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El Salvador

EL SALVADOR | Friday, 10 May 2013 | Views [1869] | Comments [1]


El Salvador

Time to head deeper into Central America. We get mixed reports about El Salvador from other travellers and many precautions to take to keep safe, but we need to see it for ourselves.
We leave Honduras at a small border crossing at El Poy and spend our first night in La Palma, a little town famous for street murals. Walls, buildings, street poles are decorated in colourful artworks.
But, that is about all the place has to offer, unless you venture up into the hills for some serious trekking. Trying to find something to eat at night is difficult, as most places weren't open. Accommodation is dodgy here, also. Only one night and we move on with the expectation of getting down to the Pacific coast for some well earnt beach time. It's a long day travelling, on and off 4 chicken buses until we reach a piece of paradise on the coast, El Zonte. The trip down here took us through the capital, San Salvador. In fact, one chicken bus we caught right through a market. Imagine the chaos of a busy market place with a brightly painted old school bus barely squeezing through all the stalls, cramped in our seats, with music blaring out of the large speakers. I can't see Leeanne, we are separated on the bus. I know she is up the back somewhere hugging her backpack with her handbag tied round her wrist like her life depended upon it!  
One thing is evident in El Salvador. That is the high security everywhere.  I have never seen so much razor wire in place to protect buildings and property. Every second bloke is carrying a shotgun or hand pistol. When you see a bloke sitting on top of a truck with a shotgun as it is being loaded with only building materials you know that crime control is still paramount in this country. It is definitely safer today as compared to 10-15 years ago.
El Zonte is a small fishing village facing Australia somewhere over the horizon. I think of home when I'm on the ocean, family and friends back home. We find a cool beachfront guesthouse called casa de Frida. Only 4 rooms, a bar, restaurant, plenty of hammocks. Leeanne is happy, and so am I. Finally get to surf after almost a year without quality waves. I meet a local who rents me a board for a week. I negotiate a good price and he throws me a new block of wax to see me through. After my first 4 sessions the body is weary, shoulders ache, ribs are really sore, a couple of rashes developing, but feeling bloody good. Enough solid waves with no crowd to keep me happy. Leeanne is content lying half in the sun and shade, reading. The water is warm, sand is black. A land of volcanoes, lava once spilled into the ocean. Today, coconut trees shade the coast and dogs and cows roam free along the beach.
A week at our Casa in El Zonte is enough time to recharge the batteries. Our hosts are Fernando and Lucas. An adventurous young couple, looking for a challenge in managing a guesthouse in El Salvador. Lucas is from Argentina, Fernando a former Guatemala City disco owner. Fernando leaves us to go to hospital. he explains all the scars on his right shoulder. Well, he still has 2 bullets to be removed after getting himself caught in the crossfire of a gun battle at his disco in Guatemala. Maybe a beachside guesthouse business will be a little more chilled! 
Most days are spent exactly like the one before. Wake up, make our own coffee in bed, a swim, then decide on what to have for breakfast.....traditional puposa is usually good washed down with a strawberry smoothie! The whole day is spent reading in a hammock, intermingled with short walks and swims. The last 2-3 days the surf got huge.....bit big for me, but at least I had enough sessions to satisfy the soul (and the body). 
Today is the 16.04.13 and we are leaving El Zonte to head back up the coast looking for a new beach somewhere. Our new friends from San Francisco have offered us a ride so why not? Joel and Justine are a bit younger than us and have a 7 yr old boy named Theo. On a 2 week surf vacation, i think after a few days of talking with us it plants a seed for more extended travelling, they decide to get a car and driver and head up the coast and invite us to hitchhike with them.
It is a nice little luxury to get off chicken buses for a few days and be able to go in and see all the beaches that are so difficult with your backpack. We decide El Zonte had been a good choice and spent the night in Los Cobonos. Now each country has it own little idiosyncrasies but in El Salvador the locals  really enjoy spending time looking around their own country. This means our lovely little guest house on the beach wants to charge us $25 for the night then $25 for the day then $3 each to have a swim in the pool. You have got to be joking so we stay the night refuse to pay for the 2 min swim after coming out of the surf and head up to Juayua on the Ruta de Flores. 
