Hand-paved streets, an endearing main square, and mountain views greeted us as we bounced into Juayua. Juayua (pronounced “Why-You-Uh”) is a small town at the heart of El Salvador’s Ruta de las Flores, a string of quaint, coffee-producing mountain towns. After asking around, we checked into a hostel/coffeehouse hybrid. The front parlor was a chic, minimalist coffeehouse featuring local beans; the back was a charming, sun-speckled hostel complete with gardens, hammocks, an outdoor kitchen, and avocado trees.
I fell in love. Somehow, despite all the confusion and complications of the last few days, I had found exactly the environment I wanted. There was perhaps a day and a half worth of things to explore in Juayua (pronounced “Why-You-Uh”) and I had three days before I needed to leave to meet my mother in Guatemala city. That meant I could spend a day lounging in this appealing courtyard, catching up on my blog, checking my bank accounts, planning my onwards travel, and generally taking care of logistics that I had been neglecting for quite a while.
Not to mention the fact that I had made an excellent new pair of friends. As it turned out, they were not traveling together; rather, they had met in another town in El Salvador and continued onwards together in the same way I had joined them in San Salvador. They were both fun and fascinating, and we had a blast tromping through El Salvador’s mountain alleys together. We went to a grocery store that night, loaded up on ingredients, and cooked a mouth-watering curry in the hostel’s outdoor kitchen.
The Seven Waterfalls
The next morning, we awoke semi-early to catch a bank-breaking $2 tour to the Seven Waterfalls. A local woman led us down an alley in town until it became a dirt path. We followed the trail through the forest down into a steep valley.
Soon, we came across a series of seven waterfalls. They were gorgeous, trickling and tumbling strangely out of the cliffs beside us.
The most incredible part of the experience was watching the locals. Most of them were splashing about, sunbathing, picnicking, and generally enjoying a beautiful day in a beautiful place. Some, however, were attempting daredevil stunts that made my heart leap out of my chest.
This man in particular repeatedly scaled the slippery, mossy wall of rocks to jump twenty feet into the pool below. The pool, by the way, was only deep enough for this feat in a single section roughly five feet wide. He was shooting for this narrow section and hitting it every single time, to heartfelt gasps and boisterous applause.
Juayua’s Food Festival
Later that day, we attended Juayua’s most famous tourist draw: the weekly food festival. Every weekend Juayua hosts a local food festival featuring dozens of local restaurants and chefs serving up the best that the El Salvadorian mountains have to offer. The cobbled main square was packed with grills churning out roast rabbit, frog legs, whole chickens, massive shrimp, tortillas, guacamole, ensalada, fried yucca, and quesadillas, which in El Salvador are dense, sweet, cheesy cakes served with coffee.
It. Was. Amazing.
Small Town El Salvadorian Nightlife
We ate until our stomachs bulged and then hobbled back to our hostel. A few hours later, I convinced one of my friends to go to a bar to see a local band play. Even without live music, the bar would be a draw of its own. It brewed its own beer, roasted its own branded coffee, and sold a line of gourmet house-made hot sauces. Combine that with a fire band playing Spanish-language jazz fusion and I was an extremely happy hipster millennial.
My friend left after one drink but I stayed for another, enjoying the music and the atmosphere. After a few minutes a pair of women approached and began speaking to me in English. They were frank and friendly, asking me where I was from and how I was liking El Salvador. Shortly thereafter, the owner of the bar introduced himself and began to explain the history of his business. He knew the band intimately and introduced me to the members when I expressed interest in their music. I exchanged an awkward but sweet “hi, you’re good. I play piano, too!” with the keyboardist.
After another beer, I left as well. As I exited the bar, the owner patted me on the back and wished me happy travels. The band and the bartenders waved goodbye to me. The other patrons smiled at me on my way out, happy to see foreign visitors in their little town.
As I walked home, I reflected on the unbelievable openness and kindness of the bar. It was one of the most engaging and welcoming experiences I could remember in a public establishment in Central America. For that matter, it ranked highly for friendly bar experiences in my life in general.
A Day to Breathe and a Welcome Haircut
The next day, my new friends moved onwards as I stayed in Juayua to take a much needed rest and recuperation day. By about four PM, I was feeling antsy and decided to head out to explore. I walked a half hour down the road to the nearest town on the Ruta de las Flores, Salcoatitan. The little town was quaint and quiet, remarkable only for a particular type of woodcarving and a 300 year old ceiba tree.
I grabbed a meal of fried yucca from a street vendor, bought a pair of earrings, and was just thinking of heading back when a store caught my eye: Peluqueria Orlando.
A barber. Hmm, I thought. My hair was getting long and annoying. I had been thinking about getting my hair cut for a while—why not now?
Inside, I was amused to find that the barbershop also sold Christian music CDs and movies. A friendly older man was sitting in his barber chair, reading a newspaper and listening to the radio. He smiled at me as I came in.
“Will you cut women’s hair?” I asked him in Spanish. He nodded yes, and got up for me to sit down.
He seemed to know that my Spanish wasn’t too strong, because he looked at me in the mirror with a friendly smile and asked, “All a little shorter?”
I nodded yes and we were off to the races. Less than ten minutes later, he spun me around and I stared at one of my favorite short-hair haircuts I have ever received. Could this be real? I laughed, thanked him, and asked how much it would be.
I gave him the whole $2.00, because he did a damn good job.