El Salvador was a country we loved and hated, often for the same reason. Nestled snuggly between Guatemala and Honduras, these are the things that both delighted and disappointed us on our adventures through the smallest country in Central America.
Finding a bus from Guatemala City to Santa Ana (El Salvador) was our first mission. Justin spent practically the whole day roaming the streets, looking for the right terminal and a bus that would take us to our destination, while I was holed up in our hotel with another bout of gastro. Eventually a taxi driver gave him the details he needed and he hurried home to care for his terribly sick girlfriend!
The next day we boarded the coach at Pezzarossi for Q120 and we were on our way. After the formalities of border crossings, our bus dropped us off on the outskirts of Santa Ana – it continuing its journey to San Salvador, the Nation’s capital, leaving us to walk the 14 or so blocks to our hostel, Casa Verde.
Hostal Casa Verde (www.hostalcasaverde.com) is a place we loved. We stayed an initial 3 nights here to give me time to catch up on blog writing and photo uploading and to just simply relax. We actually spent one whole day without stepping foot outside the hostel – simply because we didn’t need too, everything was already here. Two kitchens, two courtyards, two dining areas, roof terrace, swimming pool, quiet room, movie room, 2 dorm rooms and 9 private rooms. There are even HOT SHOWERS!! We spent the day lounging by the pool, playing Connect 4 or chess, watching movies or cooking up a storm.
Unfortunately on the 4th day we did leave and headed to Lake Coatepeque and a lake side hostel with kayaks, Wi-Fi and a pier out into the lake for diving or jumping off. When our chicken bus finally arrived at our destination – and directly to the front door, needless to say, we were fairly disappointed to say the least.
The hostel was not lakeside, in fact it was roughly a 5-10 minute walk for the crater view and 30 minutes downhill if you wanted to be in the water. Obviously the pier was missing and after “strolling” down to the lake and back one night, we’d agreed there was no way possible to carry kayaks down and back – not to worry, they didn’t actually have those either, or Wi-Fi, or a fully equipped kitchen. The Owners however were super friendly and helpful, and as we are not ones to stress too much about having to ‘rough it’, we just got on with our plan to see the Lake and visit Joya Ceren.
We had pretty much already seen the Lake after said stroll, so the next day we walked the 4km into Puente from the hostel and caught the 201 / 202 to Desvio Opico, followed by the 108 to the gates of Joya de Ceren to find them barred shut. A hand-written sign was stuck to the gates advising the attraction was closed for the next 3 days, so it was back on the 108, changing over to the 201 / 202, exiting at Puente, walking a further 2km into El Congo to buy vodka before walking 6km back to the hostel and getting crazy drunk while munching on homemade guacamole dip with teeth breaking tortilla chips. We also ran down the road for some sunset shots over the Lake from one of the restaurants. We grabbed some beers and chilled out as the sun went down, a beautiful end to a day of wasted adventuring!
The next day we would pack our bags and again walk into town, this time with the aim of visiting Juayua (Hway-u-a). We’d been advised it was easier to bus back to Santa Ana and then head across but we were fairly adamant about not going back the way we came. Metres before reaching the turn off, the bus we wanted was there and gone already so we settled on the sidewalk to wait the 30-60 minutes before another one would come along.
While we waited, 2 police officers and 3 heavily armed military personnel joined us, wanting to know what we were doing and where we were going. After some spangled communication between our parties, they apprehended a passer-by, roughing him up a little before stopping a pick-up and organising us a lift at least part of the way to Sonsonate. So the 7 of us climbed in the back and off we went at break neck speed around the back of the Lake and onwards to our next destination. Twenty minutes in, our armed friends jumped out – literally in the middle of nowhere – and we continued on until we reached an intersection, our chauffeurs headed to San Salvador, we parted ways and boarded the next bus to Sonsonate, our first time hitch hiking a success!
Sonsonate has a large bus terminal with a well-stocked food court so on arrival we chowed down some pupusas (stuffed tortillas) and jumped on the next bus to Juayua, arriving a little after 4pm at Casa Mazeta – a welcome relief with hot showers, kitchen and a sweet little garden area for relaxing. On our first day in Juayua, we took a tour to two small waterfalls provided by the staff at Casa Mazeta for USD $2.50 per person. The walk wasn't overly strenuous and the pools at the end were refreshing and cool. The hostel offers other tours also, however we were happy to do our own exploring during our stay.
Over the weekend, and every weekend, Juayua plays host to a large food festival with vendors lining the streets with their tasty home cooked meals. Plates start around $5 for meat, salad, rice and tortillas. For the more exotic plates like let’s say barbecued frog, you are looking at around $9.00 for a plate. As strange as it’s sounds, these little amphibians are super delicious – literally just like chicken!!
We also spent an hour looking at snakes, lizards and other creepy crawlies at the reptile park. Entry was USD $1 per person. To hold a snake is an extra $1. Unfortunately they weren't offering this when we visited.
After Juayua we returned to Santa Ana to prepare for Christmas and wait for our friends Amanda & Justin of the One Year Honeymoon. While we had every intention of heading out to Volcan Santa Ana and making the climb the day we arrived, we slept in and spent another day at Casa Verde chilling out and making homemade meat pies. The next day was more adventurous as we headed back to Joya de Ceren, this time it was open and we made our way around the attraction they have nicknamed the Pompeii of Latin America after a small farming village was buried under layers of volcanic ash, circa AD 500.
Back in Santa Ana we caught up with our friends over an Aussie style BBQ and started planning our epic Christmas feast – a roast chicken, with rosemary & garlic roast potatoes, beans, honey carrots, Brussel-sprouts, ham, caramel cheesecake and corn. Come Christmas Day, the girls were in the kitchen and the boys were charged with decorating the table, and an awesome job they did. It was truly a Christmas to remember with fantastic people, good spirits and fireworks! The Justin’s made good use of their Christmas presents, lighting the sky up with sparkling colours, while Amanda and I watched from the roof top.
We next ventured to Los Cobanos, a small fishing village along the coast where we had hoped to spend New Years Eve. Unbeknownst to us though, the village was super quiet with every shop and restaurant closed by 6pm. Instead we left early after finding accommodation in La Libertad, a little further East. Here we would celebrate with a beautiful sunset over the bay before heading into town and buying a ridiculous amount of fireworks to set off in the street.
Luckily the locals were on hand to help as the two Justin’s struggled with one particularly difficult to find fuse and both boys walked away with their ten fingers and two hands after an impressive spectacle that would rival Sydney Harbour Bridge…maybe…ok I could be exaggerating. I thought it was pretty awesome though…
After a recovery day it was off to San Salvador where Justin and I indulged in a date night of sushi, wine and shisha before the four of us boarded the bus early the next morning and headed to San Pedro Sula and a new adventure in Honduras. But that’s another story ;)
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