Oil on Canvas 16″ x 20″
Inspired by a photo taken in Santa Ana, El Salvador
Oil on Canvas 16″ x 20″
Inspired by a photo taken in Santa Ana, El Salvador
It was hot and sweaty in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, where I had to take one of these tricycle taxis from the bus station to the Mexican border. It was much cheaper to walk across the bridge then to pay $4 to be tricycled across. Guatemalan and Mexican immigration was smooth enough, although a slow and sweaty process. From there I took a shuttle to Tapachula, where I had to wait a couple of hours for the bus to Arriaga. It gave me time to relax and have some good Mexican tacos. It seems to me that Mexican tortillas are the best.
I enjoyed a night and a day in Arriaga, Mexico where I had stayed before, at the Hotel Chiapas, although they had raised their rates somewhat since I was here in October. I had more great Mexican street tacos, then in the morning an incredible breakfast buffet for $4 that set me up through lunch. I had to wait all day and into the night for my bus to leave for Oaxaca at 9PM. It was nice to be in a real bus station rather than just a spot on the sidewalk.
I slept on the bus all night and arrived in Oaxaca around 5AM, so the Hostel Paulina, where I had stayed in October, only charged me for the following night. Breakfast was included, and the staff recognized me and requested a musical performance. I gave them a Promo CD of Luis Sabor and the next morning they were playing it for the breakfast service.
I really like Oaxaca, Mexico. It is one of the few large state capital cities that still retain a relaxed atmosphere, despite being very busy and offering a great deal of opportunities for shopping and entertainment. It is similar to Leon, Nicaragua in this regard. I enjoyed visiting a large mercado, where I tried on a sombrero, since I had accidentally left my leather hat on a bus in Escuintla.
I also tried a few of these “chapulines”: chili-fried crickets, at the insistence of my friend Porfirio, whom I had met back in October when I was busking in the Plaza. Porfirio and I talked a great deal and he had an interesting story to tell. Having grown up on the streets, he had just spent his first entire year dependence-free, after being addicted to heroin for six years. It was inspiring to hear how he had pulled himself out of the gutter, literally, with the help of God, to escape the living hell he had endured. He was incredibly optimistic, and I have felt compelled to pray for him, as his trials certainly cannot be over.
After just two days in Oaxaca, I was ready to board another bus for a long trip to Puebla. The bus stations were starting to resemble airports now, and the buses were more comfortable, including bathrooms and movies, although much more expensive than in other countries.
I gratefully ate a roasted chicken dinner at a comedor just steps away from the Honduran/El Salvadoran border. I took a bus to Santa Rosa de Lima, then another to San Salvador. To my surprise the bus was air-conditioned and by the time I got to San Salvador I was freezing and dehydrated and extremely grateful to arrive at JoAn’s Hostal. The owner Ana gave me time to clean up, then took me and two other guests to share a great pizza dinner. Wow, what a great host! But thats not all. As we were talking about Casa Verde Hostal in Santa Ana, and how Ana had talked to the owner Carlos often but had never been to the place, the next day she offered to drive me an hour to Casa Verde herself! Such a beautiful lady.
It was great to eat El Salvadoran Pupusas, something like a meat&cheese&bean filled tortilla. Delicious and cheap. It took Ana and I a while to find the Casa Verde but although Carlos was at the lake entertaining some guests (El Salvadoran hostal owners are awesome hosts!) we got to see the new addition to Casa Verde, which is simply fabulous, incredible, awesome and puts this hostel miles ahead of most of the other hostels I’ve experienced.
I enjoyed walking around the Santa Ana market in search of groceries to cook in the brand new kitchen, which has just as many utensils and appliances as the old one, which was already the most awesome kitchen I’d seen. I made an effort to take photos of people, and some of them actually asked to have their photo taken. I find El Salvadoran people to be quite friendly and helpful.
After a couple of beautiful days swimming in the very cold pool and exercising Qi Gong on the terrace overlooking the city and cooking my own food, I was ready to move on t0 Guatemala. I tried to find a route avoiding Antigua, or what I like to call “Gringotenango”, but it really has a good location, so I went on back to Hostal Pasar de los Años and actually enjoyed myself for the one night and partial day I was there. The morning I left I went to a favorite restaurant for breakfast, and there was the same family sitting at their favorite table that I had met back in October. We chatted a while and I enjoyed a good breakfast before a long day on the road.
