I couldn't decide whether to do 3 blogs for this or not, so I think I'll go for 1 blog with 3 parts...
After a few nights in Santa Ana, it was time to hit the Pacific beaches, mainly reputed for their surfing (not something I would be partaking in). Even though I hadn't exactly pre-planned the itinerary on that stretch, I ended up staying for 3 nights in 3 different places (hence the 3 parts blog): Los Cobanos, El Tunco and La Libertad.
Although it had a brief mention in my guidebook, I hadn't really thought of going there until I asked the owner of my Santa Ana hostel and he said this was the place to be and also recommended a place to stay.
So I left Santa Ana on Sunday morning, for the short journey (1h30) to Sonsonate, where I had to get another bus to Los Cobanos (30 minutes). The trip cost me a grand total of $1.15 (quite a lot by local standards!) and by the time I got off the second bus, I couldn't wait to see the beach. It was the hottest day yet and the warm sea breeze didn't do
much to help.
Los Cobanos is a beach which is more popular with the locals than with tourists, with all the Salvadorians flogging there at week-ends, so it was heaving. I dropped my pack at the hostel and waited for a while (avoiding the early afternoon sun) before I went for a walk on the. Like seemingly most other beaches on this stretch of coast, it offers a mixture of black sand and rocks. I walked one way until I could go no further because of the high tide waters crashing against the rocks. There, I went for a not at all refreshing swim. By that point, it must have been 4 pm and the air temperature was starting to cool down a little, but the water was the hottest I had ever experienced (I mean in the sea, not in my bath!) and it was quite strange for me (always cold) to be too hot in the sea!
After that, I went for a walk the other way and soon realised that all the stares I was getting were maybe not just because I was a “Gringita” but also because I was in a bikini. As I mentioned, this
was more of a local beach than a tourist one and looking around, I could see that all the women were bathing in their clothes (like normal shorts and T-shirts or even trousers and t-shirts) and I was the only one who'd bothered to bring a swimming costume! I'm still not sure why they do this and I really need to ask someone about it... Anyway, I covered up a little (it was still too hot though!) and walked for a while between the beach and the row of comedores (cheap eateries). I got back to the other side just in time to capture the sunset before returning to the hostel.
I had a quiet evening and decided to leave the next morning for El Tunco, a surfers' beach further east.
When I asked the lady from the hostel what was the best way to get to El Tunco, she answered that she was going to Sonsonate in the car shortly and could give me a lift there. I could then catch a bus to El Tunco. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the quickest way to get there, but it was definitely the friendliest and I wasn't
going to turn down such a generous offer. Once at Sonsonate's bus station, I just had to wait (about 45 minutes) for the direct bus ($1.5). I was at my next destination by lunchtime and when I got off the bus and asked some locals where was my hostel, one of them said “Come with me!” and took me for the 10 minutes walk to where I was staying (it turns out I'd got off the bus too early). Once there I was shown my bed ($6 in a 3 beds room) and decided to cook some food. While in the kitchen I got chatting to Arturo, a Salvadorian expat who was thinking of coming returning to his country of origin. We talked for a while and then I got changed and went off to the beach.
My plan was to walk between some of the beaches along that stretch as it seemed there were quite a few of them close by. Unfortunately, I was having the same high tide problem as the previous day (low tide being at 10, it just wasn't the right time for me). Other than walking along, there wasn't a lot for me to do.
El Tunco was, like Los Cobanos, a black rocky beach and the sea was quite rough as this is a surfer's hangout rather than a swimmer's place. So I took my time, sitting down on the rocks, getting my toes wet (and nearly my camera), talking to strangers, taking pictures of surfers and failing to try and break open a coconut. I also walked around the village a couple of times (it didn't take very long) before heading back to the hostel. There really wasn't much more to it than that... In the evening I watched a French film that the hostel guy had on DVD and then went to bed... Not the most exciting of days, just a lazy one.
The next morning, I got up at the crack of dawn to go back to the beach, in the hope of finding the low tide, but it wasn't to be, so after beans for breakfast, I set off to get the bus to La Libertad. This is a port town, with the closest beach to San Salvador. It is again more of a surfing than a swimming spot and it doesn't have the best of reputations
due to a past that saw quite a lot of drug trafficking, but it's a handy stop if you're heading to the capital (which I was). So $0.25 and not a long time after I left El Tunco, I arrived in La Libertad. With around 20000 inhabitants, it's also a more sizeable town to where I'd been in the previous couple of days and it was nice to get back to civilisation and not feel like I was going to run out of things to do within half an hour.
