Juayua – Sonsonate

It was time to move on and explore the northern half of the Ruta de las Flores. I was hoping to be able to do a loop from the top of the Ruta through Parque Nacional El Imposible where I was told there was a bus that could take me through. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was true as some maps show a road and some don’t. Plus locals were in two minds as well. Still, I thought I’d give it a go and see how far I could get. Worst case scenario, I just retrace my tracks back down to Sonsonate. 

I caught the bus to Apeneca, the next town on the Ruta. As we came to the outskirts of town, I noticed a sign at a fork in the road pointing left for the town centre and right for the Ruta, so got off the bus. Mornings with bronchitis are brutal for me, so it was a slog walking into town with my pack even though it was only a slight incline and a reasonably short distance. I was well and truly done by the time I found the town plaza and thankfully plonked myself on a wooden bench at an adjacent comedor. I croakily ordered breakfast and took a leisurely break before slogging back to the main road again. I didn’t have to wait long for the next bus and to find out that had I stayed on the previous bus, it would have taken me straight into town further down the road! I had to have a chuckle over this.

I had found out about an amazing plant nursery which had a restaurant attached at my hostel in Juayua, so got the bus to drop me off there next. One of the girls that was also staying at the same hostel was there so I joined her for a coffee. She kindly offered to give me a lift into the next town which I gratefully accepted as I was fading fast. A quick look around the beautiful grounds of the nursery and we were off further up the Ruta to Ataco. 

I don’t know why they chose this particular part of El Salvador to call the Route of the Flowers, as I had travelled in many other parts of the country with the same beautiful flowering plant vistas, but it certainly did live up to its name as it traversed through gorgeous little cobbled stone towns, all with the ubiquitous Salvadorian liberal splash of vibrant colour. Ataco was no different, with a beautiful white and azure trimmed church in the main plaza and a matching one further down the road, nestled in front of a hill. An impressive water fountain took centre stage of the plaza and immaculate gardens lined the paths cross crossing its centre. 

I was taking some photos of the plaza when I came across the skinniest street dog I had ever seen. It was literally almost all skin and bones. I’m usually pretty good with street dogs in that it does pull on my heartstrings when I see one sick or injured, but I reconcile myself with at least they are free to roam and that one can’t save them all. This dog, however, was not one I could walk away from. I got directions to the local supermarket, bought a small bag of dog food, and returned to feed Delgado (skinny in Spanish…). By this stage, I had also picked up another street dog who I’m pretty sure was blind. I fed them both and got water out of the fountain using a discarded foam cup lying around. I don’t what the outcome for either dog will be, but at least I was able to do something for them in the meantime. 

I got direction to pick up the bus again and finished travelling along the Ruta. I had to change buses in Ahuachapan to get to Tacuba where I hoped to find this elusive bus through the national park. I often wonder whether places like this are made deliberately beautiful so that when you finally reach a certain point in your journey only to find that the road doesn’t continue where you want it to and hence you need to retrace your steps, at least you can appreciate the scenery from the other direction. That’s what happened in Tacuba. Still, I had travelled out to another remote Salvadorian outpost and experienced some more breathtaking mountainous countryside. 

Back down the Ruta, I was starting to feel I knew the southern part particularly well now as it was my third traverse – on foot, via pick up and now via bus. On we continued though to the city of Sonsonate, a big bustling place that appeared to have a faded colonial charm in places as we roared through. It was dark by the time we arrived at the bus station and as I had no map of the area, and hence no orientation, I decided to get a taxi to the hotel I picked out of the guide book. Unfortunately, it appeared that that hotel had closed down and there were no other cheap hotels in the vicinity. I asked the taxi drivers where I could get a room for around USD10 – 15 and they bustled me into a taxi to take me to one. 

Out along the main highway, the driver asked which place I would prefer to go to and rattled off a few names. I told him I hadn’t been here before so didn’t know any of them. El señor driver then decided to turn into Hotel de Tres Ases, a brightly lit expansive highway motel. He drove into the property and pulled into a ground floor garage. I was a bit confused and asked where reception was. He said just go up the stairs and knock. Hmmmm. I went upstairs straight into a motel room. A closed door led into an ensuite bathroom. Another closed door was locked from the other side. I ran downstairs to find the taxi gone and garage door closed. I found the switch for the door, grabbed my pack and went to find someone who could explain this strange set up. 

