumplings, bigos, stewed cabbage and beef, golabki, meat-stuffed cabbage leaves, red beet soup, and a platter of variety of sausages. Musicians play around the table with lively Polish polkas.

The last evening in Warsaw, I met my guide and a small group of travelers, each from a different country. It was a welcome change to be traveling with a diverse group. On the road together, time passed quickly with such interesting personalities. Our little group came from Cape Town, South Africa; Perth, Australia; Ireland, Argentina, India, Malaysia, Canada, and the USA. From the city, we drove through the countryside, heading north to Lithuania. The weather was dry and sunny. The land was quite flat, with a mixture of farm fields and small wooded areas. The highways are modern with rest stops and places to eat, and diesel is cheaper than gas.

I enjoyed Poland. There is a lot to see and do there. The people are friendly and helpful, and the country is safe. There are places to hike, mountains to climb, biking in cities, and camping by the lakes and forests.

(posted December 13, 2016)

Chilly waters on Kvalvika Beach, Norway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Scandinavian Travels 2016: Lofoten, Norway, Part 2

The weather was warm and sunny while I was above the Arctic Circle this summer, due to 23 hours of daylight. The Lofoten Islands are known for a distinctive landscape of jagged peaks, windswept grasslands, open sea, sheltered bays, and white sand beaches. I was excited to hike here where the mountains are exposed, with rock bordering the ocean, and visibility is fantastic. I was staying in a quaint fishing village bordered by a high wall of mountains behind it, with a protected harbor from the sea. It was a peaceful, back-to-nature place that still exists, whereas some of the old fishing villages are now abandoned.

Hiking up Vestvagoya in Noway. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Hiking up Vestvagoya in Noway.

Led by our guides Anna and Annasteina, one day our small group hiked on Vestvagoya, a steep, exposed trail, with the ocean touching the base of the mountain, far below where we hiked. It was a day-long hike and ended with a walk on the white sand beach. I threw off my hiking boots, looked around to see if anyone was going to join me, and then waded alone into the cold Arctic water. It felt great after hiking, but that pleasant sensation lasted only a very few minutes before the blast of cold began penetrating my toes. There were several surfers in full diving suits in the water or on their boards.

Another day we spent hiking more gentle trails through grasslands, hills, and harbors. After hiking all day, our small group would enjoy a great meal by native chefs. The fish is caught daily and served the same evening. The meal was well prepared and we dined in a casual, friendly atmosphere. The islands have become a great place to hike in the summer, ski in the winter, and view the Northern Lights.

Soon it was time to leave Lofoten and Norway, but I would take with me many happy memories of hiking in different regions, the friendly people with a healthy lifestyle, and the beautiful country. Because we were so far north, it was a long day of travel.

Again in the wee hours of morning, but at least not in darkness, we departed the red painted rorbus, a cabin on stilts where I slept with the water under the floor boards. Then we drove an hour and a half to Svolvaer Airport on Lofoten, took a puddle jumper plane to Buda. There our group divided and we said our farewells. I took the first flight to Oslo, picked up some checked baggage and took an international flight to Denmark.

Of course there were flight delays to make my day longer and more tiresome. This is part of the “downs” of the “ups and downs of life.” The “ups” are all of the great adventures of travel: what you learn, who you meet, and what you do and experience. The “ups” far outweigh the “downs.”

I was very happy with my adventures in Norway. It is a beautiful country that is clean, friendly, safe, and a great place for many outdoor activities. I would be delighted to return to Norway someday.

(posted October 18, 2016)