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Heading to the Pacific Coast of SLV


August 23rd

On our second day at Lago Ilopango, we were a bit smarter and did our walking and Spanish in the morning when it’s hot not sweltering hot and after lunch went to the pool. Shortly after getting in, we met a young man named Fabricio who was here with his 11 year old nephew on his day off. He spoke decent English and we learned that the capital city of SLV, San Salvador, (about 30 minutes from here) is becoming a new place for American call centres and he works for Cricket, the cell phone provider. After the pool closed, he and Alexi, joined us for drinks and snacks in a lakeshore bar/restaurant while we got back on the internet.

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That night it really rained hard from evening well into the night. We packed up next morning and headed east to Laguna Alegria – this is small lake IN a crater which you can actually drive to and AND camp in the crater. It cost us $2 to get into the park and $1 to camp overnight. We were not the only ones in the park but by gate closing, we were the only ones left. The lake is quite a green colour and it can smell like sulphur when you get close. We stayed up away from the “shore” as we were advised by the park attendant that if it rains, it can get quite mucky and vehicles have been known to get stuck. There is a small one way road that goes around the park and we walked it doing Spanish before enjoying reading under a tree in the shade near our rig. We are naturally up high here but only about 1300m/4300ft and while not hot or cold, it was okay for sleeping. It was a very quiet night all alone, locked in the park. You could see cell phone towers on the crater rim and once in a while, we’d get a bar or two but other than the outhouses, we had no services. It was rather cool, though, to realize we were in a freakin’ crater!

sun and table cloth of clouds coming in

We checked out the nearby small towns of Berlin and Alegria while in this area and a local told us a back way out of the town of Berlin down towards the coast. It was about 12 miles of dirt/gravel road but it saved us 40km/30m+ of driving (and we got the chance to do a real “jungle dump”.

Our first stop was to check out the Quality Inn near the international airport to see about Fran staying there next week while Doug flies to LA and then possibly parking then when we both go to LA in mid-September. We met the nice Columbian manager, Luis and explained our situation. They claim to be one of the most secure hotels in the country and the US military apparently stay here as there are a number of them who work with the El Salvador military at the airport here. While Luis was most helpful, the price he ended up quoting us was still high despite Doug being a diamond class Choice Hotels customer; it would have cost us more to stay there for four nights than Doug was going to make on his work trip.

Now the rest of today did not go so well either. Lately, when starting the truck, we sometimes would get a slight hesitation before the engine clicked over. We didn’t worry too much but probably should have. We stopped before reaching the coast as Doug had to make a call and didn’t want to lose the sign. When we went to leave again, Tigger would not turn over; just click, click, click, click; uh oh.

We were across the street from a tienda (small shop) and a man came over to ask if he could help. When we told him the problem, he offered to drive Doug into the village to get a mechanic who specialized in car electrical. Doug was gone about ten minutes when he returned in a small pick-up with two men. They played with the battery and then decided to tow us – yes tow Tigger! to their shop. Now they were driving a small Toyota pick-up and they had a heavy duty chain. We were a little apprehensive to say the least! However, it was not far and we got there safely; one man driving and the other sitting in the back watching the chain for slackness.

dscn3943-mechanic-watching-tow-chain-when-we-had-dead-battery The mechanic tested the battery and said it was almost dead and he charged it up with his large charging unit and told us to head into the near city of La Libertad (the major port city of the country) and go buy a new battery as he did not have the kind we needed.

Doug was still not convinced it was the battery and that it could possibly be the starter. We went to two parts stores looking for the correct battery but neither had it. One man said they’d have one at a certain shop in San Salvador and it was $280 but he could not order it; we’d have to go and get it – now it’s 3 in the afternoon and we know the traffic will be horrific on a Friday for sure.

To add to our frustration today, we’d been trying ATM’s lately to get cash and having no luck. We’d call our bank and they claimed the issue was not on their end. We had gotten cash in Juayua upon arriving in the country at a Scotiabank machine, but since then we’d not seen one of their machines and all the domestic bank machines were denying our withdrawals. Luckily for us, we do have a few “secret stashes” of some USD and had to break into that later on today.

As we’d be now driving/idling for about 30 minutes we thought we’d see what happened if we turned off the engine and perhaps confirm whether the problem was indeed the battery or not. MISTAKE! Tigger would not start again. Luckily, we did this at a gas station and there were police on the street corner. Over the course of the next hour, we had about 8 different people trying to assist us with jump starting us including the police, the gas jockeys, a car, two trucks and a chicken bus. Nothing would get Tigger purring again. Now we believe our jumper cables are not heavy duty enough. So the man with a car, who is a cab driver, offered to take Doug to a mechanic he knew and bring him back here. This man had a charger with heavy duty cables, was able to jump start us. He said he had the battery we needed at his shop (we have to confess we were pessimistic as our battery is a special one with four posts) and so we drove back with him in our vehicle and lo and behold, he had the right battery and it was only $115! Carlos installed the new battery and Tigger was ready to bounce once more. He charged us $10 labour and off we went. It was now about 5 o’clock and we were only a few km’s from our destination: Playa El Tunco – a famous surfer beach. We’d found on iOverlander what looked like the perfect hostel that allowed camping but learned when we got there, they would no longer provide electricity to campers so the parking attendant took us down the road a bit to another hostel/bar that did. Hostal Sol y Mar let us park and hook up, has Wi-Fi for $10 nightly and we enjoyed a few beers and sandwiches in their bar before turning in for the night.