I found a security guard who took me back up to the room and explained how this place worked. One had to ring reception and payment (by the hour…) was made via a small wooden box with a cover which rolled both ways. Everything was extremely discrete and it didn’t take me long to work out the real purpose behind this illustrious hotel. A menu offering items such as condoms, lubricants, extra sheets and a suit cleaning/pressing service; not to mention the on tap porn channel, the roll of tissue on the wall next to the bed, and the super sized mirror adjacent to the large bed made it all too obvious. Still, it was cheap (USD12) and probably the flashiest place I had stayed at thus far. As the door was locked from the other side, I made sure I locked all my valuables in my backpack, just in case, but had no interruption during the night. 


 After hacking up half the night, I decided that doing the seven waterfall trek was probably not my in my best interests. Instead, I opted for a more leisurely jaunt to a nearby village where one of the best coffee co-ops in El Salvador is situated. I caught a bus to Majada and had a wander around the tiny settlement adjacent to the coffee processing plant. This very basic rural community is situated in some of the prettiest countryside in El Salvador, with coffee plantations nestled in between towering volcanos.  

I had been told that the coffee co-op does tours of it’s processing plant but usually you have to book in advance. I thought I’d just ask on the off chance I might get lucky. As it was, the head of production took me on a private tour for free! It was interesting to see how my favourite brekkie bevie was processed. They roast on site and I got to see how personal the process was. An hombre in charge of the roasting process, pulls a bean out of a little plug hole and cracks it open to check. When he’s satisfied, he pulls the lever and the whole cache drops into a rotating airing tray. A couple of señoras package up the roasted beans when they’ve cooled and the net result is exported around the world for coffee lovers like me to savour. 

After a most informative tour, I got a bus back to Juayua. I was hoping to go further down the road to do a loop, but as in this part of the world, that plan didn’t come to fruition. Back in Juayua, I decided to walk the couple of kilometres to the next town in the other direction. Salcoatitan is a pretty little town famous for its public mosaic displays. There was a particularly beautiful one stretched out along a retaining wall next to a 300 year old Ceiba tree on the southern entrance to town. 

I was feeling like walking still and as the road was going downhill, thought I would walk a ways until I had had enough. Needless to say, three hours (and 12 kilometres…) after I set out from Juayua, I arrived at the start of the Ruta de Flores in which this beautiful part of the country is located. I must admit, I enjoyed getting out in the countryside and stretching my legs. As it was all downhill, I didn’t need to exert myself much so my poor bronchioles didn’t have to work too hard. It was nice to be able to stop and take photos when ever I wanted and of course, the slower pace of travel gave one a different experience again. 

On dusk, I thought I would make my way back again and hailed down a pick up truck. This is the most authentic way you can travel in El Salvador. This truck was standing room only and truly was ‘cattle class’. There was between 30 – 40 people tightly wedged in the small space, with the back few hanging precariously on the back. It was wonderful, though, travelling on a rural Salvadorian road, watching the moonlit sky, with the wind on one’s face. It’s times like this that you just appreciate life, with all its little quirks. 

Back in Juayua, I made my way back to the hostel. I was in dire need of a pee and a Pilsener. And a shower! I calculated the cost of my little adventure and it came to a whole USD.80c. Add in food, drink and my dorm bed and the total cost of my day in paradise was USD16.80. That was a cheap day, but even so. Shows you one doesn’t need to spend a lot of money in this country to have a great time. 

Santa Ana – Juayua

 The Travel God of Health desperately tried to make amends by at least giving me the strength to get up mid morning and get ready for the day. I decided to chance checking out and slowly wander around Santa Ana with regular rest intervals. I had a tasty breakfast at a local little restaurant and drugged myself up for the day. Had I more time up my sleeve, I would have gratefully rested for the few days it would taken for the worst to pass. As it was, I had to forgo a volcano hike I had planned. 

I wandered down to the Central Plaza where some most magnificent buildings lined its outer limits. I went into the Teatro de Santa Ana and was completely blown away with its ornate splendour. Built in 1902 in a neoclassical French style, this fully functioning theatre retains most of its original features, including period light fittings, theatre chairs, and doors opening to individual stalls. Together with opulent decorations throughout, including the two foyers, one felt like adorning oneself in a pastel French muslin gown and promenading the room with a dainty glass of champagne in one’s hand. Instead, I clomped around in a pair of shorts with a massive camera in hand. Sort of the same…

From there I went over to the adjacent Cathedral. I was bemused by the signage inside the Cathedral warning people of the dangers of feeding pigeons and the health risks that they expose themselves to, when right outside the door are vendors selling corn for people to do just that! So much for a community working together to solve a problem. 

