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El Salvador

Curious what backpackers do in El Salvador? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • Day134

    Pupusas, chicken buses and smashing surf!

    Last October on my first day of the trip, I stripped down to my undies and dived into a refreshingly cool Pacific Ocean in Venice Beach, LA. 132 days later, after crossing the continent and back, I can happily report a much warmer dip in the same ocean - 3700 km southeast of the starting point. And what an adventure it's been since then!

    El Salvador won us over in a battle against Honduras. We really wanted to swim with whale sharks in Utila and go white water rafting in Honduras' finest national park but the travel time and cost involved in the detour put us off. El Salvador it shall be.

    We shuttled there from San Pedro via Antigua where we spent a night back at Matiox Hostal. Comfy beds, delightful showers and good wifi just a few of the reasons we love that place. The border crossing was a joke, as people literally jostled at the window booth of customs to get their stamps. Lines and order apparently a foreign concept. Luckily our van driver had the wits to fend them off and hand over a stack of passports. No questions asked. Easy. On entry to El Salvador we didn't even get out of the van. Nor did we get a stamp. Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras have a centro-american pact of some sort (perhaps someone can fill me in?), hence the aforementioned ease. Happy days!

    We're now holed up in a tiny surf town called El Tunco. It's so small that you can walk a lap of the whole town in under five minutes, maybe six if you're decripid like me. Our hostel, la Sombre is a minute from the beach and if you hobble over the rocks to the western most point, you'll find a reknowned surf break called El Sunzal. That's where we've been spending our time!

    We hired surfboards for $10USD (yes, back on the USD) per day (same price as our accomodation!) and have spent mornings and evenings flailing about in the white water attempting to surf! I'm bruised and achey but it's all been worth it even for just a few good rides per session. The waves are glorious right handers, hard to read but once tamed provide decent length and relatively safe rides. My back, arms, ribs and fat man's rash are killing me.

    Everyone has fought the fearsome break with varying levels of success. Mike and I collided on a wave, yet somehow managed to escape unscathed. Cat's best wave saw her hit the beach without getting off her stomach (somewhat impressively I might add). And Char seemed to escape without too much drama on the board. We won't mention her getting stuck in a rip whilst swimming in the shallows. The unforgettable highlight for me was riding a wave over a sea turtle. Brave wee critter.

    When the wind and chop get up during the heat of the day, we've been catching chicken buses into the main town (La Libertad) for groceries and banks. A quarter gets you on board and the ride itself is entertainment. Hot, noisy, jerky, claustrophobic, uncomfortable entertainment. Or something like that. But it's nice to pay peanuts for transport for a change. It's been up there with accommodation as our biggest expense to date! On one such occasion, MERC put on the runners for the journey. Heat almost brought us to ruin, yet we reached La Libertad in a state I wish upon nobody. I couldn't distinguish disgust from worry upon greeting the girls.

    Lunch each day is pupusas. For around 50c-75c you can get a chicken and cheese filled pita. Well it looks like a pita but I'm fairly sure it's of corn derivative. Nonetheless they're delightful and three of the hot treats will fill the stomach of a hungry boy. Lunch for $1.50. Buen provecho! Come to mention it, why not pupuse for dinner too!?

    The middle of the day is hot. You know, that muggy, still heat that doesn't relent and when you mix it with sun it's a recipe for heatstroke? In case you didn't know, I don't like that kind of heat very much, so we've been lazing in hammocks and by fans or taking dips in the 'pool'. The fully-clothed cold shower also a very appealing bi-daily activity.

    Yesterday we foolishly chose to go for a walk in the afternoon heat. I made it to the bus stop - just - before turning to a liquid state. We bussed high up into the hills, found our stop and hired a tour guide off the side of the road. Antonio was a mumbler, just like me. I discovered that mumbling is not a comprehensible tongue, even between mumblers (yet I refuse to do anything about it). So we had very little idea what we'd signed up for except that we were paying this guy $3 a head and there was ample mention of 'cascadas' (waterfalls). That was good enough for us so we sweat our way down the valley to a series of rock pools/jumps. Add these to the aforementioned list of hot midday activities. A much needed cool off consisting of a series of rock jumps into different pools and a rock slide for the less boney bummed swimmer. It was a little sketchy but the locals showed us the ropes and we were away laughing - Cat taking the cake for the biggest pre-jump build in suspense. The uphill return wasn't as bad as expected, as Antonio was the least fit by far and set a delightfully slow pace, his sweat putting mine to shame. Him and I would make great friends.

