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. 

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