San Salvador – Cancun

My taxi driver arrived on time and thankfully was not a sleazy, chatty one, so I could just kick back and enjoy the passing scenery emerging with the brightening of the new day.  I had plenty of time to check in at the airport and after checking in my backpack, continued on to Customs where I again needed to explain my (for regular travellers) unorthodox passport stamps.  Either the official was bored or I was getting better at convincing them I was not a drug mule.  Either way, the process was becoming less painful.  I think the Travel God of Passport Irregularities had decided I had learned my lesson and would give me a break from all the intense questioning.
I found my boarding gate, then proceeded to find somewhere to eat.  Arriving back for when boarding should have started, I was surprised to see another destination with another airline posted on the board.  I quizzed one of the airline staff and found that the plane had been delayed for several hours and we would be boarding later in the afternoon at a different gate.  So much for needing to be at the airport so early!  I wandered down to the rescheduled gate and checked that the information was indeed correct.  The airline official I spoke to there told me quite firmly that my flight had already left, leaving me in a state of mild panic.  I begged him to check and he was all apologies when he came back shortly thereafter to admit he was wrong.
After my near flight miss experience, I decided the place to pass the delay was the nearest bar which fortunately had wifi.  The Travel God of Foreign Currency urged me to use the last of my USD to buy Pilsener, as it would probably be the last chance I had to savour this tasty ale.  I think that was probably the longest stop over I had ever had, however, it passed pleasantly enough and before long we were boarding the plane for the flight to Cancun.
Rising up above the volcanos El Salvador are famous for was a magical experience.  I was able to trace some of my land journey from the air and see the terrain from a completely different perspective.  It was a lovely way to finish the trip to this intruiging and beautiful part of the world.  We reached the Caribbean somewhere over Puerto Barrios in Guatemala and I used my Lonely Planet maps to navigate our whereabouts in the clear blue sky.  I was amazed at how accurate the maps were as every little spit , cay and bay was marked clearly enough for me to work out where we were.  I was now able to retrace my journey of two years ago through Belize from the air.
Cancun Airport is now starting to feel quite familiar as I have been using it as a transit post for a few trips.  I caught the ADO bus into town and checked into the hostel I usually stay in when in Cancun.  I ducked into the little restaurant next door to get more reliable wifi and found myself deep in conversation with the Mexican chef about my recent journey.  As he had never been to that part of Central America, he was quite interested to learn more.  An interesting evening passed before bunking down for my last evening in Latin America. For this trip anyway…

San Salvador

I had a bad night with my bronchitis and slept in past the time I had agreed to for breakfast.  Nevertheless, the lukewarm repast was still tasty as I sat in my PJs red eyed, snotty nosed, mucous hacking and sneezing.  I’m sure the owners thought they would have to burn the place to the ground after I left!
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A shower sorted me out and I readied myself for a day of exploration.  As it was only a few kilometres into the city centre from where I was staying, I thought it was probably easier to walk than try catch a local bus in these congested traffic conditions.  That was the easy part and I found myself on the outskirts of the city centre after about an hour.  By then, I was started to fade so thought I would find the ubiquitous central plaza in EVERY Central American town/city/siding to sit and partake of a fresh juice.  Onwards I strolled.  Down traffic choked streets.  Through pedestrian choked markets.  Until, finally coming to what I thought would be a pleasant, leafy, relaxed plaza in which to while away a much needed break.  Not so fast, said the Travel God of Disappointing Outcomes.  Said plaza was a hot, barren, concreted carpark.
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I made my way back through the pedestrian choked market to find anywhere I could sit for a bit and have a cold drink.  I eventually was directed to a ‘hole in the wall’ operation out of a hairdressing salon.  I asked if I could sit inside and the two senoritas attending were most obliging.  Whilst one made me the best orange and pineapple juice I have ever tasted, the other sat opposite and proceeded to chat.  It seems they don’t get many Aussies their way and they were very keen to learn about Australia and my journey around their country in particular.  One thing I have learned about this country is that the locals don’t seem to travel much.  Even though El Salvador is tiny,  I was assured wherever I went, that I had seen much more of the country than the person I was chatting to.
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I informed my two new friends that I wanted to go to the Artisan Markets to purchase some gifts for my family, however, they were quite adamant that the place was not safe and that I should not venture there.  As the headlines in the newspaper the previous day had featured the bloodied body of San Salvador’s latest (reported) homicide as being found there, I thought they might actually not be overreacting.  They directed me to a new (allegedly safer) Artisan Market further out of town and one of the senoritas accompanied me to the bus I would need to catch to get out there.
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I was well and truly glad when I finally arrived at my destination as the pollution was really starting to make an impact on my already compromised respiratory system.  Again the Travel God of Disappointing Outcomes raised his ugly head and provided me with a small, overpriced, cheesy tourist centre.  Finding little of any interest, I decided to make my way back to whence I came.  By this stage, I was really starting to struggle and desperately needed to find somewhere with clean air.  San Salvador’s answer to my quest? Pizza Hut!  No beer, but I could at last breathe and for that I was grateful.  I grabbed something to eat in order to prolong being able to gulp down unpolluted Co2.
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By this stage, I made a truce with myself that I wouldn’t push myself any further and would head back to the hostel.  Even though I really wanted to see some of the historic buildings in the city centre as well as check out the dodgy Artisan Market as far as my spider sensors would take me, I knew I was fighting an uphill battle.  I had now been sick for nearly a week with very little down time for what is quite a debilitating illness.
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I decided to walk back as I couldn’t bear to be in a hot, exhaust ridden taxi, let alone bus!  Cashing up on the way back, I put myself in ‘auto pilot’ and trotted back to the hostel.  One thing about San Salvador, the main streets are very clearly marked and it was relatively easy to negotiate my way with the help of a map.  Nonetheless, I was most grateful to finally rock back up to the hostel and have a much needed lie down.  An early night was needed anyways as I had a early start the next day.  After organising a taxi to pick me up just after 5 am, I packed everything ready for the flight and was more than happy to call it a night.