    Our ticket out of El Tunco was a chicken bus. Luckily Mike and Char set an alarm and woke up the sleeping beauties for the 6am bus! Very apprehensive about the journey, we stumbled out onto the road and awaited our chariot. Our destination: Juayúa, Ruta de las Flores.
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  • Day136

    Ruta de las Flores, the flower route.

    Well we made it - in case you were wondering. It was a little over three hours in a packed, sticky, bumpy bus, with a midway change over in Sonsonate. If there was an opposite to the phrase 'no sweat', I would use it here, my spinal channel made the Waikato river look like a dried up creek.

    Juayúa (pronounced why-oo-ha) is a tiny agricultural town, not famous for anything other than it's location on the (now fading) flower route. Ruta de las Flores was once a beautiful highway lined with blossoming flowers and colourful murals, punctuated with delicious coffee, intrepid hiking, waterfalls and views to die for. Nowadays a lot of the magic is gone, at least it feels that way...

    As the internet at La Sombra was horrible, we didn't receive any confirmation on our accommodation booking. Therefore our first activity in Juayúa was finding a place to stay. On our second attempt we found Hotel Anáhuac. Conveniently they had received a booking in our name and we quickly got settled into two fantastic private rooms. Spacious, cool and trendy with modern art, tiled floors and white plaster walls (plus ensuite!). Probably our most luxurious accomodation since Chicago! To top it off, they had specialty coffee and an avocado tree. Great find Cat!

    For the inconvenience of finding food, and the lack of appealing options during our transport, we had not yet eaten and hangry humans were beginning to appear. La Cafeta sprung itself upon us with a Sydney-esque decor and menu. We seized the opportunity for a well overdue and delicious late breakfast and as a result, moods started to turn. Phew! The remainder of the morning disappeared around the hotel, reading, swinging in hammocks and catching up on the internet and lost sleep.

    Actually, there's not an awful lot to do in Juayúa, so once we had circumnavigated town we decided we better sign up for one of the two tours on offer. Coffee and waterfalls have both been reasonably well covered already so it was almost a flip of a coin as to which we chose. In the end, the scent of the local bean for sale at the front desk, combined with the prospect of unlimited coffee sampling won us over. Specialty coffee 'Lechuza Cafe' here we come.

    You're probably reading this and thinking 'more coffee?? Boring!'. Well I was bordering on that same thought when we piled into the tray of a truck to depart on a private tour. At $20US pp, my head was spinning at the opportunity cost. However I'm delighted to report it was worth every penny and if you want to find out more about your daily black magic, I'm aiming to post a seperate blog all about it.

    In hindsight, we shouldn't have done the tour so late. We ended up consuming a fairly hefty amount of coffee which didn't stop until around 5.30pm. It's fair to say we didn't sleep too well that night!

    MERC got out twice in Juayúa. Elevation-wise the running was brutal, but the heat was slightly more forgiving than El Tunco meaning for once in a long time I actually enjoyed a run! We're yet to engage in combat with a dog, but we're (I mean Mike) very wary of their presence. We had a couple of narrow misses up in the hills here...hopefully that's the worst we see!

    Ataco (cue: dad jokes) is another stop on Ruta de las Flores which we visited briefly by chicken bus. There's really not a lot to say about this place aside from some great murals and a ginormous cross. I almost felt sorry for the place, with it's dwindling volume of tourists and fading markets it felt a bit used and abused. The feeling was swiftly forgotten by the arrival of a darn good pork tortas, clearly demonsrating the extent of my emotional allegiances.

    On a hot afternoon in Juayúa we trudged down to the local waterfalls and thoroughly enjoyed a refreshing dip in the man made pool. The water was spurting out of the middle of the cliff from a natural spring, caught halfway down in a man made pool, then disappearing back into the cliff to power a hydro dam. All very confusing to one who just wanted relief from the heat.

    By the sounds of things we got out of Juayúa in the nick of time. Saturday brought markets and lots and lots of people. We snuck out on a very sweaty chicken bus to Sonsonate and upon arriving, met queues and queues of people waiting to board our bus in the opposite direction. SO thankful that wasn't us! We made good time to San Salvador, covering the distance in not much more than 2.5hrs at a per head cost of $2USD. Making money!
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  • Day139

    Potentially our most dangerous stop to date.

    San Salvador - El Salvador's capital - has had it's fair share of bad rap. Primarily, and leading news almost daily, it has a frightening number of murders and other gang related violence. In fact, in the last decade there has only been a couple of murder free days! Definitely a place to be carrying your wits and not much else.

