A Travellerspoint blog

Santa Ana, El Salvador


This is the nastiest motel room in which I have stayed. And believe me, I have stayed in some doozies. I have not decided whether I will take a shower, but if I do, it will be with flip-flops, that is certain.
I am writing this now, in the moment, and will post it regardless of what the morning brings.
First, I must say that the folks in this city have been nothing but friendly and welcoming. And they are absolutely fascinated by the dogs. Moreso than any other place we have visited so far. However, we have been advised repeatedly that it is not safe to walk around after dark. In fact, we had a few police escorts as we wandered this afternoon looking for an ATM (cajero automático).
And, while we were trying to figure out why the ATM would not give us dinero, a very kind young woman who spoke perfect English advised us that we needed to find an ATM, as opposed to a cajero at a local bank. Further, she and her friend gave us (including the pups) a ride to a big shopping mall, AND she walked inside with us to show us precisely where the appropriate ATMs were located. The said ATMs were at the food court. Since we had not eaten since breakfast (the blankety-blank border crossing will be described in another post), we indulged in some McDonald's. Oh, and yes, the ATMs gave us $. El Salvador uses the American dollar. How convenient.
We did walk some tonight, with pepper sprays in hand. That's right. We bad. No problema, but most places sure do close up at dark.
Back to the negative-5-star motel. Although we cannot find WiFi (which is why this will not be posted until tomorrow at the earliest), we do have cable TV (score), and we just watched a highly informative "documentary," in español, about moonshine in Asheville, NC! Who the hell is Ric Savage/American Savage? All I can say is, I have never seen the folks they dug up in the Walker Branch area . . .
Buenas noches.

Posted by ceastburn 06:42 Archived in El Salvador Comments (0)

New Christmas Eve Events


We started the day at 5:30 am, with a boat tour of the mangroves. The Guatemalan guide met us at our hotel and we walked about a mile through sleepy streets where folks were already getting their markets ready for the day. There were 6 of us plus the guide on a simple boat powered by a pole (no motor)--a peaceful start to the day. All sorts of birds were waking up, making funny noises, and looking for their breakfast. The sunrise provided a kaleidoscope of colors on the water, the beautiful vegetation, and the volcanoes visible in the distance. Got some great photos, which are posted on Facebook.
Back to the hotel in time for breakfast and, after the obligatory hour wait of course, swimming. The pool here is lovely and functional, making it perfect for lap-swimming.
We investigated putting our car on a ferry for our next travel leg, ultimately to El Salvador. I can't wait to get photos of the "ferry" with our Jeep on it. Since I was running low on vino tinto (gasp), we went on a search for some. We were able to perfect "¿Tiene vino tinto?" (no) "¿Dónde puedo comprar?" after asking a truckload of times. Finally, we stumbled upon the closed supermercado's owner. He signaled to follow him, opened the super market, and pointed proudly to the wall of wine and booze. Whew.
We attempted a foray into the ocean. There is some powerful surf here! The undertow was strong enough to pull us by our ankles and knock us on our asses. Thankfully, the next boomer knocked us back to shore, with a suit full of sand. Bonus. Back to the pool.
Latins surely do love their fireworks. We took the pups with us to dinner, as usual, but there were so many black cats, Roman candles, fire crackers, etc. going off, that poor little Cricket was about to go into orbit. I walked them back to the room, where they settled in happily with the Muppets Christmas (in Español).
Here is a real first for us: a funeral in an open-air chapel (kind of like an outdoors wedding), adjacent to Main Street, on Christmas Eve. It also happened to occur directly across the street from where we ate dinner. Earlier, a truck with a loudspeaker drove through the streets announcing the funeral service and giving basically an obituary of the deceased man. We thought they said he was a retired man, and they seemed to be listing his family members, his accomplishments, etc. More on our understanding of Español regarding this situation in a bit . . . Back to the funeral. There was a preacher (of course) and happily, a band that played some peppy music. The folks attending clapped in time to the music, and passersby stopped to participate. All in all, some refreshing new-to-us traditions. Pretty cool, for a funeral.
Later, we were at a bar and someone told us that the deceased was actually an 18-year-old who had been shot the night before. Ok then . . . a reminder that this friendly culture is also a violent one.
We spent the late night drinking and talking with our fun Canadian neighbors at the hotel. As warned by our innkeeper, midnight Christmas Eve is the Armageddon of fireworks. Latin Bagdad.
¡Feliz Navidad!

Posted by ceastburn 12:15 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Antigua, Guatemala to the Pacific

Antigua is a mile-high city surrounded by three volcanoes. It was the Spanish colonial capital of Guatemala from 1543 until the devastating earthquake in 1773. A lot of ruins from that time still remain. Similar to Asheville, Antigua is very tourist-oriented. Not a tourist trap, but it is their primary source of employment. Also similar to Asheville, prices are higher.
We saw another wonderful mini-hot-air balloon launch our first night there. What a cool holiday tradition! And took a nice bus tour with some fun folks. The town has a gazillion churches, and Guatemala's only "official" saint's tomb is there. Hermano Pedro. Pretty cool dude. Built a hospital to serve the indigent, and built homeless shelters, in the 1600's! Predictably, the pups were a hit on the tour bus.
We ate an awesome meal at La Peña de Sol Latino. The expat who owns the place saw us walking the dogs earlier in the day, and invited us (dogs included) to his place. Terrific live music, too!
Yesterday we drove down from the mountains to the Pacific coast. The temp went from 60 F to 100 in less than 70k! Dropped back to 90 when we got to the coast. This is a mellow beach town: Monterrico. Last night, we saw the launch of at least 100 baby sea turtles into the ocean at sunset! Such cool little dudes, waving their flippers madly. The dogs were VERY interested. I kept them on a short leash.
Our two dinners of pescado entero y cuatro cervezas came to a grand total of $10. That's more like it!

