San Salvador, El SalvadorMarch 5, 2017 in El Salvador
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.Read more