JUAYUA, EL SALVADOR


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Published: March 18th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

After spending two weeks in Guatemala we had limited time left to explore the rest of Central America, and with a little help from the Lonely Planet, we decided to skip Honduras and go through the much smaller El Salvador instead. As always, the journey across the border proved to be more interesting, and less peaceful, than we had expected.

Things got off to a bad start when the minibus that was to collect us from our host family in Antigua turned up half an hour late with an angry driver who claimed I had given him the wrong address. Said minibus proceeded to break down about 20 minutes into the journey, thus making our faux pas irrelevant as we waited on the side of the Guatemalan motorway for another bus to come and pick us up.

We eventually found ourselves sitting in a dingy Guatemala City bus terminal where we mounted a bus headed for Aguachapan, the town in El Salvador where we would have to change for our final destination of Juayua. We were asked several times by terminal staff where we were headed, but it was only after we had crossed the Guatemalan/El Salvadoran border that the conductor came back to inform us (in very hasty Spanish) that we had missed the stop for our change-over (a change-over that noone had informed us of), as actually this bus did not go direct to Aguachapan. Shortly after this, our journey took on a David Lynchian twist, as a small man with no legs, pulling himself along the bus aisle using a skateboard and his hands, made his way towards our seats with the conductor. After about ten minutes of confusion - as they each talked over the other in Spanish so rapid that it seemed to me that they must be competing - we gauged that we should get off the bus, either to catch another, or to take a mototaxi with the legless man. As the latter seemed impossible, we surmised that it must be another bus, but neither of us were clear as to the reason for the presence of our skateboarding friend, who got off the bus with us.

Standing - quite literally - in the middle of nowhere waiting for a bus on the side of a deserted El Salvadoran road with not so much as a rusty pole to signify that there might, once, have been a bus stop here, with our torsoed friend sitting quietly on his skateboard; it seemed inevitable to me that we would soon be joined by the dwarfs friends, who would be here for their new backpacking wives, and I could see nowhere to run. It was with great relief then that within ten minutes of waiting we jumped on a bus to Aguachapan (without our new friend) and soon found ourselves in a bustling market town, where most people appeared to be in possession of all of their limbs, and we of our sanity.

So, at around 4pm, we eventually found ourselves in Juayua - four buses and one extremely strange day later - but thank God, our hostel was a haven. Clean and quiet, and run by non-pretentious hippies, it was a welcome break from the homestay which had dragged on a little too long. The hostels pretty garden was laden with assorted hammocks and chairs, offered a variety of breakfasts and did cheap day trips to waterfalls, hotsprings and other such natural splendours that we were keen to explore.

On our second day we ventured five minutes into the small town for the weekend food fair, a bustling colourful affair, where lots of El Salvadorans, and just a few tourists, milled around the square which was lined with food stalls offering up delicious plates laden with rabbit, sausage, tortillas, beans, fish and salads, and many bags of fresh fruit, licuados and sweet treats. There was (rather strangely) Western dance music blaring from speakers inside the square, and tables all the way around and further down an adjoining road that were full to the brim with families and couples enjoying their Sunday afternoon in the sun. The atmosphere was incredible, and certainly nothing like the sketchiness that we would later encounter in the capital, San Salvador.

For our last full day in Juayua we were torn between two treks - one to some waterfalls, and the other to natural hotsprings and some kind of mudbath. We were eventually drawn in by the hotsprings- the print-out advertising this trip showed some mud-covered travellers frollicking in what looked to be a giant natural pool, and I had visions of me splashing around from one giant mudbath to one giant natural spring, laughing like the girl in the picture. Photographs, however, can be deceiving, and as it turned out, there was no mud pool, just mud running down the side of a mountain that smelled of sulphur, and the hot springs were housed in a pool approximately one square metre in size that was too hot to get into, given the hot climate. Surprisingly, none of this mattered, as the trek itself was great fun, and more adventurous than I had expected. There were some Tarzan-esque vine moments when moving across a steep impasse on the mountain, and our guide showed us the coffee plantations that - like much in El Salvador - were guarded by scary men with big guns, who you avoided looking straight in the eye.

After a long weekend spent peacefully in tiny Juayua, we were keen to get to the beach, and braced ourselves for what would turn out to be another rather stressful bus journey, to surferś paradise, of El Tunco.

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