Petting Zoos, Steam Vents, and the Wheel

The Jardín de Celeste really was the best hotel in the area. We looked. :) It had cozy cabins nestled in the hillside surrounded with beautiful plants and flowers. They owned a 270 acre coffee plantation and had a small petting zoo consisting of a few ducks, some sheep, and a pair of geese. There was a wonderful restaurant there at the hotel with good food and decent prices. The only thing this place didnt have, well two things, were a view of the valley, and a market within walking distance. Nonetheless, we did enjoy ourselves there.

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The town of Ataco was about 5km away, and we went there frequently for foodstuffs. We found some exotic fruits there: binches (mamones chinos – I should note that Natnee ate roughly 1000 of these during the trip), a strawberry flavored cherimoya (anoni), and an orange cherimoya-like fruit that we dont know the name of. We also found a place in Ataco that made whole wheat bread, so we had them make us 12 loaves. These turned out to be thick tortillas and not the loaves you see on grocery store shelves in America. But they were good. :) Left are binches, and right is an anoni.

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On a couple occasions Natnee and I just wandered the streets of Ataco, seeing whatever we could see. Interestingly, when you leave the actual city, there are houses and farms right there in the burbs. This is not so in Mexico. There, when you leave the city, there is nothing until you get to the next city. Natnee and I received strange looks all through this town because it was not frequented by white people, and they are more suspicious of others in this town than in others wed visited. On one promenade through town, a little girl of not more than 5 called out after us, Gringa! Gringa! When we turned, she smiled broadly and said, Hello! to our Hola.

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Another day we checked out the market at Juayúa since we had not as yet made it there. It was highly recommended by the guidebook as being one of the largest in the area, with huge numbers of vendors on Saturdays and Sundays. So we went on a Sunday to check it out. We were disappointed. It was too Americanized and too clean to be a market suitable for our delicate tastes. :) Really, though, there wasnt much there to see, so we went to the nearby town of Apaneca to check out their market. It was even more depressing, with about 5 vendors total. After this, we were depressed enough to just go back to the room for the rest of the day.

One day we decided to do a coffee tour in a nearby factory. It was all in Spanish, so Natnee had to translate all of it for us. All their machinery was American-made and old (these days, it has to be old to be American-made). The guide took us through the process from start to finish – from the washing of the beans to the packaging. It was all very interesting (even for someone who doesnt drink coffee), and at the end there was a video in English summarizing the process.

Later on during our stay at Jardín de Celeste, we decided to go to Ahuachapán to the ausoles, or heat vents. Daddy suggested that Ahuachapán was something Mother needed to do more often. :) There are volcanoes there that let off steam, and 10% of the nations energy needs are met through using the ausoles. We took a few pictures of bubbling water and steam (of course!) and we were going to go to the top where the baths were. But, the fumes and gases made Daddy sick, and the road was one of their customary back roads – long and very bumpy. So we turned back.

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By the time we got back in Ahuachapán, we were hungry, so what better place to find food in than the market? :) We found several food vendors in a large open area with tables and chairs so we all sat down and Natnee ordered things from different vendors. But you couldnt take dishes from one section to another. Why? Because the dishes might get stolen. Really?!? These people are so superstitious and so distrusting, it is hard to put it into words. All their houses and stores have bars and locks on them, and there is always a security guard with a sawed-off shotgun closeby. So, we ate in one section and then moved over to the next to try a different dish. While we were eating in this second section, a beggar approached us. We gave him our leftover tortillas and soup, and since he wasnt too proud to take that, we gave him a dollar also. Not sure if that was the right way to handle that situation, but we figured it was worthy of some reward since most people wouldnt take your leftover food; they just want your money.