This town has many bars/restaurants/hotels and surf shops. The sand here is black and the beach is rocky with smooth river rocks. There are, of course, many “surfer dudes” around and it’s pretty low key touristy; meaning only one high endish place to stay and lots of little places. You pay a toll to drive down the “main drag” and there are a few parking lots as well. On the weekend there’s plenty of music and partying going on.

Saturday, we went on foot to check out a couple of other places to stay but nothing that came close to that first place (it had pools, fast internet, secure parking and supposedly power and would have been good for Fran to stay there safely) so we decided to just stay where we are now until Doug returns next Friday. The owner gave us a weekly price with a bit of a reduction for the nights Doug is not there and we are staying put as it seems safe, they have security cameras and it’s not a busy time of year. We investigated a few options for parking in mid-September including this hostel and will decide later what to do. There are many taxi’s in this town as well that offer rides to the airport so at least we don’t have to unhook to get Doug to his 7:45am flight on Tuesday.

We saw a rig parked in the lot across from the police station with Argentinian plates but no one was “home”. We stopped by in the evening on our after dinner stroll and met Oihane, a lady from the Basque region of Spain. She and her partner, Andreas (from Argentina) are travelling north to Mexico as slowly as we are going north. She makes jewelry and other items to sell on the road and Andreas plays guitar and sings. Oihane, speaks perfect English as her father is British and speaks Spanish and two other languages as well.

It is pretty humid here and last night it rained so the black sand around Tigger is rather muddy. There is a sort of path (not a malecon) on the beach front and lots of bars. This is not supposed to be a swimming beach and the ocean looks rather brown and muddy after it rains as there is a river on either side of the town flowing into the surf so not that inviting really but the surfers don’t seem to mind. At low tide it looks safe and we may take a plunge another day. There is a unique rock structure off the beach that appears in many murals in the bars (see above).

That first place we’d check out, offers the facilities for a daily wristband price so we spent most of Sunday there hanging out, swimming, on the wifi, reading and had lunch there. They have two pools. It was a pleasant day. Oihana dropped by this evening and we sat in the bar here at our hostal and had a couple of beers swapping stories.  Monday we chilled once again and took it easy in the heat, cooling off and going back out.

Doug left at 4:30am Tuesday morning for the airport (owner here is also a taxi driver) and Fran spent the day doing some odd jobs, cleaning, website stuff and relaxing. While she was cleaning the cab of Tigger, a young couple from Virginia walked over from the bar. Nancy & Josh are spending the week as part of their trip to SLV, GTM and Belize. Her father lives nearby and they are taking public transport between countries.

Fran hung around Playa El Tunco all day Tuesday, doing the “usual”. Wednesday morning after walking a bit, she dropped off the laundry before catching the chicken bus into La Libertad to pick up a few groceries. She walked out the main road, waited about five minutes and flagged down the bus. For 25¢ she got an non air conditioned ride right to El Centro where with the help of she found the grocery store and also checked into a Claro store to ask some questions (all in Spanish!) about her cell service. After shopping, she discovered the return bus is not on the same street and made her way through the mayhem that is the el centrol market to find the bus. It was incredibly hot and sticky today and she just felt she couldn’t stay to be outside much longer, sweating. Luckily, there was a bus on the curb, and two minutes and she got on, it left. Now when the bus leaves these larger towns, vendors get thru the front door and walk down the aisle selling their wares: water, fruit, treats etc. and then exit the bus via the rear door at the next “stop”. In towns there can be actual bus stops but on the highway, you just indicate you want to get off and the driver stops. There is usually a second man onboard and he collects the money and lets the driver know when exiting passengers have safely disembarked so he can continue along the route. The fare is collected sometimes by the driver at the front and sometimes by his “helper” as he walks the aisle.

vendor on the chicken bus

Upon returning to Tigger, Fran cooled off inside before heading to pick up the laundry and then head to the beach to find a place to sit and read.

Doug had his day long meeting as well as picked up some items we’d had shipped to his office in LA and making a shopping trip for a few others.

Thursday, Fran went back to La Bocanita for enjoy the pool for the day while Doug made his way back to El Salvador. This proved a bit of a trying experience for him as traffic was bad heading back into LA from Santa, he just missed the first shuttle from the car rental place, then customs gave him a hard time for not have a departing ticket from El Salvador. Fortunately for him, he was able to show them the ticket he has for our joint trip to LA in a couple of weeks. So we’ll have to figure out how we’ll deal with our return to avoid issues in this regard.

Fran’s day at the pool was pleasant, she met a number of travelers/surfers including Brady, a young man from South Africa who is an avid surfer; Hannah, a young woman from Belgium who has been to Central America many times and an Israeli couple who arrived in Panama three months ago and are working their way up to the US.

Doug arrived back at Tigger around 9 that night and we spent one final night before heading down the coast to what we’ve heard is a better beach until our trip to LA mid September.