Frontierland to El Salvador was a complete contrast to that of Mexico (Tijuana), Guatemala, Beliz and Honduras. Both the exit from Guatemala
and entry into El Salvador was a bleak, grey and characterless vacuum. Void of colour, noise, smells and the chaotic vitality we have so far experienced at frontiers. There were more sad, stray mangy dogs scavenging for scraps, than people.
Nevertheless David did the business of getting passports checked and Nancy's paperwork in order
and the money changers did their bit with wads of dollars then we were in.
The first challenge was to negotiate a detour around a bridge which had sunk to its knees in a river. It was much less challenging than other detours we have had to take due to landslides or collapsed bridges. The rest of the ride for our first day was gentle. We stopped for refreshments at the side of the road
got caught up in the revellers of Easter Saturday returning home after a day on the beach, and found ourselves a neat place to stay for the night.
Well I say neat. It was a 'no tell' motel on the outskirts of town. I think we have mentioned these before. They first appeared in Mexico and were also a feature of Guatemala. They are designed to keep the identity of the room occupants a secret from one another or prying eyes. The vehicle being driven, typically slides in behind doors or a curtain and the access door to the room is from the garage. Money is paid to an employee who seems to respect privacy, despatching the occupants without really making eye contact. Rooms can be rented by the hour and room service food ordered. Our experience of them has been purely practical. They are generally basic, clean and well maintained-a bit like Formula 1 in France. They are to be found on the main carretera (road) into town, are cheap and avoid the need to ride into a busy city or town, we can park the bike right outside our room and it is secure, which means we don't have to unload it just for one night.
There has never been any sign of any lurid activity in the Auto Hotel's we have stayed in. They seem merely to serve a practical function in a catholic society, in which often extended families live under one roof in over-crowded conditions, thereby making privacy between a couple difficult if not impossible. This Auto Motel took the need for privacy to another level. We tried to engage the employee to find out about the room, and it's cost for the night. He shiftily pointed us in the direction of a vacant room, signified by an open garage. But we managed to get him to show us the room, tells us the cost and whether there was a restaurant near by. He looked a little uncomfortable. I guess because folk normally know the ropes and certainly do not go out for dinner. Anyway the room was large, complete with air conditioning, piped music of a soothing nature, hot shower, small lounge area, TV and enclosed courtyard. The bed though was on a plinth behind a curtain, and the back wall had a wall mirror, and tissues had been left to one side for our use. As we sorted ourselves out wondering who to pay, as the employee had quickly disappeared, we heard a knock in the room. We looked around trying to figure out where it was coming from as there was no-one at the door. Gradually we came to realise that it was coming from inside a small cupboard a couple of feet off the ground. We opened it up to hear a voice from the other side. Startled we bent down to look through the hatch and just saw hands. Confused we figured this is how we had to pay-through the hatch. Then thrust through the door were two complimentary bottles of water. Still trying to see who we were dealing with, the door closed and we were left to ourselves. Once unpacked we decided not to go out for food but to to order room service (by phone). We also needed a top sheet for the bed at an extra cost of 50 cents (I guess they are not normally needed.) Anyhow after much confusion we tucked in to a very passable hotel meal, tried to watch some El Salvadorean TV, but retired to bed to listen to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Or that was what we thought. However our neighbours in the adjoining den had other quite different ideas. At first we thought we could hear the TV from next door, but soon realised that what we were listening to was not the ardent lovemaking of Brad Pitt and a busty brunette, but we reckon rather aged gentleman and very encouraging younger woman. With a deafening soundtrack of high pitched ooohs and aahs and what sounded like 'come on' (we think filtering though the hole in the wall wherein sat our TV's back to back); the subtle tones of Rebecca were lost. So off went in the iPod, in went the ear plugs, and out went the light. Soon David lapsed into a deep slumber, whilst I was left trying to figure out why folk make so much noise when having sex.