    Most tourists don't bother with San Salvador, not just for the above reasons but also because to be just, it doesn't really have a lot of appeal. Well we're not most tourists, and I had heard good things about fútbol in El Salvador so we thought we'd give it a hoon. A quick and cheap hoon, as we are doing so increasingly often!

    Our chicken bus got us here safely and we had some accommodation lined up with a very helpful english speaking local named Edwin, who even picked us up from the bus station. It was our first ride in a car since Cuba and we were very grateful not to have to find our way to Edwin's. He lives with his mother and her frail mother in a two-storey house near enough to downtown. He also runs a tour guide business and a combination of this and the homestay makes for many comings and goings. As you would expect, we shared our accomodation with two Australians, who we've come to believe must make up at least 50% of tourists in central america.

    We really only had one full day to get things done here and we didn't fancy straying too far from home after dark so that made for even less time. But we gave it a good go! Sunday breakfast was met with little enthusiasm; beans, eggs and plantains are starting to get a little tiresome but some good coffee saw us leaving well prepared. Our first stop was the Iglesia el Rosario, downtown. We detoured past another cathedral which reminded us that it was Sunday morning and touring a church during a service probably wasn't wise. Luckily we caught a break (literally) and snuck into Rosario. It was uniquely impressive; a very brutalist concrete arch frame with an isolated and flimsy looking bell tower off to one side. Actually quite ugly from the outside and reminiscent of the movie Mad Max. Inside was where the spectacle began. Stained glass windows backlit by the morning sun shone rich colours through the entire building, emphasised by dim internal lighting and some sullen background music. On the back wall, a giant stained glass eye peered inward, watching every move. It was a huge space, filled with people all respectfully silent. Worth the stop for sure! The remainder of downtown was a disappointment, dirty, smelly or under construction - as warned by Edwin. Onwards please.

    Having had a little brain fart with her exercise gear, Cat was in need of some new kit. Also, the strapping young men on tour were beginning to look a little shabby and were well overdue some grooming. Conveniently for us, the biggest mall in the country was only a short bus away and offered solutions to both our problems. The barber in the mall made us feel like kings! We were waited on by several different people and offered drinks, foot washes, hair washes and beard trims on top of a very meticulous and time consuming haircut. At $8 a pop we did blow the budget (they were $1.50 on the street) but in one way or another it felt justified. Cat also had a field day and has come out looking sharp - now we just have to do some exercise!

    From the mall we got very confused with the local bus system so ended up taxiing to the Museum of Anthropology. It was very empty. In fact there were probably more shotgun-wielding security guards than visitors, but all the text was in english and spanish and for that we were grateful. It was an interesting insight into El Salvador and it's population. Knowing that over a million kiwis live and work overseas put perspective on a whopping 2 million Salvadorian expatriots (largely in the US) who's cash care-packages contribute to nearly 20% of the country's GDP!

    We left the museum a little disappointed that there was no civil war history (one for google) and trudged through Zona Rosa in the sweltering heat. Supposedly a nice tourist area, we were met with nothing but over priced fast food joints and hotels. Very unauthentic. Perhaps we strayed off course or perhaps this is what most tourists like about San Salvador. Let's hope not. Our expedition eventually reached Estadio Cuscatlan which was uncoincidently our destination for a local footy match.

    We dined at one of the stadium stalls, beef steak (first in a long time!) with rice beans and veg was a treat, and we washed it down with some beers from the supermarket - all the while watching an ever growing number of riot police assume position. Our $6US tickets got us some decent seating in the family section (read: we were way to scared to sit with the other hooligans our age!) and we were allowed to bring in our beers so long as they were in cups. Cheers! Alianza FC (San Salvador prems) were playing LA Firpo in La Liga Primera. Fortunately for us, the rowdiest crowd was on the far side of the stadium, which played music for the entire match and kept us entertained by sneaking around the riot police to abuse the away fans - and vice versa. Even the referees were escorted off the pitch at half and full time by riot police! Alianza clinched the win 1-0 and we left in time to watch a large number of away fans being escorted from the grounds, all the while jeering and abusing anyone in a white shirt. A little scary at times, but nonetheless an entertaining spectacle of hooliganism to remember!

    We were spent by the time we got home - the beers, the heat and the walking taking their toll. We stayed in an lazed around in the extreme heat of our accommodation before heading out for some dirty pupusas on the road side. An early night for an early start. Nicaragua watch out!

    Although the next day wasn't spent in San Salvador, we were in El Salvador so I'll start it in here - it was quite a day!

