Published: October 7th 2011October 1st 2011
Another week in Central America and yet another week of some beautiful places and slightly bizarre people. In the last 10 days I have lazed on a Pacific beach, climbed a mountain, had a fight with a Hondurian taxi driver and dived into the Caribbean Sea on the not especially beautiful island of Utila. It is impossible not to love this region!
After the grey, wet Guatamalan highlands and far too many hours spent on buses we ended last week desperate to head to a beach and relax potentially with a cheeky beer or two in the evening. Luckily around 45 minutes away from San Salvador is a surfing hot spot called El Tunco, it met all the above criteria! We jumped onto the local bus to a coastal town called La Libertad which is about 10 mins drive from where we wanted to be. La Libertad itself doesn´t really have a great reputation and we had heard a couple of travelling urban myths about bus hijackings so we were understandably a bit nervous. Unfortunately we forgot to find out where to get off the bus to transfer onto the El Tunco bus. So we just didn´t get off the bus, he was driving around and around La Libertad for ages until eventually we were the only people on the bus left. eventually he turned round and asked us where we were going and drove us to the correct bus stop. It was our first experience of how friendly the El Salvadorian people actually are.
El Tunco was absolutley boiling within 20 seconds of arriving I thought I might die from heat stroke. The actual weekend at El Tunco was pretty uneventful, during the day we relaxed and ate Papusa´s (a traditional El Salvadorian dish made of tortillas, chicken, beans and cheese. They are delicious and I now dream of them at night - seriously!) At night we met up with some friends and visited the local bars, drinking rum staring out at the sea with dramatic thunder and lightening storms lighting up the sky was sensational.
After two days relaxing it was time to continue my whirlwind tour of El Salvador by heading to the North East of the country to an area called Santa Ana. Pretty much the only reason to go to the town is to climb the Santa Ana volcano. The volcano itself has a volcanic crater lake on top and with the exception of Arthurs Seat (and it doesn´t really count) I have never been to the top of a volcano or seen a volcanic crater lake. The walk itself was pretty steep but only about 1.5hrs to the top. It was also only $2US to get a guided tour (with armed police officers to prevent us being mugged) up to the top which we thought was really cheap.
The day of the volcano hike was hilarious, we had to get up early to catch the only local bus up to the tour starting point. We got there about 2 hours early and we just had to stand in this car park and wait for the tour guides to turn up. Pretty much the only thing that there was to do was play on the swings, which was fine until I fell off one. It wasn´t even moving, unsurprisingly I have had a lot of abuse for that! About 11am there was suddenly a massive influx of police officers, local guides and a huge Hondurian family who were doing a climbing tour of all the local volcanos. One of the men were really enthusiastic, the kids on the other hand were not really loving there family holiday this year. My favorite story was one of the girls had an asthma attack halfway up the last volcano, instead of sending her back to the bottom she was put on a stretcher and carried up to the top.
The climb itself wasn't long but it was uncomfortably humid, within about 5 minutes we were absolutely dripping with sweat. The 'cheap' tour itself was also starting to get expensive, in almost every field we crossed there was a farmer standing there that we had to bribe. Including the cost of the guides, policeman, farmers, buses and the park entry it was getting to be a relatively expensive walk.
After about an hour and a half walking we reached the top and it was absolutely worth it. The views (whilst mainly being clouds) were fantastic and the volcano had a crater lake it which was crystal clear and really atmospheric. It was stunning! I do have multiple photos of me pretending to fall in it, the remainder of our group just looked at us as if we were mad. The walk back down the volcano only took about 45 mins and with one of the kids playing the 'Move Like Mick Jagger' song, again and again. Not only was it in my head for days afterwards but it will now always remind me of El Salvador.
The next day was a sad day, it was time for me to head off to Honduras to go diving and Suzie and Carolyn were spending more time in the El Salvadorian highlands. Having spent the last 2 weeks with Suzie, it was going to be weird on my own but the plan was to meet in a week in Nicaragua, so it wasn't a long term separation. This journey was possibly the most ridiculous one I have ever been on, for a start it was 2 days long. I was effectively starting on the Pacific coast and crossing right across El Salvador and Honduras to the Carribean coast to spend a few days diving in the Bay Islands. The diving was cheap and I was desperate to get there.
