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Published: December 18th 2007
Iglesia La Ceiba de Guadalupe
I was dreading today. Pieter loves a border experience but I was starting to hate them. And today we had two borders to cross. We were travelling from Managua, Nicaragua via Hondorus to San Savlador, El Salvador. The Tica bus left at 5 am and followed highway 1 to the Hondorus border at El Espino. We were not too fussed when the bus guy collected our passports and US$8 each. At least we didn't have to stand in any queues, we just hung around the bus. But we were a little horrified when we got the passports back without any stamps. Panic! Through every border on the trip so far we were always so careful to be sure we had the correct stamps. But the driver and the some other guy assured us this was normal practice now and we wouldn't need another stamp until the Guatemala border. It was all electronic. We reluctantly accepted the explanation and continued. There was no customs. Not much to say about Hondorus at this point as we were only there a couple of hours and didn't get off the bus. But we did notice a lot of cowboys. Or at least blokes wearing cowboy
Museum of Art. Who left my Maserati here?
hats and boots. At a police stop a van load of students got out to present their ID. Half were wearing cowboy boots. We soon reached the El Salvador border at El Amatillo. Here we didn't even have to get out of the bus. Hondorus and El Salvador immigration came on the bus to check our passports against the Tica list. The Salvador guy spoke English and was lovely. Seeing our stamps he asked if we liked Venezuela. Pieter said it was interesting, thinking it not appropriate to launch into a political discussion here. Pieter asked about the stamp situation and specially requested that we get El Salvador stamps in our passports. The bus waited while he got off and returned with our stamped passports. He had stamped them with the wrong date so had to cancel and redo them. They had 'on request' written on them. Nice.
The landscape in El Salvador was quite beautiful with more temperate forests and lots of hills. We arrived in San Salvador and were fairly shocked by what appeared to be a very modern, clean city. Not much tall buildings because of the earthquake risk but lots of shopping plazas and malls
Museum of Art
and well maintained buildings. Considering 12 years of civil war had only ended in 1992 we expected something perhaps less developed than we saw. The people here must have worked very hard to get to this level so quickly. We took a US$6 taxi ride to Ximena's Guest House from the Tica terminal ... well it was the carpark of a funny little hotel called the San Carlos.
We had a bit of trouble at the guest house. The room they wanted us to have was next to the reception and front door so would be noisy, and the lady wouldn't give us a key. We couldn't understand why so the lady called Lena, the owner, who explained in English that the key disappeared with the previous occupant. Pieter expressed his wish for a quieter room and we were put in a triple out back for the same price as the double, US$20.
Happy to be told it was safe to walk around the area at night we wandered out. On the Boulevard de los Heroes we passed Wendy's, Burger King and Pizza Hut before reaching the MetroCentro. It was big but we were tired so only checked
out the times of the movies and had a Chinese at the food court. It was all quite surreal, such a difference from what we expected. And the water and power were on. We had no water or power cuts during our entire stay. Unlike the unfortunate Nicaragua (see the previous couple of blogs).
Next day we slept in and enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, refried beans, toast, cheese and cream. Yes cream. Thick tasty cream. We got a new room upstairs, bigger, with a cable TV and lots of fresh air.
We took a taxi to the Museum of Art. We arranged the ride for US$4 but we gave him US$5 after having to use the Lonely Planet map to help find it. Out front were two Maseratis parked around a statue as if on display. Inside were some good pieces. Lots of surrealism. I liked the sculpture of the dancing frog ladies. Next we walked down to the Anthropological Museum. It was US$3 each (only US$1 if you are a local - we would see more of this and I guess we don't object so long as the divide doesn't get as big as the divide
at the Taj Mahal). Two floors of exhibits included petroglyphs and status. They had plaster casts of corn from Joya de Cerén which were made from the spaces left by the decayed corn in the solidified ash deposits. The village had been preserved by a volcanic eruption in 590 AD. We would be visiting the site the next day so it was very interesting.
We walked to the beautiful Iglesia La Ceiba de Guadalupe which had pretty stain glass windows and a fantastic mural of angels around the altar. We wandered a bit and failed to find the Botanic Garden. We were quite happy to find an ice cream parlor and catch the next 44 bus back to the Boulevard. It was a silly little minibus that we were crammed onto and looking plenty full the helper guy kept poking and shouting at people to get them to move down.