From Antigua I took a bus to Escuintla, where it was quite warm, but I decided not to take the route through Xela that I took in October because I wanted to enjoy the heat as long as I could. I was let off on a sidewalk in Escuintla and proceeded to ask everyone I could where to find a bus to Retalhuleu. Five blocks later I was on another sidewalk and a pullman bus pulled up quickly and we stuffed my backpack and guitar below as the driver was already driving off. As I squeezed on I realized there was standing room only, and I spent most of the trip sitting or standing right there by the driver.
At Retalhuleu I found a decent Hotel, walked several blocks looking for a restaurant in vain, then ate some street tacos by the plaza. The next morning I ate a fresh pan dulce with juice before standing around almost an hour waiting for the bus to the Mexican border.
Okay, I’m now well on my way back home to Arizona. I flew from Lima, Peru to San Jose, Costa Rica which cost a bit more than I had planned. When I arrived at the ticket counter in Lima the young lady informed me that Costa Rica would not allow me to enter the country after being in Peru without a yellow fever vaccination, ten days prior to entering Costa Rica. How could I do that? I was not allowed to switch my flight to another country, and staying in Lima for another 10 days would cost hundreds of dollars. As it turned out, the airline is accustomed to the situation and set me up with a valid vaccination document pre-dated by 15 days from a nearby hospital, and I just had to pay $210 (to tip everyone involved) Well it sucked, but everything went smoothly after that , and I was so happy to land in Costa Rica. I immediately felt my spirits rise as I stepped out into the relatively fresh air of Alajuela, and I enjoyed a good night at the nearby Hostel Maleku, where I had stayed before.
The next morning I took out just a little bit more colones from the ATM than I had caluculated to get me to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. The bus ride was a bit long, but not uncomfortable, and we stopped halfway to Liberia for a break, which has been rare on my trip. In Liberia I met two Swedish girls who were also on the way to San Juan del Sur, so we went through customs together, lucky for them, for they had no dollars, and Nicaragua doesn’t accept anything else to enter the country. I lent them the $24 they needed, then we shared a taxi to San Juan, and they paid me back when we arrived at the Surfing Donkey. It was great to see friendly faces, and I was amazed at how many of the guys had stayed on to become employees there.
I rested at San Juan del Sur just a couple of days, and it was great to hit the beach and swim in the pool and eat Nicaraguan food. The second and last night I was there, the Surfing Donkey folks decided to try out a new drinking game concept: 1 shot of rum every 5 minutes until you pass out or vomit. Sounds fun huh? right, well I was one of a number of observers and eventually caregivers to the four participants. It was pretty funny the first hour, then it got a little scary. Three folks were sick or passed out within 1 1/2 hours, and the winner, Dan the Bear that Grills, was still steady.
I woke up early the next morning, did a short Qi Gong workout, then heaved my backpack on, picked up my guitar, and walked a few blocks to catch the direct bus to Managua. When I reached Managua I had to take a taxi across town to the station for buses to Leon, but it all went smoothly and a couple of hours later I was paying another taxista in Leon just $1 to take me to Lazybones Hostel, where I had spent a week back in November. This time in Leon I decided to make an effort to photograph people, which I am rather uncomfortable doing. Most of the time people don’ t like to be photographed by strangers, so some of the photos I just shot from the hip so to speak ( more like from the chest.)
Besides the swimming pool at Lazybones, I had been looking forward to two things in Leon: Asado Pelibuey (bbq lamb) and some excellent French pastries. Saturday night they ran out of pelibuey, so I had to eat chicken, but it was awesome with the gallo pinto, tortilla, slaw and fried plantain. Then Sunday morning the French bakery was closed, but I bought some delicious bbq pork at the market served on mashed yuca (manioc) and slaw, wrapped in a banana leaf. Monday I had my pastry and my pelibuey.
Yes that is iguana for sale in the Leon market downtown, although I never saw it offered on any menu. I just stayed in Leon a couple of days but as luck would have it, or as a gift from above, I stopped to listen to a band begin their set on an open-air stage downtown and when I heard the Santana style I hurried back to the hostal for my guiro. I started playing along and the band members called me up onstage and we jammed out for a couple of hours to a very appreciative crowd.