    5.30am wake up. Edwin had kindly offered us a ride to the bus station which he did with a full and open hot cup of coffee in one hand and a noticeable lack of concentration on the the road or the coffee. We were aboard our first bus and on the road by 6.30am, forking out an extra dollar for a 'first class' bus with AC! It was freezing AC as we had prepared for heat but I really can't complain. The irony is actually quite amusing. As usual it was jammed full; booty, boobs or armpit in the face - if you're seated by the aisle - and every chancer insisting on squeezing his way to the back of the bus and back trying to sell you coca, agua, peanuts or in one case - hot chips!

    This bus ran over an hour late, blowing out to 4.5hrs and dropping us off our tight schedule. We hadn't peed and had barely eaten so by 11am we were looking forward to lunch and a baño but it wasn't to be. We were ripped off the first bus and literally straight onto the second for a relatively short stretch to the El Salvo-Honduras border at El Amatillo. Finally we got our bathroom break, a dodgy chicken burger, an overpriced banana and a variety of treats to see us through Honduras. It was excruciatingly hot by now but the border crossing went smoothly and on days like today that's really all that matters.

    That was a week in El Salvador - rocketing by by just like every other one. It's a country I'll remember for the heat, the pupusas, the ridiculous number of armed guards and OTT weapons - and endless miles of buses.
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  • Day347

    We drove off the volcano top (not stopping at any of the miradors due to reports of armed robberies) and almost immediately were back in the hot and steamy conditions. We had a quick pit stop at a supermarket and we were delighted to see the high prices of Guatemala a thing of the past. A couple of hours of easy driving (great road surface not a tope/reductor/tumulo in sight) we hit the coast.

    This whole coast is famous for its surfing, and we picked out a nice sounding spot thinking we would stay a day or two before meandering on along the coast. However, what we hadn't bargained for was an amazing camp spot, with two pools, hammocks everywhere, great WiFi, free electricity, and even a terrace overlooking the surf beach (which had a soaking pool). All of this for 10 bucks!

    Inevitably one day turned into a week, whilst we whiled away the days hopping between pools and hammocks. Lunch invariably involved some delicious pupusas, and would have amounted to a couple of bucks each (if it wasn't for the large beers that accompanied it). At most we stretched ourselves to walk a massive 800m to the end of the cove, but many days we didn't even manage that! To be fair it's stinkingly hot (35C+) and really humid so you can't do much, and there's really not much here (half a dozen rustic restaurants). I doesn't even cool down much in the evenings and we are thankful for the air con.

    Beach life is dangerous to the belly so we eventually hauled ourselves of this beautiful spot and on south towards the Honduran border.
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  • Day46

    Surfing, swimming, sweating profusely, muchas pupusas and the first of many chicken bus trips.

    We've left behind Guatemala and travelled southeast to our next country, El Salvador. El Tunco is a small beach/surf town - if you can even call it that! Two or three streets are all there is to this place, lined with a mix of surf shops, restaurants and hostels. Supposedly on the weekend it's a crazy party town but we were visiting midweek so it was hard to imagine this, as it almost resembled a ghost town whilst we were there.

    Back at sea level and edging closer to the equator, temperatures and sweat levels have substantially increased to the point of a minimum of 4-5 swims and/or cold showers a day. Lows of about 24-25 degrees and highs of 30+. Lucky we have a beach almost on our doorstep and hot water doesn't exist in the accommodation here.

    El Tunco is known for its surfing, so we thought we'd give it a crack and hired a couple of boards to share on our first day. Our collective surfing history was somewhat limited so we were all really just freestyling on this one. Mike and Rich managed to get out there alright and get up on their first wave together as Cat and I looked on from the beach. This particular stretch of beach (El Sunzal) requires paddling quite far out, possibly about 100m-200m or so. It became apparent we'd left it too late in the day though to head out, particularly by the time Cat and I tried as the currents and waves just prevented us from even straying far from the beach itself, let alone to reach any decent waves to try to surf on. El Tunco is a black sand beach with stones too, which makes it not overly enjoyable for swimming or for walking - especially when the tide is high. We returned late afternoon to much different surf, and the boys managed to get a few good waves. Meanwhile Cat and I got thrashed in the waves near the beach and I almost got taken out to sea in a strong rip whilst getting dumped with suddenly huge waves!

    Sunsets are something El Tunco does well. Due to the fact that the beach is south-facing, you can actually see both sunrise and sunset here. Scores of people flock to the beach front with beers in hand to watch the sun go down each evening, others out catching the last waves of the day with the sky a mix of orange and pink as a backdrop. Stunning.

