Nuestro Segunda Semana

August 17, 2016, Trip: El Salvador
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Our Second Week

August 17th

We left Juayua today and headed for the coast. Our original plan was go to Parque Nacional El Imposible but as it’s now rainy season, we’ve had some recent heavy rain and the skies are not clear all day anymore, we felt it might not be worth the trip up the muddy roads to get no view so we are skipping that and have come back to the Pacific Ocean at Barra Santiago.

DSCN3688 back at the Pacific Ocean

The beach here is lovely; wide, flat, soft sand (although not white) and the water is about the warmest ocean water we’ve experienced. There is only one place mentioned on iOverlander to stay here and it doesn’t offer power (and along the coast here it is hot and HUMID) so we decided to walk the beach for a while before seeing if we could find a place on our own. We walked about a half hour or so when it began raining, more of a sun shower as the sky was not completely cloudy but it did come down heavy for a bit. We went for cover under some shade awnings and waited it out. This area is supposed to be a turtle nesting ground and we did see a sort of sanctuary on the beach but it is not nesting season.

DSCN3690 Turtle nesting groundWhen the rain stopped, we walked out to the dirt street behind the buildings facing the beach and began to inquire about parking overnight with power. We did end up finding a man, Menardo, who said he looked after a property that might do the trick for us, right on the beach. We got Tigger and followed him on his bicycle to a “rancho” for rent – he unlocked the gate and showed us the set up; it had power and a swimming pool! However, he wanted to charge us $40 a night for this and this was way above what it was worth (to park!) and more importantly, what we were willing to pay, so we declined.

The temperatures were really beginning to rise so we headed further south along the coast to a place called Los Cobanos where iOverlander said we’d get power. The highway although along the coast, was not along the water itself so not a scenic drive. We found Los Cobanos and it is a small beachfront “lodge” that offers diving lessons and fishing trips. The owner, Paul, is an American and he said he would charge $12 for the night to camp with power or $20 for a room in the lodge. The place is quite cute with a bar/restaurant, a pool and we took a 2nd floor room with a balcony overlooking the water. It had twin beds and a sitting room with two ceiling fans and a private bathroom. Wi-fi was available and the beer was cold. The beach right in front of the place was full of small boats so not a swimming beach but Paul took us the 300m or so over the main beach and while much nicer it was small and the sand was pretty coarse.

DSCN3692 inner courtyard of Los CobanosWe had lunch at the restaurant right on the beach, chatting with Paul (he did most of the talking – we suspect he was happy to speak English for a while!) and then enjoyed the pool and read for a while before a huge clap of thunder struck and the skies turned black and the heavens opened up.

Next morning we walked over to the main beach for a stroll before breakfast and discovered while at low tide, there were actually a lot of large rocks and rock beds in the water and it too, was not conducive to swimming.   We opted not to stay another night and packed up and left after having breakfast in the rig.

We drove inland to the larger city of Sonsonate (apparently not a safe city), bought groceries and continued back up into the mountains to Chalchuapa which we’d read was underrated so we thought we’d check it out.

The town is quite quaint and we met several Salvadorians who had spent time in the US and were happy to practice their English. The town hall gave us a map and showed us where the three sites were that we were interested in. We walked around the main square including the church and then stopped for a pastry and cold drink in a little coffee shop. There are ruins here but these were not on our agenda. They did advise that the waterfalls we were interested in visiting were not a good idea as the area is unsafe. So we headed to the natural spring pools we’d read about but upon arrival, found it to be more of a commercial enterprise than a natural one so we skipped that as well. Last spot was a sulphur lake that apparently had been used by the Mayans for sacrifices and rituals and the like and it was disappointing. So we disagree with Lonely Planet on this spot.

The circular wooden staircase in the St. James church

DSCN3707 a very narrow stairway to ......

We made a short stop in Santa Ana looking for the place mentioned on iOverlander to park overnight; turns out it was right off the square and since it was morning, it was way too busy to find a place to park; it is also very hot here so without power, we would probably not sleep well. Yes, we are wimps when it comes to the humidity. Tigger just does not cool off well from a day in the sun and without a breeze, it can get very uncomfortable. We did take a walk around the square, (there is a large white gothic church on the square), into the town hall which had a nice courtyard with interest trees and stopped in the shade on the square to buy some fresh cut French fries from a vendor before walking back to the rig.