By now, I had reached my practical limit for the day and decided to cash up and head out of town. A wander through the local market on the way back to the hostel, lead me to the crazed woman from yesterday sitting on the steps of an old building. She was still calling out her impassioned gibberish and then sitting quietly watching the world go by. 
I collected my pack and got directions for where to catch a bus to Juayua, my next port of call. On the way to the bus terminal, however, I was distracted by an old ruin and went for a quick explore. I couldn’t find out any information about it, but it looked as if it would have been a grand building in its door. 

I found the bus I needed and jumped on board. As it was just on dusk by the time we left, I didn’t manage to see much of the countryside on the way. We did skirt the Volcán de Santa Ana and were able to see the city lights spread out in the valley below. Travelling of an evening does put things into a different perspective, as you get brief glimpses into local life after dark. Of course, having a beautiful moon illuminating a lacy sky adds to the experience. 

I’m Juayua, I located my hostel and checked in. A UK expat runs it with a Norwegian girl and they have done a great job creating a really homely place with a lovely garden outside. I ended up joining in a board game before I had even got myself organised and had a great night with some fun people.  

Santa Ana

The Travel God of Health took his eye off the ball big time and I came down with a full blown dose of bronchitis. I had only organised to stay one night as time was ticking and I had lots more I wanted to do in this fabulous country. However, I wasn’t capable of walking from my bed to the bathroom so wouldn’t be checking out of my digs anytime soon. I eventually stumbled downstairs to let someone know I would be needing to stay an extra night. As I had no voice, I had to write all this down and was thankful that I learned how to write in Spanish as well as speak it – knew that would come in handy one day!

About midday, I awoke to what I thought was a Salvadorian soap opera, only to realise it was a crazed woman outside my window. I was feeling a little better so had a wash and went out to get something to eat. An airy cafeteria off the nearby markets met my needs and I was able to make myself understood enough with my croaky, poorly spoken Spanish. As I returned to the hostel, I saw the crazed woman from earlier, sitting on the pavement. She was extremely disheveled and had deformed feet, but didn’t appear to be begging. 

Back to bed and I was glad to be where I was if I was going to be sick. The upstairs dorm was large and airy and had a gentle breeze wafting through the room. I slept fitfully throughout the rest of the day. Carlos came in to check on me which was really sweet of him. 

Early evening and the Italian girl who moved into the bed next to me earlier in the afternoon and an English woman came in and we started chatting. They were going out to get some pupusas for dinner and as I was feeling a little better, decided to join them. We walked the couple of blocks to a great little roadside pupusaria and had a short but pleasant evening. After that, it was back to the bed for this little black duck. 

San Ignacio – Santa Ana

After breakfast in one of the grimiest comadors I have ever eaten in, I had a wander around town. When I got to the church overlooking the town plaza, I noticed amongst the large throng, people dressed as characters from the nativity. There followed a parade through town to another smaller church several blocks away where they collected the ‘baby Jesus’ and brought him back to the main church. Midway through, the ‘three wise men’ were given mounts and led on horseback. A small group of youths followed the procession, firing off rockets at regular intervals. It was a noisy, lively affair greatly enjoyed by the local parishioners. 

I had got directions as to a bus which went down a remote mountain road from close to the Honduran border to the town of Metapan. I caught a bus to the border town of El Poy then made further enquiries of the bus I wanted. It turned out there was only one bus a day and I had ten minutes to catch it in the next village! I jumped in a tuk tuk and we sped off towards Citala where my bus was warming up ready to go. I made my way past a señora delivering the Sunday sermon to the travelling mob to take a seat next to a wizened señor. 

For me, travelling is more about the journey than the destination. Seeing the countryside, experiencing everyday local life and generally soaking up what a country has to offer. Thus, opportunity to slowly meander through remote Salvadorian mountain country well off the beaten track in an old, clapped out, ex-US school bus crammed full of locals jumping on and off, was not to be missed! The dirt road was in fairly good condition and looked as if it had been recently graded. However, it was narrow and severely winding which meant the bus was forced to traverse at snail’s pace. 

As we slowly wound out way around the sides of the mountains, we passed tiny communities consisting of little more than a handful of tiny mud brick shacks. Subsistent farming was being eked out of this remote pocket by carving small fields into the hilly and heavily forested terrain. The vistas we were provided on this traverse were stunning at every angle. 
Three hours after leaving Citala, we finally arrived in the large town of Metapan. By this stage, I needed a rest stop before hopping on another bus to Santa Ana where I decided I would spend the night. A nearby little restaurant filled this need most effectively! A final bus took me from Metapan into Santa Ana where we drove into a sumptuous sunset. Unfortunately, I started getting a sore throat which I prayed wouldn’t develop into the dreaded bronchitis I am plagued with at times. 