I woke up before dawn and did some Qi Gong under the stars by the pool, then I grabbed my belongings and took a taxi to the bus station. The direct bus to the El Salvadoran border had left at 4:30 AM, so I took a chicken bus to Chinandega, then a shuttle to the border, watching the Volcan Chinandega as I left Nicaragua.
Arriving in Granada, Nicaragua was very easy from Masaya. It cost a few cents by chicken bus and I arrived in less than an hour. I could tell I was near the central plaza when I saw the colonial buildings and I signalled the bus-driver to stop by banging on the ceiling of the bus. Luckily, I turned out to be only four blocks or so from the hostal Oasis, so I didn’t have to hire a taxi. When I entered Hostal Oasis I had a tremendous case of deja-vu, the layout was almost exactly like Lazybones in Leon. The reception, garden, pool, dorms, common areas all were almost identical. Then when I entered my room I encountered two fellows I had met at Lazybones! is that funny or what? I’m beginning to get used to this sort of thing along the “gringo trail.”
At first glance I liked Granada, there’s a lot to like: colonial buildings, cool breeze from the nearby lake, and everything designed with the tourist in mind. Therein lies the rub. Because of so many tourists the prices are inflated in restaurants, and anywhere you go you are accosted by salesmen, taxistas, moneychangers, tour guides or just plain beggars.
Hostal Oasis was an oasis from the chaos outside, and I enjoyed cooking my own dinners in the kitchen and meeting lots of travellers from all over the world: Israel, Austria, Germany , and of course Canada. I couldn’t imagine what to do with my time outside of the hostal, and though I enjoyed playing guitar and using the free internet, I decided it was time for San Juan Del Sur.
I took a short, cheap bus ride to Rivas, then another to San Juan. I realized immediately why everyone adores San Juan del Sur: the streets are clean, the air is cool, and it is small and well arranged around the beach, plaza, and market–all just a few blocks from one another.
Just as I stepped off the bus I spotted a young lady wearing a Surfing Donkey T-shirt, the hostal I was looking for. Giselle from Argentina guided me three blocks to the hostal, which was $7 a night for a dorm with breakfast and kitchen facilities, and a cold swimming pool. I think I´ll be staying here a few days.
A funny thing, or two, happened today: just after having lunch at a comedor in the market I bumped into Matt, who was one of the guys I had met in Leon AND Granada, so he holds the record for the most times I’ve met someone on my trip by accident. Then a few minutes later I was talking to Elena from Italy who promotes Surfing Donkey as well as her macrame bracelets, when I spied another familiar face– Do from Israel, whom I had met way back at Casa Verde in Santa Ana, El Salvador. He told me he had just put Megan on the bus, so I just had time to wave hello/goodbye to her. Like I said, I’m getting used to this sort of thing on the gringo trail.
It took slightly less than 12 hours to travel from Alegria, El Salvador to Leon, Nicaragua. I woke up at five AM so I could do some rudimentary Chi Gong exercises before catching the 6 AM chicken bus to Santiago de Maria, then another bus to San Miguel, then another still to El Amatillo at the border with Honduras. Two enthusiastic young men immediately helped me into tricyclo taxi and pushed me through both immigration posts and left me at the shuttle for Nicaragua. This was a ¨”combi” that had to fill all 12 seats before we left. The highway in Honduras was full of potholes, but the worst part was arriving at the Nicaraguan border where more enthusiastic men wanted to help me, though this time I was not being pushed around as easily. The immigration post in Nicaragua was the worst I´ve yet seen: unorganized, took 30 minutes, half of which for the official to get change for my $20, the fee was $12.
I had a leisurely lunch at the bus stop and took another shuttle to Chinandega, then yet another to Leon, where I finally got a cheap taxi, just $1 to my hostel. I was so glad Lazybones had a swimming pool. I was exhausted.
Leon is an interesting place. I like it, so its difficult to describe accurately without seeming derogatory. Its dirty, yes, but by now I´ve come to the conclusion that garbage exists whether it is hidden or not, so I´m not offended. Its old and lots of buildings are falling apart. It is lively and offers a lot for the wanderer to see. I feel like it is Antigua´s opposite in some ways, dark and seedy, and not entirely tourist minded. It took me a while to get some shots of the ubiquitous horse and cart.