    The following morning we vowed to get up early (6:30am) considering this is the best time for surfing and we were thankfully rewarded with this truth! Mike sat out due to a reinjured chest/rib but Rich had some good runs and us girls gave it a shot, with not much success. Cat managed to catch a wave the whole way in, just not standing up! And the only time I managed to get up was when Rich gave me a push onto the wave to get the momentum going. Back to the drawing board to find some strength in the arms to get on the waves on our own.

    New country means new local food and for El Salvador that means pupusas. Pupusas are essentially fried thick tortillas - almost like a thick pancake - with various fillings, usually combined with cheese. Chicken and cheese, beans and cheese and revolutas are the usual suspects, the latter of which is actually quite tasty despite what the name implies - consisting of pork, beans and cheese. We went through a fair few pupusas in our time in El Tunco, usually served with a tomato salsa and a coleslaw of sorts, they're a cheap meal when you only need 2-3 and they set you back a modest 50-75cents US each. I think we will be having a lot more of these over the next few days!

    Pupusas aside, eating in El Tunco is expensive so we caught our first "chicken bus" into the nearby town that is La Libertad to buy some groceries. Chicken buses are also common in Guatemala, local buses that are actually old American school buses usually with a colourful paint job - so called because people can take anything and everything on there with them, including live chickens. Our bus rides so far haven't been quite so eventful, but they work on express pick ups and drop offs from anywhere along the road. There's always a couple of guys on each bus who collect the money, whistle at the driver when people want to get off and help people with their things at lightening speed but the bus is still already driving off when you've only got one foot inside. Payment is a combination of honesty based and a memory test for the guys working on the bus as they usually take payment every few pickups as opposed to when each person gets on. Somehow the chaos of it all works.

    La Libertad is a pretty grungy little place that didn't require a visit for anything other than cheaper groceries and to attempt more ATM withdrawals. Mike and I have been battling to get any $US out since we arrived in El Salvador, even after trying multiple ATMs. Still unsure if this is due to the ATMs not agreeing with our travel card that usually doesn't have any problems, or if they just have no cash in them. Thankfully Cat and Rich withdrew a decent amount of cash before we left Guatemala which has been enough to bankroll the four of us so far, but cash funds are definitely getting low between us so hopefully our next stop will provide the goods.

    With the confidence of catching a few chicken buses up our sleeve, we thought we'd try another direction from El Tunco - inland to the Tamanique waterfalls. You can do this as a tour from El Tunco but we thought we'd give it a go semi-independently to save some cash. We made it to the Taminique town with no problems but still without having found a local "guide" to show us where the waterfalls actually were. 10 steps in the direction of the waterfalls though and local guy sitting outside his casa asked if we needed someone to show us the way. We agreed but had to haggle his price from $5USD a person down to $3 a person - still steep compared to other blogs we'd read but still cheap really and we couldn't have done it without him. The path was not signposted in any form, you wouldn't have even known there was a waterfall there unless you'd done prior research as we had.

    Twenty minutes of downhill walking later, on terrain that would have benefited the use of our walking sticks from Acatenango and sneakers as opposed to the trusty jandals, we arrived at the waterfall. It wasn't so much a waterfall - more comprising of a few different swimming holes - but it gave us a spot to do some jumps and cool off for a while. The local guys there clambered all over the rocks for various outrageous jumps and provided some good entertainment in between our own jumps. I think there was a bigger waterfall we could have visited as well afterwards but we were all spent and didn't want to get back to El Tunco too late so we gave it a miss. Our guide Antonio was absolutely dripping with sweat on our walk back, this time via a cemetery. We weren't really sure why he took us through there, nor did we feel overly comfortable about it but we made it back to the town in one piece.

    The El Salvadorian people so far are already noticeably different to the Guatemalans. They're much less friendly and open, but perhaps they are more guarded here due to higher causes. The murder rate in El Salvador is one of the highest in the world. Just a week ago they had the first day with no murders recorded since January 2015. So I suppose perhaps it's not unreasonable to not be so friendly, but perhaps it's just down to this area too - so I shall keep an open mind for other areas of El Salvador! The locals also just wear regular clothes as opposed to traditional dress and the women seem to wear quite a lot of makeup which is something we haven't seen for a while. El Salvador is quite dirty, there is a lot of rubbish around and it's not unusual to see people chucking rubbish out the window of the buses. It's pretty sad really, it's obviously not something they care about. On top of all that, everyone speaks much faster Spanish and potentially with a different accent too because just when we thought we were making progress, we're back to feeling like we can't understand anything again!

