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Published: September 18th 2003
Monday was a national holiday (El Salvador's Independence Day) and my office was closed; we decided to participate in a trip organized by some friends to the old Spanish colonial-era town of Suchitoto, which was a (the?) Pipil tribal capital during the Mayan Empire. Suchitoto in Nahuat means "Place of Birds and Flowers". (I would guess that Suchitoto is a Spanish bastardization of a name that was originally something more like "Xochitotl".) We headed east on the Pan-American Highway to San Martin, then north on a secondary road to Suchitoto; took us awhile to get there because every little town was holding an Independence Day parade, so we had to bushwhack our way around each village on muddy side roads.
Suchitoto is very charming and quaint and tranquil, and is one of El Salvador's few remaining colonial-era villages in original condition (as in Chile, where I lived for a couple of years, the periodic severe earthquakes have destroyed almost all of the old architecture through the years). We explored the town on foot and toured the old Santa Lucia cathedral on the square, now undergoing restoration. We ate at "La Posada", a restaurant and inn some Swedes have developed by restoring a couple of 18th/19th Century homes on the hill overlooking Lake Suchitlan (a.k.a. Cerron Grande Reservoir). I'd like to go back to Suchitoto and stay at La Posada some weekend; it's such a quiet little town one would definitely want to take along a good book or two!
Suchitoto witnessed some bitter fighting during the country's 1980s Civil War; one can still find buildings pockmarked by bulletholes, and the tail of a government-forces helicopter has been made into a makeshift memorial in one little park, under which its crew is buried. It's all plenty peaceful and quiet enough now--impossible even to envision the street-to-street fighting.
At the old Posada, I found a couple of tangled old overgrown plants of several flowering tropical vines I've been wanting to grow at our house, but that I haven't been able to find in local nurseries: Coral vine or Confederate Vine (Antigonon leptopus) Purple Queens Wreath (Petrea volubilis) Blue Trumpet Vine or "Skyflower" (Thunbergia grandiflora) I took some cuttings home and planted them against our walls that same evening; they seem to be surviving and
On the way back, we took a little detour to see Lake Ilopango, which looked very pretty with the San Vincente Volcano (Mayan name: "Chichontepec"; elev.:
2,182 m/7,157 ft.)* looming up in the distance in the late-afternoon sun. It puts one in mind a bit of Lake Tahoe (is Tahoe of volcanic origin--maybe not?),
although at 40 sq. mi./100 sq. km in surface area, it's only a fifth the size of Tahoe. One would NOT have wanted to be around on the day in 260 A.D. when
the giant volcano that was there before exploded in one of the most cataclysmic geologic events in the Earth's history, devastating early Classic Period
Mayan civilization in the Pacific Coast Maya highlands. For some reason still unknown, the Mayans never built great stone sculptures after that eruption, although their empire had yet to reach its peak extent.
El Salvador may not be the first place that comes to mind when one is thinking of tourist destinations in Central America, but I've been pleasantly surprised at how beautiful this little country is. It offers some great Pacific beaches, majestic volcanoes, at least a few remaining patches of tropical rain forest, and a couple of wirthwhile Mayan ruins. It helps a lot if you can speak Spanish, and it's true one must remain aware of the threat of crime (although I think it's not as bad as Guatemala or Honduras, according to statistics), but the people are great, and most everything is very inexpensive. (U.S. Dollar is now used as the currency here, by the way.) If anyone's interested, I can write lots more about things to see and do here.
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