Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Extreme El Salvador

February 9th to 12th

It's a tough old climb back out from Lago de Coatepeque....

So we decide to reward ourselves with an extravagance when we reach Santa Ana - El Salvador's second city....

Sue's mother and brother both very kindly provided our Christmas presents in the form of dollar bills, which just happen to be the currency here. Their express instructions were to spend them foolishly and who are we to argue. Ahhh 'Hotel Tolteka' - drink service round the pool - don't mind if I do....

This is a country of real contrasts. An estimated 2 of the 7 million strong population works abroad, many in the US but there is a large community in Italy too. Much of what they earn is sent home and there is considerable wealth in parts. Memories of what expats have seen in the States also return and the outskirts of Santa Ana echo the design and shape of the US. There is a large shopping mall with huge bill board adverts towering above the highway and a plethora of US style diners and burger joints with giant 4x4's outside in the parking lots. It's a culture shock after the poor housing and farming villages we have just passed through.

Further in, the city is more chaotic and typically Latin in style....

The central plaza is bordered by an old Spanish colonial style theatre and municipal buildings plus a neo-Gothic cathedral. It's an eclectic mixture.

We brought parts for the bikes back with us from the UK and this is bicycle TLC El Salvador style. Juan Pablo and Jesus (a common name here pronounce Herzus) work the spanners in a dimly lit earth building with many home made bits of equipment. I fret and take the tools off them when they look like bending the delicate bits. The bill is a hefty US $4....

With our steeds running more smoothly and with less of those worrying grindy clickety type noises we head East towards 'Suchitoto'.

Formally the nations capital, it holds the more recent distinction of being the town where much of the early fighting in El Salvador's civil war broke out. During the late 80's it was the scene of much destruction causing a large proportion of the surrounding population to flee the country. Now it has re-invented itself as a quaint cobble stoned tourist attraction centred around it's February festival of art and music. Unfortunately that's at the weekend and we arrive midweek so we hike to nearby Lago Suchitlan instead....

It's good to be on the bikes again so we pass up on more ambitious hikes to a nearby waterfall and also the site of an FMLN guerrilla hideout near Guazapa Volcano. FMLN was a coalition force of 5 seperate guerrilla movements that united to overthrow the government in the civil war of the 80's. After the peace accord in 1992 they formed a political party and were democratically elected last year. Ironic?

Suchitoto now seems to be beginning the next revolution and signs and symbols are everywhere detailing what appears to be a strong women's movement. Almost all houses have a stenciled slogan painted by their doors - 'In this house we want a life free from violence towards women'....

We back track to the main highway north and like I say this is a country of extremes. After the 4x4's and the shopping malls full of gold jewelery and designer label clothing it's right back to basics.....

Oxen provide the power to transport and now crush sugar cane and corn outside wattle and daub huts....

Property is strongly protected in a land where violence is common and the murder rate is amongst the highest on the planet at around 10 a day - an incredible statistic for such a small population and hard to credit from a people we have found to be so friendly and welcoming....

Our standard of accommodation takes an extreme turn in Colima when the only hotels available are 'Auto Hotels'. This is type of place, usually just out of town where you drive in the back way, hide the car behind a tarpaulin curtain or in a garage under your room and pay by the hour. Condoms are often included in the price and discretion is assured. They're not always up to the standards of Hotel Tolteka above though....

We snuggle up in a bed built for one, try to ignore what is behind that shower curtain and definitely don't touch the walls. Still - it's not all bad; this kind of luxury comes cheap - and that means more budget for food. Sweet dreams....


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