    We're backtracking a bit from El Tunco now, heading northwest to Juayúa via long distance chicken bus, complete with terrible music which is heavy on the bass at 6am and videos to match. Mike had a rogue near-vomiting episode this morning too so let's hope there isn't the real deal whilst in transit!
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  • Day47

    Before you ask, it's pronounced "why-ooh-ah". But none of us have managed to grasp nor remember this in the last couple of days we've been here.

    Juayúa is one of a few villages that make up the Ruta de las Flores or the Route of Flowers, that extends 34km through the mountains of eastern El Salvador. To be honest though the area didn't particularly offer what was promised - beautiful villages filled with culture, scenery for hiking and mountain biking...and we didn't see an awful lot of flowers either. You can see that maybe it was a lovely area once upon a time, but currently it isn't really one for the memory bank.

    Turning up we had no accommodation booked due to shoddy internet in El Tunco making even just loading a a news article painful so we had to make the rounds at the hostels we knew of. The first one turned us away because they were at capacity. The second one almost did too until Mike realised that Cat's name was on the booking sheet as we'd emailed them a day or so prior but had no reply (or thought we hadn't) due to the internet. So it turned out we had a booking after all. Win.

    One thing this area is well known for is coffee, given the prime conditions for coffee plantations. The mountains here are covered with them. The owners of the hostel happened to also own an organic speciality coffee farm/business and considering so far we'd only seen the farms and none of the processing afterwards, we thought we'd check it out and find out more.

    We piled into the back of a pickup truck headed for the hills. First stop was the the mill, where the coffee berries arrive freshly picked from the plantation. Here they go through a mixture of different
    processes, depending on the quality and the ultimate destination of the coffee beans, whether it be for commercial or specialty coffee.

    The commercial coffee is immediately washed and rid of the pulp of the berry, leaving just the beans - whereas the specialty coffee skips this process and goes straight to the next step which is drying. By leaving the skin of the berry on and therefore keeping the honey inside too, this means the speciality coffee beans then absorb these flavours in the drying process.

    Drying also has options too. For the commercial coffee in El Salvador it's usually dried just laid out on the ground on tiles, picked up again at the end of each day and then relaid out again the next morning - repeated for about a week. Specialty coffee is usually dried using African beds. These are made of a rectangular wooden frame with mesh for the coffee to be laid out on and rotated every hour for about 6-7 hours each day before being taken in for the evening too. Given the attention and employees required to be present for this method, it's much more expensive which is why the commercial coffee is not dried this way. When the coffee has reached about 10% humidity (vaguely known by the workers but also tested by a machine) it's sufficiently dried. Once dried, the coffee is sorted again by density, the heavier the better. Defects (such a bug nibbles) are counted and/or taken out and again this decides the quality of the coffee. After all that, it's ready for roasting.

    From the mill we went to the coffee plantation for one of the types of coffee beans produced by Lechuza. It's basically the end of coffee picking season here so not a lot of berries were left on the trees but we got the gist of the set-up, with wind-breaking trees either side and larger trees down the middle off the coffee trees to offer shade from the sun.

    Lastly we headed to a nearby house which had a shed to the side which was almost as if it was out of some trendy home or interior design magazine and somewhat out of place in the depths of a country like El Salvador. Inside was a state of the art coffee machine, a roasting machine and some grinders. Oh and lots of coffee. The boys were somewhat losing it at this point but first we had to learn how to roast some coffee. Controlled temperatures, timers and graphs are all involved in ensuring each different type of coffee bean is roasted to perfection. It took about 12 minutes to roast 9 pounds of coffee beans, taking them from white/pale yellow to chocolatey brown and losing a pound of weight in the process.

    Finally it was time to sample the coffee. First we tried the freshly roasted coffee using chemex but it was quite strong and bitter. Usually the coffee is rested for three or four days after roasting before being used or sold. Subsequent coffees were made with rested coffee and before we knew it we'd been made about 4 or 5 different coffees each. Espressos, cappuccinos, macchiatos - you name it, he'd make it. It's fair to say the boys were loving it. Cat and I aren't such massive fans of coffee so we were leaving this one to the boys for the most part!

    It was an interesting excursion, realising how many different processes go into making the coffee beans reach the point to where they can be used to make a drink. I think it's made us all appreciate why coffee can cost as much as it does at home sometimes too, given the amount of people that have worked on it before it even hits the cafe or the shelves.

    All coffeed out, the following day we caught a bus to one of the other towns on the Ruta de las Flores called Ataco. Unfortunately not just made of tacos as the name may suggest, it was another little village town which is essentially a bigger version of Juayúa, with many colourful murals lining the streets. It wasn't an overly memorable place otherwise but it gave us somewhere different to wander around for a couple of hours.

