Category Archives: Guatemala & El Salvador 2017

The road from El Tunco to Leon

We arrived last night around 9:30PM. 12 hours of travel time which for Melanie was quite cushy in a seat all to herself in the front of an SUV. For the three of us crammed into the back seat with minimal air conditioning and leather seats that were not so great at absorbing leg and butt sweat…less enjoyable.

We made it though. The roads from El Salvador were passable. Better than the road from Antigua. We crossed with ease into Honduras and were on brand new paved roads all the way to Choluteca. For these being poor countries, This was some really nice road. The driver was able to explain to us that we would soon come across muchas bachas. With some hand waving and animation, we understood he meant bumpy.

The other side of Choluteca, and all the way to the Nicaraguan border…bachas we now know means pothole. Not little ones, but big ass ones. Pequena piscina, or a small pool. Our driver didnt speak any english again and we were 4 travelers in the car trying to understand and get our point across…me being the strongest Spanish speaker…also armed with an offline translator. I am not a Spanish speaker.

So many hours of dodging and weaving through the holey roads, first in the day, then in the rain with lightning in the distance, then at night. Vehicles on the roads with no tail lights. Pedestrians without reflective gear. Bicycles and motorcycles all without lights…it is amazing at how people survive on these roads with all the fast and erratic drivers navigating the roads.

We made it to the Nicaraguan border and after already doing three of these crossings with no problem…the last should be easy. Nope. We arrive. The bags have to come out of the car to be scanned. We are also asked to pay an additional entrance fee, even though we already paid our driver…who was now no where to be found. Our 4 passports went to a lady and she disappeared into a back room.

Que pasa? 10 minutes goes by and we are still standing there, now with our bags, no passports, and as many mosquitoes in the place as there were idle customs agents probably playing candy crush or watching cat videos on their phones. Another 5 minutes and our driver shows up again. He tells us it might be an hour for them to grant permission for all of us to enter the country. This is strange, and the Kiwi girl with us is becoming irate saying she has never encountered this kind of slowness before and how unacceptable it all was.

6 mosquito bites and 30 minutes later we heard some stamps being firmly impressed on some documents and our driver was able to collect our passports . Vamonos! We were off. 110km per hour down pristine highways with the only slowdowns being for occosional vehicles with no taillights and we made it to our Airbnb…only 75 minutes after the best case arrival estimate.

The rain started. The street was empty, other than for a toothless, and very helpful, woman who was quick to cross the street and start pounding on doors to get us inside. Guess what, no answer. I traded messages with the guy a day earlier…but no answer. 5 minutes of buzzing the doorbell. The dog inside barking like crazy. No connection to the wifi because they changed the password inside, but not on the airbnb host details. So there we were, on the street, looking to assess what an alternate plan might be.

A couple of girls inside finally got tired of all the racket and came to the door to ask what was up. Upon explaining we had a reservation…they explained the host lady was in Spain. The host guy was no where to be found…and they were only guests, so they were not aware of any details. They of course are not about to let some persistent strangers into their walled compound after dark without good reason as well.

I was able to pull up the airbnb reservation. Mention that Enrique should have been aware of our arrival, and that i was getting no response from either him or his wife…so they let us in. We found our room. We were hungry and thirsty. The listing mentioned cold drinking water and fresh fruit on arrival from a friendly host and we got no host, no fruit, and were told the water from the tap might be drinkable.

Too tired to find other options…we slept. In the morning, Enrique apologized profusely and gave us 20 bucks…essentially making our first free. He mixed up our arrival time went out for the night. My guess is he will get more of an earful from his wife than from us, as this place has stellar reviews.

I apologized a couple times to the scared Norwegian girls this morning. A couple of hangry Canadians just looking to get inside after a long travel day can be a bit daunting.

Delayed by a day

Here we were all packed up and ready to head down and catch that 830AM shuttle. Breakfast was warmed up in the toaster oven and bags were at the door. A quick check of my emails showed one from the shuttle company…interesting. It turns out that late last night they had the courtesy to send us a note indicating the shuttle was cancelled. Sure they will refund the money paid in the next 48 hours, but really…people run businesses down here and operate like this…and get away with it.