I asked the driver to drop me as close to the town centre as possible as I had chosen a hostel out of the guide book not far from there. By now, I wasn’t feeling at all well and just wanted to dump my pack and crash on a bed. Preferably a clean one. The plaza at which I alighted was about a kilometre away from the town centre. I was busting for a pee, but the only place I could see en route was a dodgy dive of a bar populated by rough señors and a handful of even rougher señoras. Still, I was desperate so dumped my pack behind the bar and ordered a cerveza. 

One block further on, I passed two hygienically superior large family restaurants which in hindsight would have been far better options, but mission had already been completed so I continued on. Once at the plaza, I got my bearings and walked the further nine blocks to where I intended staying. At the crossroads just past where the hostel should have been, I turned around and checked again. Nothing. As I was contemplating trying to find somewhere else, I heard a shout from above ‘Casa Verde?!?’ The hostel had been marked on the wrong side of the map, was extremely poorly signed and I was trying to find it in the dimly lit night. No wonder I failed! 

Carlos, the energetic owner, let me in and I entered a wonderland of hostel at least equal to some of the best I have ever stayed in. I organised a dorm bed and crashed not long thereafter.  

Suchitoto – San Ignacio 

Checking the map for how to get to my next destination, Chalatenango, it looked like I would have to skirt around a large lake to get to where I wanted to go. Unless…..there was a way to cross the lake. I asked and it appeared there surely was. What luck! Not only did I not have to detour and later retract my steps, I got a boat ride too. 

Armed with bold ambition, I got directions to where I had to catch a bus which would take me to the ferry. I sat on the sidewalk with a señor selling handmade hammocks and had a chat whilst waiting. The minibus arrived and we roared off through town and down to the water’s edge. A local boy was racing our vehicle on his push bike, much to the merriment of two other children on board. He was going pretty fast over the heavily cobbled roads and I can’t imagine it would have been a comfortable ride. 

Down at the dock, I was directed to a Señor in a smart white polo-shirt. Boat across the lake to San Francisco Lempa? Si, 5 dólares. Perdón?? 5 dólares. How long will the trip take? Oh, about 10 minutes. 5 dólares?!? Si. I was astounded. USD5 is way out of kilter for what one would expect for a ten minute boat road. But then I saw the reason why. A boatload of foreign tourists puttered along on a cruise of the lake. I understand that some like their third world country experience sanitised, but allowing themselves to be financially exploited like this creates a duel economy which doesn’t do anyone (particularly the locals!) any good. I’m a firm believer in grassroots travel – it’s way more ethical and you truly get to experience all a country has to offer.

The boat ride across the lake was lovely, though. Clusters of mauve coloured water hyacinths formed tiny islets past which the little boat was manoeuvred. All backdropped by hills draped thickly with tropical vegetation. On the other side, I enquired of some locals where to catch the bus to San Francisco Lempa, when a small group of soldiers and a military policeman standing nearby piped up and said they would take me there. I had a pleasant chat with them as we hiked up the hill to where the bus went past. They ended up boarding the bus with me and making sure the bus assistant knew where I wanted to go, then jumped off. I must admit, that was my first armed escort in Central America. 

As the bus climbed further up the hill, one got glimpses of the beautiful lake I had just crossed. We drove alongside it higher up the hill for quite some time and I was glad to have paid the money for the lake crossing to have this beautiful vista on the other side. Eventually, we pulled into Chalatenango. I really liked the look of this large town. It had quite a prosperous feel to it, with department stores selling a range of goods rather than the ubiquitous American second hand clothing stores. The pleasant bustle of locals added to the vibe. 

I got off the bus to explore a little further. The central plaza was quite unusual in that there was a large military garrison on one side of it. Evidently it was built during the Civil War to sort out those pesky guerrillas. As one would expect, there was also a fairly thorough guarding of the garrison, including a couple of soldiers wearing balaclavas. How they managed that in this heat is beyond me!

