Last night I crossed into Nicaragua after nearly two terrific weeks in El Salvador. Of all the countries in Central America, El Salvador was the one I had been looking forward to the most, and probably because it was the one I had heard the least about. Clearly, not many people out there share my love of mystery as travelers were thin on the ground, and I went almost a week without seeing another gringo/a.
I first spent a couple of days in La Palma, a tiny town not far from the Honduras border, and I immediately fell in love with El Salvador. Every wall, door, lamppost, etc in town was covered in colorful paintings and murals, the people were extremely friendly (and the best-lookers so far, in my humble opinion), and I just had the “Feel Good” vibe that I had been lacking in Honduras.
From there I chicken-bussed it south to another small town known for its weekend art market: Suchitoto. However, the market has lost its lustre in recent years (according to my guesthouse owner), and funky work from local artisans has been replaced by mass-produced tourist jewelry from Mexico. Nevertheless, the dusty town was chilled out and quiet, as was my hostel (I was the only guest!), so it was a nice place for a couple of days of down time.
By the time I left Suchitoto for the larger town of Santa Ana, I was desperate for some English interaction. It had been five days since I had seen another traveler, and I was feeling desperate for conversation. One of my goals on this trip is to become fluent-ish in Spanish, and I do realize that the best way to master this is to force myself to speak it as much as possible, however, I do love communicating and telling stories and making new friends, and my poor Spanish is not at the level to make that possible. Fortunately, my guesthouse in Santa Ana was filled with guests; unfortunately, I came down with a nasty cold the day I arrived and didn’t have the energy to talk to anyone.
The second largest city in El Salvador, Santa Ana was the first time I felt unsafe. My hostel was located in a gritty part of the city, and I felt uncomfortable walking around at night. Speaking of safety, I still haven’t decided if I’m a target or just a curiosity. If someone wanted to rob me, all they would really have to do is push me with a pinky finger, take my bag, and walk away at a leisurely pace. Of course, if someone wanted to go beyond that, I would definitely put up a fight and rip out anything I could get my hands on; nevertheless, I do realize that I’m completely vulnerable and not really able to defend myself properly or run, so I have to be on my guard all the time. I like to think that I look tough and scary (all 5’2″, 110 lbs of me) and that my metal crutches could do some damage. Hmm.
Anyway, the only reason I went to Santa Ana was to use it as a base to visit other towns in the region and along the Ruta de las Flores, so with a runny nose and a cotton-filled head, I dragged myself out of bed on Sunday, onto a chicken bus, and towards the town of Juayua for its famous weekend food festival. I tried a few vegetarian delicacies–Elotes locos (grilled corn on the cob covered with some ketchupy sauce and rolled in parmesean cheese) and Riguas con Coco (reminded me of super-sweet cornbread but with loads of coconut), chased down with a nutty glass of Horchata. Loaded with sugar and feeling like my head was going to explode, I headed back to Santa Ana for an early night in bed next to a table covered in snot rags.
Monday morning, feeling slightly better, I left my hostel and wandered around for a bit in search of the bus terminal until a total stranger offered to take me there in his car. I accepted…what was I saying about being on my guard? No matter, I’m still alive. I then took a series of chicken busses to Playa El Tunco, a tiny little surf town south of San Salvador. Finally, after traveling in Central America for a month, I was at the beach! I spent five days relaxing in hammocks or by the pool (yes, my $8 a night hostel had a pool!), oogling hot surfer guys, eating, and recovering from my cold.
My first day there, I met two Dutch girls that were staying in my hostel, and I hung out with them for a few days (and probably talked their pretty blonde heads off because I was so happy to be speaking English again!). On Wednesday we went on a quad bike (four-wheeler ATV) tour up into the mountains. I was a bit nervous, as I haven’t been on a manual quad bike since I was a kid, and certainly not since my accident. My feet are completely paralyzed (hence why I wear braces) and I can’t move my ankles, so wasn’t quite sure if it would even be possible to change the gears. However, I quickly got into the groove and in no time was reaching down with my left hand to shift gears. Easy. I felt like such a bad-ass, zooming through water-filled pot holes while getting soaked in the rain, nose tickled by that oh-so-good acrid smell of a four-wheeler engine mixed with dirty water…ahh it really took me back to my childhood.
I have three highlights from my trip so far: kayaking/hiking in Guatemala with Pol, clamoring over the Copan Ruins in Honduras, and now quad-biking in El Salvador. The common denominators here are serious physical exertion, sweat, and being with cool people. To be honest, this trip has been a bit boring for me. I have had to miss some cool things because I can’t physically do them. Some examples include wading through caves, going to see the Tikal ruins in Guatemala (all reports said it was way too slippery to be fun for me), trekking up volcanoes, surfing, etc. Those of you who know me know how much this KILLS me. Sometimes I wish I was a girl who liked shopping and tanning, but I’m not and I’m getting bored with sitting in hammocks while everyone else has fun. Fortunately, I’ve met some really cool people who have been patient and helpful, and have encouraged me do some kick-ass things that I will never forget. I could never have done these things without them. I know that if I want this trip to really be fun, I need to continue to meet great people, stop being so damned independent and ask for help when I need it, and push myself to do things that may not be comfortable or easy but will totally be worth it. Like surfing–on my last day in El Tunco, a girl piggy-backed me into the ocean and a local surfer let me use his longboard. I caught a few waves, but then I had no idea how to pop up on the board with my paralyzed legs. I think this is something I can work on.
Yesterday, I sadly said goodbye to El Salvador and crossed into Nicaragua, where I’ll be for the next three weeks!