So that left us in a bit of an awkward spot. There was another company departing at 9AM, however to book with them you need to do so the day before and bring your passport along for registration. Would they do a last minute booking? It turns out the company does not open its doors until 10AM, which we didnt find out until later in the day. The drivers dont take cash.

We could attempt the 2 border crossings ourselves with local chicken buses. We could just stay put for a day and try booking tomorrow, assuming there is room. The ramifications are that we find alternate accommodation in El Tunco and eat a night of booking costs in Leon. Not desirable…but workable.

By 11AM we had a plan. New shuttle booked, with reputable company in town (although they do cash only and the cost of the shuttle is $10 more than the competition). Did you know you can change your Airbnb bookings, usually without cancellation fees, as long as you continue with the same host and they have availability? We were able to do two things. The first was to simply adjust the dates…sliding things forward a day, even though today would have been our check in day. The second was to add a day to the booking we were just completing. Airbnb still takes their cut of any additional bookings, but we didnt encounter any further fees.

So now, tomorrow morning, we repeat. Up early. Pupusas reheated in the toaster oven. Packed up and ready to go by 9AM. This time though we should be in a nicer minibus that will escort us through those border crossings with ease.

We might miss the pool here in El Tunco…just a little bit. There are many worse places and situations to be stranded in.

And we are off to Nicaragua, in the morning

And we wrap up another day. We are now set on Leon for our next little adventure. Leon is a bit less laid back than this surf spot, and that will be good for us as we are becoming a little too accustomed to swims whenever we want and lounging, like a cat, all morning and afternoon.

El Tunco

As for today’s adventures, well a morning dip in the pool was a nice cool way to start the day. Toaster oven reheated pupusas for breakfast were a treat in the al fresco dining area, despite the mosquitos and campfire smoke from next door. Since we still didn’t have any coffee, we then popped out to the closest food stand for a coffee and some fried platanos. While enjoying those coffees and waiting for the platanos a couple of surfer dudes made their way back up from the town and washed their boards down. One of those guys was unlucky enough to step on a mossy patch of concrete and smack himself on the ground, breaking his arm. That would sure put a dent in my surfing plans if I were him. Tip for everyone, 1. Wear shoes 2. Stay in a place that costs you more than 8 bucks a night 3. Watch where you are going at all times. I am sure this guy has probably walked over that same stretch of ground 50 times in the last couple weeks obviously without breaking any limbs, but keep your eyes on the ground.

We finished up the fried platanos, ordered a couple fruit smoothies (papaya and pineapple…which would be spectacular with a couple ounces of rum) and wandered around town again. Although it is the same town, and just a different day, it is surprising how much is going on. For a Sunday we were concerned about not finding food. Sure enough the same pupusa lady that has been there every day was also there this morning, starting bright and early at 7:30.

The afternoon, not as lively. Another swim. Research on where we are. Research on where we are going. Happy hour margaritas while watching the sun set. More of the same, which is why it will be good to mix things up. A couple of Canadian gals informed us that the Nicaraguan coast on the Pacific side might be a bit banged up after this last storm, so maybe we look at adjusting our travel plans a little.

We are safe, happy, and we have all of our limbs intact. Next is a 10, or 12, hour shuttle in the morning that should get us out of El Salvador, in and out of Honduras (not much to see on the west side), and all the way into Nicaragua

A rather unexciting day in El Tunco

We dont surf. Maybe we should try one day, but on some softer waves. These stormy days make for some pretty rough water out there. We woke to sun and rain…and then more rain…and more rain.

We found a little place for breakfast. We probably overpaid at $7.50 for the two of us but we were stuffed silly, with only a single pupusa each for lunch bringing the day’s food total up to $9. Can’t complain about the food prices. Of course we went a little overboard on dinner at a whopping $23…

So not a lot to report today. A relaxing swim or two. Deciding on a 10 hour shuttle ride from here to Leon, Nicaragua. Now just a matter of figuring out where to stay if we arrive at 10PM.