As it was well over 30C/90F and humid, we decided a mountain campground was needed. We want to hike in the Cerro Verde National Park on the weekend so we drove in that direction and parked at a hotel on the lake (Lago Coatepeque) in this area – it’s like a mini Lago Atitlan. The lake is not as large but it too has many volcanoes/hills around it. The hotel is on the water and they accept RV’s in their secured parking lot across the dirt street and you can use their facilities including a pool. There is an unused house at the parking and you can plug in there.

We set up and went to the hotel to check out the view, wifi and facilities before having a beer on the deck over the lake – quite a view. For $10 a night we were getting a good deal.

The view as we drove down to the lakeshore

DSCN3723 our first view heading down the steep dirt road

We went for a walk doing our Spanish lessons that afternoon.  After dinner we took another little walk (as is our practice) and heard what Doug thought was an arcade game and Fran thought was frogs – turned out to the latter; they were in a puddle on the side of the road between the parking lot and the hotel and they would go silent if you approached quickly or a vehicle went by. We spotted a couple and took a video which is really only audio as it was too dark to see but it sounds cool.

Today we’d had sun all day and despite clouds in the sky, it never rained. Once the sun set it cooled off but not a great deal so we decided to use our AC so we could sleep well. The power held on all night and we both slept well.

Sidebar: The roads in this country are better than in Guatemala – you actually see workers fixing potholes! Also, a couple of major pluses are many roads now have shoulders and there are much fewer instances of tumulos/topes/ speed bumps which make for a more pleasant driving experience.   As this is such a small country, distances between places are not great and it’s easy to find gas, groceries and services.

Friday was a chill day hanging around the hotel, walking, dipping in the pool, reading and doing a Spanish lesson or two.

Sidebar: Gas here is sold in gallons and the price ranges from $2.49 to 2.66USD a gallon depending on the station, like at home. There are Texaco and Shell stations and an assortment of others. The regular gas here appears to have a high ethanol content and we think that’s contributing to our “worse than normal” gas mileage so we’re going to try switching to premium now. 

Saturday, we awoke to beautiful skies again which boded well for our planned drive to the National Park of Volcanoes, where we planned to do the hike up Santa Ana. Now Fran has not been doing a lot of mountain hiking but hoped this one was not too bad. There are actually three volcanoes here: Cerro Verde (green hill), Volcan Santa Ana (aka Ilamatepec) and Volcan Izalco which quite bare and sometimes active with smoke and ash and the other two are dormant. Santa Ana is the third highest volcano in the country.

DSCN3751 NP signWe arrived at the park early, stopping at a couple of miradors on the climb up.  Guided hikes with police protection start at eleven, so after paying the entrance fee, we found a good place to park in case we decided to stay the night (as they do allow you to do that here) and had breakfast before the hike. There had to be about 50 other people embarking on this hike with us and at 10:45 you gather together for the rules etc., pay a small fee for the guides, and off you go with a guide up front, a few others spread out in the pack and a couple of police officers. This hike is supposed to be unsafe doing it alone. We could understand that on a weekday as they may not be a lot of people around but on this day there were several groups that we encountered enroute so you were not alone for any length of time. As our group was so large, it was pretty spread out. You begin walking mostly downhill (!) on a dirt path with lots of root type stairs  for about 25 minutes, exit the forest onto the road, walk about 200m and then re-enter the forest. About ten minutes in, you reach the entrance to the Santa Ana National Park, pay another park fee (?) and carry on, this time heading uphill.  We are not sure why we could not have started this hike at this point…… This part of the hike takes about 1.5 hours and it was not easy for Fran, not only had the first part of the hike been downhill (so hard on her knees), now it was rocky and the last 30 minutes were not really trail at all but large rocks and small rocks make for tricky walking. She was beginning to think this had not been a good idea at all.

The end is in sight!

DSCN3812 heading down.....Many of the people on the hike were locals with the exception of a few other gringoes; there was a man from Germany who had a Salvadorian wife and a British couple with their grown daughter, as well as a couple of other young men. The guides do speak a little English but there were also locals who spoke some as well. Despite being fairly high up, it was still pretty warm but not stifling. We were in and out of the shade a good part of the way up to the last bit.

