El Salvador - Jungles, Volcanoes, and ... Pizza Hut?

Published: March 15th 2012
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Antigua/San Salvador

After nearly nine months on the road, we finally accomplished something we hadn’t done before. We got to put a “pin in the map”, which means we finally got to a country we hadn’t been to before. Before we started on this trip it wasn’t uncommon for us to go through 3 countries in 2 weeks. Travelling by car has really changed our idea of what travelling means.

We arrived in El Salvador on Saturday evening. The trip from Antigua, Guatemala wasn’t too bad (remember it’s all relative now). About a half hour out of Antigua, we got stuck behind a professional bicycle race that was going about 15 miles an hour on a freeway where we thought we could do 45 or 50. Loss of one hour. The racers turned off to the coast-just in time for the detour signs. The problem with the detour signs down here is, once they get you off the road, they never really say how to get back. We started off down a paved road, which turned in to a dirt road, which turned in to a dirt road with pot holes, which turned in to a really non-existent road. We were pretty confident we were OK because of the temporary vendors who had set up shop at each of the worst spots in the road. We finally reached a one lane small bridge that crossed the river and led back to the road we had been on. I only assume the problem was that the main highway bridge had been washed out or damaged somehow. Loss of a second hour.

We arrived at the El Salvador border. This is where travelling with a car has its worst disadvantage. It’s basically easy to go through Migracion (immigration) and Aduana (customs) at each border. The hassle is getting the car across each time. We had to fill out tons of paperwork in Spanish (not our best talent). After passing in our Spanish test to Mr. Aduana, we basically got a grimace and sigh and he asked for everyone’s passport, car title, registration, driver’s license and he told us to take a seat. I guess we didn’t pass the test.

After about a half hour of waiting Mr. Aduana called us back to the window. He had re-filled out all of our paperwork. It felt like we were going to have to go to the principal’s office, but he then came out to the car and looked through all of our stuff and gave us our sticker to go on. Just one more stop at Migracion and we were done. Oh, oh. A bus had just pulled up with about 100 people to totally overwhelm the window. We thought that going across on a Saturday would be good, not knowing that it was Election Day on Sunday in El Salvador and it is the busiest border crossing day of the year. El Salvador hasn’t had elections that they could vote in for very long (at least honest elections) and it is common for the Salvadorians that live in other countries to return to cast their vote. Anyway, loss of a third hour.

It was now 2:30 and we were barely getting across the border. We had expected to be across by 11:30. Luckily the roads in El Salvador are excellent (no lie). We made great time getting to Sonsonate, which was where we thought we would stay the night after the delays. We decided to go on all the way to San Salvador.

San Salvador was quite a shock. San Salvador is huge (maybe 2 million people). After being in mostly small colonial towns for the last 8 months, 6 lane highways passing through tall buildings with huge signs felt very strange. We picked a small hotel in the Zona Rosa from our guide book to stay in. We actually found the hotel pretty well, as most of the roads and exits are fairly well marked. The Zona Rosa was like being back in the U.S. Burger Kings, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, Subway and KFC on every corner! Not a big deal to you, but definitely strange for us. We got our hotel for the night. It was small but modern and very nice (read-OMG Nanci it’s an air conditioner!). Small luxuries, right. The only odd part was that each restaurant or hotel had an armed guard (shotgun, pistol, automatic rifle or combination of weapons). I guess it could make you feel a little unnerved or else unbelievably safe.

Anyway, we awoke to the sounds of what seemed like a parade. The entire streets were lined with cars with buses and trucks passing by in all directions decorated with flags and banners for Election Day. Seems our hotel was near a
Man's Best Friend?Man's Best Friend?Man's Best Friend?

You pet her first!
major polling place. It was quite exciting as we sat in the hotel restaurant and had our pancakes. It seemed everyone was actively participating in the election. It was nice to see a country where people take the elections seriously and appreciate having the opportunity to vote.

We set off to find our new house. We found out that we are not really staying in San Salvador, but an area called Los Planes de Renderos. It is located on the southern edge of town in the hills. After following the winding road to the top of the hill we found the gate to the apartments. We rang the bell and a gardener came to the gate. Uh, oh-Spanish test part two. The apartment owner’s son finally came to the gate. Luckily he spoke English, but told us there was a problem. We didn’t have a reservation (we did). Uh, oh! He contacted his father who was busy with the election and they finally decided they could put us in a different apartment. Nice because the new apartment was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath place when we were only supposed to have 1 of each. It’s not that much different because we don’t actually use the other rooms, but it does make the apartment seem bigger than what we normally have.

The apartments are actually one large house that has been remodeled into apartments. The house is surrounded by lush vines and trees and has a greenhouse and grass areas all around it. The flowers are all blooming and the trees all have fruit on them. It is really nice. There are two HUGE Rottweilers and a large Pit bull that sometimes roam the property and don’t seem like they want to be our friends. We took them two pretty good size steaks that we bought at Wal-Mart (yeah, they have those, too), so perhaps we can become friends. They ate the meat raw, which might not be good for us in the long run.

We have had a relaxed first few days. We went to the main downtown area (Centro) which turned out to be a bit of a bust. It was really noisy and congested, with lots of smoking buses and market stands lining all the streets. We left there pretty quickly and decided to check out the malls (yes, malls!). They have about 5 giant
No TrespassingNo TrespassingNo Trespassing

There's barbed wire on the other side of trail!
malls that rank with the nicest ones anywhere, mostly all the big American stores and lots of restaurants and movie theaters with the latest movies. It was quite shocking after not seeing anything like this for a long time. Wow!

We also went to a big park at the top of our hill called Puerta del Diablo (door of the devil). Not the friendliest named park, but it was pretty nice with a couple of large rocks that had stairs that lead to the top where you could watch the sunset over San Salvador in one direction and towards the ocean in another direction.

We also went to a volcano crater that overlooks San Salvador today. It is called “El Boqueron” (big mouth). Again it had beautiful views over the city in one direction and views into the crater in the other direction. Inside the main crater was a smaller crater called “boqueronito” (little mouth). The smaller crater was a result of the last eruption in 1917. The volcano causes many seismic events in San Salvador still and is apparently still quite dangerous.

Overall it has been good so far. We are going to try to enjoy our 1 month stay in the big city and take advantages of some of the new found “luxuries” while we have the chance (yeah, we went to Pizza Hut). We plan on getting out to the countryside later in the week. We don’t want to get too used to the good life!

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Closed-captioning for those who don't speak Spanish well!

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