The next day we visited Joya de Cerén and San Andrés. It wasn't hard to get there. The Lonely Planet described the best route to take and which buses were best. To Joya de Cerén it was an hour on the 108 bus from the Terminal Occidente and
only US$0.85 each. And the lovely bus driver dropped us at the gate. It was US$3 entrance. There was a big group of students there so we whipped through the interesting but crowded museum and were hoping to get to the site ahead of the group. But the lady said we would have to wait for the group of students and the guide before being let in the site. After 10 minutes all the students arrived and we went through and snuck ahead on the path, not too sure if they were happy for people to be there without a guide. Anyway, we had the place to ourselves. There were 3 covered areas and you could see lots more areas that could be excavated. Referred to as the "Pompeii of the Americas" archaeologists had found a snapshot of life in 590 AD. The detail was amazing with patterns visible in the walls. It was definitely worth visiting.
It took a couple of buses to get to San Andrés about 9 km away. The site was occupied by the Mayan between 600 AD and 900 AD and they reckon up to 12,000 people lived there. When the Spanish arrived the
area was part of a ranch but archaeologists only really discovered it at the turn of the century, 1890 something. Most is still covered and there is still work going on. It was a funerary site with tombs. We could see some stairs leading down. The preservationists have used concrete to protect the site. Bit ugly but you can understand the need when the original construction included adobe (mud and straw) that would have originally have been covered by plaster. The ruins reside in a park of trees and green grass and the surrounding farmland was green and beautiful. It would have been great for a picnic. Many couples were canoodling around the ruins.
Waiting back on the main road for a bus to town, a guy came wobbling up to us, chewing on sugar cane. A guard from a nearby industrial site watched him carefully and when he tried to get on the bus after us, the bus helper guy pushed him off. The bus got busy but we were soon back in town. Old hands now, we got off at Iglesia La Ceiba de Guadalupe and caught a 44 bus to the MetroCentro. It was a successful
day out that we topped off with a movie - The Invaders - bodysnatcher type movie and very good.
The next day, after a lazy Sunday morning, we went to Santa Tecla to visit Amado, a member of Couch Surfing
. He had celebrated his 54th birthday the day before. He had a lovely house in the back of a secured collection of houses and was a teacher. We talked about all sorts of things and he served us some lovely coffee and cakes. It was lovely exchanging Couch Surfing experiences and we found out some more about Santa Tecla as he walked us to the bus. The plaza where Pieter stopped for a shoe shine was created by a rich coffee family who were not happy that their house (now crumbling but still there) was not built on the main square. There was a pretty marble monument celebrating the towns 100th birthday and an ugly concrete monument erected in 2004 for the 150th anniversary. The town was created as New San Salvador after the capital suffered a devastating earthquake. They thought the location was safer. But San Salvador recovered and New San Salvador flourished. It was a lovely visit.
On Monday we finally got around to visiting the downtown area. We went with a girl called from Gemma who was staying at the same hostel. We took the number 30 bus which stopped on the main plaza. The cathedral was modern and beautiful with a red mosaic front. We passed the National Palace and thought it closed being Monday but a security guard saw us and opened the gate. It was US$3 each which we paid when we left. They wanted to keep our IDs for the duration of the visit and were happy with the photocopies I always carried. We don't like to leave our passports anywhere. A guard showed us into the courtyard and over to the other side. We could see a lot of restoration work going on. Then we were lead upstairs and left to see the exhibits. The first was the same food expo we had seen in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. That was really funny. We also saw an exhibit of the sites at Chalchuapa which we were yet to visit. But best of all was the rooms with their beautiful floral ceilings and Art Nouveau style decorations on the walls. The palace
was constructed in the early 1900s and had sweeping staircases and a beautiful garden. We popped our heads into the cathedral but there was a mass so we just stood at the door for a bit. The dome above the altar had a mural that included an elephant. The last thing we wanted to see was the Iglesia Rosaria but it was closed which is a shame because the outside is real ugly but inside is supposed to be beautiful.
As far as cities go, San Salvador is great. Modern with a bit of old fashioned charm.
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