A very weak showing today for a blog, but all this wandering around drinking beer all day has really put a damper on my writing.

Antigua to El Tunco

We can now add El Salvador to our list of countries visited! We aren’t done yet by any means as we have just arrived, but it is now added to the list.

Today was again an early start. Up at the shining hour of 6:30 and packed up for the road by 7. An oversized breakfast served up by our housekeeper, Sandra, and we were out the door by 7:58. 8AM sharp and we were at the pickup point for the shuttle…and surprisingly the shuttle was there at 8:05. Even better, with us supposedly being the last pickup stop…we were the only ones on the bus! Yay!

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Those celebrations were short-lived though as i was able to ask how many bodies we might expect today…the answer was “quince” which I initially thought to be five. That’s not bad, and sure enough we stopped by another hostel (wait, i was told we were the last stop) and 3 young gals joined us. Their first question was, how many people and I replied “quince” only to realize that we weren’t talking 5, but 15. Um, how do we squeeze 15 in here?

Around the city we drove. 2 more here, 3 more there…and a final stop where 5 surfers need to wedge themselves inside and their surfboard bags onto the rack up top of the van. This is a van…not a bus…even if they might call it a bus. 40 minutes of arguing between this pack of Aussie surfers and the driver over extra fees for their board bags and we finally made it to a gas station on the outside of town. 9:30AM and we have already had a mini adventure with the city tour and drama of Aussies parting with their money.

We hit the road. 5 hours they say on the shuttle booking website. We arrived at 15:50…making it almost an 8 hour travel day. Far too much time to sit in a cramped little bus with backpackers and surfers but we got the chance to chat with a couple gals from northern BC (Smithers and Houston) as well as some of those rowdy surfers.

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Now as for check in, this place we booked seemed a bit on the pricey side for El Salvador at about $120 per night. Sure the images showed a private pool and 2 bedroom place, but there are only a couple of us so maybe a bit too big. We finally arrive and find what seems like a massive space. 2 rooms stacked up above a laundry room which make up ‘the house’. An open air living area, complete with hammock above the garage area. A private pool! An open air kitchen and dining area. We really should have a bit of a party with a few new found friends but that must be why they specifically state in the listing…NO PARTIES. I am thinking when the owner is in town…this place likely becomes a real party place.

Better yet, we have discovered pupusas. Corn tortilla of extra thickness, stuffed with bean and cheese, chicken and cheese, almost anything and cheese. Each pupusa, 50 cents. We had 3 each for dinner and were satisfied.

So now we are in for the night. Friday and we will celebrate with a few beers in house and our own two person private pool party. Maybe this stray cat will hang with us for the night and keep us company too. After that, we can start figuring out which bus we want to jump on next.

Museums, Markets, and a little Antigua Rain

Eerily quiet this morning. So much that we slept in until the comfortable hour of 7AM, about the same time the housekeeper arrives. All this pampering of having breakfast made and no pressing tasks or agenda items for the day might make friends jealous.

After a freshly prepared breakfast of guava and apple, drizzled with yogurt and granola (plus a side of salsa covered eggs and dollop of hot black beans), we made it out for a stroll. Today, museums and rain showers. Luckily we only had a few blocks to walk from our place to the Santo Domingo del Cerro Museo, so we could time our departure to dodge both puddles and cars without getting too wet. An earthquake ravaged palace of sorts.

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This place is what they figure to be 5 museums all in one, and free to visit! I did see one sign that said it was free for hotel guests to visit, but there was no turnstile or vigilant money takers guarding the entrance…so we just strolled on in. It looks like they have somehow obtained permission to build a 5 star hotel into effectively an archaeological site…which is interesting because there is no way something like that could happen in Canada.

So we wandered. Snapped a few pics. Checked out the modern art museum portion as well as the ruins of the church and surrounding buildings. When the rains picked up…we sat. Observed other gringos wearing garbage bags taking far too many pictures from terrible vantage points. Organized tour groups moving through en masse at a pace too quick to enjoy. Couples that are lost and too scared to ask for help. Kind of like us, but different.

