"…quite a hot spot – have you had a closer look at El Salvador??", Raimund from Vienna asked us, months before our departure. The answer was simply: "Nope!". If we had done that in advance, our round-the-world ticket would have given a wide berth to this country, where, as we learned, the first day in several years was recently celebrated without at least one murder on the open road and where annually approx. 6500 people fall victim to gang wars.
But now the booking is done and besides, you hear a lot of good things in travel blogs about this teeny tiny country on the Pacific coast of Central America, enclosed by Guatemala and Honduras. The plan to leave the country immediately after arrival by cab or bus in the direction of Guatemala, our next stop, we had therefore quickly discarded again and instead a stay of approx. of a week targeted.
So leave gun in Colombia, because…
… and on to EL SALVADOR!
"What is the purpose of your visit?", asks us the border official at the entry desk at the airport with a furrowed brow. "To make holiday…", we answer and look at each other, as if we wanted to add by gesture "…what else??". Already the official blows up his cheeks and almost flies from his chair with laughter: "In El Salvador, we have a gun in Colombia. ". The good man was obviously not used to. Funny situation somehow… but at the same time also a bit worrying. It was good that we had read the rules of conduct in advance: Stay at home at night and avoid the capital altogether. Easy! Why not go straight to the sea? It's quick and easy to take a cab in a country that is barely the size of Rhineland-Palatinate or Lower Austria.
After a 40 minute drive we were in El Tunco – the surfer top spot and tourist hotspot, at least for El Salvadorian standards.
Why this is so, is pretty sure because the bays of this volcanic-black coast and the whole original scenery of the idea of dream beaches already come pretty close! As an encore there was plenty of sun. The wish tan we came in any case a good piece closer.
That we extended our stay twice was also due to the chill hostel and the people we met there.
Picture above: Every evening balcony hammock round
Picture below: Short surf action with rental boards that had as much buoyancy as an oil tanker
Picture above: after endless searching finally our first "Coco loco" – could also be called "simplest cocktail in the world" (coconut on, rum in – done) but then it doesn't rhyme.
Picture below: Traditional cookshop with wood stove – directly at the beach
Again a place where you could hang out for weeks, but we wanted to go further inland. So we checked out and went with all our luggage to the only bus stop of the place. "Bus comes at 1 p.m….", we were told convincingly… "…as every day!". Must be true then, one would not still be in Latin America. After 90 minutes on the roadside we asked the same people (right next to us) again. Answer: "Well, the bus has already passed you an hour ago!". Ahso!! Super Infos… first wrong, then late.
Convincing appearance with absolute cluelessness!
Elsewhere, this skill makes a career – but on our trip, this absolute Latin America classic (undisputedly number one on the Abnerv hit list) was more like a four-month test of patience. 😉
So back to the hostel for another night. The next day our plan worked out then however. Wrong time, wrong place the day before – as it turned out.
Destination of the three-hour bus ride was Santa Ana, in the west of the country. Like almost all countries in Central America, El Salvador is located on the Pacific fire belt, so it has rows and rows of dormant and roaring volcanoes. One of them is called Ilamatepec, stands right next to the city and can be climbed. Off we go!
Picture down: Typical Central American "Chicken Bus" (old American school buses)
First through dense mountain forest, then up the bare cone. During the last major eruption in 2005, red-hot rocks sailed down the slope here.
Tighten the hard hat again for safety's sake:
Picture above: Antje and me at the crater rim at 2381m with the neighboring big crater lake Coatepeque in the background
Image below: View into the large crater
What looks like a broccoli soup down there is actually a bubbling acid lake:
Broccoli soup or not – we were hungry again! For dinner, we had traditional chicharrones, crispy fried pork rinds, with pureed yuca (manioc) root:
In the evening back in Santa Ana in the nice little Christmas decorated accommodation (homestay) of Don Luis:
Luis once again stood out among all the hosts we had up to that point. He had the best culinary and sightseeing tips in store, even drove us to the bus stop and sat with us both evenings to tell us about the history and current situation of his country.
In El Salvador, especially in the capital, San Salvador, war rages between the gangs of the MS-13 gang (ca. 40000 members) and the Barrio-18 gang (ca. 20000 members). If they don't get each other out of the way in a partly bestial way, they terrorize the population. They kidnap and kill for cash, control the red light districts and collect protection money. Originally, this war took place on American soil, in Los Angeles. In the 1990s, the U.S. government cracked down and summarily deported all members back to their home country, from which they had fled at the time because of the civil war.
The population tries to defend itself so well it goes against the terror. In Santa Ana, Luis tells us, this succeeds quite well because the small town has not yet been infiltrated from within by the gangs. The gang members themselves can be recognized and also distinguished by their tattoos and special style of dress (MS-13: blue-white, Barrio 18: blue-black). If one of the gangsters dares to come to Santa Ana, he is either chased away or seized by the police.
So if you wear the wrong colors while walking through the city and, best of all, Cortez sneakers from Nike, your vacation will end in the morgue. No joke! Deadly serious!!
On the last day in El Salvador we went by bus to the first but not last Mayan ruin site of our Central America crossing – to Tazumal. In terms of security standards, the bus terminal was more like a bank for money transfers:
After just six days in the most dangerous country in the world, we can only say in retrospect that we saw the country from its best side and we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable at any time. On the streets friendly locals came up to us, asked us about our destination and helped us along. The coast is beautiful, the hinterland with its volcanoes, coffee plantations and rainforests is typically Central American.
All the best, El Salvador. May the number of tourists increase and the violence decrease! We hope that one day no border official will have to wonder about backpackers entering the country, but will instead wish them a wonderful time in this versatile little country.
For us, the journey along the Pacific Ring of Fire continued with entry into Guatemala. How fiery the ring can actually be sometimes, we experienced there very closely! The next post will be hot! 😉
Hot is unfortunately also Antjes momentary body temperature – flu alarm in Sydney!