My first bus was a local chicken bus into San Salvador. Having turned up in the local bus terminal, to my dismay I found that the bus didn't leave from there and actually I couldn't understand where I was suppose to go (I would like to point out that my Spanish is rubbish). Luckily I met the Super Glue man. Now we had seen him the day before, his job was just to get on the bus and try and get passengers to impulse purchase some super glue. I mean of all products to choose, its a bit of a specialist requirement! He was lovely. He walked me about 4 blocks to a street corner and told me to stand and wait for any bus that stopped and jump on it, this would take me to the terminal where I could catch my bus. I tried to buy some super glue to say thanks but he told me 'I don't want people to buy glue they don't need, only buy it if you need it'. So I jumped on the bus glueless.
I arrived at the terminal fairly trouble-free, found my bus and then jumped onto it and actually I was pretty proud of myself. Until about 20 mins into the journey the bus did a U-turn and drove back past the terminal we had left and back out Santa Ana, now I am not sure what happened but I think that he went the wrong way. To give the driver credit we got into San Salvador and 2 taxi rides later (I went to the wrong terminal first) I arrived at where my international bus taking me into Honduras was waiting.
Now being a single, female backpacking through Central America the locals are fascinated with why I am doing it and not married with kids. People frequently ask me why, quite often it feels like they are asking to find out what is wrong with me, which is wonderful for any self esteem issues that I may have. However on this bus I met the one and only El Salvadorian Break Dancing Translator (and yes I have a copy of his business card and that is his job description). Not only that he was also a competitive break dancer. What an awesome job title! During the conversation he told me that he was actually being sent to France to translate for the Latin American current break dancing champion, however he doesn't speak French. He didn't see this as a huge issue though.
Whilst I laugh about the encounter, he was really nice and actually his history was very inspiring. He grew up in an El Salvadorian slum and got into break dancing as a way of avoiding his family life. He now works very closely with a charity to help other children escape the reality of their everyday life.
The rest of the bus trip was fairly unexceptional until I reached my final destination for the day. Now I recommend anyone who wants to come to this area, if you can possibly avoid the Hondurian capital of Tegucigalpa then I recommend it. Having spent about 12 hours on some form of transport I was desperate to get some sleep and I had booked an decent hotel near the bus station as my bus was leaving at 5am the next morning. On arriving in Tegucigalpa I managed to get a taxi pretty easily and as an added bonus he spoke really good English which was great. The plan was to head to the hotel via a cash point. Whilst I had about $30 of Hondurian currency this wasn't much with bus fares etc to buy the following day. The problem was that not all ATM's accept international cards and the 2 that we went to didn't, which wasn't necessarily a problem except I became convinced that the bank had blocked my card (which is pretty common, I have had to call them a couple of times already). It was stressful being in a new country with limited funds but I thought at least I will be fine until the morning. I have enough for a bed for the night. This was not the taxi drivers plan. He locked my luggage in the boot of his taxi and refused to get it out until I paid him $25. This equates to about 3 nights accommodation in this region and the taxi ride was only about 5mins long. At first I thought he was joking and then it suddenly dawned on me that he was serious. So knowing I had limited money he planned to take it all to return all of my personal possessions. I was furious, at one point I tried to break into the taxi. I reasoned with him, shouted at him and all he would say was 'I have a family to feed'. This thing was I expect to pay more than a local fare would be, it happens everyday. This was too much though, even the manager at the hotel was trying to break into his boot. Unfortunately it was a bit like Fort Knox, so in the end I had to pay the money. I didn't sleep all night thinking of all the things that I would like to have said to him!
I am happy to say that the next morning, despite missing the early bus. I managed to find a working cash machine and get some money out leaving on the 10am bus swearing never to go back to the rubbish city again. Don't worry I easily managed this!
My final 12 hour bus trip the next day was (comparatively) quite calm with the only slightly random thing calming was after a 3 minute conversation a Hondurian couple gave me some money that they signed. Now as I don't speak Spanish and they didn't speak much English, I think he might have been famous in Honduras and he kept saying 'so you don't forget me'. Initially I thought it was a local custom so I didn't want to offend anyone, apparently its not though!
Finally I arrived ion the Bay Islands, specifically an island called Utila with 3 days of cheap diving ahead. This is where I leave off until the next installment, I promise it won't take so long for the next one. I am now back on the land of decent internet connections.