Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adventure of the Bus Mishaps: Our Trip to El Salvador: Part 2

When we last saw Nicki and Nolan, they were stranded on the side of a mountain highway as the darkness settled in, unsure if they would find a way back to Santa Ana for the night.

Just as we were beginning to despair that we would be sleeping in the woods, we heard the faint roar of a bus engine. As the bus rounded the corner, we felt a huge sense of relief. Unfortunately, after we had made it down the mountain, we discovered the bus didn’t actually go back to Santa Ana. Some nice man had the kindness to tell us that we had to switch buses. We hopped off and then quickly got on another bus with psychedelic flashing lights everywhere just as it was getting pitch black. It was more than a little sketchy, but we had to do it. But it didn’t end there. The flashing bus didn’t actually go to the center of Santa Ana either so we got the bus driver to explain to us how to get yet another bus. So we ended up on a random corner in Santa Ana, waiting for an urban bus. It felt like midnight, we didn’t know where we were and we were leading the three other hikers who were even more befuddled about our whereabouts. Luckily we quickly caught a final bus, which we were the only passengers on, and headed back to our hotel, and it was only maybe 7 pm.

Exhausted and starving, our friendly hotel owner guided us to the most amazing pupuseria in El Salvador. Pupusas are a national dish, corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, chicharron, or a combination, then fried on a hot grill. They are normally eaten with your hands, topped with encurtido, a combination of pickled carrots, onions and cabbage. We scarfed down three huge pupusas each, nearly burning our mouths on the oozing cheese. The whole dinner, 6 pupusas and 2 sodas, was $2.40. Stomachs full and minds at ease, we crashed into bed for a good night sleep.

Day 3 we left Santa Ana to head back to San Salvador for a day. Again, the bus system wanted to complicate things. Since the central bus terminal no longer existed we had to catch a quick bus to the mall south of town (a pseudo-bus terminal) where we could catch an especial bus to San Salvador. After waiting for awhile and not seeing the especial we took the directo which stops more. Just as we pulled out, we spotted the especial behind us. The directo wasn’t too bad, we were maybe only 15 minutes later than we expected, but the directo didn’t go to the mall in San Salvador where the especial did. Chatting with some people on the bus, a kind old woman explained that we had to get off the directo and hop on bus 44 to the mall, she offered to show us. So we disembarked on the side of yet another highway in the middle of San Salvador. Luckily, bus 44 was right behind us, so we got on and were at the mall in no time.

We didn’t really want to go to the mall per se, but rather to a folk art museum that was nearby. With our backpacks weighing us down, we walked in the boiling hot sun for about 20 minutes to the museum. We almost cried when the museum looked like it was closed, but luckily the door was just locked and the woman let us in. At the museum we saw some traditional Salvadoran crafts, the most famous being sorpresas (surprises) miniature figures and scenes that are molded in clay and then painted. They come in little egg shell-looking cups that you open up to reveal the scene inside. Some depict Salvadorans making pupusas or harvesting coffee, others have a variety of sex positions. We also saw some paper art (like tissue paper or thin plastic sheets), weaving, ceramics and masks. It was a cool little museum, certainly off the beaten track but well worth a visit.

From there we were excited to head to a nearby restaurant famous for its sandwiches, pasta and selection of Belgian and German ales. Again the old guide book would let us down, the restaurant had been replaced with a nearly empty tipico bar and grill. Disappointed, hot and exhausted, the only real option we could see was to head back to the mall. Once again, we were dismayed to find that the liveliest spot in town was the American looking food court. We found a pretty good restaurant and had soup, salad and sandwiches that really hit the spot, although they were a bit pricey. We wandered around the mall for awhile, wondering how people could afford to pay $25 for a pair of shoes, certainly out of our price range.

So after just a few hours in San Salvador, we were ready to head out to the beaches of the Pacific Coast. We found a bus who said they were going to the Terminal de Occidente, right where we needed to be to catch a bus to the coast. But as you may have guessed, we were in for another crazy ride. The driver didn’t stop at the terminal, we didn’t even pass it, nor did they advise us where we could get off to either walk or catch another bus there. Of course we didn’t know the city well enough to know where to get off ourselves and when we finally decided we were not in the right spot and asked for directions, the bus driver just said to wait, he would take us somewhere to catch a bus to the beach. We drove all over San Salvador on the bus for about 30 minutes, we were so lost. Finally the driver advised us to hop off and wait alongside the highway for the bus to La Libertad, the beach, that would be passing by every 10 minutes or so.

There we were on the side of a real highway this time, a divided 6 lane beast, on the outskirts of the city, waiting for some unknown bus to miraculously appear.

Will the bus to La Libertad drive by and save our adventurers? Or will they be forced to trudge down the Central American Highway trying to avoid the dangerous drug smugglers? Tune in tomorrow for Part 3 of Nicki and Nolan’s Salvadoran Adventure.

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