Saturday, April 12, 2014


Pool at Hotel Bahia del Sol
One of our reasons for going to El Salvador was to participate in the El Salvador Rally and, hopefully, see some of the friends we had made earlier in the trip.  It had been a long time since we did any socializing with other cruisers.  Having our boat torn apart with oily tools strewn everywhere discouraged us from inviting anyone over for dinner or drinks.  No sooner had we recovered from our all-nighter, when Ingemar informed us that we were being picked up at 6:00 to attend a fund-raising dinner over on the island.  There are a number of Americans who have retired in this area and a few of them live on the island.  Conditions on the island are somewhat primitive and the El Salvador Rally was conceived as a means to raise funds to provide the inhabitants with basic needs like clean water.  The dinner we attended was a fund raiser for the English school that one of the American women runs on the island.  The local school only goes through the sixth grade.  Prior to the establishment of the English school, few of the children were ever sent over to the mainland to continue their education.  Now, several of her students are attending middle school on the mainland and one girl has even obtained a scholarship to attend the university.  We had a lovely dinner of grilled chicken, rice and vegetables, accompanied by really cold beer.  There were about 20 of us and it was fun talking to the other cruisers and the expatriates living in El Salvador.  It seemed like a pretty nice place to live.  Our hosts had a house on the water, with a huge covered porch that served as a kitchen, dining and living area.  As hot as our galley got when I cooked in there, I could see why the kitchen was outdoors.  The only downside was mosquitoes, but someone lent me some repellent.

Back at our boat, we were pleased to find that the howling wind had cooled the interior to the point where we could actually sleep under a sheet with the fans off.  It was heavenly.  All night, a cool breeze blasted through the port lights.  For the first time in months, I didn’t recoil every time Scott got anywhere near me.

The Road to Costa del Sol
Thursday morning dawned clear and still windy.  I awoke about 5:30, but stayed in bed, luxuriating in the cool, until about 6:30 when I got up to run.  The temperature was fine for running.  It was no hotter than a summer morning in Benicia.  I ran up the road that runs down the center of the peninsula between the ocean and the estuary.  On either side of the road, deep lots ran from the road to the water.  While there were a few mid-sized hotels on the ocean side, development was minimal.  Hotel Bahia del Sol, which owned the pier where we were docked, has properties on both sides of the road, stretching from the Pacific to the bay.  The hotel consists of small bungalows painted in bright colors along a road of paving stones.  It seemed more like a neighborhood than a hotel.  When I reached the road, it was busy with bicycle traffic and busses heading to Zacatecoluca and San Salvador.  Many young men were riding along the road on bicycles with huge round baskets on the front, ringing their bells, and hawking freshly baked bread.  I ran up the road for about two miles before turning around and running back.  El Salvador is much lusher than Mexico.  Most of the lots were forested with coconut palms, mangoes and other tropical trees I didn’t recognize.  After Mexico in winter, it seemed very green.

Bus to Zacatecoluca
We needed to buy perishables and oil for the engine, none of which was available in the nearby area.  Scott, Ingemar and I set off to take the bus to Zacatecoluca to go shopping.  None of the cruisers had made this trip by bus (The rally had organized earlier trips by van.), so we had to figure it out on our own.  We knew that route number 193 went to Zacatecoluca, but discovered that it didn’t run during the middle part of the day.  We had to take the 133 for San Salvador for an hour or so until it reached the crossroads and then switch to a 495, which ran from San Salvador to Zacatecoluca.  Each bus cost us 75 cents.  The bus looked like an old fashioned school bus painted in bright colors.  There was a driver, a conductor who collected the fares, and a man by the rear door, yelling out the destination, helping old ladies with their bundles, and hurrying the passengers aboard by hollering, “Prisa, prisa!”  All the doors and windows were open at all times, which made for good air flow.  It wasn’t excessively hot, which was a good thing because, by the time we reached the main road, the bus was packed with standees.