It is the fruit and coffee centre of the country. Cooler and has a lovely feel about it. Lots of waterfalls and viewpoints, really nice hostels and on the weekend a fiesta gastronomy or food fair,  with lots of strange food like iguana, guinea pig and frog! Dogs scavenge for food, lots of dogs. We are walking through the park with street sellers and buskers around and come across what looked like performing dogs. 2 dogs standing on hind legs holding each other up. Leeanne says " oh, how cute, dancing dogs!" Next minute they are at each other in one huge fight. And so the 'dancing dogs' take off down the street still going for each other. We spend a few days exploring the region. Quaint towns walls covered in beautiful murals, good food and great coffee. We do a $1 tour to the waterfalls and our young girl guide beckons me to follow her. Climbing a sheer wall we disappear into a black hole and traverse through a 40 metre tunnel, pitch black only a few inches of clearance to breath, we certainly didn't expect that! 
As we travel, we are always reminded of the opportunities and choices  we have at home. Simple things we take for granted are luxury to people in this part of the world. As we talk to and spend time with both locals and travellers, a genuine connection always seems to unfold. Children are often on the street selling 'whatever'. Look closely, the dirt under their toenails, clothes that have been handed down, sadness in their eyes....we always give them respect, talk as much as we can, smile lots, but usually buy little. That's the way it is.
Santa Anna is our next town to visit. We arrive on a local chicken bus and step into a busy street and take a guess that the hostel we are looking for is 5 or 6 blocks away. We head off down the road and Leeanne slips on something and goes down 'like a sack of spuds'. She is sprawled out face down in the gutter as 2 local men quickly come to her rescue, one holding her sunnies that flew off down the street. With a sore foot and bruised knee, we make it to Casa Verde, our hostel (and home away from home) for the next 6 nights. Really clean, 2 great kitchens, a pool, wifi, TV, the works! This becomes the perfect place to relax and give Leeanne's foot time to heal. We get really excited just to use the kitchen and cook our own meals. I shop at the local market, and stock up on fresh fruit and veges, eggs and fresh chicken. The BBQ meal was so good. I really miss my 'barbie'! Santa Anna is famous for its magnificent cathedral and of course the nearby lake and volcanoes......a must to climb.
After a few days of recovery, aided by some strong anti-inflammatory drugs, Leeanne gives the OK to tackle the volcano climb. (Gosh she's a trouper inserted by Leeanne) It turns out to be a really fun day. A chicken bus leaves town at 7.30 and takes about an hour and a half to reach the base of the Volcan Santa Anna. We are entertained on the chicken bus with a 20 minute preaching session by a local evangelist. As he finishes, he does a quick lap down the aisle, hand out collecting a few coins for his efforts...a bit more cash to put in Gods coffers. A guide up the volcano is mandatory and trips leave only at 11 am, only if they have enough people. As it turns out, we are the only tourists their, but luck is on our side. 2 bus loads of 15 year old school kids are ready to do the climb. A policeman tells us to join the big group. So off we go, up, up up. The climb wasn't too hard as we had several stops and lots of time to talk with the kids along the way. They were so keen to practice their English. Really polite and so curious. Accompanying our group were 4 policeman and 5 army soldiers, all heavily armed! Bandits are notorious on the track and responsible for many armed hold ups and muggings. We felt relatively safe with so many guns on our side! 
A highlight of Santa Anna is a night at the theatre. For just $1 each we get to see the National Symphony Orchestra. They were bloody good, and to sit in such a historic building was a bonus. Another day of relaxing, swimming in our pool, and cooking in a real kitchen and we are ready to leave and make our way down to the east coast.
A full day on and off lots of buses, we arrive in El Cuco. We only have to mention our hostel name La Tortuga Verde, and we are driven the short 3 km to our beachside stay. American Tom, the owner, is well known in these parts for his turtle conservation and employment of many locals in his guesthouses. He is a real life "Willie Wonka", the resort is his factory, and his many staff are his 'oompa-loompas'! He buys turtle eggs off the locals and reburies  them in the sand in an attempt to keep the turtle population healthy. The locals unfortunately eat them!! We are a couple of weeks too early to see the mass movements of large turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs on the beach. Should we hang around? Our accommodation is a beautifully decorated dorm room, which we have to ourselves. $10 each a night and we get clean sheets, towels, fly screen walls, a fan, and old circus posters advertising "alive reptiles", and classic wooden horses from a children's merry-go-round strung around the room. We sleep comfortably,apart from a few mozzies, and listen to the sound of the surf and the sound of ripe mangoes finishing their life cycle as they fall from their branches. Each morning I collect as many as we need, a quick rinse, then devour them with our granola breakfast. ( my hunter and gatherer?... We love free food)