    That afternoon we trudged to a waterfall looking for an escape from the heat. After wandering for over the expected 30minutes we were starting to wonder if we'd taken the wrong path when we stumbled across the waterfall we were after. Not wonderfully spectacular but the water was coming straight from the mountains so it offered a very fresh dip!

    Our last morning in Juayúa required a revisit to a wicked cafe we'd found on our first day for brekkie, a random stop at a reptile museum which had some seriously large snakes and a quick feast at the weekend markets that were starting up. We're told Juayúa gets rather busy on the weekends due to said markets so we were happy to avoid the crowds. Time for some more chicken bus trips - this time heading for the capital, San Salvador.
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  • Day50

    We've skipped the capital cities of our last two countries but for El Salvador we made the exception to visit San Salvador, even if it was just to see a local football game. The problem with these capital cities is that aside from the lack of attractions and things to do, they're also generally the epicentre of each country's dangerous gangs and violence. Short and sweet visit coming right up.

    San Salvador is a strange city. The downtown area was pretty grim. Rubbish everywhere. Mostly derelict buildings, punctuated with a couple of colonial style buildings: a cathedral, a palace and a theatre. The only other building worthy of note down here looked horrific from the outside - picture an old school library or government buildings - but the inside was a different story. Iglesia de Rosaria is a church the shape of a rainbow (hence the name), complete with a rainbow of different coloured stained glass through which the sun projected beautiful colours into the church. A diamond in the rough one might say.

    Contrasting the downtown area is Boulevard de los heroes which houses a huge relatively new mall where the boys finally braved the barbers and Cat was able to replenish her sports gear collection after accidentally leaving most of hers behind in El Tunco. Then there's Zona Rosa, which had almost every fast food chain you could think of plus a few hotels, but also some semi-nice suburban streets. Every single house has a fence with circular barbed wire across the top though, so you can still sense the need for security in what seems like a nicer area.

    Feeling like we needed to learn a bit more about El Salvador and its history, we aimed to visit one of the museums about the civil war that took place in the 1980s. Unfortunately it being a Sunday in a highly catholic country meant that our museum choice was somewhat limited, so instead we headed for the anthropology museum. The exhibition we saw there was predominantly about migration over the years, going as far back as a few hundred BC and up to the current day. The amount of El Salvadorians in the abroad in the US alone has reached 2 million, many of which their families rely on sending money home - so much so it takes in $3 million USD per year and 20% of the national GDP. Crazy.

    Sunday afternoon rolled around which meant it was football time. We headed to Estadio Cuscatlan to watch an El Salvador premier league game - San Salvadorian Alianza F.C vs C.D Luis Angel Firpo from Usulután. The stadium was large, taking around 32,000 people at capacity. We opted for under cover seats as a break from the sun and the 35 degree heat for just $6USD a piece. The stands quickly filled up with fans, most of which were wearing t-shirts supporting their team. Like any football game the home fans were separated from the away fans, both by fences and riot police but of course that didn't stop them chanting and yelling at each other. Venders were constantly walking through the stands with various snacks and drinks, from plantain chips to icecream and beer. You never even need to leave your seat really!

    A good display of football followed, with a 1-0 win for the home team much to the delight of their fans. Piling out of the stadium the passionate away fans had to be separated again, similar to games in England as Mike tells me! Even the referees get escorted off the pitch with riot police to prevent anything happening to them as a result of any calls made throughout the game. Pretty impressive security in that respect but I guess it also shows how intense the fans can get.

    By the time the game was over and we'd made it out of the stadium, the sun was almost setting so we thought it'd be best to get a taxi back to our homestay. A rickety taxi ride followed with the axel sounding like it was going to snap or drop off at any point, so we were thankful to make it in one piece. One last set of pupusas from the roadside stall down the street and we signed off on our short time in El Salvador.

    I'm not sure quite how I feel about El Salvador, I've not quite been sold on the place. There are some nice areas and people around but it's marred by the amount of rubbish absolutely everywhere and it doesn't seem to have the same kind of unique culture that sets it apart like some of the other Central American countries to date - but I'll admit, it was always going to be hard to follow on from Guatemala. Next up we've got a big journey to Nicaragua, with transit through Honduras. We've opted for the local transport again in the hope of saving some cash, but thankfully the homestay owner Edwin was kind enough to drop us to the first bus stop at 6am. Wish us luck!
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  • Day340

    We made a bad call and rather than taking the scenic route we we ended up crawling through the clogged roads of Guatemala City. After a challenging 3 hours or so we finally reached the Guatemalan/El Salvador border. Then had negotiate a vehicle export and a vehicle import, which isn't easy even in your own language! On top of that it was stinkingly hot so we were pretty shattered by the end of it. We even couldn't be bothered to go to the animal section so Maya is technically an illegal alien in El Salvador!

