. It was a pleasant enough walk and the lake was scenic, although we had to overlook a group of little boys lighting their firecrackers in the shallow mud on the shoreline. It wouldn´t be so bad if they were more than startling noise, but here you get the bang without the color, so it is just as fun during the day as in the middle of the night. On the walk back down, we were offered a ride in a pickup headed down the valley. Unfortunately, we missed seeing the turn off for Juayua and didn´t realize it until we were quite a ways past the town. We had to wait for a bus to take us back up the valley and felt silly because the free ride had become more hassle than help. We cooked up a very healthy "Christmas dinner" of pasta with veggies, then Matt attempted to watch Casino Royale from a poor quality DVD that he had bought in the local market. I was feeling homesick thinking about missing out on Christmas with my family, so we tried to go to bed early but the barrage of fireworks in the street made it impossible until after the grand finale at midnight. From what we could gather, Christmas traditions here include all variety of trees being decorated, familiar songs on the radio, turkey dinner with family, but most importantly (and differently from our Christmas) is the need to make explosive noises...The next day, we strolled out of town to a beautiful series of waterfalls. Beyond them were more waterfalls, but these had concrete pools built at the base of them, and were packed with Salvadoreans enjoying the chilly water, some of them shivering violently
. Noticing that all the women, and even some men, were bathing in no less than t-shirt and shorts, I made a modest attempt at modesty by leaving my shirt on over my bathing suit. Even so, the two gringos among the throngs of locals were a source of fascination and amusement, but what´s new? El Salvador doesn´t get the crowds of tourists other countries nearby do, so in some places we really feel like a novelty. Back in town, we were happy to see that the food fair now took up the perimeter of the park, and only a couple of "clearance" firework stands remained. I got a plate of various types of sea food, Matt got ribs and steak, shared more fried yucca, and chocolate dipped fruit for dessert, agreeing that this was some of the most satisfying food we have eaten on the trip. It was a fun atmosphere, with a marimba band, and lots of national tourists hanging out in the park. We decided to extend our stay another day by going on a tour with the guy who runs the hostel, Cesar, to some geysers and hot springs. We left early in the morning, beginning the hike through an immense coffee farm, and had breakfast at the top of a hill that allowed us views of a third of the country, volcanoes in Guatemala, and the ocean. After hiking through the remaining cloud forest that has not been converted to coffee plantation (yet), we descended to a ravine that had small steam vents and geysers, collecting some special clay on the way down further to the hot spring pool. I guess we are having a streak of bad luck with hot springs, because Cesar told us they were not nearly as hot as they usually are and a lot of algae had grown in the cooler water. We got in anyway and enjoyed the sun and great views, putting on mud masks, and snacking on oranges. When our fingers were prunes, we dried off and looped back through the coffee farm, taking a pick up back in to town. On our last morning in Juayua, we visited the coffee processing plant for a full tour of the 35 steps from harvest to exportation. I am always fascinated by production processes, so I thought it was pretty cool despite not really understanding the tour guide very well: a low-talker with a technical vocabulary. He made a big deal about Starbucks buying all their best coffee...it was Starbucks this and Starbucks that, I hope he wasn´t too offended that we did not seem very impressed. A cup of coffee for the road, and then we were on our way again.
We rolled in to Juayua in the late afternoon, and immediately liked the feel of the place. The feeling only got stronger when we checked in to one of our favorite hotels to date, called Hotel Anahauc, where we luckily had the dormitory to ourselves for the next few days. After dropping our packs, we didn´t waste anytime finding one of our main reasons for coming, Juayua´s nationally famous food fair. However, we learned that the five or six food stalls set up in the central park were just a fraction of what was usually on hand since it was Christmas weekend, but were promised that the fair would be in full force if we stuck around for the 25th. Nonetheless, we found delicious food and loved our first plate of fried yucca. If the food fair was lacking, the firework stands certainly made up for it. The majority of them are homemade, wrapped in newspaper and red tissue paper, the biggest and most deafening costing about 60 cents each, and inevitably those are the ones that are saved for 4am, which start the dogs barking, which starts the chorus of roosters crowing...The next day, we had a leisurely morning and finally got around to taking a bus to a nearby town called Apaneca where we began a hike to Laguna Verde