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Northwestern SLV


August 11th

After an early start, we arrive at the GTM exit border about 8:10 am and we accept the assistance of one of the “helpers” – these are guys who work on tips helping you sort through the immigration process. They only charge $1USD and it saves you a bit of running around as there are many offices and doors (to empty offices) so they take you to the correct ones a little quicker.

First it’s immigration to get a GTM exit stamp which they give you on a piece of paper (as you don’t want to cancel the whole C4 visa)which you bring with your vehicle permit as well as the sticker from your windshield to the SAT office to get the vehicle permit cancelled. Tigger’s permit expires today and as we are not returning anytime soon, we do not need an extension/suspension. We, ourselves, received new 90 day visas upon our return from Canada so we have lots of time to see the next three countries covered in the C4 visa which are all smaller than GTM.

You then drive across the bridge over the Rio La Paz (peace river) and take your cancelled permit and copy of your exit stamp to the El Salvador customs where they look at your cancelled GTM vehicle permit and process you one for their country. After reviewing our documentation and confirming the VIN number, we got a 60 day vehicle permit and got back in the truck. We then passed by the immigration tent where the officer takes the copy of your GTM exit stamp and ensures the actual visa stamped in your passport is valid. Done! That whole process took about 1.25 hours in total which is pretty good.

We have now dropped in elevation significantly and the trees are different and there are lots of them (deforestation is a problem in most of this country as well but not here along the Ruta de Las Flores). We begin see banana trees again and the humidity begins to set in. Welcome to El Salvador (“SLV”). This is not a country really geared for tourists but it is getting better as it sees the potential. It has many national parks, lots of surfer beaches in the north, white sand beaches for swimmers/sun bathers in the south, a few large inland lakes and of course, volcanoes.

DSCN3624 mirador lookout shortly inside SLVNOTE: Ruta da las Flores, despite what the name implies, is not a route of flowers but a route of small colourful colonial towns with lots of murals.

DSCN3625 more volcanoes

We had hoped to catch up to the last couple of Aussies we’d met in Antigua last weekend but our dentist appointment fiasco has put us behind them a couple of days now and they have a date to be in Costa Rica to meet family so we doubt we’ll see them anytime soon. Travel safe Vanessa & Alex!

SLV is the smallest country in Central America – only 124m/200km long and it’s the only one without a Caribbean coastline. The Spanish arrived in 1524 when it was known by the peoples as “Land of Jewels”. They conquered the land within a year and agriculture boomed for a few centuries and coffee was introduced in the late 19th century. SLV has a history of rebellion, revolution, military indiscretions and gang violence which the current government (the FMLN party elected in 2010) is working to make amends for and correct injustices. Its currency is now the USD – yeah no conversions!

So now that we’ve gotten through the border, there is a bit of housekeeping to take care of, the first being cell/internet service once again.

We had read that it can be hard to get a SLV plan as you need SLV ID/documentation including an address in SLV. This is unlike the other countries we’ve travelled so far where only a passport is required. The first place we tried would not let us get sim cards or plans without this documentation so we tried another and they’d obviously done this before. One fellow helped us set up our Wi-Fi hotspot and a lady sorted out the phone. They never asked for anything regarding ID but Doug did notice that the girl used a piece of paper to set something up so that must have been some “false papers making us locals” by declaring us as someone else. Guess there’s always a work around. Fran got a cell plan with 80 minutes of calling, 100 SMS, 600 mb of data and unlimited FB for $10 for 30 days. We got a data plan for the hotspot with 8GB for $28 also for 30 days.

Then we had to decide which direction to head but first, Doug wanted to have our brakes looked at as they’ve been making a bit of a squealing noise and the emergency brake was not holding right. We found a garage that had large bay doors and they were not busy at all so they checked them for us and we learned we have a hairline crack in the right back rotor – not good especially because the mechanic said we’d have to wait until San Salvador to get a replacement. As tomorrow is Friday, we’ll call around and sort out where to get that done and head that way on Monday – earlier than planned but this is such a small country, it’s not a big deal to back track.

We consider driving to Parque Nacional El Impossible up in the rain forest jungle but the GPS has us taking quite a long slow route and the concrete road ended quite shortly. We ask a teenage school boy if this was the way and he advised going back to the paved road and going left into the town of Tacuba. We take his advice but first have to back down the road we’re on as no way is it large enough for Tigger to do a 360° turn. So we switch places in the truck and Doug backs us back to the highway. We drive into Tacuba and stop at the Municipal offices to ask for directions. They suggest going to a particular hostel where the owner’s husband is a guide. We check out the hostel and considering spending the night but it seems a little pricey for what you get. We then decide that considering it’s mid-afternoon now, let’s just go to a campsite where we can get power (as it’s hot!) and spend the night. We head back towards the border a bit and get to the town of Juayua (pronounced “why-you-ah” – we cannot figure this one out!). Anyway, the Aussies we’d met in Antigua stayed here and had a good experience. They have good Wi-Fi in the hotel lobby and didn’t mind us sitting there. They even brought us glasses of cold water and there’s a big screen tv on which we can watch some Olympics.