I located a bus that would take me west to my next destination and jumped on board. Shortly afterwards we picked up a most entertaining hawker… This señor stood at the front of the bus addressing the punters. Then he pulled out of his satchel a blue pen. Nothing fancy, just a plain blue biro. And started banging on about it. For one whole minute. I’ve never heard anyone exult the virtues of a blue pen quite to this extent before. But then there was more! Not only did you get this amazing blue pen, but you also got a black pen and a red pen all for USD1! And if that wasn’t enough, there was a free gift. Of a black marker pen. Looked like an ordinary black marker pen to me, but somehow this hombre managed to market it for a further 30 seconds. And…. a red marker pen. Now we had a blue pen, a black pen, a red pen, a black marker pen AND a red marker pen all for USD1!! Incredible. 

As our humble hombre packed his items back into his satchel, I thought the show was over. How wrong I was… He pulls out a toothbrush. Just an ordinary plastic toothbrush. There followed an enthusiastic monologue about qualities of said toothbrush. For another minute. But what about the free gift?? He reaches into his satchel and pulls out one of the blue wonder pens and the kitschiest little notebook in town. What they had in common with the toothbrush was beyond me, apart from the fact you might be able to use the duo to record your daily dental regime. But of course, there’s more! Our hombre pulls out of his Tardis of a satchel a small flashlight. One can only assume that señoras would use that to check that their wayward niño had actually used the transcendental toothbrush the way the Good Lord intended. I nearly gave this sensational salesman some money just for the entertainment value!

I was dropped off at a crossroad to catch another bus heading north to La Palma. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long as it was hot and there wasn’t a lot of shade. On board my next and last bus for the day, I had enough room to kick back (as much as you can on a cramped Salvadorian bus…) and really enjoy the scenery. We reached what I thought was the fringes of La Palma and some people hopped off. I thought I would wait until we got to the town centre, however, had no concept of how tiny this little town is as we roared right out of it again! Not to matter, I just went on to the next town, San Ignacio, which ended up being a far better choice. 

San Ignacio isn’t in slightest bit touristy, which was lovely. Just a small rural Salvadorian town close to the Honduran border. It had a lovely tranquil, community feel about it and I enjoyed a most pleasant evening at a local pupusaria adjacent to the town plaza, watching the locals interact with genuine comradery. There was someone playing a saxophone in the plaza which provided a soulful soundtrack as the sun slipped down over the mountains through a scarlet sky. 

Alegría – Suchitoto

I awoke to a cacophony of bird chatter at dawn. Deciding to join the feathered throng, I padded out into the garden in my jim jams. The señora of the casa came out shortly afterwards and offered me a cup of coffee. That was a lovely bonus and I enjoyed my early morning café in the gardens watching the birds frolicking. 

I was directed to an amazing restaurant overlooking the vast valley below Alegría. Even though the valley was shrouded in cloud, it still provided a most spectacular vista to enjoy over a tasty local breakfast. A pleasant morning wander around town capped off my visit to Alegría and I collected my pack to move ever onwards. 

My next port of call was Suchitoto in the country’s more northern reaches, but of course, I had my own preferred way of getting there. I caught a bus to the neighbouring little village of Berlin, then another bus to the town of Mercedes Umaña on the Carretera Panamericana. From there I could catch a San Salvador bound bus to where I wanted to get dropped off for the next leg. 

I was feeling quite smug thinking I had finally worked out how to travel on the routes I wanted when I made the fatal error of asking the bus assistant as he was dropping me off in San Rafael Cedros where I could get a bus to Suchitoto. That was it! My pack was hoiked back on the bus and I was hastened aboard. That’s not the way to Suchitoto. You have get off further down the road! I explained in vain that I didn’t want to go down that particular road, but the one I had chosen. To no avail; I was assured that they would drop me off at the correct stop and I would get to Suchitoto. Sometimes, Salvadorians can be a little too helpful… 

After the driver dropped me off at the ‘correct’ spot and waved me adios with a beaming smile, I hastened across the hectic highway to collect a bus heading to Suchitoto. My wheels for this leg of the journey happened to be a clapped out minivan, packed to the gunnels. I shared a seat with a old señora clutching a chicken with its legs tied together. I didn’t want to know whether the chook was destined for a peaceful life pecking in the yard or was intended for the pot, so didn’t enquire as to its fate. 

It was nice driving up through the hills again after the hot flats of the Carretera Panamericana. Due to the nature of the terrain, traffic is forced to slow, making for a pleasant scenic trip and a chance to peek into everyday rural Salvadorian life. Frequent stopping to pick up and drop off passengers added to the slow pace. 

We eventually pulled into Suchitoto and I took my cues from the other exiting passengers that this was where the bus terminated. Central Plaza was only a block away as it turned out. I got my bearings and made my way to a hostel I picked out of the guidebook. Blanca Luna was a great choice as I ended up with a nice little room with private bathroom for only USD10. With a beautiful flowering plant strewn balcony and terrace, I think the Travel God of Accommodation was giving me a break from the dodgy dives I had been staying in of late. 

