El Salvador - On The Buses

Published: August 25th 2010
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On The Buses

Wednesday 18th August

Today is another long day of travelling as we leave Honduras and head towards El Salvador. Our ultimate destination is the town of Suchitoto which is going to be four or maybe five bus rides and a border crossing away.

The first panic of the day is caused by me. The driver of the eight o’clock bus decides to leave half an hour early and I’m the only one of the group who can’t be found. {Whoever heard of a bus in a third world country leaving early??} They manage to find me though and the bus waits and we get underway OK.

We are travelling by a public minibus which goes through lots of small towns on the way to Santa Rosa as the crew of the bus seem to enjoy competing with each other as they tout for passengers. At one stop the crew seem to almost kidnap someone and frog-march him on board. I hope he’s going to Santa Rosa!!

Progress is quite slow at some points as the roads are quite rough and there is evidence of the recent storms with mudslides across the roads and gangs of workers out clearing the roads. Everywhere looks really green - more evidence of the storms we’ve been getting every evening. It’s hard to understand why Guatemala and Honduras are such poor countries when the land appears to be so fertile.

The cowboy hat is definitely the #1 fashion item for Honduran men. Even in the towns a lot of the men are in complete cowboy gear.

We manage to get to Santa Rosa about 15 minutes before our next bus, taking us to the border with El Salvador, leaves. This bus is the vomit bus. As it arrives in the bus station there is a young boy hanging out of the window being sick and when we board the bus there seems to be a few piles of vomit at the front of the bus. Perhaps we’re in for a scary journey!

For this bus I’ve managed to get a seat at the back with lots of leg room and the fumes from the diesel aren’t too bad as long as the bus keeps moving. There is a worrying moment, though, as the bus struggles up a hill and the driver gets out and throws two buckets of water over the engine which is directly underneath where I am sitting - if the engine catches fire I guess I’ll be the first to die.

Whenever we stop the bus is besieged by people selling soft drinks, fruit, crisps, newspapers and even complete meals. At some stops they even come on board the bus. One enterprising seller comes aboard selling the tackiest inflatable plastic animals ever seen and a “Hello Kitty”. He makes a sale though! A shiny black and white plastic cow - all credit to his entrepreneurial skills!

The bus stops at the town of Ocotepeque, just before the border with El Salvador. There is some confusion at first but we are then transferred to a minibus to take us the rest of the way to the border. This short bus journey is fairly uneventful and soon we are at the border and carrying our bags towards the crossing point. Jane decides to travel in luxury and invests about 30p in a rickshaw to take her to the crossing. She is last seen sitting regally on top of two bags, smoking a cigarette and being peddled towards the border post at great speed.

The border between Honduras and El Salvador isn’t the easiest crossing to negotiate with the officials being quite officious but they eventually complete the paperwork and let us through. Our only problem is that Jane isn’t here! We don’t really know where the rickshaw has taken her. Our dilemma is that we don’t want to wander too far from the border post looking for her in case any of us get stuck the wrong side of the border. Eventually she is found!! She has been given the celebrity status and whisked straight through the border post and to the bus station where she is now getting worried because we have failed to appear.

With the group re-united we can now catch our fourth bus of the day as we head towards Suchitoto. This is a real chicken bus {apart from the fact that nobody actually brings a chicken on board} as it fills up and really struggles to go much faster than walking pace as we head off uphill. The bus’s engine may not be too good but the sound system makes up for it as the driver plays his favourite Kenny Rogers CD with a bass that shakes the bus more than the engine does. "The Gambler" is obviously a clear favourite of our group and I find myself joining in with a sing-a-long-a-Kenny session - there's a first time for everything I guess!!

We start to get regular entertainment as we drive through El Salvador. Our first entertainer jumps onto the bus and starts addressing the passengers. From my limited Spanish and the pictures he holds up {I’m not wearing my glasses} I think he’s selling jewellery - I learn later that he was actually selling a worm remedy!! Next it’s more disturbing as a man carrying a deformed child joins the bus, makes a short speech and then carries the child along the bus asking for money. Following just behind him is a preacher who jumps up at the front of the bus and starts talking to everyone and reading from his bible. We don’t get this level of entertainment on the buses or tubes at home! The preacher talks for way too long and I don’t think he makes any conversions but he manages to collect some money as he walks along the bus.

Just as I’m thinking that this might be the right time to jump up and try to convert a few passengers to The Church of Elvis the entertainment comes to an abrupt end as the bus breaks down.

The bus isn’t going anywhere. We are dumped at the side of the road. We’re not actually too far from where we are meant to catch our fifth bus and we set off walking. We don’t actually have to walk too far because Gemma manages to flag down a pick-up truck and after some brief negotiations we jump into the back of the pick-up with our bags and we are on our way again. We're not actually too far from our destination, Suchitoto, now and after about a 30 minute drive the pick-up arrives in Suchitoto and delivers us straight to our hotel.

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