Sonsonate – San Salvador

As I was on a time limit (I only paid for 12 hours…) I got up early and vacated my Salvadorian ‘Sweat Shop’  by 7 am. The guard at the gate called me a taxi and I was on my way back to the bus terminal after a most interesting stop over in Sonsonate. Unfortunately the next bus that went where I wanted to go didn’t leave for another two hours so I had a bit of a wait at the terminal beforehand leaving town.DSC_0555
The route I was taking was the western end of the Carretera del Litoral which winds its way along the southern coastal region of the country. As soon as we reached the coast, I was glad I had persevered to come along this route, despite locals trying to send me in other directions. This western coastal region is another remote part of El Salvador which few travellers venture to. The road weaves in and out of the hills which hug the coast to give the traveller amazing vistas at every turn. The bus I was on only went as far as La Perla. From there I needed to catch another bus further east. DSC_0557
Just before the bus terminated, I noticed a gorgeously positioned little roadside restaurant precariously perched on the side of a sea cliff overlooking the ocean. When we stopped only a few hundred meters away from this little Mecca, I decided to trek back up the hill for pescada (fish) and Pilsener. Supping on a delicious meal of fresh fish, rice and salad, washed down with a couple of chilled cervezas whilst gazing at a sunlit ocean was true bliss.
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While I was watching the watery world wander by, I was distracted by what appeared to be a mobile stack of wood putt past. It ended up being a crude go kart which was little more than a low wooden frame on which wood was lashed. Tiny wheels were attached to the apparatus raising it only just above the road surface. An hombre was atop steering the whole contraption down the hill. I’m assuming that would have been the easy (though perilous) part of the journey, as I’m certain any upward direction would require alighting and pulling the loaded cart uphill.
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Back down the hill, I didn’t have to wait long for an eastbound bus. More beautiful twists and turns revealing picturesque coastal and mountain views. I was planning on stopping at the coastal village of El Tunco, but must have missed it as next I knew I was in the larger town of La Libertad. The guidebook raved about the newly built Malecon so I alighted there to check it out.  Albeit small and rather touristy, it was still worth a visit and warranted a seat at a bar to ponder one’s next move.
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A magnificent fish market was situated at one end of the Malecon along a long jetty jutting out into the bay.  About half of it was covered and this was where the majority of the fish vendors were situated.  This clearly was a grass roots fish market where fish of all manner of size and species were clumped together on ice in vast steel buckets.  Dried fish was also abundant, strung up in neat rows with tatty string.  Further along the jetty, fishermen displayed their catch in iceboxes inside small wooden fishing boats perched along the edges of the jetty.  If none of this took your fancy, one could always wet a line at the far end of the jetty with the other anglers.  This fabulous market was truly a scene for sensory overload; the sights, the sounds, the smells.
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It was getting late, so I decided I needed to make a move if I wanted to get to San Salvador before nightfall.  I found a bus heading there and jumped on board.  The road up from the coast to El Salvador’s capital is truly remarkable, twisting and turning around volcanos along fertile valley floors.  As we approached the city, newer satellite towns sprung up nestled in some of these valleys.  About a quarter of El Salvador’s population live in its capital, so I knew to expect large urbanisation.  The main roads in San Salvador itself were quite unremarkable in that they housed the generic Western and Central American chains sprawled out alongside their choked carriageways.
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It ended up being dark, though not late, by the time I reached the terminus of my bus.  With San Salvador having a less than enviable reputation in regards to personal safety, I was more than happy for the bus staff to enquire into where I wanted to go and how I planned on getting there.  There told me to stay on the bus after all the other passengers had disembarked and took me around to a nearby gas station where they found a taxi to take me to a hostel I had picked out of the guidebook.  My taxi driver, however, ended up being quite a handful and tried all his latino charm on me.  I was quite glad when we finally reached our destination and I was able to bid Ernesto adios!
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The hostel had received great reviews for being a place frequented by other travellers and not so good reviews about cleanliness in the guide book.  However, I found the opposite to be true.  There was no-one else staying there and the place was ridiculously spick and span.  Still, I was there and it was a place to crash for a couple of nights while I checked out the capital before beginning my long trek home.