6 days later......still here! Surfing up the beach about 4 km at Le Flores, a nice right hand point break. Got plenty of waves on the 9foot longboard  I rented off Tom. One night, a huge lone turtle came ashore and laid about 50 eggs. They were re buried in a turtle sanctuary in front of the hostel. Save the locals from eating them! 
Tom seems to attract all sorts of characters. one day we are treated to a performance by the philanthropic arm of the cirque de soliel, they have been touring El Sal and Honduras spreading the message that Men should help their wives more around the home. the men in Latin America are generally very Male Chauvinistic and don't like to do women's work whilst the woman do everything. there are some dignitaries arriving to watch and local school kids. turns out the dignitaries are oxfam supporters and we watch them scoff beer and lobster on the donations of others! 
We meet some interesting travellers here too. An Aussie bloke sailing his yacht around the place calls in. He and his young crew (other backpackers) all stay at the hostel and end up staying as long as us. The yacht is sailed up from its original mooring to be anchored in the Pacific Ocean right here in front of the hostel. Those on board need to be transported back to the beach. Now for the fun bit! The local boatman, a Canadian guy, and myself put the fishing boat in and attempt  to head out to the yacht through the surf. The sets were a solid 5-6 feet and breaking on a shallow sand bar. The boatman worked the 60hp motor hard as we punched through each wave. The boat was a decent length, maybe 20 foot, fibreglass, and heavy. The 3 of us sat right at the back as we hit each mass of white water, with the boat getting almost vertical, the boatman ended half out the back of the boat. I hung on for grim life. The boat took a lot of water, but we got out through the set and completed our mission of bringing the yacht crew to shore. We retold the story plenty of times over a few beers that night! It was just the adrenalin rush I needed!
We plan on heading into Nicaragua next. A land crossing means a full day of buses, crossing back through Honduras, then into Nicaragua. We have another option, a boat crossing across the Gulf of Fonseca, avoiding Honduras, and starting our adventure in a gorgeous little place in Nicaragua, called Potosi, close to beaches, volcanoes, and mountain retreats. 3 days later, still at La Tortuga Verde hostel, waiting for a boat ride. Hopefully tomorrow we get to Nicaragua!
Once again, as we leave a country, ready to move on and explore the next, we reflect upon the people, places and memories of our last month. El Salvador is well worth visiting for any keen traveller. The people are genuinely friendly and hospitable. Transport is cheap, food good, accommodation easy to find( although more expensive than its neighbouring countries) . Got some decent surf here, with plenty of chilled time along the coastline. We tended to avoid bigger cities, especially San Salvador, as they are notorious for crime once the sun goes down. The high presence of security just about everywhere in the country reminds us of the tumultuous past that has gripped El. Salvador for so long. That said, we had no dramas, kept our heads low, and enjoyed our time here! Gracious El Salvador!
Finally get the nod from 'loco' Tom that we have a boat organised to get us out of El Salvador and across the gulf into Nicaragua. We have 15 minutes to pack, pay our bill and jump in the taxi (a ute really, Leeanne in the front, me in the back with the bags and the dust) . An hour up the road to La Union, the small port town where we are met by a local guy and shows us the immigration office. A short time later we walk through the muddy water carrying our backpacks and jump in a small fishing boat with 3 other locals and their groceries and off we go at full speed across the gulf passing many islands, stopping at one to drop off the locals. Hondurus is a short distance up the gulf to the left and Nicaragua an hour and a half ahead of us. ............


Tags: casa verde, el cuco, el salvador, el zonte, la palma, ruta de flores, santa ana, tortuga verde




Fantastic! It just seems to get better and better.So Nicaragua next and then on to costa rica which is lush and tropical, i was there briefly in 1994. As for us, well i leave my job in 2 weeks then we leave for uk for 3 weeks, then off to good old US of A to Kansas City for Kates brothers wedding!. August i think we got to france for a canal barge trip, so no to shabby a summer! November we head down under for 2 months and then 2 months backpacking somewhere in asia. When will you guys head to Europe?? All the best from us here in Sunny Mallorca

  peter May 11, 2013 3:23 PM

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