My first mission was to find a place to stay, so I walked to the tourist zone, where the hotels were located and asked around (I had a couple of recommendations from the guidebook but wanted to see if I could find better/cheaper.) Someone pointed me in the direction of the cheapest place there was: $6 for a prison cell (quite literally, it was about 2m by 2m with a bed and a light, no fan, no window, no nothing else), shared toilets and bucket for a shower. I thought not... I wasn't that desperate and the idea of being locked in a dark room in the heat wasn't too
appealing. So I carried on and ended up at one of the places in my guide-book. There, for $10, I could have a slightly less prison cell looking room, with a fan and a window and even a private “bathroom” and an armchair. To be honest, it's the armchair that sold it to me (even though I didn't even sit on it!) but let's be fair, it still wasn't luxury. They also allowed me to use their kitchen which was a bonus, so from there, I set off in the hunt for some cash and some food.
I first went down to the beach and walked along the shore for a while (another black beach with rocks and not a lot of beach or indeed no beach at all by the time the tide was at its highest), before heading back into the town centre and through the market stalls. I bought a few bits there and in the supermarket and then went to the fish market for some of the day's catch (3 for a dollar, I don't know what fish it was, but it was just enough for 1 person).
After a spot of lunch, I spent the
afternoon wandering between the beach, the hotel, the town centre and the tourist strip. As it got closer to 5pm and the waves were getting bigger, I picked a good spot to try and get some more surfing pictures. There, I got talking to a surfing instructor trying to convince me to give it a go. He took a while to realise he was wasting his time, but I ended up having a bit of a theory lesson and a commentary of how good, bad or indifferent the surfers I was snapping were. During our conversation, he also mentioned that the circus was in town and I could go and have a look at it for some evening entertainment.
So after cooking the unknown fish for my diner, I was off to the circus! It was really quite basic and looked very cheap and amateurish, but I figured it was a reflection of where the country is in terms of its development. Add to that the fact that only about 60 people had turned up ( paying $1 each) and it wasn't really a surprise that the show wasn't breathtaking. So much so that by half way I was starting
to fall asleep and decided to head back.
This is when the real fun started... When I got to my front door, standing in front of it, was a giant toad (I reckon 15-20cm long – trust me, it was big). The problem was that there was a hole at the bottom of my door (which is where it was standing and looking at) and I thought if I tried to make it run away, it might run inside instead. Anyway, all went well and eventually the giant toad went away. Then I opened the door to find a giant cockroach. Yes, this is correct, all the animals of that day were giants – the cockroach was probably about 5cm which I don't actually think is giant for this side of the world but is a lot bigger than the ones I have encountered in Europe.
Now I feel I need to just do a little side story here...
Let me make this clear: I do not like cockroaches. Cockroaches are not my friends. I have had the misfortune of living with cockroaches in the past (both in Paris and London) and I bloody hate the things! I can cope
with the heat, the dirt, the cold water, the no showers, even the spiders, the ants and the giant toads... But if only I could be spared the cockroaches...
So, one dead cockroach later, it was time for a wee and bed. I went in the bathroom, where I found... Another cockroach (same size). Not impressed, but I got him too. I then proceeded to put the towel across the bottom of the front door to try and stop any further cockroaches (or giant toads) from entering, even though it seemed a bit pointless given there was the same size gap on top of the door and a gutter-pipe size hole in the wall... After that, I went to bed for what I expected to be a bad night sleep, filled with nightmares about cockroaches...
When I woke up in the middle of the night, my first instinct was to check the floor for any sign of them, but I could see none. So I got up, heading for the bathroom and as I approached the door, what did I see but the giant toad! Inside my room, having pushed its way through the carefully placed towel... Thankfully, I managed
to make it run out. I then went to the bathroom and realised that the body of cockroach number 2 had disappeared... I hadn't killed it! But it hadn't gone too far and I quickly squashed it, making sure it wasn't going to wake up this time around. Then I noticed a rock on the bathroom floor (just about the size of the hole in the door, so maybe it was a sign of previous toad visits...) I pushed the rock with my foot (I'm wise to the bloody insects) and wasn't even surprised to discover another cockroach hiding under it... Another dead body on the floor, a rock in front of the hole in the door and I was finally able to go back to bed...
The next morning, I was up early and more than happy to be leaving the beach and head to San Salvador for a day or 2 in the city...
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