Catch-Up Since San Salvador

Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
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Trip End Jun 20, 2006


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Flag of Guatemala  ,
Monday, April 3, 2006

Mall world tried to lull us with its air-conditioned, pre-packaged charms, but we escaped San Salvador after just one night.

From there we took a 1.5 hr. bus ride to the next-largest town in El Salvador, Santa Ana. The roads in El Salvador are among the best we've seen on this trip, and while the busses are usually regular ol chicken busses, El Salvador actually uses an organized number system for each bus route between towns. Quite helpful.

Santa Ana is a nice enough town, but not a lot going on. Not a lot of gringos, either...at one pupuseria, the owner told Andrew that we were the first "gueros" that his kid had seen. Roughly translated, whitey doesn't go to out of the way pupuseria stands.

We had heard of a new hostel in Santa Ana, but repeatedly asking any and everyone yielded no results. We were told to go to the Hotel Libertad, where "all the gringos go". So we went. It was a perfectly fine place, and it took Andrew a bit of time to realize that it functions as a no-tell motel....lots of Salvadorans checked in for an hour or two, then fled....apparently this is fairly common down here, where people tend to live with their families...all their lives. Privacy is a rare commodity.

Oh, Andrew says we need to clarify: the no-tell is pretty much for couples, not illicit affairs or prostitutes. Homier than that.

Not so tawdry.

From Santa Ana, we made a day trip to the town of Juayua (why-YOU-ahhh). Andrew wants to open a hostel there and call it Juayua Wascally Wabbit Hostel. The town itself is great...up in the mountains with nice cool air, and immaculately clean. The surrounding mountainsides are almost totally coffee plantations, with windbreaks in between fields forming strange semi-geometric patterns.

We caught a ride with a local coffee agronomist, Yohalmo Diaz, who told us that much of the coffee on the finca he works on goes to Starbucks and Caribou Coffee.

The reason we went to Juayua, however, wasn't the scenery...it was the food fair. Every weekend, the town hosts a "feria gastronomica" on the edge of the central park, featuring many types of foods. It is especially cool because it mostly attracts El Salvadorans from the capital (capitalinos), not whitey.

And a recap on the best of the foods there:

1. Cafe de Olla
2. Riguas: sweet corn "pancakes" served with fresh salty cheese. Basically, fresh masa, sugar, oil and salt folded in a banana leaf, grilled, then removed from the banana leaf to crisp up the outsides, leaving the center chewy and delicious.
3. Pinchos de res y camarones: beef and shrimp kabobs, with big 8/10 shrimp. Yummy
4. Tampiqueno: marinated beef sliced really thin, and grilled, topped with a parsley sauce, served with salad and rice and a chorizo.
5. Pina de Azucarron: a really sweet pineapple that doesn't ship well, so you don't see it in the US, much sweeter than we get in the states. It was literally dripping crystals of sugar from its skin. The edges of its leaves are serrated.

Needless to say, we waddled away from Juayua.

After our nice day in the cool air, Santa Ana seemed oppressively hot, so we decided to decamp for the highlands of Guatemala.

After 5 border crossings, we have to say that it has ALWAYS gone smoother for us when we have taken a local bus to the border, crossed on foot, and caught a bus on the other side. Our border-crossing from El Salvador to Guatemala consisted of answering one question on the El Salv side and one question on the Guat side, and then getting our passports stamped--no paperwork, no lines, no fees.

If you take the international bus, it ends up being you and 60 of your friends trying to cross at the same time, with only 1 or 2 officials at the border to get you through and stamp your passport. When you take the local bus, you may be the only person crossing the border at that particular time. Also, the international busses will cost you more than double what it costs to take local busses.

The only horror of our bus time yesterday coming into Guatemala was in Guatemala City, where even our taxi driver was confused as to where to take us to catch an Antigua bus. We finally found it and made it to Antigua.

Now, Antigua is the center of the world for Semana Santa (Easter week celebrations) in Latin America. Semana Santa is next week. We were horrified, then, when we exited our bus to find....streets filled with processions and people. Actually the processions were really cool to see. Lots of people dressed in purple ku-klux-klan robes and others in Roman Centurion outfits, complete with Marvin the Martian brooms on their hats. They also make really beautiful carpets of flowers and pine needles and colored sawdust in the streets, which the processions trample.

We found an okay hotel room, and crashed for the night.

Today, we transferred to a better room (with kitchen, internet, and breakfast). We're planning to stay for a few days, then make it to Xela this weekend to climb Volcan Tajumulco, at 4220 meters the tallest point in Central America. Just shy of Ranier. Jacque may die.
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