Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A quick glimpse of El Salvador

We take a deep breath, glad that we are half way done with our border crossing, HELLO EL SALVADOR!

Natural, clean, soothing jacuzzis flowing from the mountains... just what an overlander needs after a lovely day of hiking and crossing a border! :) In a perfect world it would have been a bit cooler out, but we weren't complaining! Car camping at some hot springs just over the Guatemala/El Salvador border suited us just fine for the night, and the El Salvador border crossing was quick & painless, and maybe even a little bit pleasant, as the guys working there were very friendly and helpful, and there were no annoying "helpers" badgering us.

The next morning we were off to drive down the Ruta De Las Flores (route of the flowers). Known to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country, certain times of the year it sports enormous amounts of flowers along the highway plus blossoming coffee plantations. We didn't hit it at the right time of year, but it was still a scenic route that we enjoyed. It was a Sunday, and the town of Juayua has a large food festival every weekend that we wanted to pop in and taste. We got there so early that we had to kill a little time, tried out some local pastries and coffee and entertained ourselves in an ameteur reptile "zoo" for a while. One of us thoroughly freaked out and the other enjoying the exhibits but more so enjoying the precense of fear in the room!

We wandered around the food stalls and gladly accepted the free samples from the ladies trying to convince us to choose their food. The most remarkable part was how beautifully they displayed their dishes in front of their stands. Flowers made from vegetables, a whole frog standing erect with toothpicks, fresh grilled iguana plated fancily with its side dishes... It was hard to choose just one thing! We ended up with a heaping plate of grilled beef, fried shrimps, veggies on a kebab, chorizo, rice, salad, and fresh salsas for just 5 bucks! Funnily though, it was all just heaped on the plate on top of each other, barely resembling the artful exhibit of a plate we had pointed to as our order. But still tasted delicious!
Food stalls in Juayua
One of the crowded food stalls, smelling of freshly sizzling BBQ
The red tents made it hard to capture a good pic, but you get the idea...

Our not so artful, but very tasty food festival meal
Next on our agenda was to find a sweet spot to camp for the night before we hiked Santa Anna Volcano in the morning. We checked out a few places and finally made camp in the forest next to the very crowded parking lot at the entrance to the volcano. There were tons of people here, until about 6pm when it cleared out completely, leaving the whole park to just us and a couple security guards... Quite a deal for only $6! We have to admit though, it was a little unnerving knowing that the next day we would need to have a guide as well as an armed tourist police officer accompany us on the hike. Although the area felt very safe, and we tend to be very trusting, we wondered all night long if it was truely a risky campsite. We had talked with the night guards and they assured us it was safe, but still remained on edge about the whole thing. The next day we woke up sans machete wielding banditos, ready to conquere Santa Anna, the highest volcano in the county at 7,800ft! The deal here is unusual, in order to hike this volcano you must meet at 11am at the tourist booth and go with your said guide and cop. However many people show up at 11 is how many people you will end up hiking up the volcano with. We were optimistic at 10:30 when it was just us and a couple cool German folks, but then 10:50 rolled around and not 1 but 2 groups of about a dozen or so Mormon missionary kids showed up ready to hike! So on we went, us, a few Germans about our age, and twenty-five18-20 year old kids, 2 trail guides, and 2 armed cops! It was like a high school field trip hike up a volcano, complete with a briefing about not taking selfies too close to the crater, as some unlucky soul apparently did recently! If there is anything that will make you feel old, it's trying to keep up with a bunch of teenagers going up a mountain! These kids were on a mission (not the mormon kind either) to get to the top as fast as possible, and we were on a mission to enjoy the hike at our own slow to leisurly pace, hanging with the guide and cop at the back of the group! It's a bit odd that the park has set the hikes up in this manner, and we questioned the system, but at the same time had to be thankful that they at least put some safety measures in place after many incidents of robbery along tourist hiking trails such as this one. Anyway, we made it to the summit, the rim of the volcano that is! Mallary's first time at the top of a volcano! And this particular volcano happened to have a bright aqua bubbling crater lake in it!! Not entirely sure here, but we think the bright aqua color is due to the sulphuric levels combined with the lakes acidic pH of 0.7-1.0. Such a remarkable and rewarding view! We spent a bit of time simply admiring the site in front of us and watching the turquoise waters bubble. We headed down from the volcano, and this time no one was in a rush! Actually the kids seemed quite tired, and many hung toward the back of the group with us. We got to talking to the curious teens about their time on their mission, and seriously these teens were some of the most responsible, well mannered, and intelligent kids we have met while traveling. We left the park that that day wishing them well on their journeys, and thinking that this time of their lives will forever change who they become when they go back to the USA...
Izalco volcano, adjacent to Santa Ana
Crater lake of Santa Ana volcano

Meandering down from the mountains, we reached the black sand beaches of El Tunco for a night. It had been weeks since we were on any coast, and boy was it hotter than we remembered! The heat had us yearning for an A/C motel but we persevered with the help of lots of cheap beer and the good company of some other overlanders from Califonia. Before entering El Salvador we had heard about the legendary Papusa, and in this town we finally got to taste them. A papusa is basically a savory pancake stuffed with any of the following: beans, cheese, jalapenos, chicken, sausage, or veggies, then topped with some cabbage salad and tomatoe sauce. For the most part, they are only found in El Salvador, and it seems to be a food they are quite proud of. We love them also, and really really loved the cheapo prices they sell for all over the place!

The cobblestone beach of El Tunco

When we woke up in the morning we immediately started sweating again, so we went for a dip in the warm black sand and cobblestone beach. In the end, the waves were rough and the heat was not enjoyable, so we headed out for San Salvador. Big cities are a place we dont usually go, but there was a friend of a friend there willing to meet up with us for the night, and nothing beats hanging out with a local when traveling in a foreign land. We killed some time at a fancy mall then met up with Richie that evening and had a wonderful time out to a nice Salvadorian restaurante with him and his friends. The traditional El Salvadorian food was delicious, the night was full of laughter and a mix of Spanglish conversations with our sweet new friends. Richie and his family graciously let us crash at their place for the night, where we throughly enjoyed their company and being in a house for a bit! Thanks again guys!!

We had no idea we were hanging out with The Godfather that night! ;)

Originally planning to hit up another beach further south, we changed our minds last minute because we just were not feeling the heat of it. We knew there were plenty more beaches in our future, and with our time frame we have to pick and choose wisely. Feeling like we had definitely missed out on bits of El Salvador, and also feeling compelled to move forward, we went with our gut and headed for a border town to prepare for a grueling double border crossing the next day!

Somewhere along the PanAm!! :)




  1. El Salvador sounds nice. It may have snakes and sulfuric acid volcanoes, but at least the roads go in straight lines.

  2. Hiking the volcano must have been a great hike! I think that it is funny to hear that you could not keep up the teenagers. When Chris and Jon were teenagers, they thought that we were slow hikers. We gave them the heavy back packs to slow them down. We enjoy reading about your adventures, Lou & Carol
    Lou & Carol