As I had a couple of hours of light left, I dumped my pack and took myself for a wander around town. Late afternoon in downtown Suchitoto is very laid back and communal. Old señors gather in small groups to chew the fat on the issues of the day, small boys kick scruffy footballs in the streets, and señoras rock babes in their arms whilst chatting with a neighbour. 
It was back to the central plaza for dinner and a cerveza, watching the passing parade of locals. Mass was being said in the church, which melded in with the other sounds of early evening activity. A very pleasant way to spend an evening in a relaxed little town. 

La Union – Alegría

Day dawned and the grimy streets of La Union soon began bustling with early morning activity. The large steel doors securing the hotel compound were drawn back and it was business as usual for its occupants. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get where I wanted to go today, but was sure I needed to find somewhere to eat. That somewhere ended up being a small comedor with a bain-marie full of tasty Salvadorian treats. It was only luke warm but I hadn’t eaten since breakfast yesterday, so gratefully tucked in. 

Sufficiently sated, I went about the task of finding a bus to take me along the Carretera del Litoral. This would take me along the southern part of El Salvador from which I could jump up further north later on. I picked the next major town along that particular route, Usulutan, and asked for a bus. Alas, it seemed I would need to backtrack to San Miguel on the northern route and take another bus down to Usulutan. I had troubles trying to convince the locals that I didn’t want to do this. For me it is usually more about the journey than the destination, but this was a foreign concept for a nation where one just goes where one needs to go. The quickest, least painful way. I eventually managed to get what I wanted by asking for a destination south west of La Union for which I would at least need to go part way along my preferred route. Success was achieved and I was bustled on a passing bus heading to El Tamarindo. 

I explained to the bus assistant that I wanted to go further along the Carretera del Litoral and arranged to be dropped off where the bus turned heading south. I waited with a small throng of locals on the side of the road for the next bus heading west along the Carretera. This small rural crossroad was serviced by a couple of tiny stalls hawking food and drink when the numerous buses passed by. In many cases, vendors would climb onto the bus, plying their wares down the length of the bus, jump off at the back and climb on a bus going in the opposite direction to do same and return to their original destination to restock. 

The bus arrived and our small group piled on. Shortly afterwards we picked up what I like to call a Mobile Medicine Man. These guys jump on a bus at a certain point, deliver a passionate sales pitch about their ‘miracle cure’ for an amazing array of ailments, go through the bus hawking their wonder product, then jump off the back of the bus at another point to grab a bus going in the opposite direction. 

Bus no. 2 pulled into a little town about midway from my final destination on this carretera. I sat on the side of the road with some other locals waiting for bus no. 3, soaking up the scenery. Senoras were manning little food and drink stalls, merrily going about their business with a genuine camaraderie. Most wore the traditional lace embroidered aprons which wrapped around their waists with several pockets in which to put money and other small items. People came on foot or pulled alongside in their vehicles to purchase their goods. 

Bus no. 3 finally arrived and I threw my pack, then me on board. I had got some information from an hombre while I was waiting on how to do the next leg of my journey. I needed to get off at a crossroad called El Delirio. From there I should be able to get a bus going straight into Usulutan. The bus began filling more and more the further we went. Even though I had a seat, I eventually was sandwiched in the middle of the bus when an hombre called out to me to get up. I thought I needed to get off at that point, but he was just letting me know I needed to make my way to the back of the bus so I could make a speedy exit when the time came. That is no mean feat when a bus is so tightly packed and I appreciated the advance warning. 

Off bus no. 3 at El Delirio, and walked with other locals across the crossroads to wait for bus no. 4 which I hoped would be my final bus to Usulutan. I was surprised to see a couple of foreigners on this bus – the first I had seen on local buses my entire travels this trip. It was interesting to see the difference in the way this young couple who spoke no Spanish were treated to the way I was treated. The couple were more or less rudely herded off the bus when their stop came, where I received friendly assistance. This was the kind of interaction I was used to with all my travel so far through Central America, but didn’t realise it wasn’t generic to all travellers. It certainly does pay to learn the language and travel sensitively in places like this. 

In Usulutan, I was dropped off on the highway outside the district hospital where I could catch a bus north to Alegría, where I planned to stay the night. I was somewhat bemused to notice a large sign facing the hospital entrance advertising funeral services. This would be the first thing people would see exiting the hospital gates. After a long, hot wait, the bus I needed finally arrived and I jumped on. The bus left the main road and lumbered up the hills, leaving the sultry heat behind which was a relief. 

