When we approached the Guatemalan border exit, we were greeted by eager money changers with fat wads of familiar green bills. El Salvador is one a few Latin-American countries that use the US Dollar as their own currency. Not only would I be using dollars in El Salvador, but more of them. One of my first impressions of this country was that things like food and accommodations are a little more expensive. After the crossing, it was pure uphill with a nice view of our first El Salvadorian Volcano in site and plenty of encouragement from the surrounding locals. It was in our first big El Salvadorian city, Ahuachapan, where we realized we wouldnít be getting any deals on hotels. The next night we actually ended up dusting off our tents and camping in the fenced in park area of a shell gas station, however, not by choice. We were descending from coffee country and got caught in the dark with our only other option being a 50 dollar a night hotel and restaurant on a coffee plantation. They denied us on the camping after we scoffed at the high priced accommodations. They did have good food though. The next day I woke up with a bad sore throat but we continued on the nice downhill through small towns with wood workers displaying their beautifully made chairs, tables, and beds with nicely carved headboards.
Another thing about El Salvador, it is hot! After our downhill, we cruised along through the heat on rolling hills, with nice views of farmland and volcanoes in the distance to the north. Surprisingly, we had a decent shoulder to ride on. One of the advantages of the tropical lowlands is the tasty tropical fruit. I was able to refresh myself with coco frios for the first time since the Mexican coast, and snack on bananas right off the roadside. At the end of our day, we had to climb up to the city of Santa Tecla, which is kind of big and ugly and I suppose is some kind of extension of San Salvador only 15 km away. We settled in a seedy hotel that had hourly rates (in case you needed to know just how seedy), and prepared for a day trip by bus to Cerro Verde National Park the next day.
Cerro Verde, a national park and bird sanctuary, is on one of El Salvadorís largest and now extinct volcanoes. Near Cerro Verde (2030 meters) is the nice dark uniform cone of Volcano Izalco (1910 m), which was formed over nearly 200 years of geothermic activity that has tapered off for the last 40 years. Also within view are El Salvadorís tallest Volcano, Santa Ana (2365 m) and Lake Coatepeque, a volcanic crater lake which has a visual atmosphere much like Guatemalaís Lago Atitlan. Within the park, we explored a nice nature trail that took us through the high altitude forests, trees covered in air plants (epiphytes) and orchids, and had viewpoints of the lake and surrounding volcanoes. We were too late to take one of the guided tours up Izalco or Santa Ana, but even so, the easy pace and cool climate of the beautiful park made the 3 hour journey by bus worth it. We also enjoyed the orchid garden, which housed about half of the 70 or so species that are found around the park, and the fragrant and painstakingly maintained terraced flower garden near the entrance. We even had our first encounter with other travelers visiting El Salvador in the park.
One interesting experience we had in Santa Tecla was one evening when we decided to take a walk through the market and literally became a walking freak show for the locals. For one, tourism in these parts is not exactly happening, and for two, you got Mr. 6ft 6, and then me, Mr. Red Dred, both of us with our red beards all hangin out. You look at them and they are always looking at you. They pull you in with their calls, waves and whistles, eager for you to buy something, or just to ask you some questions. Where did you come from? What are you doing here? I imagine many of these people donít spend much time out of this market when they are not at home sleeping, and rarely see creatures as interesting as us. On the other hand, I find the Salvadorians very interesting. Iíve seen many with blue, green, and caramel colored eyes, a beautiful sight when matched with dark skin and hair. This must be from European mixing, maybe even North American mixing. Iíve been surprised at the amount of Salvadorians who speak English, some very well. A lot of this has to do with the fact that a lot have lived in the US at some time or another.
From Santa Tecla, we rode down to sea level, to the coastal town of La Libertad. Adrian was out of commission with stomach sickness, and fortunately my sore throat cleared up, so I explored the popular surf beach solo. The surf wasnít particularly spectacular, but I could definitely see the wave shapes that make this a known surf spot. I donít think they come for the rocky beach lined with trash or scent of raw sewage. I enjoyed sun and the sound of the Pacific Ocean, which I hadnít seen for over 3 months. Quality musicians were playing Cuban style music at a nearby restaurant. I moved closer to pick up the good tunes and then decided to go for a swim. I spent about a half hour swimming around, paddling around on the waves, and keeping an eye on my sandals that were sitting near a rock. After less than two minutes of looking elsewhere, my sandals were gone. To make a long story short, I was fortunate enough to get my sandals back. With the help of some teenage locals, I encouraged a crack addicted 11 year old named Hector to take me to the thiefís house where I got my sandals back, not paying the 5 bucks he wanted for Ďwatchingí them for me. I feel a little uncomfortable knowing where this guy lives now, but what is more disturbing to me is how an 11 year old can be addicted to smoking crack. Hector is the same age as my brother Andrew. I canít imagine. He asks for money from just about anyone he sees, even if you give him food. He still wants money. A dollar buys him his next high. I sat with him and we shared some lemonade. I had to hear it from his mouth to really believe it. I tried to give him some guidance, but I know it is so little. I told him I would never again give him money, only food. I hope someone can straighten this kid out soon. Despite this introduction to La Libertad, a good example of how a past war and current poverty has got these beautiful people in a bad way, I still have met good, friendly people here.
Last night was spent hanging out with an energetic local named Vladimir and an English surfer named Rich. We sampled the tasty pupusas, which are fat tortillas stuffed with beans, cheese, and chicharron (fried pork fat) and enjoyed with pickled cabbage, beets, onions and spicy hot sauce. They might even rival the fish tacos I had in Baja. Iíll have to do more sampling and get back to you on that one! Iíve been able to take some great photos to capture the beauty of this country, even though a lot of it along with the interesting experiences will be kept in my head. Adrian is recovering and ready to ride. We will be cruising east next and possibly hit the Pacific Coast one last time on a side trip to check out some mangroves before making our way towards Honduras.
Peace, and thanks for following along!
Until next time,
P.s. Happy Halloween!