Monday, April 16, 2012

From Happiness to Flower Bird Under Armed Guard: Alegria to Suchitoto, El Salvador

Gotta keep on the schedule.  Damn, I hate traveling like this.  So many hours here, so many hours there.  The pay-off is worth it:  I'm going to meet up with my honey in Guatemala.  Gotta continue north.

I reluctantly said adios to the cool mountain breezes of Alegría (someone told me that it's the pueblo at the highest altitude in El Salvador) and retraced my steps back down to the Panamerican Highway.

From Alegría to Suchitoto is an easy half-day travel (once I finally left Alegría, it took about 4 hours with easy and fast connections).  If you're thinking of making the same trip, here's what you do:
  • Bus down to Santiago de María, $0.30, ~15 minutes.  Bus doesn't seem to come frequently or on a schedule (I waited about an hour twenty for mine). Make friends with whomever else is waiting.
  • In Santiago de María, walk through the market to the road leading out of town to find the microbus, $0.28, ~25 minutes.
  • In El Triunfo, cross the Panamerican Highway (carefully!!).  Catch any San Salvador-bound bus (I took 301) and tell the driver you want to get off in San Martin. It will take a few hours (2.5ish) and should cost around +/- $3.
  • Important!  You do not need to go all the way into San Salvador to change buses!  The driver should let you off on the Panamerican Highway in San Martin.  Cross the highway using the pedestrian overpass.  Walk toward the west 20 meters until you're past the place where the eastbound travel lanes split--your bus will be going straight, so it will stop farther to the west so it can merge into the left lanes again.  Boarding the bus at the highway means you're more likely to get a seat, before the crush of people board in San Martin proper.
  • From San Martin to Suchitoto, take bus 129 just about 1 hour for $0.70.
Ok, back to Suchitoto.  The name means "flower bird" in the native nahuat language.  It's a sweet little town favored by weekending San Salvadoreans, stuffed to the gills with cobblestones and overlooking Lake Suchitlán.  I stayed at El Gringo, a guesthouse and comedor owned by a long-term ex-pat with a Salvadorean mother and wife.

I met up with a Spaniard and a French guy staying there, and we decided to visit Los Tercios waterfall outside town.  The road leading to Los Tercios goes through some not-great barrios, so El Gringo recommended that we contact the police for an escort.

So that's how I happened to be sitting in the back seat of a Salvadorean cop car when the driver slammed on the brakes for the officer to jump out, grab a 15-year old off the street, frisk him, and yell at him.


Apparently, the kid was known to be mixed up with the maras, or gangs, and the cop wanted to "encourage" him to be on his best behavior.  Damn glad that I decided to go with the police and not walk through that barrio on my own.
the spaniard, the french guy, the cop, and a kid from the barrio
Los Tercios was pretty neat, worth the effort to get there.  It's the end of the dry season, so the waterfall wasn't running...  all the better to check out the five-sided basalt rocks stacked like cigarettes in a pack.
los tercios...  minus the water...  neat, eh?
I slipped El Gringo's wife six bucks so she'd let me into her kitchen to make pupusas with her.  This woman is about four foot six and sweet as a plum.  Everyone in town knows she makes the best pupusas, El Gringo tells me.
en la cocina...  who's hungry?!
 My pupusa of frijoles y queso (beans and rice) turns out better than the queso y aguacate (cheese and avocado) or the queso y jalapeño (you can figure it out).
it all tastes good in the end :-)
But I think I've got the general feel, at least well enough that I can subject my friends to my pupusa experiments when I get home!

I didn't love Suchitoto quite as much as I loved Alegría, but I gotta say, El Salvador has wildly exceeded my expectations.  Salvadorans have been really friendly to me.  People on the street are constantly going out of my way to point me on to the correct bus or ask me if I need directions to where I'm going.  I usually don't need the help, but it's a great opportunity to represent the United States abroad and to work on my Spanish.  Compared to the whistles and kisses I've gotten in other countries, Salvadorean men have been surprisingly respectful and polite.  I was squashed between two guys about my age on the bus from El Triunfo to San Matin, and I was expecting harassment and lewd stares the entire time.  Nope--just polite small talk about where I'm from, where I'm going, the weather, and so on.

I really don't know why more people don't visit El Salvador.  That's ok--leave it unspoiled for the rest of us. ;-)

Hats off for El Salvador!
lake suchitlán

More photos from Suchitoto:

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