On our last day at the Jardín de Celeste, we did some exploring by car (as we are wont to do) and ended up in Tacuba. It was a fairly good sized town, the only one wed run into the whole trip that had one-way streets (how frustrating!). The town was clean, and the people were fairly friendly, since they want revenue from tourism. It was nice, but not spectacular. If you enjoy one-way streets, you might like it. :)

In all our driving around and exploring, we found some interesting things to note: Cows graze along the sides of the roads, and there are cows literally EVERYWHERE. As are the people. We tried finding a few bushes to, um, inspect, and everytime we found a good one, thered be some man coming up the hill with a bag of corn on his shoulders. Im not kidding. It got to be kind of funny. :) Also along the sides of the roads are fields of corn, beans, sugar cane, and coffee. Right up to the road in some places. And in every spot of arable land. Some places youd have to rappel to in order to pick the crop because the hillsides were so steep.

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Heres an enigma smothered in secret sauce. Everybody carries things on their heads or their shoulders. Women carry things on their heads, and men carry things on their shoulders. Never the other way around. That just wouldnt be right! I find this carrying distinction cute. Irrational but cute. They carry bottles of water, bundles of sticks, and many other things that way. These are sticks they walked kilometers to gather into a bundle less than 1m across and tied with string. This is water they walked kilometers to collect from the community well. The terrain in this region isnt exactly level. Its very hilly. So these people walked up and down steep hills on roads not fit to drive on with these things. Now, a few of them actually began thinking about what they were doing and created the wheel. Ta dah!

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Isnt this great?!? Well, only when youre going downhill, since they dont have gas or pedals, only brakes. :) Some of them had wooden wheels, some were covered with a little rubber. People would zoom down the road in these things alongside regular traffic back to their houses or stores. Incredible. Even fewer people used a vehicle for hauling wood to and fro. I suppose they just cant afford it, even as a group, or else they simply prefer doing things in the more primitive fashion.

All in all, the people are very friendly and very healthy and very happy. More so than in other Latino countries weve traveled to.

After leaving the hotel, we headed toward some Mayan ruins. Mother wanted to see them. Natnee and I had seen the ones at Copán, so it was nothing new to us, and Daddy didnt really want to see them. After seeing that it would cost us $12 to get in, we decided not to do it, especially since there was no tour guide for that price. After all, this is a pile of rocks were talking about! And, we could see them through the chain-linked fence. So we left and went to our next stop – a crater lake. It was pretty, but there was no place to stay, and had we stayed, there would have been nothing to do in the area or in the lake. So off we went.

Unfortunately, we had to go through San Salvador to get to the beach again without retracing our steps. Retracing our steps is against our principles! Driving through (or rather, as much around as possible) San Salvador was hectic. Daddy nearly clipped off a guys elbow. He was walking along the freeway carrying a bag of oranges on his shoulders. How stupid! Anyway, the guy barely kept his elbow. We stopped at a Burger King in the heart of San Salvador to rest and recoop for a few minutes, and also to have some real French fries, instead of all the wanna-bes wed found in the markets. Anyway, we ended up for the day, and the rest of our stay, at Costa del Sol, a small town on the spit of land on the southeastern side (near La Herradura), but more about that next time. :)

~Crystal

Posted on November 24th, 2009 by Natnee and filed under El Salvador | No Comments »

Back to the Land of Pupusas

We were undecided for a long time of where we wanted to go for our fall trip. We initially thought wed go out west, but finally decided on El Salvador since it had a nice beach, mountains, and some interesting foods. So, off we went on September 30. We stayed in Houston the night before since our flight left early on the 30th. As we were going through the usual security checks, I was stopped and frisked because I was wearing two shirts on this particularly chilly morning. Last time I checked, it wasnt a crime, but the metal detectors didnt like it. The agent said it was a bulky item. And even after I showed her my undershirt, she said she would have to pat me down or else I would have to go back, take the shirt off and send it through the x-ray machine, and then come back through. I opted for the frisking, mainly because I was still cold and didnt want to take my outer shirt off, but also because it would be a new experience. It was painless and fairly non-invasive, and afterwards we went along our merry way.

