"We are definitely not in Guatemala anymore"

Trip Start Oct 04, 2009
Trip End Nov 20, 2010

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Where I stayed
Casa Frolaz

Flag of El Salvador  , Santa Ana,
Monday, December 28, 2009

I was so excited to be headed in forward motion once again or maybe it was the holiday buzz of Christmas. The shuttle for El Salvador was at 3AM and packing took me way longer than expected providing quite the over-tired headache.  And there wasn't any water for a shower.  Off to a great start. 

I had acquired a lot of stuff in our little room!  I bid farewell to my fave shoes intended to double as soccer footwear and quite a few shirts I didn't wear often enough to rationalize carrying on my back for 6 weeks until Peru.  It is very hard for me to part with clothing I would wear at home, but just don't want to carry.  Miss you old friends.  At least I know they'll be used as I gave them to the daughters of the family.

Meditation camp and Christmas in Antigua were nice wind-down activities after Spanish school ended, but three months in Antigua is pushing too long!  So agrees the tourism visa as we had to extend another 90 days before heading south. The CA-4 agreement (Hond/GUA/El Sal/Nic) lets tourists have one visa for all four countries to ease/boost tourism so we would actually have to be into Costa Rica before it expired.  Alas, we now can stay until March! They didn't make it easy though - we had to wait from 9AM until 3PM for them to put a stamp in our passport.  I tried negotiating and smiling a lot, but they told us it used to be 4 days so consider ourselves lucky. Unnecessaryyyyy. ugh.

I'm glad we were able to spend the holiday with a family we care about and experience/taste/hear the cultural differences, although it didn't feel much like a holiday without the cold and snow. :)  The fireworks were deafening - firework consumption in GUA is second only to China.  Visit GUA for one night and you will not be surprised.

Our 45min shuttle to GUA city took 1.5 hours as the driver had no idea where it was and it was pitch black out.  Fighting the Sunday market traffic and other passengers asking to be brought to the airport before us did not help.  Some lady smuggled a live turkey onto the border crossing bus, but couldn't manage to sneak on a enormous bag of sugar.  Confusing security techniques.

Crossed a bridge between GUA and El Salvador as the only gringos on the bus.  I like when this happens as you feel like you didn't pay a fortune for your ticket.  Found our heaven of a hostel (nicer than my apartment was last year) before attempting to tour Santa Ana in the heat, which didn't take long.  It also didn't take us long to find an air conditioned bakery...an ingenious time to go air-conditioned food shopping.

The supermarket was an incredible sight - looked just like one at home, not like the chaos of Antigua's.  GUA, what's your problem? (Ha, also our favorite phrase we taught to Brenda at our homestay family who is studying English) El Salvador had a civil war too - it did end 4 years before yours, but still, they have organization and infrastructure...maybe the government just didn't steal it all and flee the country...or they just receive a boatload of remittances from Salvadorians living abroad (3 bil annually/16% of GDP, loco.)

Whatever it is, it makes the people here so friendly!!  A biker stopped to let us cross the street and yelled "I love you!" haha. Ironically, he was wearing a US ARMY tshirt. Glad we still got some love - or that people can separate a government from its people so well.  I imagine with a civil war in the last 20 years, they understand that better than most.  Ha, but if people know any English, they will say it - almost showing off what they know.  Seems like everyone we met had lived in Houston at some time or another, meanwhile they had no idea where New York was, even when it says it on their Hollister shirt!  We get the most "goodbye's" walking around town.  People buy us candy on the bus and and one guy helping us even paid for our bus fare.  And you can drink the water!  I love this place!!  I want to hug everyone and I'm not even a huggy person. and its super hot out. so that's saying something.

For me, naps and pasta will fix anything - and good prep for volcano hiking.  We climbed Volcan Santa Ana the following morning - there's 3 volcanoes in the region and a beautiful crater lake.  Hiking scenery was like being in a Dr. Seuss children's book:  freakishly large aloe plants and peculiar, cartoon-like mini flower trees.  This was our first tourism activity that included nationals.  I guess that speaks to the minimum wage being higher here than in bordering countries - the highest in CA.  The local university students outnumbered the extranjeros/foreigners in our tour group helping me agree to pay the random verbally requested fees, twice.  The day before, our hostel roommate had paid three times, haha the third time for "crossing private land."  We practiced our Spanish with other tourists, the security guards, our speed-walking, surfer guide - everyone we meet being seriously over the top pleasant.  The crater was too windy to walk, never mind see a thing.  We were getting caked in painful sand/glass, but were still determined.  Then the security guards made us turn back - saying it was TOO dangerous.  This made us laugh - especially since that is not a word in the GUA vocabulary.  And so began the habit of saying we definitely weren't in GUA anymore, land of hiking erupting volcanoes that begin spewing lava 15 minutes after you descend them.

We didn't see any tourists outside our hostel, a refreshing change - but I envision this area gaining tourism popularity soon as long as they don't get another earthquake or hurricane in the near future - it's just an incredible volcano/lake combo and they use US dollars to boot!  I guess for the last ten years or so - I have no idea how they were able to trade out the national currency in an organized fashion, but I loveee buying things with pennies.  Paying with US dollars makes everything seem so much cheaper...making it also easier to rationalize more.  It even just seemed higher in GUA when it was 30Q, but how can you argue with $4 dollars for a day-long tour?

All the more reason to come yourself :) We will definitely be back...
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