In fact too casual; to this day I am not sure I am officially in El Salvador for I did not even receive an entry stamp. Dealing with customs was basically talking to a soldier on the open road and providing information as to where I was staying. True information as to where I was going or staying was not a requirement. Just a name of a random hotel I looked up in my travel book on the spot sufficed. From here the 'fun' of riding the local buses began once again. As in Guatemala, the bus drivers are fearless pushing the buses to beyond their originally intended use (transporting U.S. school kids in the 1970's at moderate speeds) as fast as possible over twisting dirt roads.
The first town I stopped at was Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador.
A typical town with a busy market, a plaza, a large old government building and of course, you guessed it; a cathedral! Oh yeah, the bus station. Not the best if you are in a hurry, which never seems to be an issue in Central America, unless you are the driver of a vehicle. It took an hour for the bus to exit the 'station' at a meter per minute when we were soon travelling at a very high speed down the treacherous mountain road to delightful Juayua.
I arrived late (which is anything after 5pm)
in Juayua and uncharacteristically chose the first hotel I could found but it turned out to be a great choice. The hotel was called Anahuac and it was run by a wonderful young couple, Cesar and Jenne. Their hotel was very hip and artsy with a picturesque courtyard in the middle.
It also was the place that provided the best tours in town. It was the best spot to start in El Salvador. Juayua is a quaint town nestled in the hills surrounded by volcanoes and scenic green coffee plantations all around. The town itself is very artsy as most houses have art pieces handpainted on their walls, doors and windows. My first adventure was a two-hour hike though mountain side coffee fields ending at beautiful hot springs
overlooking a valley below. As we approached the hot springs, our tour guide dug near the surface of the spring and collected warm clay for us to apply as facial masks during our bath in the hot spring. There is nothing better than taking a dip in a natural hot Jacuzzi after a steep hike.
The next day I went to the Laguna Verde and Laguna de las Ninfas in a two seat gas powered buggy which was basically a cross between a dirt track race car and an ATV. They were 250cc powered vehicles with four wheel drive and off-road tires to go anywhere and everywhere. It gets very dusty during the ride so I had to wear a Power Rangers mask and a big yellow matching jacket as protection. I had fun driving it up and down the hills. The people providing the tour were so nice as well.
We walked around the Laguna Verde and they pointed out the various plants and grass that could be eaten or smoked for hallucinogen effects. At the end of the tour they offered a little bonus by taking me around the village of Apaneca in the little buggy and then gave me a ride back thirty minutes by car to my hotel in Juayua as a favour.
I spent the following day on the beach in Los Cobanos
which is nothing more than a few coves of white sand beach. I had this beautiful hotel right on the beach all to myself with a pool, internet and delicious homemade food just for me. El Salvador faces the Pacific Ocean to the south so I travelled east on a stunning coastal road to the surfer retreat of El Tunco. I spent the next two nights in another beautiful hotel overlooking a pool and the beach from my hammock on the balcony. The town itself is only dirt block of surf shops and a couple of restaurants, however, not without things to do; those things being swimming and surfing. The majority of locals and tourists are all there for one thing; the surf.
El Tunco and nearby La Libertad are world renown among surfers also having produced some well big name professionals of their own. Which brings up La Libertad, although more well known for its awesome waves, the town is home to a thriving fish market that resides along its pier. In order to reach the end of the pier you first have to walk past the smell of hundreds of dead fish drying in the sun. After barely surviving it through the fish market, I arrived at the end where all the locals were loiteringt to watch the fishermen leave for their outings. As they returned from a long day at sea, their small boats were hoisted up with a crane and then placed on to wheels. Before they even had a chance to park their boats, crowds of people swarmed them in order to grab the best fresh fish for dinner. Let me say that pier was nothing like the one back home on Brighton.
Next on the list was for me to hit the capital city of San Salvador. I was very surprised at how developed it was, almost at times looking like any Californian city. San Salvador was very metropolitan with museums, affluent neighbourhoods, large shopping malls and American fast food restaurants on every corner.
Other than going to museums and watching movies at the huge mall, the most interesting thing that happened to me was when a couple of other backpackers and I decided to take one of the Lonely Planet recommended shortcuts to our hostel. As we ventured down a dirt path, we found ourselves in a ravine that was also where the residents run drain pipes from their homes above. It looked like one of their favourite pastimes was to try bathing people as they were walking by with the water from their homes. Let's just say it was not entirely all water.
Another notable experience was walking through the downtown markets. They were bustling and alive with shoppers and street vendors selling anything from toilet paper or women's sanitary towels on the street to pirated Hollywood movies and loud music coming out of stores. In a square, I visited the most unique Cathedral I have seen in all of Central America.
The outside was an ugly cement structure the shape of a narrow half circle on its side, looking pretty much like a hangar, however, the inside was amazing. The building design allowed for the Sun's rays to shine in through slits of stained glass and the decor and statues were all made of iron. It was a nice change from the typical 16th century style of all the others.
The customs office I had to pass through to go from Guatemala to El Salvador was in the very remote town of Anguiatu. This by far had been the most casual of border crossings.