DSCN3630 Tigger all locked in

The locals here  are quick to say “Buenos dias” and smile to us wherever we walk in this town. They are very helpful. Doug decided to ask about getting parts and the work done on Tigger’s brakes and a man, Josue, at the hotel (who lives in the little house in the parking lot where we are camping) and his manager, arranged for a mechanic to come and take a look on Friday afternoon. He took apart the hub and pulled out the cracked rotor and he arranged with the hotel to borrow its van and go into Santa Ana – a much larger town – to get a new rotor and new pads for both the back wheels the next morning and said he’d be back to work on it right where we’re parked around 9:30 am on Saturday.

After a cooler night where we didn’t even need air con, we set off to do a hike the next morning. We’d been told by the tourist office in town, there was a water fall about 2km away and we figured we could get there and back before the mechanic arrived. On our way out there, we were asked by a local if we were heading to the waterfall and he said it wasn’t safe to go alone (without a guide) but he’d be back in 30 minutes if we wanted him to take us. We thought this strange as the tourist info said nothing about this but okay, he’s a local, he must know. We met another gentleman while we were waiting and he agreed: don’t go alone this early on a weekday especially.

When Carlos did not return in 45 minutes we gave up and went back into town.   We stopped by the tourist office again and he told us on weekends after nine it’s safe enough as there are a lot of people there but early in the day or on any weekdays, it was not advisable. Okay, we’ll try later on during the weekend.

We got back to the hotel only to learn from Josue that the mechanic was unable to find the correct rotor and had to drive to another town and he’d be back in the early afternoon. When he did return, we learned that that place also did not have the part but it could be ordered from San Salvador and be there on Monday morning. What could we do? – the rotor was out and we can’t drive. So we are staying a couple more days. The hotel is open but business is slow, we have power, the Wi-Fi is good and we are in no big hurry.

Weekends here in Juayua are known for the food festival so it was another reason to check it out. Apparently, exotic things like iguana, frogs and guinea pig were supposed to be available but we found none of those things. We did try the SLV staple, pupusas, and were not impressed. They are small thick tortillas with refried beans in them that taste pretty doughie and Fran dislikes refried beans anyway, but the beer was only 80 cents US.

The main brand here in SLV is Pilsener followed by Golden; the first is pretty good, the latter not so much.

This town is not really geared much for tourists like much of the country but has a nice small town feel; very little vehicle traffic (except on Sunday around the market), lots of murals, light posts have paintings on them and it’s fairly clean (until you walk out of town that is). As mentioned early, many people say hello and some want to chat.

We invited Josue to bring his wife and have a beer with us last night to thank him for his help, but they never showed up. It poured this afternoon and we had quite a pool of water around Tigger but we stayed dry in the hotel lobby skyping with Josh during the storm and watching the Olympics on TV.

Sunday morning we caught the local chicken bus to see some of the other towns along the Ruta de las Flores. We paid 50 cents to travel about 16 km/10m to Concepcion de Ataco where we first walked up to the Mirador de la Cruz above the church. The weather was warm but overcast; it is the rainy season and we do not seem to get all sunny skies all day anymore but the rain, when it comes, comes hard but does not last long. The walk up was stairs and a muddy pathway but the view from the cross looked out over the whole town. From here we could see which streets we might like to wander along.

DSCN3660 main street Ataco

There were markets and food stalls set up around and near the main square and we enjoyed walking around and naturally took a peek inside the main church.

We took the bus back in the direction of “home” for 25 cents and stopped in another village, Apaneca, which was much smaller and quieter. Here we did a bit of shopping though as we figured smaller town, better prices.

We returned for 40 cents to Juayua, had lunch and then hiked out to the waterfalls we had attempted to see on Friday. There were definitely more people around along the road/path and it felt safe.

It took about 40 minutes of walking and along the way we helped a young couple who had attempted driving down the 4×4 recommended road in their little Kia, get their vehicle out of the ditch.

The falls are actually springs coming out of the rock walls into some man made pools. The water is clean, fresh and cold. Many people had thought to bring their swim suits (not us!) and were enjoying the dip in the water. There were three places along the path with pools.

DSCN3684 Los Chorros de la Calera

As we’d walked down the road here, we saw an SUV with California plates and inquired of a couple of gringo couples to see if we could work out who might belong to it. On our second try we met them: Stefan and Carolina from Germany. We chatted for a while and asked them to meet us for a few beers around dinner time at the hotel we’re staying at.

We returned to Tigger, had showers and relaxed until happy hour. Carolina and Stefan joined us in the lobby of the hotel where we shared stories, had a couple of beer and watched the 100M track and field on TV. It was exciting to watch Bolt win his third Olympic gold and Canada’s Andre De Grasse win the bronze.

It has been confirmed that Doug does have to fly to LA again next month so instead of Fran staying alone, we have decided that she’ll fly to California with him and we’ll do something over the weekend that he has to be there between work (probably San Diego where we spent our honeymoon 35 years ago). We spent a couple of hours online sorting all this out while we waited for the mechanic to return with the parts to repair Tigger.

Josue heard from the mechanic late in the afternoon and it turns out the part that was shipped was still not the correct part and the correct one does not appear to be available in this country. He did get the brake pads though. Tuesday morning he returned and reinstalled the damaged rotor and the new brake pads. Doug has ordered the new rotor online and will pick up at the end of the month when he goes to California alone for two nights. We plan to not drive too much before that (small country anyway) and we’ll take it easy. The new brake pads have made a difference so far.

Today was pretty sunny and got quite warm. No big rain storm today. We’ll have spent six nights here when we leave tomorrow and head to the ocean for a few days. We’ll see how unbearable that ends up being.