Posted by ceastburn 07:54 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

Huehuetenango-Lago Atitlán


We spent the morning in Huehue taking photos and making a lot of new friends, largely thanks to Sunny & Cricket.
Guatemalans are small, sturdy, incredibly strong folks with beautiful golden skin and big smiles. Many of them ask if S & C are for sale, which makes me a little nervous. I guess it is just one of those cultural differences. Easy question to answer!
We drove 157 km through breathtaking, HIGH mountains with views of the villages and farms in the valleys, as well as grand volcanoes. At one point the temp dropped to 55 F!
Topes are called tumulos in Guatemala. Different name, though just as nasty as topes. We drove on the Interamerica Highway most of the way. It varies widely in condition. The first half of the drive was filled with rough roads, at least one landslide (or was that the result of an earthquake?), and was two-lane. The next part was smooth, 4-lane, with wide sweeping turns. We passed a few very strong road bikers. The Guatemalan children, in the middle of seemingly nowhere, gathered by the sides of the road and waved madly at us. And they weren't trying to sell anything.
After leaving the big highway, we dropped a remarkable number of KMs, ultimately to Lake Atitlán. More like a nosedive. I would say that it is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but I would have a hard time labeling any place as THE most beautiful place in the world--there are many!
I was most impressed by the cyclists on this approach road, both those who were climbing and those descending. For reference, WNC riders, the grade is much steeper than 80 (to the Parkway); I would estimate 15-20% most of the way, 15k, sharp switchbacks, and crappy road surface. Yet, the Guatemalans were riding all sorts of bikes (road, mtn, most of them beaters), and were STRONG. Spinning a good cadence, and smiling. Recruiting place for pro teams?
We ate at a place last night where the whole family was involved. Dad took our orders and made the margaritas, and then disappeared. We wondered if he was out on the lake catching our fish. Turns out, he was the cook, too. His children (ages 2-10?) entertained us, and ultimately served us our dinner, presenting it with an enthusiastic, "Pescado!" Their little girl also presented us with the bill, which we later realized overcharged us for the margaritas. Very smart--who is going to question a darling child? Oh well . . . No child labor laws here!
The weather is splendid today, with the sun sparkling brilliantly off the water,and perfect views of the two nearby volcanoes (dormant). We took a short boat ride--finally, our boat dogs got to actually ride in a boat! They dug it.
We are making plans for Antigua tomorrow, and will spend our Christmas at a nice place on Guatemala's Pacific coast.
¡Feliz Navidad!

Posted by ceastburn 14:21 Archived in Guatemala Comments (2)



Before I describe today's events, we want to give a big thumbs-up/shout-out to La Viño de Bacco in San Cristóbal, México. This is an awesome wine bar with incredible prices (18 pesos for a glass of good tempranillo--a little more than a buck) and great atmosphere. And with every glass of wine comes various bruschetta/tapas, gratis! This place, a secure parking space, and finding a used copy of Central America On A Shoestring (Lonely Planet) made for a nice final evening in this sister city to Asheville (thanks, Kelly!).
This morning we were not able to download the GPS maps for Central America, so (gasp) we were forced to rely on a paper map after we crossed the Guatemalan border. No problem. I love maps. Judith, you know why.
México would not let us escape without a final blast of topes. What is the point of having a paved road if there are upheavals every 50 feet (I am not exaggerating). But the views were wonderful, and we were forced to travel at a speed at which to thoroughly absorb them.
Mercifully, the border crossing was smooth. A man with a gas mask sprays the outside of the vehicle with some sort of insecticide. I of course got the pups out of the car ASAP, and he asked if I had their documentation. I said yes, and got their portfolio out of the vehicle. Apparently, that's all he wanted to know, because nobody asked to see said documents.
I was responsible for a dingbat move. After the migration office, we had to move the Jeep 25 feet down the road, in front of the vehicle permit office. So I did, backing it out onto a crowded, typical border-town street w/o incident. However, when I was pulling back in to the new parking space, I was trying to take a shaded space because the dogs would stay in the vehicle. I misjudged, and bumped a rack on the back of a California Westfalia van. This was a lovely young California couple with a little girl. After it was discerned that no damage was done, I breathed a sigh of relief. They must have been thinking, "Oh great, no problems with the reported bandits, just the gringa estúpida." Todo bien.
And that was it! The inspection man said, "¡Listo!" And waved us on with a smile.
It is remarkable how suddenly the terrain changes at the border. All of a sudden, we were in some serious mountains. With STEEP roads/driveways that make those crazy ones in WNC look like gentle slopes. It is coffee harvest season, and there are beans spread out by the road, drying, everywhere. And tiny Guatemalans hauling ginormous bags of beans and bunches of firewood on their backs. We came across one landslide with a slightly precarious detour. Thankful for a Jeep!
We are spending the night in Huehuetenango, shortened to Huehue (way-way) by some, at the Hotel Casa Blanca. The city has a wonderful Parque Central, all festived-out with Christmas lights, etc. Photos tomorrow. On Facebook.
Planning to travel to Lago Atitlán tomorrow. Described by Aldus Huxley as the most beautiful place in the world.

Posted by ceastburn 19:20 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

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