13 May

El Salvador

We weren’t sure what to expect from you, El Salvador, but you’ve warmed our hearts. The smallest and most densely populated country in Central America had some stunning vistas, with no one around for miles. We are impressed by the significant amount of geothermal energy powering the country (close to 30%), the lush greenery and friendly faces all around. Your people and your stray dogs welcomed us with open arms.

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After a long border crossing from Guatemala, our first night was spent at some incredible hot springs with 11 different pools of varying degrees. The best part about camping somewhere that’s not really a campground, is when the place closes to the public – you have the place to yourselves!

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Bruno camping at the hot springs – breakfast is served under a cashew tree!
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One of the first things we notice about El Salvador is that the traditional dress seen in Chiapas, Mexico and in Guatemala is now gone. Girls wear tight skirts and cute tops, guys in casual jeans. The impression that Amanda needs to cover up is gone. It’s too bloody hot.

We carried on down the Ruta de las Flores the next day, which is a pretty stretch of highway with colorful flowers and quaint villages to stop into. The hills surrounding the area are planted with this criss-cross pattern, which took us a little while to find out why. Any guesses?

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It’s so windy up in the highlands of El Salvador that in order to protect the coffee plantations from the strong gusts, they plant rows of cypress trees in between.  Just a few kilometers off the main road is an old volcano crater lake with a nicely worn path to follow and some picnic tables to have lunch. Travis took the opportunity to do some exercise – something we have both been lacking.

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The largest town on the Ruta de las Flores is Juayua, with a population of only about 10,000 people. We planned to spend a night and ended up staying for three. Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise and various Dr. Dre lyrics can be overheard blaring from neighborhood garages. These are intermixed with romantic-sounding Spanish guitar and I can’t tell if they don’t have access to more recent music, or if they just have a love for the music of my childhood.

The guesthouse we found has a host named Socorro. She is like every one of our grandmothers, rolled into one little Salvadoran package. Socorro seems to speak only directly to Amanda, convinced that Travis can’t understand her (which is only partially true). She thinks Travis should be a chef and loves all the tasty meals we’ve shared with her.

She’s tiny, like me and El Salvador!
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At Socorro’s suggestion, we visited another crater lake, Lago de Coatepec. It is massive, so very impressive, and be found easily on Google Maps. There are hotels and private properties that surround the lake, and there were motorboats carting people across the mirrored surface of the water.

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Next stop was camping at Lago Ilopango, just outside San Salvador. After Amanda inquired with one of the staff members about sleeping in Bruno at the lake over night, there was a domino of Spanish conversations with different people in the park hierarchy. We ultimately ended up being ushered to the local Police Sergeant, who recommended that we park outside his Police Station in the park. You can’t get any safer. The whole area is nicely developed lakefront with covered picnic tables, food stalls, a swimming pool and and nice path along the lake.

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In the early evening while settling in and starting to cook dinner, we slowly noticed more and more dogs starting to congregate nearby on the other side of the police building. Turns out to be the local feral dog gang! It seems in the evening all the homeless dogs that live in the park come together and hang out by a trash pit and rummage for food.

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There is also a leaky water faucet nearby that the dogs really enjoy as well. While we cooked and ate dinner, there was a variety of dog gang drama; a giant dog orgy next to the trash pit that involved around 10 dogs, and a few minor dog fights here and there. Interestingly, the police officers seem to live in symbiosis with the dog gang, as both groups don’t seem to mind each other.

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Our final night in the country was spent in San Miguel, as it has several hotel options close to the Honduras border. Not for any other reason, really. Replenish Bruno’s fridge and hopefully use some reliable internet. San Miguel gives the impression that it has transformed from a scrappy town to a trashy, small-sized city. Traffic is wild and aggressive. Every time we crossed a street, I was nervous. Various big intersections don’t yet have lights, sidewalks (if they exist) are narrow and riddled with holes and obstacles. If you can manage to navigate your way to the local Pollo Campestre (the Salvadoran equivalent of KFC), you’ll be greeted at the door by a security guard with a large shotgun. He’ll open the door for you and kindly gesture you towards the counter to place your order. In many ways, I think living in Oakland, California for six years has gently prepared us for parts of this travel. Just a few minutes’ walk from our old house in Oakland, was a KFC that also had an armed security guard on duty full-time!

Enjoying Salvadoran fried pollo
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Follow that truck to the border! Our largest crossing yet: into Honduras and then Nicaragua, all in one day. We hope to emerge with our sanity intact.

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  • Doug

    You two are an adorable couple. I wonder what the locals think about you two as you pass through their lives? The country looks beautiful. I loved the short tale about all the grandmas rolled into one, especially where she would only talk to Amanda. Giggle.

    • Amanda

      We seemed to be the two whitest people wandering the countryside! We’ve got medium-to-low level tans now, but it’s facial structures that are sometimes different, even though we’re still in the Americas. It’s really incredible.