Friday, October 29, 2010

Adventure of the Bus Mishaps: Our Trip to El Salvador: Part 3

When we last saw Nicki and Nolan, they were on the side of the Central American Highway, hoping to catch a bus to La Libertad and warily eyeing the passing cars for shady characters.

After a good half hour of standing in a bus cutout that not a single bus pulled into and wondering how safe it was to be two gringos standing along a busy highway, we asked a guy for help. He thought the buses to La Libertad got on the highway a little further up. Not knowing exactly where we were supposed to go, we instead got on a bus back the center of town, this time clearly asking if the bus went directly to Terminal de Occidente. We arrived at the terminal and no sooner had we asked for help did the bus to La Libertad pull up, and before we knew it we were speeding away.

La Libertad is the closest port to San Salvador, and a popular weekend getaway for capitalinos. We arrived in the middle of a jostling market and just after stepping out of the back of the bus like a middle school fire drill, we were able to catch another bus to head further down the beach. The bus blasted reggaeton and the wind whipped our hair as we sailed past huge beachfront properties. Our destination was El Tunco, a small community with a few scattered hotels and restaurants, famous for a rock formation off the coast known as El Tunco, the pig, as well as it’s world class surfing. We arrived to our hostel, Papaya’s Lodge, and found that the only room left was a two twin bed room with shared bathroom and fan. We took it. Papaya’s was in a great spot, they were located on a serene small river full of mangrove forests just 100 meters or so from the ocean. They had a nice deck with hammocks overlooking the water.

Does it look like a pig to you?

Lounging by the rio at Papaya's

We headed toward the beach at sunset to snap a few pictures. The smooth black rocks made a pleasant clinking sound like a rain stick as the waves washed them to and from the beach. Surprisingly, the place was pretty empty. Four or five big restaurants lined the water but there were only a handful of diners. Just as the moon was rising, we settled on a small eatery which an old drunk hippie woman convinced us was the best in town. We ordered huge frozen lemonades for just a $1 each then grilled chicken and fish tacos. After dinner, we headed to the Coco Bar, a small establishment perched on the rocks above the beach for a Cuba Libre and a Pilsner (the national beer of El Salvador). We were hoping for a little more nightlife, but decided we’d call it an early night and had back to the hostel. A bunch of young Eastern European guys were up drinking, playing music and being noisy all night just outside our room. So that night we decided that in the morning we’d look for a new place to stay.

The next day we woke up and headed to a restaurant advertising American breakfasts. Again we were served huge glasses of fresh juice. The American breakfast was good, but only came with one slice of undercooked bacon and a hot dog for the meat. We checked out a few hotels along the beach, scoffed at the exorbitant prices of the fanciest ones, and made the easy choice of Casa Miramar. For double what we were paying at Papaya’s we got a private room and bath with A/C and access to a small, clean pool and sitting area with hammocks overlooking the churning waves. It was perfect!

Vista de Casa Miramar

Tough day at the beach

Happy with our new found hotel, we headed back into La Libertad for lunch. Although the guide book said it was unbecoming, dangerous and not worth a visit, we found the port town to be quite charming. We walked along the big muelle (pier) where they had a huge fresh fish market selling everything from lobsters and crabs to fish and even fresh ceviche. From the pier, they lowered boats down to the water on a crane so they miss the waves crashing on shore. Just off the pier, the fishing boats are lined up, whole filleted fish draped over the sides to dry in the sun. The fisherman had their nets tied to trees and were carefully mending the holes. The rocky beach was also lined with drying fish filets. To one side of the pier was a line of open air food stands serving the catch of the day. We had a decent whole fried fish with papas fritas while listening to a nearby mariachi band. To the other side of the pier was a newly redeveloped waterfront boardwalk with an amphitheater, restaurants and shops. The project is not quite done, so the place was kind of deserted. We did stop for some much needed Mexican popsicles, which came in every flavor imaginable from strawberries and cream to mojito with rum and even pico de gallo.

It was getting hot, so we decided to go back to El Tunco to take a swim. Originally we had wanted to take surfing lessons since El Salvador is famous for its breaks, but after jumping into the water, we quickly changed our minds. The waves were huge and powerful. One minute we’d be standing in calf deep water, then a wave would crash over us and the water would be above our heads. Several times we were both dragged into the shore, skidding along the rough, sandy ocean floor. It was exhausting to swim in, and for a novice surfer would have been impossible to manage. We were happy just fighting the waves for a bit, after which we retreated to the serene hotel pool to relax. We showered off then lounged around in hammocks, waiting for the sunset. But the biggest treat of the week was yet to come.

For dinner, we happened upon a pizzeria serving Italian style pizza, which for us is the perfect meal. Good American style pizza is hard to come by in Central America and real Italian style pizza is nearly impossible so finding a good pizzeria in the smallest of Salvadoran communities was a miracle. We were excited to order a big margherita pizza that arrived with a thin, charred crust, the perfect ratio of sauce to cheese, and fresh basil. It was beyond delicious. It was so good in fact, that we decided we had to order another, unsure when we’d have the opportunity again. The second had pepperoni, and not the Hormel kind, thick slices of slightly spicy artisanal Italian salumi that delighted the senses. We probably could have ordered a third had our stomachs not been prohibitively small. Instead we retreated to our hotel to finish the night with a few Coronas, sipped on the terrace overlooking the dark ocean.

For not really being beach people, we were sad to leave El Tunco the next morning on an early bus. We ran into another couple that was headed for Honduras. Unfortunately, the first and only thing they had to say about the country was how confusing it was for the woman to get a visa because she was Russian. Oh Honduras. In no time we were back on a chicken bus, speeding back toward San Salvador to make our way to the eastern part of the country. But of course we couldn’t do that without having a few more bus problems. The bus from La Libertad, which leaves from Terminal de Occidente, is also supposed to return back to Terminal de Occidente, but then ‘supposed to’ doesn’t mean very much apparently. Our bus drove in confusing lops around the city before depositing us in some unknown neighborhood. Attempts to ask the bus driver, a guy at a kiosk, and some fellow bus passengers got us conflicting answers as to how close and which direction Terminal de Occidente was.

Will our adventurers ever make it to Terminal de Occidente and on to their final destination? Or will they be forced to aimlessly wander the urban jungle of San Salvador? Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of Nicki and Nolan’s Salvadoran Adventure.

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