Us scared white people then headed out for lunch. Today, Asian. What does that mean in Guatemala? Surprisingly tasty broad rice noodle dishes, maybe more of a Chinese or Japanese flair to each meal…but damn tasty. Add some hibiscus tea as a beverage and we were happy. Maybe our guts are more tuned to food like this because the last couple days have had our guts wondering what the hell was up.

For dessert, we headed over to the chocolate museum. Melanie had a sweet craving, and rather than over indulge on a chocolate filled crepe…a couple samples might suffice. Sure enough, 20 minutes of learning that cocoa nibs take some effort to produce, and that the Swiss eat far too much chocolate, we headed off for an ice cream and the market.

This is more than a market. This picture really does not do it justice. On the map, this is a massive plot of land. I thought the supermarket we encountered was “the market” but no…i was very, very wrong. Highly organized vendors selling everything you could imagine all side by side. Stereos, socks, plumbing parts, light bulbs…everyone had their specialty. And as you go north, the stalls thin out to the point of just being an exposed, muddy parking lot. These are the poorer vendors that are stuck just selling their veggies. Not a pretty site, but interesting to see. I wanted to strap a camera to the front of me and just do a time lapse of trying to get out of the market. That would have been fun, but us scared white folk didn’t snap much in the way of pictures due to everything feeling a bit foreign to us.

We made it out of the maze and back. Out for tacos and spectacular margaritas in the rain again and now in for the night. Tomorrow we have a travel day. El Tunco, a small El Salvadoran beach town. A house all to ourselves. Maybe it will also be time for some skinny dipping after that long drive.

Fireworks and No Kittens

There’s nothing like walking up to a faint whiff of gasoline, roosters crowing at daybreak, and of course…fireworks. La Bomba seems to be a way of religious celebration. You might think these explosions to just be a car or rickety scooter backfiring but no. I counted 22 blasts last night around 11PM and another 6 this morning around 5:30AM.

Unnerving to those unaccustomed to local habits. Maybe we just have been spoiled for too long on tranquility and wide, hole-free sidewalks.

Again, up early which allowed us to take in a short hike to a viewpoint before the afternoon rains were predicted to dump on us. We saw a few butterflies, dreaded mosquitoes and a bee…ooo…wildlife! We made it to the viewpoint, wiped the sweat from our brows to pose for a few selfies with a cloud shrouded volcano, then marched our way back down into town for a few more photos. Exactly what almost every other tourist in town was also doing today.

Lunch at a local BBQ place, offering only chicken or sausage and we were stuffed to the gills. Walking back I had the curious observation that there were no cats in this city. Donde esta todos los gatos? Melanie did a little research and found that Guatemalans are not fans of cats. In fact, 5 times more people dislike cats than cockroaches in this country. Odd.

An after a spectacular happy hour margarita another observation. Very few people smoke here. A few tourists, but the locals seem to be smoke free. Maybe they get their high on the unburnt fuel drifting from the tailpipes of all the little tuk tuks rolling around. Maybe they are just wise to the volatile combination smoking and poorly running engines might pose to the locals.

That doesn’t seem to stop the excessive and random use of fireworks though. Earplugs tonight

Uber me to Antigua por favor!

Ah, a little reprieve. We have arrived in the bustling little town of Antigua. Finally, streets with sidewalks a person can almost walk along without twisting an ankle…i say almost and I knock on wood just to make sure it stays that way.

This morning an Uber arrived promptly at 11AM and whisked us out of the city. Again, a driver that spoke no english which required a bit of on the fly translating with the phone, but we were able to fill the time with some very basic conversation. We know he lives in Zona 2 in the city. Gasoline is priced in quetzals per gallon. The ride to Antigua is good for him, but it is hard for him to find rides back to the city.

So we made it. A bit of confusion as to where our accommodations were as the place is so new they haven’t been able to update google maps yet. Of course, addresses in this part of the world dont always jive with the web directions, so patience and light luggage to haul over bumpy roads is essential.

