A Week in El Salvador

Well, this is some country. I’m in an internet cafe in Santa Ana that seems to be in the process of being knocked down (literally as I type they’re knocking down a wall), while the Venga Boys is playing loudly out in the street. It’s cracking cheese Gromit. And also the backspace (and most other keys too) on this keyboard seem to somehow be inexplicably connected to the space bar, so hopefully this won’t come out full of spaces.

Salvador really is quite something. It came out of civil war only in 1992, and it only seems to be recently embracing tourists again, after many government warnings from afar suggesting avoiding travel here. There are several museums around that really show the gruesome brutality of the war, and there were no holds barred. However, everyone now seems to have moved on, and are really happy for the tourists (there’s not many). Hence the roving reporter (me) plunging right in.

Well, not exactly. It’s been a nice chilled out week for me really. Also quite boring. I’ve realised I probably left Utila a few days too early – I only left in the first place really cos I knew I could easily stay there for weeks and wouldn’t be able to afford it, so extricating myself altogether became the easiest option. We had a good group of people there, and I’ve been missing them a little, and also properly missing many people from home for the first time too, so what with gloomy museums it’s been a reflective week as well.

I came to Salvador to take up again the Bamba bus ticket that I’d left in Antigua. As I’d already paid for the bus down to Managua from here I thought I’d take it up instead of heading there directly from Utila. That said, it rather confused the bus people when I emailed them about it, as they couldnt believe I’d done some independent travel outside their bussing!

“Where did you say you were?”
“San Salvador”
“But it says you’re still in Antigua.”
“I’m not , I’m in San Salvador.”
“Can’t you get back to Antigua ?”
“What, just to come back to San Salvador? I think not .”
“Hmmm .”

Eventually I was able to talk them round to the fact it made absolutely no sense for me to go all the way back to  Antigua, and that if I had to, I would book their bus from Antigua and deliberately miss it. I leave for Managua on Thursday.

But the downshot of coming to Salvador just for the bus meant that I didn’t really have any plans here, and had sweet FA to do. And a week to kill. And what’s more, it’s SO hot here. Not wishing to rub it in at all, but 30C+ every day is far too hot for me. So not having any plans, I’ve not really been inclined to do much more than laze around in a hammock all week reading books, and generally chillaxing. And while I’d not had any plans, by jove I had larks.

The locals here are genuinely lovely and friendly. Walking past someone in the street and delivering a generic buenas ( good afternoon ), one asked me where I was from. Once I’d replied, he just sat there staring straight ahead repeating “wow, inglaterra, wow”, so I left him. In one of the parks in San Salvador a group of kids came up to me. My first thoughts were ‘ guard your pockets, pal, this is gonna be a rough ride’, thinking it some elaborate tourist scam to crowd them with 10 kids and mob them, take all their possessions and leave them for dead under a sprinkler in the park, but they just wanted a chat and were just very excited to see me (I’m quite a novelty here). One girl I think wanted to take my sunglasses (the little shit ) but I managed to get away unscathed. That was towards the end of last week, and I’m still trying to work out if they took anything now.

After two days in San Salvador (confusingly called here, just like the country, Salvador) I headed north to the lovely little town of Suchitoto, only because someone else in the hostel was. And it was back to the good old chicken buses of Guatemala. The Honduran ones were the same, just somehow less exciting. But this trip was absolutely chocka, people actually getting on with chickens (yes! had been waiting for that all trip!), dogs, a 4′ case of boxes, a tele, all the stuff they’d bought from the market, what at first glance looked like a reel of barbed wire but was actually a reel of normal wire cinched at the top to keep it together. And the merchants who run through the buses trying to sell all manners of fruit, nuts, sweets, notebooks, pencils. agua, potatoes (who wants to buy potatoes when they’ve just got on the bus?!) before a nice hour and a half journey in the heat, where you try and press your face as close to a window as possible and hope it makes as few stops as possible to keep the breeze up.

As fun as lounging in a hammock is for a few hours (and believe me, it’s fun), I was soon getting bored. The next morning I decided to walk down to a nearby waterfall. The guy who ran the hostel said it was perfectly safe, except for a group of Norwegian travellers who got held up there last year. Hmmm. I decided to risk it, and set off to the end of the road, and then down some dirt track, past malnourished cows, and towards a creek at the bottom of a hill. Walking down the path, I thought this was exactly the kind of terrain I’d seen in the photos of the war in the museums, and wondered if somewhere here there was someone watching me pointing a gun at me. Nice safe thoughts, Chris, nice safe thoughts.

At the creek at the bottom, I had a choice to go left or right to find the waterfall (no signs). I took the right path (which was in fact the wrong path) and wandered a bit further, saw a few nice butterflies, but realised I’d gone the wrong way. Now while it’s certain that the people of Salvador are very nice, it’s not also true of the dogs. Upon finding the waterfall, I obviously took a step too far towards it and incurred the barking wrath of a pair of dogs who were there. Not a problem I thought, took a couple of steps back and had another look at it. Ah – for the dogs, it was a problem! Two steps was not enough, and I soon found myself bounding back down the creek shouting god knows what in Spanish to try and get them to stop chasing me and to leave me alone. Sod the guerillas, this was bad enough! I gave up on getting a decent view of the waterfall, and started slowly making my way back towards the path up to the town, where upon after about 30 seconds the dogs made another appearance barking and chasing like crazy, whence I started quickly making my way back towards the path up to town, and even on the path not stopping for much needed water until safely back in the hostel. I’ve been giving every dog I see a wide berth since.

I was due a bit of good luck, and it came in a Mylene Klass lookalike who’d just signed in to the hostel. That afternoon we took a stroll down to the lake (how very Blyton) and did some ziplining (how very Blyton) across to an island in the middle and back. Jackanory, for $5 it was most fabulous good fun. The whole setup seemed a bit ropy (pun most definitely intended), but it held true and was actually a nice bit of breeze in the afternoon sun. Muy bien.

Bored of Suchitoto (and sadly of Mylene – what can I say, she was German), I left the next day literally not knowing where I was going to end up. I had a slight plan, which was the other side of the country. The bus system in Salvador is thankfully very cheap (getting from one side of the country to the other for about $3), and I took a bus firstly to Aguilares, thinking I could get to Santa Ana from there. There was a nice big road on the map in my guidebook, but seemingly no buses make the route. So from there I returned to Salvador, and took 2 buses to get to a different terminal (from terminal oriente to terminal occidente – I only needed one bus, but took another by mistake having glimpsed ter ote. on the side, before I realised I was taking a bus to where I actually was already – muppet), and from there a bus to Santa Ana. This cost all of maybe $1.50.

It was upon arrival in Santa Ana that I realised my Spanish was still pretty shoddy. I got off the bus, and had a little look at the map in the book to find out where the hell I was. Some nice old woman came up to me and started talking about my shoes (on the back of my rucksack). No idea what she was on about. I made the mistake of asking where the cathedral was (for a point of reference), and she ended up taking me there on another bus. Except I didn’t have any change this time so it cost me the $5 note I had less a bit of shrapnel in return. So I’d got across the country for $1.50 then got unwittingly screwed out of $5 by some supposedly helpful old woman. I saw the irony in that once I’d discovered where I was, I pretty much walked back exactly the way I’d came to a hostel.

And there’s really not very much to do here either.

In other news though, exciting is the fact I have a first unknown follower! Unless of course I do know you Johanna, in which case, erm… yeah awkward. But it’s lovely to have you along for the ride, whomsoever you may be. And all you others too. 🙂

¡Hasta luego!

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