Alegría is a pretty little mountain town precariously perched on the side of a steep hill. I was dropped off in the town square and immediately noticed a hostel adjacent. I enquired about vacancies, however, they were full so sent me off to another property a few blocks away. Cabañas la Estancia de Daniel was an excellent choice and I managed to get a cabin with private bathroom for USD10. All set in a lovely garden. I spent some time wandering around the townsite before finding a local comedor for dinner. The town had a lovely vibe and it was a very pleasant stroll back to my cabin later that night. 

Perquin – La Union

Perquin’s former standing as Guerrilla HQ during El Salvador’s brutally long and drawn out civil war now houses a poignant Museum of the Revolution, and that was my first port of call for the day. After breakfast, I conquered the hill climb back into town, and hiked even further up to get to the museum which was on the other side of town. 

Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña is not going to win any prizes for spectacular displays, but it had an important story to tell and tell it it did. Civil unrest had long been on the Salvadorian agenda due to some fairly serious human rights issues and finally flared in 1980 with the assassination of an outspoken Catholic priest. While he was saying mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital, no less! Armed insurrection turned into fully blown civil war which dragged on for over a decade due to US interference by way of arming and training government forces. 

The museum contained an interesting collection of newspaper reports, biographies of key guerrilla personnel, photos of guerrilla camp life, camp memorabilia, and anti war posters from around the world. It was interesting to see fully armed men and women fighting side by side. There was also an impressive display of old soviet weaponry and the remains of a US helicopter that the guerrillas brought down. 

Adjacent to the museum was a reconstructed guerrilla encampment with many relics that were used during the war. Tunnels for radio transmissions, swing bridges connecting sections of the camp and various forms of camouflage were reconstructed to give the visitor an understanding of what it might have been like. What was real, though, were the huge holes in the ground from the vigorous bombing of the area during the conflict. That was sobering and probably the most effective portrayal of all. 

I wandered back through town then back down to the hotel to collect my pack. I didn’t have to wait long for a pick up to roar by and this time I got a seat along the side of the tray. When I had to pay the fare though, I didn’t understand. I was expecting an amount in dollars and/or cents and it didn’t occur to me that I would be asked for a ‘quarter’. I’ve never really got my head around US coins but now I was going to have to learn fast. Trying to work out which coin was a quarter in the dim light of the covered pick up defied me so I just handed over a dollar and got change. 

In San Francisco Gotera, the pick up stopped one last time and emptied. This was my sign that we had come to the end of the road for this leg of the trip. Nearby was the bus to San Miguel which I jumped into. It was a very pretty drive, passing little towns and settlements and watching the rural Salvadorian world go by. In San Miguel, I was directed to another bus which had La Union emblazoned on its front window so safely thought it would actually take me there. Alas, this didn’t turn out to be the case and the bus terminated some distance away from my destination. 

I was directed to yet another bus that I was assured would actually take me to La Union and handed my pack over to the assistant who placed it on the padded drive case cover up front. My pack had travelled this way on more than one occasion so I wasn’t overly concerned. Until the driver decided he was bored with all this sedate driving and cranked it up a notch. As we were thrown from side to side, a large plastic bag that was with my pack up the front, flew out the open front door. This caused a bit of a to do with the punters as the bus had to reverse back to pick up the bag. That was too close a call for my liking and I went up the front to collect my pack. The senoras up front told me that my pack was jumping all over their place and nearly followed suit. Clearly I had been too complacent and was lucky. Although there was nothing breakable in the pack, it wouldn’t have done it any good, so I wedged it safely next to me between the seat. 

I started chatting to one of the señoras near me and when another older señora got on the bus and sat next to me she also joined in our conversation. I took opportunity to ask the senoras about the coins and telling them apart. Identifying US Coins 101 was then held on a La Union bound bus much to the bemusement of the bus assistant. 

We eventually arrived in La Union where I had decided to stay the night. The señora I had originally been chatting to took me around the corner to a far from salubrious hotel in what looked to be a dodgy part of town. Still, USD12 for a room was reasonable. For this money though, I had to use the communal bathroom which was next to my room. This consisted of a toilet and water pipe behind a 1960s glass shower screen. No door. No lock. Anyone could just walk on in! A tiny wash basin was just outside the cubicle. There was nowhere to eat nearby but I wasn’t really hungry. The hotel sold beer for USD1 so couple of those tied me over. All in all I had a reasonably comfortable night in another town with a bad rep. 

