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Published: January 21st 2009
There is no single episode in El Salvador that stands out for us. Previous blogs flowed with ease from the memory box. This did not. So here´s a general review of the 6 days we spent in the country.
On 2nd January, we left wonderful green Guatemala and headed for its brown deforested neighbour. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America - its about the size of Wales but a lot more cramped for space (6.7 million vesrsus 2.9 million).
The Border Crossing
No man´s land was a sweaty 300m hike. The sun cooked up the tar and returned to the sky with a wave, the air visibly shaking. Rubbish was everywhere, tons of plastic bags and bottles.
Our first encounter with a Salvadorean: a man with wild eyes and morning hair approached us. It was 11am and he was drunk out of his mind. He points at my water and asked in slurred Spanish for some to give to the crow-like bird on his shoulder. I point out the bottle of water in his hand. He retreated with a strange scream. Welcome to El Salvador! On reflection his bottle probably contained something stronger than water.
The Ciudad Pedro de Alvardo - La Hachadura crossing itself was easy. We literally walked from one country to another. The border guard had a quick look at our passports. No stamp, to Jessica´s great disappointment. There is an agreement between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua (CA-4) so travellers just pay one entry fee and get just one stamp in the passport. The border guard laughed unapologetically at us trying to pronounce our destination, Juayua. An old lady heading to market on the chicken bus later taught us (its WHY-OOH-AH).
Every weekend Juayua hosts a food fest and we sampled some of the delights. Papusas
- Small tortillas made from cornmeal stuffed with beans and cheese or green veggies. The lady inserts the filling as she hand rolls the dough into shape at lightning speed. Cooked on a hot plate for 10 minutes, the pupusas are served on a plastic sheet with curtido
(pickled coleslaw) and tomato sauce. Delicious. Messily eaten with your fingers, papusas are a traditional Salvadorean meal. But by the sixth day we realised it was literally the only option for dinner in most places. Elote Loco
- Boiled corn on
the cob, with a wooden skewer pushed through, smeared with mustard, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and covered in alternate stripes of red and brown sauce. Tasted as crazy as it looked. Tamale
- Steamed cornmeal squares wrapped in a banana leaf and tied in a parcel, sometimes with a lump of chicken thrown in, much to Jessica´s horror. Stodgy but cheap.
I also got my teeth stuck into tender steaks, spicy sausage and braised pork.
To wash all this down was the Mayan drink horchata
- my favourite. I can only describe it as rice pudding watered down and cinammon added, sometimes served in a bag! We also sampled refresco de ensalada
, mixed fruit juices with cubes of fruit floating on top. A kind of non-alcoholic sangria. Hit the spot when thirst struck.
Directly across from our hotel in Juayua was a fairground with some dodgy looking rides. We jumped on board the big ferris wheel and rose up into the night sky. The tractor engine roared and metal pins screeched like nails down a black board. Kids started screaming and we joined in for sure! The night was finished off with churros
- sausage shaped
donuts cut from a 6 inch length coil, laced in sugar and covered in chocolate sauce.
It is the second largest city in El Salvador and the photo says it all. Dreadful place. Full of fast food outlets and litter. We had a sleepless night in a dorm, listening to a four-pìece band from the Czech Republic belting out tunes. Well actually it was the snoring of our room mate, all through his half clogged throat. For a short time it was intriguing the different pitches he could make, but murder was heavy on my mind two hours later! At first light, we scrambled out of the dorm and out of the city.
Whitewashed colonial buildings and cobblestone streets were nice, but that´s all. Just nice. Seen it all before so we checked out the countryside instead. There were wonderful views of Lago Suchitlan. The hike took us through rural life in El Salvador - farmers shepherded cows along the road, workmen laid homemade bricks from straw and mud out to dry, the very same as we we had seen in African countries like Rwanda.
After an hour and some sketchy directions in Spanish
("After the third bend on the left by the gap in the fence"), we came upon a waterless waterfall. It was dry season. Casada Los Tercios is a formation of hexagonal stone spires, very similar to the Giants Causeway in Co. Antrim. The water would drop about forty foot if it bothered to show.
On our last night, we met an ex-guerilla fighter. Jerry owned the local bar and ran video documentaries of the civil war on the big screen inside. Suchitoto was a strong rebel area during the civil war and you could tell. Everyone in town was talking about the upcoming elections, due to take place in March, which are potentially historic in that there could be an FMLN (ex-guerrilla group) President for the first time. After 21 years of the Arena party in power, most people in the town felt a change was on the cards.
Suchitoto to La Palma
After a long hike down to the lake with our backpacks, we caught the ferry (a glorified raft) across Lago Suchitlan. Jess and I were the only passengers but there were four crew! It cost $1 and we crossed in about 40 minutes. A dollar
On the bus
from Santa Ana to Suchitoto
goes a long way here. It was a very peaceful journey slowly floating along with black ducks skimming the water in front of the ferry.
When we reached San Francisco Lempa, sad news was received. The last bus to the next town had just left and the next one wasn´t for another four hours! We sat glumly in the main square of this tiny fishing village watching men repair the church which was reduced to ruins following an earthquake years before. We decide to stick out the old reliable thumb, but there was little traffic to be seen. Eventually an old man with a pick up stops. On the back are two other men and a load of steel bars. I jump on the back with the bags and, being a gentleman, the driver makes room for Jessica up front. Turns out he was an undertaker. One who drove like he was looking to create new business. The only time he slowed down was at military checkpoints. The views were fantastic crossing the mountains but I could not appreciate them as I was too busy holding on for dear life while the driver tried his best to lose us.
We arrived in Chalatenango (a bit of a dive from what we saw) and squeezed onto a jam packed bus.
The art centre of El Salvador. Two or three days were planned for here. Two or three hours covered it. We caught the 7am bus the following morning to the border with Honduras. Need I say more.
El Salvador was a big disappointment, particularly after enjoying six brilliant weeks in Guatemala. People were not as friendly, there were way too many guns (hand guns tucked into young lads´jeans and pump action shotguns for shop security guards), lots of drunks on the streets, a lack of any indigenous culture and generally a bit of an intimidating vibe. For me the clear highlight of the country was a simple fairground ride.
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