Once Adrian was back to dropping solid turds, we left La Libertad and had an easy day on the lowlands. Our destination was Isla MonteCristo, an island formed by the waters of the Rio Lempa exiting into the Pacific Ocean. We tested our bikes and butts on a 13 km section of muddy and rocky road that took us to a small town called La Pita. Here we set up our tents on the property of a local non-governmental organization that assists in local development. The Rio Lempa is a huge river that starts in Guatemala and runs through all of El Salvador. As it reaches the Pacific, it opens up into fingers separated by mangrove covered land masses that are covered and exposed daily with the tides. The island, once connected to the mainland, was settled by a German who planted cashew trees. Now it is home to a couple dozen families who work the plantation every year. The constant change of this part of the river has cut this piece of land off from civilization which is accessible only by boat. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by the Sulin Family, Carmen, and sons Jorge and Dogaberto. We could sense right away that Jorge, about 33 years old, was a thinker, a doer, a man of ideas. He was building a restaurant that was going to be set on supports over the water. Doga, who was my age, was more playful and less responsible. You could catch him hanging out with teenagers or playing soccer with the school kids. We were shown to our cozy palm frond covered cabanas and settled in. Jorge immediately filled our ears with his big plans for the island lodge and the island itself. He wants to start up a foundation on the island to increase environmental awareness and improve the way of life of its inhabitants. I had been in many hotels and hostels in Central America so far and hadnít seen anyone like this guy. We were ate fresh fish, sampled wine made from cashew fruit, and shown around the island. Dogaberto took us to the mouth of the river where we enjoyed a long white sandy beach with hardly a soul on it. We collected seeds called eye of goat and talked a little about the islandís history. The island played an important part in the civil war as a base of operations for the FMLN, the leftist group who opposed the U.S. backed rightwing government. After the war, the land was divided and distributed to families. Doga took us back to the beach at night on a mission to find and observe sea turtle egg laying. We combed the beach, lit by a fine crescent moon and our flash lights, passing tortugueros along the way. Tortugueros are local men, young and old, who come out to find the turtles and their nests to harvest the eggs. I am not sure about the local laws on egg collection, but I can tell you these men do not have conservation on their mind. After an hour of searching the beach, we were given a signal by a young guy who had gotten lucky. Excited for the opportunity, we hurried to the spot where he was waiting for the turtle to finish digging her nest and commence the egg laying. I saw the dark tracks in the sand from the water up to where she was digging. Everyone was quiet, but as soon as she started laying the eggs, people became more relaxed, started smoking cigarettes and chatting. I took some photos. As soon as she was finished laying about 4-5 dozen eggs, the young tortuguero pulled her off the nest and put her on the beach. After a few more photos, we helped the tired girl on her way back to sea. All of the turtle eggs were harvested. To me, it would make sense to leave half of them, but maybe the mentality of these locals are if I donít take them, someone else will. Dogaberto told me that because there are not many ways to make a living in this area, locals resort to egg collecting. These eggs would be sold to the market at $2 per dozen. I felt lucky to be included in such an activity. None of the tortugueros seemed to feel threatened by the presence of gringos and even seemed to want to help us find a turtle that night. Back at the island, Jorge, Adrian and I continued our brainstorming on the aspects of a foundation, what kind of activities could be done, and how to get things started. We enlightened him about the ways of the World Wide Web and even agreed to set up a website for him. We talked about the importance of recruiting volunteers, the logistics of feeding and housing them, and what kind of projects they could be involved in. We talked about saving the sea turtles, reforesting the mangroves, cleaning up the river, bringing back iguanas, organic farming, and working with the local school. Sometimes I felt like I just wanted to be a tourist, but then I realized how important this kind of work is, and how important it is to support these kinds of feelings, especially when they are coming from locals. We left the unique island with good feelings and an eagerness to get back into the grove of cycling.
From the coastal lowlands, we climbed up in between two volcanoes and then back down to the city of San Miguel, which has a large active volcano of the same name nearby. In El Salvador, it seems like wherever you go, there is always a volcano in sight. From San Miguel, we cycled up into the cooler highlands of northeast of El Salvador, towards its border with Honduras. We made it to Perquin, exhausted and ready for a rest and settled into an American owned lodge with American style prices. Well, we werenít in any position to complain after arriving after dark in the condition we were in. We took the next day to relax and explore the town which had a very interesting museum that displayed photos, weapons, and pro-FMLN propaganda from the civil war. Photos and descriptions of the circumstances of death of many activists who were murdered by the military during the 80ís made what little history I knew about this seem all the more real. It was very disturbing to learn of the United Statesí involvement and support of the Salvadorian government during this time. Makes me wonder about the kinds of activities we might be supporting now that have such drastic consequences which we will only fully realize so many years from now. We also had an opportunity to climb Cerro Perquin, a hill that stands above the small town and has great panoramic views of the surrounding pine covered mountains. At the top of the hill there were signs pointing out old FMLN trenches, and bomb craters. Leaving Perquin, we had a short day cycling only a few tough but scenic miles on some ridiculously rough gravel road, past an open field called the Dancefloor of the Devil. We decided to camp out near a sweet spot called Llano de Muerto, or Plane of the Dead where there was a beautiful waterfall. We plunged in the cold waters and had a peaceful night in our tents in the cool mountain climate.
We were at the doorstep of Honduras, our 4th Central American country. The following day we continued climbing up steep grades on a road that ranged from dirt, to cobblestone. At times the road was so bad it made me laugh. Luckily our machines and our legs held up and we were able to enjoy fantastic views when we could wipe the stinging sweat from our eyes. We reached the Honduran border, which seemed to be a very lonely but beautiful place. I looked back at an amazing view of the mountains of El Salvador and smiled at what weíd accomplished.