Many people were changing busses at the crossroads.  The directions the conductor gave us were a bit perplexing, but a young woman who was going the same way offered to show us.  We followed a group of old women in white head scarves along a dusty path through an open field to the highway where the bus stopped.  Improvised shelters of saplings, corrugated tin, and palm fronds sheltered vendors selling water and oranges.  Ingemar bought a bag of three oranges, neatly halved and peeled, for a quarter.  We sucked on oranges and waited in the hot sun for the bus to come.  Orange peels and other trash were merely tossed in a heap in the field alongside the road.  For the first time, we knew we were in the third world. 

San Miguel Volcano
Our bus came along, eventually, and we headed off east, towards Zacatecoluca.  The road passed through cane fields and we could see volcanoes in the distance.  A half an hour later, we entered the outskirts of Zacatecoluca.  The concierge at the hotel had told us to go to the main bus stop and we would find all we needed nearby.  He did not, however, tell us that the main stop was a bus terminal.  Everyone we asked seemed to have a different opinion as to where we should get off.  We finally stepped down near the public market.  After walking through the smelly market, we were pretty sure we didn’t want to buy our food there.  We found a supermarket in the center of town, but wanted to buy oil before we shopped for food.  Everyone directed us back to the highway to buy oil and it seemed the bus terminal was down there, too.  By this time, it was almost 3:00 and we were hungry, which didn’t help our organizational skills any.  We decided to eat first, but still headed in the direction of the highway, away from the majority of the restaurants.

None of the eateries we passed looked as if they had adequate refrigeration or hygiene, so we kept walking until we came to the highway.  Scott spied a hardware store, so we stopped to buy snap shackles.  I had no idea how to describe those in Spanish, so I told the clerk I needed something to attach a dog chain to a collar and he understood right away. .  Ingemar went off to scout for food while we shopped.  He located a clean looking restaurant and a nearby supermarket (probably the one the concierge expected us to find.)  There was an oil change place on the way, so we headed over there to buy oil.  The garage didn’t accept credit cards, so I shelled out $95 from my grocery money for a five gallon bucket of oil suitable for diesel engines.  The garage was close to the bus terminal, so they were kind enough to allow us to leave the heavy bucket there while we finished our errands.

We at La Campana, a fast food Mexican restaurant whose logo looked suspiciously like Taco Bell, although the menu was quite different.  I was disappointed to see that there were no pupusas on the menu.  Instead, Ingemar and I had Cuban tortas (ham, cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo on thin, crispy bread) and Scott got a grilled steak.  We were very pleased when the waitress asked him how he wanted it cooked.  In Mexico, all meat was thin and well done.  This steak was actually juicy.  After lunch, we crossed the parking lot to the supermarket.  In Mexico, produce was very reasonable and all prices were in kilos.  In El Salvador, prices were in dollars and per pound.  Produce was more expensive, but meat was a bit cheaper.  It was nice to have a different selection of cuts of meat.  I bought chicken wings in a different marinade than those we had been eating and also some seasoned pork chops and small chunks of both beef and pork, seasoned for tacos.  Scott found an English speaking butcher and talked him out of a small bag of ice to put in our cooler to keep the meat cool on the way home.  We spent almost exactly $100.  I was relieved to see that I still had enough money after buying the oil.  After Ingemar chipped in for his share, I still had enough to pay my bus fare home.

Scott Carrying His Bucket of Oil 
Bus Terminal in Zacatecoluca
We carried our groceries across the street and retrieved our bucket of oil.  Then we set off to walk the couple of blocks to the bus terminal.  Scott has carrying the 5 gallon bucket of oil and the heaviest bag of groceries.  He walked as fast as he could, so as to get it over with, while Ingemar and I trailed behind.  I stopped and bought some tamales from an old woman by the curb and then caught up with them at the bus terminal.  We had missed the 3:30 bus, so needed to wait for the next one at 4:00.  It was very hot in the bus terminal.  We bought some cold drinks and sat in the shade to wait.  When the bus pulled in just before 4:00, we jumped on to secure the rear seats so that we could put the bucket of oil and our groceries behind the seat.  We then waited in the stifling hot bus until almost 4:30 before it finally left.  We were sitting right on top of the sub-woofer, which was turned up loud enough that the driver could hear it in the front of the bus over eighty chattering people and a rattling, noisy bus.  We drove that way for an hour and a half.  Our only salvation was that we were sitting next to the open rear door, where we got some air.  At one point, I got up to let an old woman have my seat.  For some reason, Scott got up, too.  The woman thanked me and then installed her three granddaughters in the seat.  Scott and I had nowhere to go, so stood behind the seats with the luggage for twenty minutes until they got off again.  Gradually, the bus went from crammed full to comfortably occupied.  Our hotel was only a kilometer or so from the end of the road.  We got back just in time to have a beer before dinner.

