Monday, September 12, 2011

Pupusas, playas, and Perquín, El Salvador

We entered El Salvador at the La Ceiba crossing. We had been told that that was where all the truckers pass and that was pretty much right on. Make sure to pass all of them and go to the front of the line. Otherwise, you may be there for a very long time like the rest of the truckers seem to be. We pulled right up to the gate where the first official looked at our motorcycle paperwork and sent Mike to get copies (14 quetzales total) for both Guatemala exit and El Salvador entrance. He was also told by the official that he should permanently instead of temporarily close the paperwork (in Spanish, cancelar en vez de salir), since we did not plan on reentering Guatemala within our 90 day interval, which was not what they had said when we entered the country.

Once he had copies he was sent to the aduana to close out the paperwork. The aduana only temporarily closed him out so when he took the paperwork back to the first official he told us to make sure to go back to the aduana and officially close. Back at the aduana he was about to officially get re-closed out when the system went down. So, we waited about 45 minutes for the system to come up, which it never did, at which point the guy just hand wrote on the exit paper that it was ´cancelado´, so we have no idea what our current status in Guatemala is. It didn´t cost anything to get out of Guate. On the Salvador side, there was no line but it still took about 45 minutes due to pure slowness on the part of the official. No cost for us or the bike to enter.

We soon learned that the roads are pretty great and there are signs for most relatively major turns, although the signs are right at the turn with no advance notice. We also found that the entire contry is full of people, towns and animals with little break inbetween, and very little space between the highway and all of the people, towns, and animals. This makes sense as the country is about the size of Massachussetts with a population of over 6 million.

A few hours after entering the country we made it to La Libertad. We asked on hotel prices around town but the cheapest we could find was $20 so headed back out of town to try to find a smaller beach. We saw a sign for San Blas so decided to try there since we had enjoyed San Blas, Mexico so much. We found El Coral Hotel (followed signs for Hotel, Museo, Restaurant off the highway between La Libertad and Tunco) with a beachfront room for $20. It was a really nice place, run by a Dutch lady and her Salvadorian surfer husband with their two small children. We just hung out watching the water, drinking beer and occasionally motivating for a dip in the ocean. The food there was also pretty good and we basically had the beach to ourselves.


We also tried the infamous papusas for the first time and resolved to eat them at least once a day, which if you count the days we ate them for two meals, we may have accomplished that goal. Pupusas are fried tortillas with various cheese, meat and bean combos on the inside. They are delicious and cheap at around 50 cents each, making them a definite one of our favorites.

(check out the papusa wagon on the right side)

We had to get on the road again though because we wanted to catch our friend Daniel before he went on vacation to the states. Jill met both Daniel and another friend, KC, in grad school in Denver. They all had the same course of study (Int´l Administration) and had several classes together. It just so happens that both Daniel and KC joined the Peace Corps and were both assigned to El Salvador, both arrived at the same time, were assigned to the same region, and now live together in the same house in Perquín. They have a pretty sweet setup and seem to be doing very well after having lived there for the past 1.5 years. Daniel is working with a school in a nearby community and KC is working with the business association and womens group in town.

During our week stay, we took some cool hikes in the area, enjoyed some of the locally available refreshments, saw one of their friend´s fincas (=small farm), and got to see the communities in which they work.

Unfortunately KC got giardia early in the week so she was hurting and layed pretty low for a couple of days. Which was perfect for us as we caught up on laundry, including washing our riding gear for the first time (nearing the point of Mike´s old hockey gear), lots of hammock time, and Jill was even able to read two books.

(coffee plant at Prudencio´s finca)

(31m deep, hand-dug well under construction)

The state of Morazán and the town of Perquín in particular were the most affected by the civil war in the early 1980s. They were bombed consistently and many people became refugees to Honduras. The people who stayed led the guerillas in the fight against the US-backed military. The war is still very fresh in the minds of the people living there, as they were all profoundly affected by it. However, many of them are more than willing to talk about it with strangers like us, much different than the code of silence that seems to exist in Guatemala. The guerillas are actually in power in El Salvador now, so perhaps their openness is because their struggle was a winning one.

We visited the museum about the war, where everyone who enters is led by an ex-guerilla fighter and invited to ask any questions you want. Next door is a campamento, showing examples of living conditions and a collection of artifacts. Both are cheap, interesting and worth a visit.

(our guide in front of the guerilla radio station, the radio station equipment was used during the war, but only broadcast for a couple of hours a day, then was packed up and relocated)

(us in front of a US-made bomb, similar to one that caused...)

(this huge crater that Mike is standing in)

(entrance to the campemento)

(example shelter used during the war)

(notice the shrapnel still embedded in the tree)

(this carton was on the side of the road during one of our walks. When the peace accords were signed, both sides filled several of these trailers with arms.)

In Pequín we were also able to sample arguably the best papusas in Salvador at KC´s host mom´s pupusería.

On our last night in town we went with KC to a party thrown by her association of business owners celebrating their becoming a legal entity. Many of the group own restaurants and the quality and quantity of meat was impressive. It was also amazing how much booze everyone put down and that the women seemed to be able to drink just as much as the men. There was a good singer/guitarist there as entertainment and we were quite entertained by the all night sing along and clapping. A fun night for sure.

On our map it looks like a relatively major road goes north into Honduras from Perquín so we were hoping to cross there. People in town thought there was an aduana, but we drove to the border a few days before we wanted to cross to make sure. This was also to confirm what some other travelers had experienced and shared on the HUBB.  We learned that there is immigration, but no customs for bike import. They hope to open the aduana in a month, for what that is worth. The only crossing on the eastern side of El Salvador is El Amatillo, which we have read is a big hassle with lots of police stops on the way to Nicaragua.

So, we decided to go back to the western border and cross into Honduras at El Poy partly to avoid the hassle of El Amatillo and partly to drive through more of el Salvador and Honduras. We lucked out in that a Peace Corps volunteer who is good friends with Daniel and KC lives about 30 minutes from the border near La Palma. So, we took off from Perquín around noon after recovering a bit and scarfing down some awesome oat patties KC made.

We got to Jessica´s at 6:30, just in time to go with her to her counterpart´s house for arguably the best papusas in el Salvador. (I know, I know...KC´s host mom was supposed to have the best, but I´d have to say, this lady´s were better.)  Jessica is working with a womens coop that makes handicrafts and also sells chickens. It was very kind of Jessica to let us crash at her house for the night. We enjoyed our visit plus we were in perfect position to hit the border early.

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