We left the volcano and in no more than 10 minutes, the first drop splashed upon our windshield. It was rainy season in El Salvador. One raindrop turned into five, then ten, then twenty. Soon enough, it was absolutely pouring outside and we could barely see the road right in front of us, much less the newly formed rivers we were driving over. A man on a scooter cruised by and I thanked God I wasn’t in his shoes.
“Stay close to that car in front of us. His lights will help guide the way, so we know what’s coming next.”
We drove on for about an hour through the torrential storms, though not many of the locals seemed phased by it. Women still sat under their makeshift tents on the roadside selling tortillas and fresh fruit. Alas, a sign signaling to the driveway of Entre Nubes appeared. Our tires crept forward under the shelter, until we were wedged right in between two men, both yielding rifles. Another man ran up to us with an umbrella.
“You park, she go now,” he stated, passing a sopping umbrella through the window as I stepped out under the dry cover leading to the restaurant. I mean, I wasn’t going to argue with that plan, especially considering the opposing forces were packing.
Walking up the cobblestone path and through the door, I felt as if I was still in the jungle. Vines swung from the ceiling and roped around the posts holding the place up. The thunder crackled loudly outside and lights went off for a split second, then boosted right back up at full power. They were clearly used to the weather.
We relaxed underneath the rainforest staying dry, while listening to the forest release its fury around us. The only thing that could’ve made this moment better was a few locally brewed beers, which is exactly what we’d opted for.
We ended up overstaying our afternoon delight as the waiter talked us into nachos, and then tacos, and then dessert. What can I say, he was good at his job. We signed the check just as the sunshine began to peek back out under the clouds. A few ducklings splashed in the puddles next to our pickup as we routed our way to the next destination. It was time to make up for the sleep we’d missed the night before.
The El Carmen Estate Coffee Plantation was a mere 10 minute drive, which felt like nothing compared to how far we’d driven in El Salvador so far. A man ran up to us before we could even park, saying he could start a private tour right away, for only $6 USD. We had the entire plantation to ourselves.
Though the coffee beans were not being harvested yet, we got to go and see every single section of the process. We touched the exact machinery they used, and have been using, for almost 100 years now. Our guide explained to us that, though there is higher tech machinery now, they won’t upgrade. Not only would a different process change the taste of their coffee, but it would also put a lot of locals out of work.
When it’s harvesting season, hundreds of pounds of coffee beans are picked by hand (one-by-one). Then, after weighing, washing and roasting, they are sorted by quality. Women get 30 seconds to look at each bag on a table in front of them, picking out the bad beans. After those 30 seconds pass, the belt moves by and they get another bag. These women stand there, staring at coffee beans with intense concentration for 10 hours in a day. It really puts the idea of a quality coffee in persepective.
What really interested me about the coffee is that different regions tend to purchase different qualities. For instance, the United States doesn’t really care about quality, they just want coffee. Whereas, in Europe, coffee should be to the highest quality, otherwise no one will drink it. In Japan, however, they tend to enjoy the Geisha blend, which is so weak, it essentially tastes like a tea. Though this would go for maybe $10 a pound in El Salvador, in Japan, people are willing to pay over $800 for a pound these beans. That could mean a cup of coffee is $100. I don’t know about you, but that fun fact really made me feel less guilty about buying a $7 latte.
After seeing the process, we were brought into the warehouse. Stacks on stacks of coffee for various vendors lined the walls, being aged as if they were barrels of wine. After learning every single step there is to making the perfect cup of coffee, we were able to try some for ourselves. Using a French press, our guide poured hot water over the grounded beans and handed over a mug. Though I would like to say that I loved the coffee, this one just wasn’t strong enough for me. He recommended I try the Bourbon blend instead for a stronger taste. We thanked our guide for making us El Salvador Coffee Experts and continued down Ruta De Las Flores.
The smell of sulfur began leaking in through our open windows and I knew we had to be close to the hot springs. Turning right, we rolled onto a dirt path as a small, bearded man stepped out of a green hut. Trudging up to our window, he outstretched his hand, collecting the park fee while motioning up ahead to the springs.
As we drove further, the rocks on the path seemed to grow in size and we were now rocking back and forth as the tires fought the land. If you’ve ever been on one of those old, wooden rollercoasters, I think you know the feeling. Chicken busses crammed with locals cruised by us, as others walking in their flip-flops with towels draped over their shoulders headed out.
This was our safe haven for the night. The front desk handed over keys to a room named USA 1 (how’d she know) and we continued down the cobblestone path. I couldn’t wait another moment to rid my body of these muddy, sweaty, rained-drenched hiking clothes. We dropped our luggage on the tiled floor and just as quickly left to go and explore the never-ending hot springs. Grabbing a few drinks from the bar (What? I’m on vacation.), we were ready to relax.
I probably could’ve jumped right from our bedroom balcony into the first hot spring. Honestly, it was where we spent 90% of our time anyway, as no one else seemed to know about it. A small trickle of steaming water dropped from a pond above into the one we sat, creating a whirlpool effect. Steam rose around us, as if we were in a simulation of the clouds we saw on the Santa Ana Volcano.
The heat soaked deep into my muscles, massaging them after our big hike this morning. I reached out, grabbing the water with my hands. It felt soft on my skin and made my hair feel like it belonged in a Pantene commercial. A lone purple flower drifted down from the tree above us and floated by, following the current.
If it wasn’t for that big, white, air-conditioned bed awaiting me upstairs, I would’ve gladly fallen asleep in the hot springs that night. However, duty calls…