    First impressions of El Salvador, reputedly the most dangerous country in the world after Syria, are good. Roads are decent and everything seems pretty clean and modern. We drove a further hour to the nice town of Juayua (why-You-a), and had a lovely meal of ribs and veggie laguna (you can guess who had what!).

    We needed to stall a day, as it can be a bit dangerous not doing some things not on the weekend when there aren't a lot of people about, so we spent the day enjoying the hotel garden, enjoying pupusas (the local delicacy), and exploring the nice little town.

    In the morning we did a short walk to Los Chorros (7 Waterfalls), and we were simultaneously worried and reassured that there were 4 heavily armed army and policemen. There were a bunch of lovely pools and I was gutted I didn't have my swimmies with me. Half an hour later we were back in town and weekend food market had kicked off. Jo had an amazing massive shrimp and steak kebab (for 5 bucks!) and I had decent ribs (I know, again!).
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  • Day343

    As we arrived in the national park everyone was just starting to pack up & by 5 there were a few policemen about. Shame as they missed a truly spectacular sunset with volcanoes poking up through a thick layer of clouds.

    After a peaceful night it got really busy in the morning, and we joined the guided (guide & 2 armed policemen) hike up the Santa Ana volcano, along with at least 50 other people, but unfortunately without Maya.

    It was a very pleasant walk & we were relieved to find it much easier than some of the other volcanoes we've tackled, although still a good couple of hours to the top. The view down into the bubbling & smoking sulphuric crater lake was pretty amazing.

    After some improvised showers (I had to take the indoor one out after it was leaking) we feasted on pupuseas (thick tortillas stuffed with good things) and chips. Phil even managed to improvise a chip butty out of them! It then cleared out again and we had another quiet night huddled in the van watching a film.
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  • Day352

    We FINALLY left Zonte and drove about 3 hours south along the coast road. We arrived around 2pm on a bank holiday and unsurprisingly the place was heaving.

    We parked up on the road and wandered down the beach a mile or so to Tortuga Verde (Green Turtle), which is a pretty big resorty hotel place, but a very nice one. We whiled away a few hours until Hora Feliz started, and then whiled away a few more!

    It was seriously hot and damn humid too, and we were really glad of a hookup and our air-con. The next day we chilled at our place in the morning, hit the pupuseria for lunch, walked a few miles down the wide flat beach collecting sand dollars, and then ended up back at Happy Hour!

    A nice place, but not a patch on some of the INCREDIBLE places we have stayed at so far.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of El Salvador, El Salvador, Ɛl Salvadɔ, ኤል ሳልቫዶር, السلفادور, Сальвадор, Ел Салвадор, Salivadɔr, এল সালভাদোর, ཨེལ། སཱལ་ཝ་ཌོར།, Salvador, El Salfador, El Salvadɔ nutome, Ελ Σαλβαδόρ, Salvadoro, السالوادور, El Salwador, An tSalvadóir, એલ સેલ્વાડોર, El Salbador, אל סלבדור, अल साल्वाडोर, Սալվադոր, Salvadoria, エルサルバドル, სალვადორი, Elsavado, អែលសាល់វ៉ាឌ័រ, ಎಲ್ ಸಾಲ್ವೇಡಾರ್, 엘살바도르, ئێلسالڤادۆر, Salvatoria, El salivado, Savadɔrɛ, ເອຊາວາດໍ, Salvadoras, Savadore, Salvadora, എല്‍ സാല്‍വദോര്‍, အယ်လ်ဆာဗေးဒိုး, Ersarbador, एल् साल्भाडोर, Lo Salvador, ଏଲ୍ ସାଲଭାଡୋର୍, Salwador, Ël Salvador, سالوېډور, Eli Saluvatori, एल-साल्वाडोर, Salvadöro, එල් සැල්වදෝරය, Salvadori, Салвадор, எல் சால்வடார், ఎల్ సాల్వడోర్, เอลซัลวาดอร์, ʻEle Salavatoa, ئەل سالۋادور, ال سلواڈور, Salvadorän, Orílẹ́ède Ẹẹsáfádò, 萨尔瓦多, i-El Salvador

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