Total distance travelled: 31,210.5 kilometres (19,385.4 miles)
We’d arrived in Santa Ana with plans for a quick diversion down to Lago de Coatapeque, in theory our final El Salvador adventure before returning to the capital in preparation for our flight to Cuba.
As has been the norm throughout this trip, there is a level of fluidity in our planning, so when our young English friends divulged their plans to visit the nearby volcano that shares its name with the town (in truth the volcano is actually closer to the lake we’d planned to visit) it piqued our interest.
The final nail in the coffin of our lake excursion came when a French-Canadian couple returned from a day’s outing there and advised that beyond taking in the scenery, there was little else one could do (the majority of the shoreline is all private property, so access to the water is actually quite difficult).
With our decision made, we were now tacking ourselves onto Lizzie and Nicky’s plans for the following day, a plan that was also to ultimately include the French-Canadian couple as well.
With only a few buses there each day (but with tours departing at 11am), it was necessary that we took a bus from Santa Ana at around 7:30 the following morning.
As for getting off at the wrong stop? This wasn’t likely as the volcano was literally the end of the line as it was also the end of the road!
All who remained on the bus by this stage were tourists, and it was necessary for us to all alight at the main entrance so we could purchase our tickets to enter the park, and walk the final few hundred metres to the car-park from where the tours ran.
With a bit of good fortune (perhaps they figured that anybody wanting to climb the volcano would be here by now), we weren’t made to wait until the scheduled time, so we pretty much got straight into the ascent… which worryingly all seemed to be downhill for the first half hour or so.
This meant there was the likelihood that it would also need to be climbed as the very last stage of our return (by which time our legs would likely be feeling a lot more fatigued)!
We could only assume there’d been trouble along the route in the past, as an armed escort of tourist police as well as a couple of military policemen with automatic weapons were along for the hike as well.
As soon as we began to actually hit the incline, Sarah and I, accompanied by one of the tourist and military policemen began to quickly pull away from the main group. It wasn’t a deliberate act, however we could only assume that although we haven’t really noticed it, our fitness must have improved over the previous four and a half months of travel!
Even pausing at several of the lookout locations didn’t seem to give the group time to bridge the gap, so we just continued onwards and upwards on our merry way.
Eventually we began to resemble a Tour de France breakaway as the pace of our ascent was even too much for our tourist policeman, who our remaining military companion pointed out was slightly gordo (fat), and along we continued.
The early stages of the climb had been amongst a wooded area, so we were protected from the heat of the sun by the canopy above, but eventually as expected, this gave way to much more open, rocky terrain where the only respite from the heat came when either a breeze sprung up, or a cloud bank rolled through.
We can’t pretend we weren’t panting by this point, but to be fair, we were climbing fairly rapidly at an altitude of over 2300m.
The occasional short cut up dry, yet gravely gullies carved by wet season rains were probably helpful in the long term, but at the time left us lathered in fresh layers of sweat (on top of the layers we were already saturated in).
But eventually, as the incline slackened we realised we must be nearing our goal, and quite suddenly, but for our guide, we had this view to occupy us for the 15 minutes it took the next group of climbers to arrive.
It was a wonderful ten or fifteen minutes, yet we didn’t realise how wonderful we had it until the first of our group began to arrive in dribs and drabs.
By this time there were many pockets of the original posse strung all along the slope, making their way up at their own pace, but what we noticed the most when we suddenly had to share our perch with these other people, was how wonderfully quiet and peaceful it had been.
Yet in being up there first, we were the only two (along with our guard) who’d had the pleasure of enjoying it.
I also felt a bit more impressed with my efforts given that I’d completed it at such good pace with my sturdy ‘hiking’ shoes barely clinging to my feet…
This was the third active volcano Sarah and I had now had the privilege of viewing, and by a wonderful stroke of luck, each of the three have been very different.
At Vanuatu’s Mount Yasur back in 2012 we’d had the thrill of watching molten lava bubbling away, and only a few weeks ago Guatemala’s Volcan de Pacaya gave us the opportunity to walk across a smoking lava field, but here was a different proposition again, a boiling lake!
Apparently when the volcano last erupted back in 2005, no lava was viewed, by the lake reached some phenomenal temperatures.
Our guide, who had eventually caught up, did advise us that the current hottest point of the lake continues to boil away at a nice and pleasant 100 degrees Celsius!
Although we weren’t set to part ways immediately, we did also realise that this was something of a last hurrah with our English friends Lizzie and Nicky, so we’d made a point of making sure we grabbed a couple of photos with our young amigas!
We’d first met back in Mexico, and had since caught up (both randomly and arranged) in Belize, across Guatemala and now here in El Salvador.
Our time done, it came time to descend and this time the speed of our descent, especially mine would ultimately be to our detriment from a time perspective (not that we had anywhere to be), but I’m sure it was better for our health.
As we were ahead of the group, I apparently knew better and we just continued on back all the way (which included a climb over a locked gate which suggested everyone else was going to be using an alternative route), thus including the long climb towards the very end.
Getting back to the main car-park at about 2pm was where we got the first bit of great news. The next bus back to Santa Ana wouldn’t be until 4pm!
We whittled away the time watching a posse of Jehovah’s Witnesses play football in the gravel car-park, had a failed attempt at eye-spy, and began to realise that nobody else from the group was going to be showing up.
When we finally got back to the hostel we discovered what had occurred.
The remainder of our group (who hadn’t arrived in a mini-van) managed to secure a lift down to the main highway in the back of utility.
With buses more frequent along such a main artery, they ultimately got back to town about an hour and a half earlier than us.
Still, at least we got to experience the full up and down (and up again) experience that was Volcan de Santa Ana!
* The bus from Santa Ana took us all the way to the park entrance for $0.90 US per person (one way).
* Entrance into the park set us back a further $3.00 US per person, plus an additional $1.00 US each for the local guide.