Once on the plane and in the air, I settled into my seat for a roughly 3-hour flight. I thought I might tilt the seat back a little since theyre so uncomfortable when theyre upright. What kind of people COULD be comfortable in those things? I mean really. :) Anyway, I pushed the button, gave a gentle push back, and WHAM! Only a whopping 3 degrees of tilt! I was just getting going good! I tried again. I asked Natnee if his chair was the same way. There was extra space on the flight, so if it was just my chair I would have moved, but alas, all the uncomfortable chairs were made all the more uncomfortable by not being able to tilt back more than a few degrees. [sigh]

We landed and got our rental car without incident, and then we headed to the beach! After all, this IS why we came here. We passed through La Libertad, stopping for some pupusas for lunch. A pupusa is a stuffed tortilla with sauerkraut and chile sauce on top. Most pupusas are stuffed with refried beans and cheese. Yum! We walked through the market there to get a few essential food items and then headed west.

We landed for the night at Playa Mizata, staying in a nice little room at the Mizata Resort (www.mizataresort.com). It wasnt much before dark when we arrived, so Natnee went down to the beach to watch the sunset and wander around a little. Not far off was a giant rock which we, of course, HAD to investigate the next day. There wasnt much of interest, but we did capture a few good pictures.

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We were about to walk back to the room, when we decided we wanted just another picture or two from on this rock. While out on the rock, a wave twice the size of the regular ones came up and knocked both Natnee and me off our feet. Since he was closer to the edge of the rock, he sustained greater injuries. I escaped with a few scratches and bruises, but he lost a big chunk of flesh on the heel of his hand and the side of his foot, right where the sandal rubs. So, we began hobbling back to the room, but by the time we arrived there, the salt water had helped to heal Natnees foot wound so that it neither bled nor hurt. However, he spent the rest of the two weeks we were there hobbling around, which greatly hampered our exploring.

The next day we decided to move further up the coast. We liked where we were staying, but there just wasnt much there to do, so we thought wed try to find some place better. We ended up at Barra del Santiago. We drove through this little town and toward the beach. And we drove. And we drove. It took nearly an hour down a bumpy road to get to the beach, and once we got there, we had to use 4-wheel drive to get to the hotels. There were two. One was $250 a night, and we would have needed two rooms. The other one we talked into $90 a night for two rooms, since their rooms were ridiculously small. It was a night of living out of our coolers since no local food was available, and the air conditioning didnt work so well. Also, Daddy kept getting bit by critters all night, so we left there the next day to find someplace better.

We wanted to go towards Guatemala and take a road back across the mountains toward Juayúa instead of going through the big cities. We stopped for breakfast at the market in Cara Sucia. The typical breakfast there is two eggs (fried or scrambled), fried plantains, queso fresco, sour cream, and tortillas. We had such a breakfast in the market for $1.50. We also obtained recipes of their sour cream and queso fresco while we were there. Onward we drove toward Guatemala looking for our turn-off. But we came upon the Guatemalan border before we found the road. It was in the guidebook, but there were no signs along the road anywhere. We tried a few roads that could have worked, but none did. The locals said it was possible to take this road, but it was not a good road, and it was best to go through the big city of Sonsonate. We cut off Sonsonate by a legitimate road and ended up in a guidebook-recommended hotel, Jardín de Celeste, where we stayed for a whole week, and which I will write about in my next post. :)

~Crystal

Posted on November 1st, 2009 by Natnee and filed under El Salvador | 2 Comments »

Surf El Salvador

So said the T-Shirt on Val Kilmers character in Real Genius (or was it surf Nicaragua? Oh well). So I decided to take him up on the idea. Getting into El Salvador was almost too easy. We walked across the border. Looking for the usual immigrations department, forms, fees, etc. On the way across we found a guardhouse, about like what youd find back home for a gated community. Only not as nice of course. The lone guard flagged us down as we were ambling past and asked to see our passports. We had them in hand already and passed them over. He glanced at them and smiled and said welcome to El Salvador. Just like that. No stamps, no forms, no where are you going/what do you do/why are you here questions. Just poof, were in El Salvador.

