The first thing I notice, crossing the border into El Salvador, is how much better the roads are than in Honduras or Guatemala. Given the country’s turbulent history and fairly recent tourism industry, this takes me a little by surprise but then, so much of this country has.
A few things to note, to start with. It is hot. Not just a bit warm but the kind of hot that makes you grateful for the lack of hot water in the hostel. The best time of the day is before 8am when it’s a lovely temperature and the early morning light has a wonderful softness to it. The second thing is that is possible to eat too many pupusas, the national dish of stuffed corn tortillas – delicious but deceptively filling! Finally, I am discovering a new found soft spot for iced coffees…the coffee here deserves its reputation!
My first stop in El Salvador is the colonial town, and cultural capital, of Suchitoto. The small town is one of the sole surviving colonial towns in the country following the brutal civil war here. The town had been marked for aerial bombardment but was saved thanks to the inguienity of the town’s ‘father’, Alejandro Cotto. Alejandro’s brother was in the Salvadorian Air Force and called to warn him of the impending mission and urged him to flee their hometown. Alejandro, however, had other ideas. A well-known filmmaker, he had some pretty impressive connections which he put to good use. He first invited the national philharmonic orchestra to his home in Suchitoto for an impromptu concert, promising to pay them handsomely for their efforts. With the orchestra en route, he began calling around the international embassies inviting the ambassadors to his home for the event. Upon hearing that most of the diplomats in the country would be in Suchitoto, the government postponed the bombing, giving Alejandro enough time to persuade the President to save Suchitoto and it’s now unique architecture.
Suchitoto is now a quiet little town with cobbled streets and low buildings. The little central plaza is dominated by a huge white church that dwarves the surrounding buildings with their red-tiled roofs. It’s quaint and quiet. I have a lazy day, dominated by drinking huge quantities of the aforementioned iced coffee in a lovely little cafe off the main square. It’s one of those blissful holiday-days that is completely unremarkable but all the better for it.
The peace and quiet of Suchitoto belies El Salavador’s troubled history. From the decimation of the indigo industry in the 19th century that saw 95% of the country’s new-found coffee wealth concentrated into the hands of just 2% of the population, to the massacres of the 1930s that brought in military rule to the twelve year civil war that ended in 1992, El Salvador, like many of the countries in the region, is slowly trying to rebuild itself. Gang violence remains a significant problem – and one that has put off many tourists until very recent improvements – but the former guerilla movement, the FMLN, has proved to be something of a model example for former rebel groups successfully integrating into the government, with the group’s first leader being elected President in 2009.
But it’s hard to see this side of El Salvador behind the lush green trees and quiet towns. And especially so in the beachside hippy hotspot of El Tunco, which I have to admit was not my favourite place. The town had a weird vibe and a short, busy beach. Still, I’ll take any excuse to wile away a day in a hammock reading my book!
The next stop of El Cuco was much more to my taste. I stayed in a very cool little eco-resort that also serves as a turtle and pelican sanctuary. It was so peaceful, set away from the town, right on the beach with a lovely cooling sea breeze. Cue some serious hammock time again, this time punctuated by some surfing, long beach walks and a lot of yoga, all equals one very happy Vix. It’s been really nice to have a couple of very lazy, relaxing days in the middle of this trip, especially ahead of a twelve hour travelling day to Nicaragua.
And so that brings me to the halfway point of this trip. I’ve still got more than ten days and two countries to go, which is very exciting; Guatemala, not to mention London, feel a very long way away now. I did get the “mid trip blues” today, an inevitable part of travelling on your own. Despite meeting lots of new people, I definitely miss the familiar intimacy of my friends and family, especially hugs; it’s easy to forget how important human touch is for us. But it didn’t last long; a quick text with mum and a friend, and some good tunes on the bus and life is good again…and it’s on to Nicaragua!
El Salvador Directory
Stayed: Hotel Posada Altavista (a modest hotel right next to the main square and opposite one the most popular bars in the town; has a/c which is a must here, hot water in some rooms).
Ate: Karchil’s (on the northwest corner of the main square, Charlie makes wonderful pupusas for $1, including great vegetarian ones stuffed with beans, cheese, spinach, mushrooms and enough garlic to put off even the most determined vampire); cheap pupusas can be found in little local joints all around the main plaza. La Lupita (a bit more upmarket with a good breakfast selection and ‘gourmet’ pupusas).
Drank: Cafe de Abuela (great iced coffee, next to a well-priced handicraft shop, loved the framed coffee sacks decorating the walls and friendly service – including some free help with my Spanish!). Cafe Bar El Necio (a very cool, revolutionary themed bar just northeast of the central plaza, serves beer and rum and not a lot else, but a very cool bar – they won me over with the Metallica soundtrack).
Stayed: Tunco Lodge (a really nice ‘resort’ with a pool and plenty of space; cheap and clean rooms, some with aircon)
Ate: Soya Nutribar (a great little find off the main strip, full of yummy veggie options; not cheap but huge salads and and tasty smoothies). Coyote Cojo (reasonably priced, extensive menu, friendly service)
Stayed (ate and drank!): La Tortuga Verde (a lovely eco-resort, right on the beach. There’s nothing else nearby but has a restaurant and bar on site. Private rooms come with little private terraces with your own hammock; aircon is extra but no really necessary with the sea breeze)