- OH SHIT! MAN? ARE YOU OKAY???
- I don’t know . . . It’s hot. It’s really hot.
- Take your time, easy.
We had been haunted by a spectre of bad luck since we entered El Tunco. The robbery, the police experience, the racist old Dick, the murder scene, the weed mission . . . Everything we attempted turned sour. I pictured the spectre like a boxer so fast we could not see its blows but only feel them; a combo of brutal fails.
Over the last three months, Marco and I had been through a lot. Good times were epic and bad ones made for good stories. We had the same dark, mean sense of humor. There was always someone or something to mock. We laughed often and laughed a lot. Laughing with Marco was the best part of the trip.
In bad times, we developed an effective coping mechanism: sarcasm. Hardship loses its intensity when confronted with humour, like a thug with a high-pitched voice. A joke did not solve the problem but it led to another joke, and another joke. Eventually we cracked a laugh, and laughter is the best therapy.
Marco wanted to enroll on a diving course in Utila, Honduras. They taught diving in the second largest coral reef barrier in the world, and at the best price. The sequence of bad experiences rushed his departure. He had had enough. Marco left for good this time, and his absence left a solemn void.
Loneliness is sneaky. It creeps in when joy is fickle and grows like cancer with time. If neglected, it completely takes over other emotions, until there is no more joy left. That opens the Pandora box of life-long repressed emotions, a place I wasn’t so keen to visit. So, what do we say to loneliness? Not today.
Tunco Life is a travel agency started by a young local entrepreneur, Salva. I love to encourage hustling entrepreneurs so I subscribed to his services. Salva is educated, intelligent, and funny; a beach boy with a brain. I booked a tour to visit the waterfalls of Tamanique, a village in the nearby mountains.
The road to Tamanique zigzags through a dense emerald vale. Salva left me with his guide, and down the path we went. The mountains bred a cool mist and distant water sang a pleasant lullaby. The forest offered a cradle of comfort, far away from El Tunco and its bullying spectre.
There was a 6m jump on top of the first waterfall. I jumped. Upon landing, a sharp pain pierced my left ear. Another fail, the spectre landed a right hook and waves of pain went through my head. Ear pain is like tooth pain: brutal and invasive. When the pain started, it was so intense it had me holding my head and screaming like a mad man. The ear infection took ten days to heal. Ocean days are long when you can’t be in the ocean.
The volcanoes in Guatemala left me hungry for more. So, I set on to hike every volcano I came across. The closest one was Santa Ana, the tallest volcano in El Salvador. It has a sulfur lake in its crater and offers an unreal, colorful view from the top. The Tunco Life brochures looked photoshopped! On the ride to the volcano, Salva taught us the history of El Salvador in the last decades. A history of corruption, civil war, and bloody violence.
Local authorities manage the site. All hikers leave at 11 am in a group patrolled by two park rangers. The volcano’s base is green with trees and dries up with elevation. We started, a group of ten tourirsts, on the path up the volcano. A turquoise lake, smoking sulfur, and colorful stratums were the reward at the top.
The first part of the hike was a ballade in the woods. The group effect and long waits fostered conversations. I was chatting with Ben, also a guest in La Guitarra, while walking down uneven stairs. My foot fell into a hole and the momentum propelled me forward, head over heels. Crack! I landed on my back. Besides the sound, there was no pain. Nothing.
I was processing the situation when an intense heat wave rushed through my body. There was still no pain. The heat intensified, I felt weak, about to faint. Faces gathered in a circle around me, all looking down. The heat became unbearable. I dragged my body to the shade and straightened my leg. Ben suggested to check my foot. I took off my shoe, and slowly pulled out the sock . . .
The final blow landed. Spectre won by KO.