Since that was too easy, I asked where we went next. He said nowhere, that was it, were here. So I wandered around for awhile in spite of what he said, not willing to accept that it was really that easy. Found a line I could wait in for awhile (that made me feel better) and finally come up to the front, handed over my passports dutifully and the person looked perplexed and said well didnt you see the guard out there? I said, |uh, yes and she said well didnt he look at your passports already? I said, uh, yes and so she handed my passports back and said youre in El Salvador. Have fun!

Alright! Thats how a border crossing SHOULD be! That really set the tone for El Salvador in general. Nice people, no hassles, cheap prices, good- no, great food. From the border we walked a little ways in and found a money changer, who offered to change our Honduran lempira into dollars. After negotiating a rate I said no, I wanted Salvadoran money. He said dollars IS Salvadoran money. I was skeptical but took the dollars. Sure enough, every price I saw was in dollars so after an hour or two I conceded that El Salvador used the dollar. We were thankful for a reprieve from the constant recalculation of prices based on 18 to the dollar, 20 to the dollar, 550 to the dollar, and liked to just see a price and know Oh that IS dollars!

So then we caught a bus to San Salvador, spent a few hours wandering through the market eating street food. Delicious street food. Something called an Empanada that was basically bananas and cream mixed up and deep fried. Two the size of half an avocado for a quarter. Basically everything in El Salvador was a quarter. And I saw more fruit for sale on buses as snack food than anywhere else in central america. Children came on board at every stop selling watermelon, mango, papaya, pinapple, all for about a half-pound for a quarter. We bought a pound and a half of small, delicious, local strawberries for a dollar. Then we discovered pupusas.

A pupusa is basically a stuffed tortilla. They take fresh cornmeal and wrap it around beans, cheese, squash, meat, whatever and fry them on a griddle. Sell them for about a quarter each – and they are the size of a pancake. Two are quite filling. Plus, they come with homemade sauerkraut called repollo, which piled on top with salsa makes a good meal for about 50 cents. They are uniquely Salvadoran although the repollo is common in Nicaragua and Honduras.

As I said in the previous post, Salvadorans are very helpful. When I made it known to the driver of the bus that I was headed to Playa Sunzal, a few minutes later half the people on the bus were telling me Sunzal, Sunzal aqui! and making sure I got off where I was supposed to. This happened several times.

We found a nice hotel a few hundred feet from the beach, that came with free internet, ping pong, pool table, darts, kitchen and was a very nice relaxing place to spend the weekend.

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If you look at the rock on the left, from some angles it looks like an old sailor. Sunday morning I took some surfing lessons – 14$ for an hour with a board rental for the day. Unfortunately, the surf was so far away and I was so out of shape for paddling I could only catch two waves.

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Equally unfortunately, because of my distance from shore and the fact that I was not the only one wearing a red shirt, Crystal repeatedly took pictures of the wrong surfer riding the waves. But here I am in this one. No, Im not the cool one riding the wave. But if you look to the right, there is a black blob. Thats the top of my head. Hang ten, dudes!

I found someone juggling on the beach, so I juggled with them for awhile. Then that attracted a third juggler, and we set up a ball passing pattern with 3. No videos of that unfortunately, but it was a lot of fun. We found some tamales in La Libertad for 20 cents each, took 10 to go, but two each filled us up.

Next morning we were up to go to Guatemala at 5:30. We wanted to make some oatmeal in the kitchen before we left, but found it didnt open until 6 so we waited. Then we caught the bus ride, which was remarkably uneventful except for the movie Titanic. Which is also remarkably uneventful, and would have been totally unwatchable had it not been dubbed in Spanish which made it just barely interesting – no offense to the millions of teenage girls who made this movie gross more than Star Wars.

But we finally got our passport stamped at the border to Guatemala, although it was still very easy to cross the border. From there we went to Antigua, which you will see next post

Posted on February 25th, 2009 by Natnee and filed under El Salvador | No Comments »

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