Jícaro Galán – Perquin

I found I survived the night reasonably unscathed. Not by threat of the Jícaro Gigolo wanting his love shack back, but by the myriad of mozzies wanting their fair share of my blood. A hole in the door a rodent could have comfortably scampered through was certainly no deterrent to the entire 5th Light Mosquito Brigade. And I had run out of bug spray. I doubted the thin sheet would have held off the invasion, but to my delight it did.   
The affable señora of the house served me up a delicious local breakfast with possibly the worst coffee I had drunk in Honduras. I don’t know whether the Travel God of Foreign Foods was trying to prepare me for what lie ahead in El Salvador, but I prayed he just slipped up. After breakfast, it was standing on the side of the road again waiting for a bus to the border. At that particular point, there were heavy duty speed humps which slowed the continual stream of traffic to an almost halt. Local food vendors had taken good advantage of this and set up shop at this speed trap. Food and drink was thrust through windows of passing vehicles and it was amazing how much they sold. It seems everyone on Honduras eats on the run. 

My bus finally came along and I jumped on board. I found the landscape in this southern part of Honduras was significantly different from further north. It was hilly, but the vegetation was sparse and dry. It was bitter sweet leaving Honduras as I had greatly enjoyed traversing her beautiful lands, but onwards I must travel to El Salvador. 

To my surprise, the bus actually pulled alongside the Honduran Immigration office. This was a nice bonus, as often one has to catch some other form of transport to get from the ‘border’ town to the actual border. I changed my Honduran limpera for US currency and passed through immigration. On the other side of the building, one has to walk a few hundred metres past some little stalls and then cross a bridge to get to El Salvador on the other side. It was at this point that I realised that I still hadn’t got any bug spray and wasn’t going to risk another night without any. I asked around and ended up going back past the Immigration building to a shop where I bought the world’s most expensive can of bug spray (AUD8.65!!). 

Back to the bridge, I crossed over into El Salvador. I wasn’t surprised that the immigration official carefully examined my passport as I had just done what would have looked like a Tour de Drug Smuggle. No questions this time though and I was passed through without incident. I walked up the road to where a bus was waiting and jumped on board. 

I decided I would first head up north to a little town with a big story. Perquin was the guerrilla stronghold during El Salvador’s civil war throughout the 1980s. In this region, some terrible atrocities were committed by government soldiers; including a massacre in nearby El Mozete where an estimated 757 people were massacred – of the 143 victims uncovered, 131 were children. It’s only in very recent years that there has been any kind of formal recognition of this event, so it is still very fresh in the local psyche. 

I knew I had to take a few buses to get where I wanted to go. The first dropped me off at a crossroad where I waited on the side of the road for a north heading bus. I chatted with a local señora who was also waiting for the same bus and was heading herself not far from where I wanted to go. It turned out that there was a tourist office where she lived so she decided it would be best if I got off the bus with her so I could get some information. I didn’t really want to do that, but she was so persistent and helpful I sort of felt obliged. 

After wounding our way through beautiful verdant hills and passing numerous little towns and settlements, we finally got off the rumbling bus at the tourist information centre. It was in a most unusual position – on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere! I climbed the stairs and was introduced to a young hombre who plied me with tourist map and let me pass. The helpful señora come back down and waited on the side of the road with me to help me get a communal pick up into Perquin. Pack thrown up into the tray above the cabin, I climbed aboard the covered back to squeeze myself with another twenty people. At least it was authentic Salvadorian travel!

I chose a hotel out of the guidebook and was dropped off nearby to walk the rest of the way. La Posada de Don Manuel got a great write up in the guidebook, however I didn’t rate it anywhere near as high. I’ve stayed in some filthy digs in my travels, but the communal bathroom at this place reached new levels of skank even for me! Still, it was cheap and the little family running it were lovely. 
I had a couple of hours of daylight left, so decided to explore the little town. The road into Perquin ran up the side of a steep hill, past a pretty little cemetery. It was only 500 m, but felt much further in the sultry conditions. The town itself is perched on the side of the hill, with little pastel adobe dwellings fronting the narrow streets. Brightly painted murals abound on the walls of churches and civic buildings, and well tended gardens blazing with tropical colour add a whimsical touch to the vista. 

Heading back down to my lodgings, I was surprised to come across the turn off much sooner than I expected. It was certainly a much easier traverse than going into town! I spent a very pleasant evening at the posada which, despite the rank bathroom, felt like staying with a local family.