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.
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.
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.