When we finally arrived at the top, we had a magnificent view of the small turquoise/sea foam green crater lake in the Volcan Ilamatepec and a complete view of Lago Coatepeque where we’d spent two nights. The sun was still shining and it was quite a sight to behold. From up here we could see the island in the lake across from where we’d stayed and just how many “summer homes” of the richer Salvadorians were dotting the lakeshore. We had a little snack, took some photos and then the guides told us it was time to head back. It was a little rushed for us, but we did see clouds rolling up in the distance (over by where we were parked) and thunder beginning to rumble, so it was probably sound advice to move on.

DSCN3787 crater lake

DSCN3804 we made it!

The walk down was difficult through that same rocky section for Fran but once we got past it, it became easier and when we hit the road again, the police advised taking the road back up rather than the path uphill in the forest.

The entire hike took about four hours and Fran was ready to give her knees a break. Upon passing through the park gates, we inquired about staying the night and were told it was safe, there was security and it was only an additional $2 above the park fees we’d already paid. The only service offered in this parking lot was toilets which actually cost $0.15 to use but they close at five so really, since you do not have power, water, wifi or even cell service up here, it’s just a parking lot.  There are a few tenting sites up the hill a ways if you are so inclined.  However it was super quiet once all the stalls closed, the people left and the sun went down. We ended up only having a two minute sprinkle of rain and that night there were no barking dogs or roosters to sleep through. We actually thought it would be much cooler up here as we are at 2000m/6600ft but although the temps dipped right after the sun went down, it did not get cold at all, just comfortable enough to sleep – what more can you ask for $2? – security was the main thing we needed.

Sunday morning was glorious once again and we headed back down the mountain to check out two other nearby sights.

We drove first to the ruins at Joya de Ceren – now these are not the typical Mayan ruins but are dubbed the “Pompeii of Central America” as this little village was discovered by accident in 1976 and was covered in metres of volcanic ash and rock from the eruption of Laguna Caldera Volcano in AD 595. Fortunately, for the villagers, they had time to escape so there are no “mummies” like Pompeii. What makes this site different from so many Mayan ruins is that this site reflects the lives of the average person, not the elite with temples and platforms for sacrifices. They have excavated and cleared up about a dozen buildings including homes, storage huts, a community type centre and what they believed would have been the place of a shaman. The site is a UNESCO one and is well displayed. There is a small museum you walk through first explaining, in both Spanish and English, about the site, the discovery, and the conclusions made. Then you follow the “yellow cobbled path” around the actual ruins which are well displayed, covered by large roofs and with good signage. This was worth the stop here for sure. We met an American man, Michael, from Palm Springs who had just flown in the day before and was driving/bussing his way to Panama, with his three El Salvadorian friends .

DSCN3848 another site

Next stop was Parque El Boqueron – this is one of the two dormant peaks of Volcan San Salvador that you can walk right up to the edge of and peer down. The road up and up, became very windy, narrower and narrower and, of course, once you are at the top, there is a gate and lots of vendors and small eateries AND cars parked down one side of the narrow road. The man at the gate at first indicated we were too large and there was no space but one of the parking attendants said there was room. So we drove up and between him and Doug, we got into a narrow parking spot between two cars with enough room for others to get around us. We were darn lucky!

The view looking into the crater:

DSCN3872 looking into the crater

Here we experienced a weird thing (which we’d also had back at Lago Atitlan in GTM). The fob for the truck doors wouldn’t work; like the signal was blocked or something; it wouldn’t even make a clicking sound. There are a lot of cell towers near us here like at Atitlan so we figured it was the problem because once we left, all was back to normal.

We paid the park fee and began the short trek uphill to the rim. There were two look out points and you could see down into the crater and all around the rim. It was cool but not sure it was worth the drive up. We asked about spending the night in the parking lot here because it was up high again (1800m/5900ft and cooler. Unfortunately, we were told “no” so we headed back down this mountain too.

We opted to drive about 70km/45m to the tourist town of Suchitoto on a large lake.   The one campground that we could fit in and had power (as we had dropped back into the tropical humid zone again) was a restaurant up from the lake that has a swimming pool.

Enroute as we passed through the small village of San Martin, we took a corner too close and our rear passenger wheel hit  catch basin without a grate cover (we’ve seen alot of these lately) to along the curb and we got stuck! We began attempting to get out when a bunch of friendly locals came along and by helping Doug rock the vehicle a bit, putting into into 4×4 and using the differentials, we got out. However, it caused some damage: squashed the tailpipe and cracked part of the step into the coach; it could have been SO much worse.