I can´t say that Nicaragua is significantly cheaper than El Salvador, but I have found a couple of places where I can eat well for under $2. One is Pelibuey (Nicaraguan for Lamb) where it is hot and sweaty, like most of Leon, and the racket next door is from a gym. Well, the racket is mostly from the street, its very noisy in Leon. The other good spot is a French bakery called Pan y Paz where I took this photo (the juice is guayaba and the croissant chocolate) first class quality.
I´ve been here a few days, mostly just to recover from that horrendous day of travelling. I lucked out and caught a Cuban Trova act at La Olla Quemada, Fulancito y Tal, really world-class performance. I finally felt like I was in the Leon of my imagination. Alas, I did not have my camera.
This is Alegria, Usulutan, El Salvador which is a small town perched high up the side of a volcano. I arrived by bus from Playa San Diego via Comalapa, Usulutan, and Santiago de Maria. I found the hostel I was looking for right on the main square where the bus let me off, but it was a little pricey, so I crossed the plaza to Hotel Las Palmas, which gave me a private room with bath for $10 a night.
It is pleasantly cool in Alegria and I enjoyed walking about and taking photos of the tremendous view. I had to include one featuring the numerous coffee plants growing everywhere. I don´t usually drink coffee, but the restaurant at breakfast offered locally grown coffee and … nothing else. It was quite good.
After a filling breakfast including gallo pinto, delicious fried plantains, and salty eggs with fresh rolls, I set off by foot to climb the volcano. This is why I came to Alegria, you can visit the volcano with just a 45 minute walk from your hotel. It was a beautiful walk on a cobblestoned road winding through a forest full of coffee and other tropical food plants. The gatekeeper to Laguna Alegria charged me 25 cents (una cora) and I got a shot of his animal pal.
The lake in the middle of the volcano´s crater is a beautiful bright green due to the high sulphur content. Because of this the water is considered to have curative powers, which may be why some equestrians brought their steeds here to give them a swim. It took me some time, but I finally found one smoking fumarole to give evidence of the volcanos active state. I assume there are other days when the area is more impressive in that regard.
From Santa Ana, El Salvador I took a short bus ride to Santa Tecla (Nuevo San Salvador) to switch to a bus for La Libertad. I was travelling with Ronnie from Australia who I met at Casa Verde, and we both wanted to go to El Tunco, the recommended spot for surfing. We caught another chicken bus for El Tunco and a couple of hopeful local youths guided us to the gate of Hostal La Sombra (above). The whole trip from Santa Ana cost less than $4. The hostal was $8 a nite.
It was great to just walk from the hostal right to the beach and swim in an amazingly warm Pacific Ocean. The beach is indeed perfect for surfing, and I was somewhat tempted to rent a board for $5 a day. The town wasn´t really my style, however. It is very small and compact, two main streets lined by hotels, restaurants, and various tourist based businesses, all with their walls connected in such a way that it resembles a rat maze for surfers. Its probably easy to close off and keep it secure, but I felt a little claustrophobic.
I enjoyed walking around and taking photos, but I couldn´t find an economical place to eat, and I really was looking forward to fresh fish, so I splurged on a $7 plate with a huge whole fish, something like a snapper. That evening I enjoyed talking to folks from different countries, only one of which was a bonafied surfer, though just about everyone in town is there to surf. Ronnie scheduled a $10 surf lesson the next day.
After just one night at El Tunco I grabbed a chicken bus to Libertad, where I switched to another bus to Playa San Diego. The drive is just 10 minutes, but it took almost an hour waiting for the bus and then the bus stops several times, etc. I was pretty tired when I got off the bus where the driver told me, then heaved on my backpack and guitar to walk three long blocks to Hostal El Roble.
I knew I was in the right place as soon as I glimpsed the amazingly spacious, tropically landscaped grounds. Soon I recognized Lozz, a cute Canadian girl I had met at Casa Verde. She was the one who recommended this hostel, where she will be working for the next four months or so. Thats what she does: looks and listens around for hostels that would like to trade free room and board for her to work there. It sounds like a great way to stretch your travel out indefinitely. Here is a picture of Dee Jay, who does the same thing and whose job Lozz is taking over:
I really enjoyed staying at El Roble for four days, the camaraderie of the guests is outstanding and Darrin, the Brit who owns the place is a great host. I enjoyed the company of Lozz and DJ and then a Czech couple whom I met at Casa Verde (it really is a small country). George is a meteorite hunter (!) and I hope to track them down the next time I´m in Tucson for the annual Gem Show which they always attend. Among others I also enjoyed the company of a retired couple from Scotland who were such experienced travellers that they had all their necessities in two small backpacks. Inspiring.