Hotel Bahia del Sol Beachfront
Restaurant Rooster
Ingemar and Lee at Divine Providence Restaurant
Friday, I went for a walk with Ingemar and his Canadian friend, Lee, whom he had met while waiting for us at the hotel.  We crossed the road and walked through the hotel property to the beach.  Then we walked along the beach to the end of the peninsula.  From there, we could see the bar where we had come in a couple of days before.  It was a lot calmer than it had been previously.  We stopped for a beer at a beach palapa restaurant where chickens were scratching under the tables and dogs sprawled on the sand.  Each restaurant had a well dug down into the sand to provide water for washing.  Beers were $1.  From there, we continued along the beach to the end of the bus route where there was a village with a number of eateries.  We decided to get some pupusas for lunch.  As we walked down the street, looking for a place to eat, we were mobbed by touts, each trying to get us to choose his restaurant.  Finally, we chose the “Divine Providence” restaurant, which had the nicest location on a raised platform fronting the water.  It had working refrigerators, no chickens, and festive decorations.  We had a lunch of pupusas with cabbage salad and beer.  The bill for the three of us came to a total of $6.50.  The food was very tasty. 

Macaws Nesting in the Hotel Tree

I got up early to run on Saturday.  The boys on bicycles were out selling bread, again, but I saw that they had all arrived from somewhere else in the back of a pickup truck.  They were loading back into the truck when I was returning from my run.  When I got back, I got Scott up in time to visit the port captain at 8:00 to check out so that we could leave on Sunday morning.  After my shower, we walked up the road a short distance to a small marine store called Marinsa that was a branch of a larger store in San Salvador.  It was very convenient.  We had gone to buy more oil for our diesel engine, but also bought an oil pump, some fiberglass resin and an oscillating fan for the galley.  Scott spent the afternoon changing the oil and getting us ready for our trip to Panama.  I spent it entering the waypoints for our next leg into my GPS.  It would be almost 1,000 miles from El Salvador to the Panama Canal and we were planning to go straight through so as to avoid having to spend a couple of days checking into and out of Costa Rica.  I was sorry to miss the parrots, howler monkeys and coral sand beaches in Costa Rica, but promised myself that we would take the time to explore Central America on our return trip when we wouldn’t have a schedule to keep.
Ingemar with the Dancing Girls

Bill and Jean, Rally Organizers
The closing party for the El Salvador Rally started at 4:00.  The beer truck was late, so we had to make do with hard alcohol for the first hour.  The chef at the hotel specialized in Italian food, so we had a lovely meal of grilled vegetables, gnocchi, two types of seafood pasta, and some tasty fish.  We were awarded a bottle of Chilean merlot for having gone through the most hell getting to El Salvador.  We also won a tote bag and hat from Quantum sails.  Earlier in the day, Bill had arrived with a swag bag full of t-shirts, flags and hats, so we were well loaded with remembrances of El Salvador.  After dinner, there was a brief floor show of Latin dancers.  After the show, they tried to get up all to dance.  I got some blackmail pictures of Ingemar dancing with the girls in skimpy costumes.  It was fun talking to the other cruisers and hearing their future plans.  Only Maluhia, a catamaran, was continuing further south.  They were headed to Ecuador for the summer and then on to the South Pacific.  We were the only boat headed to the Panama Canal.  It seemed a bit lonely that of the 160 or so boats that left San Diego together last year, we were the only ones headed through the canal.

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