1. El Salto

Chapters: Escaping the Heat | El Salto | Into the Valley | Dogs in the Night | Hiking the Valley, Hunger Lurks | Discovery | La Ciudad

When the bus slowed, rain-soaked boys carrying trays of snacks ran along beside the bus, splashing through the mud and yelling their sales pitches. We pulled over in front of the restaurant/depot for our line. The bus worked its way close to an overhanging metal roof that covered the wide wooden sidewalk where more hopeful young vendors waited to descend on us as we disembarked. Sheets of plastic covered their straw baskets and wooden trays filled with tiny twisted cones of peanuts and sunflower seeds or packets of apples and prunes. Grabbing our packs we ran through the line of tiny waterfalls dribbling from the corrugated roof and into the restaurant.

The quiet inside was a relief from the frantic mash of passengers and vendors on the porch. The smell of food made our stomachs leap. Only a few people sat at the five metal card tables. There was no menu. You either ordered comida, the meal, or a soda pop. The clear soup was greasy though tasty with a cabbage leaf, a piece of carrot and a piece of potato in it. The next dish, dry rice, would have gone well in the soup but arrived too late. A plate of flavorful fried meats of a rather time-consuming texture followed and then refried beans plus tortillas and very hot chili sauces. The seven peso meal filled us up nicely.

When the bus left, we watched the rain outside, falling as heavily as when we had arrived.

“Hmph. Still raining,” I said. “I’m for finding a room for the night and then reconnoitering this afternoon. Then we’ll be ready to get an early start tomorrow.”

“Yeah. And maybe the rain will have stopped.”

“My point, exactly.”

I asked the ladies in the kitchen if there was a hotel in town. They puzzled at the request. “Una cama. Por el noche.” A bed for the night.

The older woman lit up. “Ah, un cuarto,” she said.

Oh, yes, a room. My high school Spanish was pretty rusty.

The girl who served us wiped her hands, and led us down the street and through a blue door. In the central courtyard, three women bent over foaming tubs, washing bed linens. The drying lines strung from one balcony to another were full of dripping sheets.

We sorted out the landlady from the laundry and asked for a room. She showed us to one on the second floor with two unmade beds, a wash stand and commode. Showers and toilets were down stairs. We took it and joked about the outrageous price of 25 pesos (two dollars US). Sometimes you get what you pay for.

The rain had stopped.  We dumped our packs in the room and went for a walk, hoping the beds would be made by the time we returned.  Several school children passed us, flicking their chins and laughed, pointing at Robert’s beard. He returned their merriment by brushing his fuzzy face and they loved it.

Our map showed the old railroad starting at the west edge of town and we found it easily. Testing our legs, we were soon on a ridge overlooking a sawmill. Large piles of logs waited their turn at the blade and stacks of freshly sawn lumber dried on the other side of the yard. The whine of the saws filtered through the pines, and the red stained rough-wood company houses made me feel at home back in the northwest where timber is king. Smoke trickled out of the stove pipes and filled the cooling air with the delightful tang of burning wood.

Re-entering the town, we passed the plaza with a white cupola in the center and a candy concession inside. A speaker on top of a Coca-Cola truck blared popular songs between ads for its product.

We headed for an ice cream shop and soda fountain that faced the square. It was vacant except for the two counter girls and a juke box so loud it competed with the loudspeakers down the street. Several blenders on the counter contained odd bits of juices.

“I wonder how long those blenders have been sitting there in this heat,” I said.

“Ice cream?”

We ordered two dishes. There was only one flavor, butter pecan, but it had been freshly made. The girl scooped melon ball-sized spheres from the hand-crank freezer behind the counter. She carefully mounded four tiny scoops in dishes for us. Then she garnished them with a dab of jam and two vanilla wafers. Quite tasty.

Teenaged boys gathered in the doorway, or came in on the pretense of buying tokens for the jukebox, attracted by the beauties at the counter. Several sat down and ordered malted milks. The girl who took their order loaded the mixer with the ingredients and switched it on. Milk, malt and flavoring erupted over the counter and floor. She had forgotten the lid. The distraction was mutual.

We were enjoying the teen-aged drama, but when the blender exploded a second time, splattering Robert with sticky juice, we left.

Our room had been made up except for pillow cases but we lay down for a nap. A girl with the missing pillow cases knocked and entered with a smiled. She grabbed a pillow and to be helpful, I took hold of the other. When I shook it down, the pillow slid out the other end. The girl just giggled. The pillow cases were very old, but quite soft.

The evening was delightfully cool. After a light dinner, we slid between the soft, well-used sheets, stretched out on the sagging mattress. Ipulled the heavy covers up to my chin and sighed with contentment. Then I looked down to see my toes poking out from the end of the bed. Oh, well. I curled onto my side and slept.

Our slumber was interrupted by rhythmic knocking from the other side of the wall. After a crescendo to frantic pounding, all was silent until a bellow from the bar across the street punctuated the night. Finally, it was quiet and we slept well for the first time in weeks.

After eggs and tortillas the next morning, we loaded our packs with bananas and the meger purchases we found the the little stores. We struck off north along the railroad track. According to our highway map, the track looped into the hills and returned to the highway about 10 kilometers west, and then crossed the highway several times further on, giving us choices to continue or not.

Not far from town, the number of railroad ties decreased and the spaces between them grew wider. Rusty, abandoned rails lay to the side. Soon, trees grew between the ties.  Eventually, there were no rails or ties at all, which made walking much easier. Over the next four days, we hiked the railroad bed and encountered few barriers but many diversions.


Go to the next chapter: Into the Valley