The only drawback of San Diego is the beach. The waves crash directly onto the beach, so swimming is difficult and the numerous riptides actually make it dangerous. You would have to be crazy to try to surf there. I enjoyed cooking fresh seafood each night I was there, though I had to take a long bus ride (only 4 km) to the pier at La Libertad to make my choices: one whole flounder $1, half a pound of large shrimp $2, large red snapper filet $3. Yes!
Down this road would come a pastry salesman twice a day selling great treats for a quarter (cora) each. You could tell he was coming by the bike horn he tooted. I really enjoyed my stay at El Roble, but the mosquitos enjoyed my flesh too much and I still have a long way to go, so I left for Alegria, where I am happily typing right now. But alas my time is up, so todays story will have to wait for tomorrow.
Antigua Guatemala was really great. The hostal I stayed at for a week happened to be Salsa Central, where four different dance instructors gave group and private lessons. As a result I made dozens of friends, listened to great music, and really felt at home. Friday night I took my Guiro to Las Palmas and talked the owner and band into letting me play with them, and it was great fun. There were a few extended songs of over 15 minutes that really pushed me to the limit, then after the band stopped I got to dance a few songs with some beautiful ladies I had met. There were actually more friends there than if I had gone out to a club in my home town of Tucson Arizona.
Sunday I took a shuttle to Guatemala City where I got a “first class” bus to San Salvador. I met a Canadian couple, Eric and Heather, at the bus station and it turned out we were headed to the same hostal( #1 on hostelworld.com) . The ride to El Salvador was very short and smooth, and when we got to the border there was no immigration post per se, just some military guys who checked our luggage and passports and asked alot of questions. The ride to San Salvador was pleasant and when we arrived a local lady overheard me ask about taxis and made a call to a Christian Taxi service for us. Eric and Heather and I shared a taxi to the hostal and then shared dorm room as well. The Hostal Cumbres del Volcan is one of the cleanest and most civilized I’d seen, and only $8 a night. The downside was that it was in a residential area and there wasn’t any place even to buy a soda within five blocks. I didn’t bother taking any photos because it was just an urban center that could have been anywhere on the planet. I spent Monday promoting my music show at a number of five-star hotels and restaurants, I have a solo act as Luis Sabor, singing and playing guitar. I didn’t expect any response right away, so I left for Santa Ana, which is actually back North a couple of hours. This is a town more to my liking and I found a great Hostal Casa Verde just blocks from the center of town.
This is really an awesome hostel, just look at the view from the rooftop terrace here. It has free internet I’m using at the moment, clean everything, and one of the best kitchens you could imagine. The owner Carlos is very friendly and helpful, has designed this place in a very intelligent manner. When he found out what I was doing he immediately called up a nearby cafe and I played there Wednesday night, and I’m going to play there again Friday. The interesting contrast I am seeing between Guatemala and El Salvador is that in Guatemala, Xela and Antigua at least, the rooms were really cheap but it was a challenge finding a cheap meal. Here its in reverse: rooms are twice as much ($9!) but cheap food is everywhere. It will be easy to keep below my daily budget of $20 here, so maybe I can make up for my expenses in Mexico.
The weather is really my style, WARM, but with a constant breeze. As long as you stay in the shade its very comfortable. No need to use a towel after a shower, and of course there are no blankets, just thick sheets. The hostal here is just blocks from the market, but the whole center of town is just one big bustling entrepreneurial zone. Just about anything is offered in any of dozens of shops of various sizes, including folks with just a basket or cart. Tomorrow I plan to make a video of a walk through the market which should be very entertaining. One thing different about El Salvador markets from other places I’ve seen is the abundance of pharmacy outlets everywhere, sometimes right next to a food stall in the market. Perhaps there are no licenses required to sell pharmaceuticals because I’ve even seen guys selling packaged medicine on the sidewalk.
In all, Santa Ana seems to be a very pleasant place just to kick back for a few days, which is just what I plan to do.