The next morning refreshed we set off on the Ruta de las Flores a group of five little villages recommended in the guide book. The first village on the route was Nahuizalco noted for it's hand carved wooden furniture. Next on to Salcoatitan, pretty but notable only for two of its restaurants, so we didn't stop. Then on to Juayúa a bustling village where we stopped to browse the market look for an El Salvador bandera flag for the bike checked out the black christ, and a group christening after the morning service drank horchata by the fountain and generally soaked up the atmosphere Back at the car park which was in the grounds of reptillaria Jill decided to visit the various reptiles-here is a selection: first the shredded skin of a snake next various boa constrictors (I was offered one to hold but declined! a tarantula a Monitor trying to escape I think this is a pregnant Python, due to deliver about 40 eggs, twice the size of a hens egg, next week. About a month later she will shed her skin as she loses about 50% of her body weight. A wonderful looking Green Vine Snake and Corn Snake Bekki please don't get one of these as a pet!!
Continuing along the Ruta de las Flores we passed posts painted with flowers arriving at a very quiet town called Apaneca. With just a few stalls and some tapes music in the square it was very different to Juayúa. We visited the rebuilt church which was almost destroyed in the earthquake of 2001
Then we made our way to the comida stalls for lunch and had you guessed pollo, arroz, ensalada and tortillas topped off with tamarindo. The tortillas here are smaller and thicker than those in Guatemala and Mexico.
Finally we arrived at Concepción de Ataco where we had a rare photograph taken together looked at some street murals for which the town is famous the market (we like markets they are so vibrant) wandered the streets which were littered with confetti which on closer inspection was tiny pieces of coloured foil, probably from crisp packets, which will never degrade visited the church (we like looking around churches as you may have guessed) and stopped to buy a chocobanaña each mmmm dip dip dip..... Then off along the cobbled streets towards Santa Ana through a very hazy landscape and cones
-the preferred method of slowing down traffic in El Salvador-far better than topes.
Again we decided not to try and find a place to stay in a large city opting instead for an Auto Hotel. After a false start or two, we found one which looked ok from the outside The employee who takes the money was on hand to show us a vacant garage and urged us to pull in. But before taking him up, Jill checked the price, and whether they offered room service. She also asked to see the room (always a good idea we have found). Well this Auto Hotel went one step further in attending to your every need. The room was as usual clean, with piped sweet music, tissue dispenser by the bed, but no windows. At the foot of the bed was a strangely curved seat of sorts, made for reclining on I guess (the least said the better!) and attached to the brass fittings of the bedstead were what can only be described as handcuffs!! Further as Jill's eyes wandered around the room she noted two wall mirrors plus one on the ceiling. Clicking on various switches, we were suddenly bathed with the subtle glow of red. We thought it was a great hoot and took a photo for posterity.
The following morning we headed for the Lake at Coatepeque-formed following the collapse of a volcano rather like Lake Atitlan in San Pedro. Up into the hazy sky we climbed for a lovely view
Then we descended to have a closer drive along the dirt road circling the lake, only to find that the land edging the lake is lined with private properties heavily barricaded by high walls and gates. We could not see the lake at all. In contrast to sprawling mansions, swimming pools and sweeping green lawns were the homes of those who keep the wheels of the wealthy turning smoothly
We have seen more folk in El Salvador living in homes made of anything they can find-wood, corrugated iron and mud than we ever saw in Guatemala where often homes were made of adobe. And of course once again there was loads of litter lining the road
We did come across a truck collecting rubbish only to find that it was just being dumped further up the road.
Back up at the top of the volcano we stopped for coffee and took in the amazing vista. Having mentioned the litter which like Mexico and Guatemala lines the roads in great drifts, we also came across these. Interestingly there was no bin for plastics or other waste, so they were just strewn all around the bins. Not only that but the bins themselves posed a Crypton Factor exercise on the mind!
Onwards we rode past more corrugated dwellings and a very colourful graveyard on towards the National Park Complejo de Volcanes a cluster of three volcanoes. The park was around 1800 meters high and cold, completely shrouded in mist so we couldn't see the volcanoes. But we wandered around finding some very forlorn buildings housing a few craft stalls which you wouldn't know were there unless you were feeling adventurous enough to go exploring.
After a lunch of you guessed it: chicken, rice, salad and tortillas we headed to the El Salvadorean pacific coast and a warm breeze, past a herd of cattle, stopping for afternoon tea of mariscos cerviche and freshly squeezed lemonade (a favourite) well you have to eat fish when by the sea. It makes a change from pollo.