When we arrived, we paid for two nights and settled in. Sadly, the place was a little run down but there were locals enjoying the pools and some food. The restaurant is only open for lunch so by 5:30 all the customers had cleared out. There were showers and bathrooms right by us where we plugged in for the night but it seemed like the water was almost turned off; only a trickle came out of the shower (much to Fran’s dismay as it took forever to get the shampoo out of her hair!) and the toilets didn’t seem to flush. We went for a dip and used the outdoor shower by the pool then chilled for an hour or so with a beer reading. The owner came by to see if everything was okay and when we told him about the bathrooms, he realized at once the problem, and turned on the water. Once the sun went down, the bugs began to invade and we went indoors. Shortly after dinner the rain started and rained for a few hours.

The view of the lake we had:

DSCN3879 our lake view

Sidebar: Not sure we’ve mentioned this before, but when we drive through small villages especially, we feel like a bit of one float parade; people stare at this strange vehicle but are quick to smile and wave when we wave at them. You can watch their faces see Tigger, looked a bit confused and then break into a happy face when we acknowledge them.

Monday, the sun came out again and stayed out most of the day – it was hot in the morning but as it clouded over somewhat in the afternoon, it became humid. By evening it was completely overcast but it never rained.   Today Doug went into town looking for a laundry and after quite a while, he learned that there was NONE but a Catholic cultural centre did offer this service for $2 a load. Now town is just over 2km from the place we are camping and despite looking for a bus/taxi/tuk tuk he never found one and walked to and from both ways. We spent the day chillin’ until about 3 when we caught the bus into town for 30 cents and stopped at a hotel that was recommended by Lonely Planet to have a beer with a view of the lake; it was overcast by this time, so not the most perfect view but the Corona was ice cold! Then we walked to the square for a look and found a tuk tuk (we think there are only two in this whole town) to take us to pick up the laundry and get back to Tigger. We took a dip in the pool to end our day.

Tuesday morning, we filled up on water tanks, dumped enroute and headed back towards San Salvador to do some shopping and find a Mcd’s for internet. There had been terrible cell service at the lake so we’d not been online much in a few days. Enroute we looked for a welder and a car wash as poor Tigger had not been cleaned since before our trip home. Going through San Bartolo, we saw a sign and we fit under the awning. Luckily, they had a power washer and did the best wash we’d ever. Doug inquired about a welder so we could get the step fixed and lo and behold, the man went away for a bit and brought a mobile welding machine over with a man to run it. For $20 we got the wash and welding including fixing the tailpipe.

The car wash attendants having a boo inside Tigger

DSCN3891 Tigger getting a washOur best laid plan however got foiled by horrific traffic; we missed our turn and ended up about 3 miles past where we needed to be for the Mcd’s/Wal-Mart and then saw a Burger King so we stopped there instead and spent a couple of hours. We wanted to head south of the big city but didn’t want to go that far in one day so we found a place on iOverlander on a lake nearby, Lago Ilopango, that has a park with secure parking at the tourist police station in the park. We hit a mini Wal-Mart on the side of the road, did some shopping and went to the lake and got settled in. The park charges an entry fee and a parking fee but the police do not charge for spending the night there AND they allowed us to plug into the station. They ran our extension cord through a hole in a screened window and voila, we had power which meant we could run the AC as the temps are well into the 90’s F/high 30’sC.

DSCN3898

After a walk and Spanish, we spent a quiet late afternoon/evening/night. The park here is right on the lake and has a swimming pool that closes at 3:30 {?} and there are a bunch of small restaurants around it and along the lake. The park closes at 5:30 so for the evening, other than the police, we were alone.

Sidebar: We have found Wal-marts in all countries south of the border except Belize. However, they are not always called Wal-mart. The big ones are but there are smaller versions in the smaller towns called either Maxi Despensia or Despensia Familiar. The carry the colours of yellow and green instead of blue but inside, you find signs of Wal-mart signage and pricing as well as some Great Value products and Wal-Mart plastic bags – sometimes you have to pay for them, too. The other big grocery store in SLV is called “Selectos” or if it’s a big one, “Super Selectos”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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