After a brief pause, we pull to the right up a steep drive, that I couldn't see, and then make a switchback turn again to the right and out of no where we are parked in front of Villa Napoli: my lodgings.
I feel safety. A sigh of relief as I pay the taxi the agreed upon price. I walk past a table of three people sitting at a table next to the pool. They were loud and jovial listening to their music pumped through a portable speaker. In the lobby I am met by Maria. She is anticipating my arrival and made short work of the logistics and quickly moved onto the hospitality.
"Are you hungry?"
"Yes." It is approaching 10 pm and I have not ate since noon, and I have been burning nervous calories which I feel is more exhausting than physically expending calories.
"We are ordering pizza in a bit if you would like that or you can have a tuna sandwich."
"Tuna sandwich please." The pizza offer sounds like a communal endeavor and I would rather collect my thoughts in peace and try to get to sleep soon.
"O.K. Cesar will show you your room. Get settled in and come back up here for dinner."
Cesar is a slim young man with a dark complexion and an easy smile that is welcoming. He silently picks up my bags with a timid smile and leads me out of the lobby.
My room is down two outdoor flights of stairs. To the right of the first flight is the sitting area where the other three are sitting and conversing beside the pool. To the left is a large flat top that doubles as bridge and roof between the main house and a second building where Maria and her friends are enjoying their evening. Then past the drive and another room is the second flight of stairs that opens up to a nice large covered veranda. Cesar leads the way through one set of doors that opens up to a large sitting room with a fireplace and on into another door labeled Firenze that is my room. The room is very large with a large king size bed, large dark wood wardrobes and desk, colorful paintings, venetian masquerade masks and a large wooden cable spool that looked a bit out of place, yet somehow fit. Cesar with few words explains the amenities and excuses himself. I collapse on the bed and sigh again, but for real this time, a big sigh of relief. At least I have this enclave of Italy nestled away in El Salvador to collect myself. The lodgings are some of the best and most economical that I have had in a long time. Things change at borders. Imaginary lines separating people and governments can have profound affects.
Comfort settling in, the hunger creeps toward the front of my thoughts. I wander back up to the sitting area and Cesar greets me and offers me a seat at the empty table next to the pool. As I sit he lays out the cutlery and napkin quickly followed by a toasted tuna sandwich and offers a beer, which I gladly accept. Tuna fish sandwiches are always a gamble in my book with the type of odds that create large Vegas style casinos. However, the house lost on this one. The sandwich was warm and buttery and the tuna was laced with spices and vegetables to create an perfect flavor with only subtle hint of fish that so often overwhelms a tuna sandwich. The beer is cold and goes down easily.
After the sandwich and beer, Maria comes back out and asks if I would like a pupusa. I have no idea what it is, but I agree. She asks if pork is O.K., and of course it is. Minutes later I am presented with a cheese covered pork filled thick corn tortilla type bread. It is delicious: no hesitation or qualifications. By far the most delicious thing I have ate since Mexico that is only made better by another beer.
After eating enjoying the end of my second beer I am pulled out of my internal monolog by one of the three gentlemen sitting next to me:
"Hey buddy, if music is too loud let us know." I am a bit startled, this is the first English they have spoken all night.
"No no, it is fine, I am enjoying it."
"Cool, how is your evening going?" and before I could respond, "You are more than welcome to join us. Here have a beer."
Pondering my early night in, I accept and join them. A quick round of introductions and I find, the English speaker, Roberto, or Rob, is originally from Dominican Republic, but currently lives in Ottawa. He is jovial and has that well kept suave look about him. Dressed in a simple black t-shirt, hair neatly kept short, thick dark eyebrows framing his brown eyes and the type of guy that would never leave his habitations without a dash of aftershave or cologne. He is cool.
Rob met one of the other guys, Dax, in the Dominican Republic and are life long friends. Dax is in many ways the opposite of Rob. He is a heavy man and is more comfortable in loose and baggy clothes. He leans forward for comfort and engagement. But his weight isn't the first thing you notice. Dax has a smile on his face from ear to ear and easily laughs and is the first to crack a joke. His joviality twinkles from his inner being through his eyes casting a glow on everything he sees. Finally there is Anthony who works in the El Salvadorian government. He is friends with Dax and knows Rob from his previous trip to El Salvador. Anthony is the pendulum that swings from high energy and outgoing to distressingly somber, serious all the way down to tears in a side conversation. The transitions between states are instant. He only has the 'intense' setting.
Rob is down for a month visiting Dax. This is Rob's second month long visit to El Salvador.
After introductions the conversation flowed among the three and limped along with me. Rob was the bi-lingual bridge between me and the others. Anthony's English is about as good as my Spanish which isn't saying much. Dax's English is better, but has the quality of someone who studied English for a long time, but never consistently used it and hasn't used it at all recently. The words eventually bubble up to match his thoughts. We talk about travels, of course politics and Trump specifically; yeah who would guess right? Rob would occasionally leave to get more cigarettes, beer or whatever leaving me with the other two to figure out communications. The cadence of the conversation was driven by who was at the table and the topic. At times the three would spin off and just talk as if I wasn't there and I attempted to glean as much as I could, other times it was a full on UN translation session performed by Rob. Music was constantly changing everyone taking turns picking something. Cesar was stopping in and stepping away as Maria called him away. The night rambled on for hours measured by wine, cigarettes and beers. So much for an early evening.
We are wrapping up the evening and Rob asks: "So how long are you staying?"
"Just tonight and tomorrow night."
"Why so short?"
"Well my plan is to hike the volcano tomorrow and move on."
"It is a big world and I want to see it."
"So you don't have to leave?"
"No, but my plan was to go to this volcano tomorrow and move on down the road. Hey why don't you come with me to the volcano?"
"Where is it?"
"I am not exactly sure, but I think it is close. I see they have a bus that we can take."
"Oh, I have a car. I rented one for the entire month." Rob then stops and goes full on Spanish with his friends. After a lengthy back and forth and somewhat heated conversation he comes back with, "We can't do it tomorrow. Stay an extra day and we can do it Friday. I'll drive."
"Hmmm, O.K., Cesar, do you think I can stay an extra night?"
Cesar responds by screwing his eyes up into his head as if to consult the Villa's diary or possibly his Spanish-to-English dictionary and responds by giving a mostly sure answer of "Yeah, can be possible."
Through the alcohol haze, the cigarette smoke clears and it is settled; this evening is over, we are hanging out for a couple of days. I have been kidnapped - held against my will by new bonds of friendship.