After checking in, a bit of really tasty budget curry was needed for lunch. Stuffed to the gills, that then lead to a stroll through the streets and seat on a park bench under what might be considered a banyan tree…or something close to one. We would have got a picture, but far too many street vendors all looking to sell everything from shoe shines and hand woven tapestries to bird seed and hand flutes.
I am thinking we might be doing less walking here, more eating, and grow a few pant sizes in the process. With pasta for dinner and a little poop smeared on the bottom of Melanie’s shoe, we decided the dark streets although safe were to be ventured through tomorrow night…after a few happy hour drinks of course.

Tomorrow, maybe a hike. Definitely a coffee or two. I see ice cream in our near future. And hopefully less poop!hbb

Mucho Trafico Batman!

We are ready to depart the city. Maybe we can find something quaint, quiet, and cultural in Antigua tomorrow. Guatemala City is fast. It also seems to be full of very fancy malls full of things the average Canadian couldn’t afford.

With no blackout curtains and single pane windows, the combination of 5AM traffic and rays of sunshine streaming in through the window had us up early. A breakfast of toaster oven heated quesadilla leftovers and couple cups of cold Pepsi really kickstarted out day. We should have toasted even the fresh ones up this way…delicioso!

A 10 minute death-defying walk to a nearby mall to search for replacement sunglasses and a SIM card and our day was off to a roaring start. Good to hear the mall opened at 7AM. Bad news was that stores didn’t open until 10. How many times can a couple of people walk around an empty mall before security starts asking questions. We found that 2 hours still isn’t long enough. Maybe if we spent more time hanging around outside the kids playroom they might start asking.

Our Spanish sucks balls. Sorry for the vulgarity, but it really does. You might think that being in a city wouldn’t be much of a problem if all you came linguistically armed with was English. This is a wrong assumption. Sure our Airbnb host is fine with English, but if you want to ask for anything in a store or find your way around with an Uber driver…good luck. We are making do, but a whole lot of practice is very necessary.

Uber sorted out. Two very long rides over very short distances have reduced our need to dodge speedy cars in an environment unfriendly to pedestrians in general. Tomorrow will be yet another. Can’t wait for Uber to finally be in Vancouver. Cabs can’t match the speed, service and cost.

So now a rainy night in. We can relax in our safe space and listen to the combination of wet horns down at street level and the occasional plane taking off only 4 blocks away. The joys of travel, especially cities like this, really make us appreciate the little things that make Vancouver so great.

Guatemala City and the Blackness

So we arrived, safe and sound. No delays. A little rain on arrival but nothing spectacular. Its Guatemala City and being as it is the city… we have been warned not to go out after dark. Maybe a few too many handsy citizens looking to acquire other people’s stuff… and we end being other people.

So here we are. Exhausted after a 4am wake up call, a couple of short flights and 4 hour layover. It’s starting to sound like we are getting a little soft. I guess consuming an order of quesadillas ready to feed a family of 4 will help add to that softness. Maybe we save the sugar-filled 1.75 litre bottle of Pepsi that came with the quesadilla combo for morning, to round out a healthy start to the day.

And there is the necessary adjustment to our accommodations. It is not a hostel, nor a hotel. Not a campsite, or sheltered spot under a bridge. Airbnb. Clean…sure. Tastefully decorated… I am sure it is someone’s taste.

Why would anyone want a black tub and toilet? Maybe over the years we have just become too accustomed to cleanliness and bleaching products. Black, and grey for that matter, are probably perfect for an Airbnb because your customers just can’t see the dirt. Grime on the tub walls? Just give it a rinse. Streaks in the toilet? You guessed it… disguised… unless you happen to drink the water and emit some technicolor ooze that contrasts with black.

We have two nights here. One to recover from a day of travel. The second to identify where to run to next. Maybe there will be enough leftover quesadilla to feed us tomorrow night too after that sundown curfew.

Note to self. Next time we travel… it will be somewhere we can down vast quantities of midnight tacos from a roadside cart. Of course, a white toilet.