Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
San Ignacio to Suchitoto
After climbing El Salvador’s highest point we went back to our hotel, gathered our things and continued our journey southward with our planned destination for New Years Eve of Suchitoto. What a journey! It took about 4 hours on two different buses ($2.25ea total). We first went south to Aguilares, on a full bus. The custom on these full buses is if someone has a baby you have to carry it on your lap if they don’t have a seat. I nearly had to carry one which I was worried about as I have no idea how to hold a baby. It’s really hard on these crowded buses as we had no idea when we had to get off and if we stayed on for too long we would end up in San Salvador at night. This is another talked about town with high danger levels and not really recommended as anything more than a transit stop. Luckily the bus conductor told us when to get off. These conductors are amazing and I have no idea how they remember who has paid and who hasn’t and also when someone is meant to get off. When we got off, we realized it wasn’t a bus interchange and we had to walk to the next bus about 10 minutes down the road through a crowded market. Yes we did get lots of strange looks walking through a market with our big rucksacks. We must have just missed a bus because when we arrived there was an empty bus waiting to be filled. We got lots of strange looks and someone sat next to me and asked what I was doing here. When the bus was full, we finally moved on, I was getting worried as it was 3.30pm and finding a hotel at night might be difficult due to lack of hotels/tourism in the country.
Suchitoto and finding the right place to stay
When we arrived in Suchitoto it was getting dark. There was a sign at the bus station saying “hostal with great view” so we followed it. Unfortunately, it was full, so we went to a different hotel. However the next day we made sure we booked this hotel, as the view from the room was amazing at $25 a night. The name of the place with the view is “Hostal Vista al Lago”.
As tourism isn’t really built up here in El Salvador, the budget hotels seem to also be people’s houses so it feels more like a homestay experience. When we left the other hotel to go to the new one, we felt really bad because the owner was taking it a bit personally that he might have done something to offend us. The truth was the hotel we stayed in on that first night smelled due to plumbing problems. The staff at the hotel were really friendly and it had a nice little communal kitchen to use. We just knew that for the same price we could get an amazing view. I tried to translate in Spanish that the hotel is fine we just want a view instead to not hurt his feelings. The name of the hotel is Posada Blanca Luna. The plumbing issue might have just been our room on that day, but who knows.
Our plan for Suchitoto was to walk to the waterfalls and according to lonely planet it’s only a couple of kilometres from town. However, our hosts told us that it’s very dangerous and to go with the tourist police instead. So we ended up escorted with three tourist police, one per person to walk to the waterfalls. This was a bit much and I think this drew more attention than if we were to walk on our own. Not to give blind safety tips, but the tourist police seemed unnecessary in this situation.
If you do plan to go to the waterfall, Los Tercios, it’s not a flowing waterfall all year. In the rainy season it flows, but not outside of this. It is a pretty unique natural rock formation and worth seeing. What we weren’t told is you could actually take a tuk tuk instead of walking. I wish we did this instead, and then we wouldn’t need the tourist police either. The walk was tough in the afternoon heat in the blazing sun.
When we got back it was time to start the celebrations for New Year’s Eve. Toby asked the local boys where they bought their fireworks from and there was a street sectioned off just selling fireworks. Toby excitedly bought a whole bag full of fireworks costing US$5.70.
New Year’s Eve in El Salvador is for the family
As we were pretty tired from the hike in the soaring heat we decided to take a mini siesta and rest to prepare ourselves for the New Year. We decided to head out again around 7pm, and were completely surprised at how quiet everything was. The town was a ghost town! There were no street vendors to be seen, almost no restaurants open and the ever popular Pupuseria’s were also closed. The main square only had a handful of people sitting around which was quite rare. We later discovered that there were only about two restaurants open for dinner in the whole town and these were the classy hotels offering US$35+ set menus. What was going on? I thought New Year’s would be the completely opposite and similar to Christmas in Copan Ruins where everyone hung out in the main square. I’ve never seen a town so deserted before on what we thought would be a big night.
With no one around and nothing open, we decided to go back to our hostel and drink in our room. I know this sounds sad, but we didn’t have any other options. When we got back, the family that owned the hostel (who also live there) were sitting out the front of their house with their family. They had a cooler with beers and it looked as though they cleared their living room ready for a party. Since we had nothing else to do, we asked if we could join them and they were more than happy to welcome us into their celebration. The family were so sweet and offered us food and beer. After joining the circle, we asked why everything was closed and they explained to us that it is tradition in El Salvador to spend New Year’s with family.
The other thing we noticed during the afternoon and on the night was that everyone was dressed up quite nicely. We thought it might have been a girl thing, but even the guys had nice shirts on. It took us a little while to figure it out, but again this is a tradition. It took some discussion with the family and a short review on the internet to come up with the fact that they do buy new clothing for New Year’s Eve to be worn at night. The idea is so they attract new and positive things all year long.
New Year’s went off with a bang
We continued to enjoy conversations with many people in the family in our broken Spanish. As the beer continued to flow, there was the continual bang of fireworks exploding in all shapes and sizes. The son-in-law (Juan-Carlos) was a great mentor in leading the way for the family, closely followed by their 13 year old son (Jesus). They’d purchased a large supply of fireworks to get through the whole night. Toby was given lessons on how to throw them high in the air at the right time for maximum impact. There were many playful moments as we took pictures to remember the night and join in the celebrations.
It was a very communal event that unfolded in front of our eyes. Music was playing from many houses with doors and windows wide open and everyone was happy. It seemed like there was a continual small movement of friends and family between houses to wish people a Happy New Year. The children and teenagers spent their night lighting fireworks. A really cute thing we saw was a group of little kids that were about 5 years old using a candle and lighting mini fireworks and throwing them onto the street. These kids are definitely not afraid of fire and start at an early age
As midnight ticked over, there were hugs and kisses among everyone. The biggest fireworks were set off in showers of colour, light and sound. It was like a war zone once again, but it truly was inspiring to be a part of it. We couldn’t have asked for a more authentic experience.
Ferry trip to San Francisco Lempa
We had a relaxed morning after New Year’s Eve but with yet another warm and sunny day, we decided we needed to do something. We got given some rough details to take a short Ferry ride across the lake we’d been staring at for the past couple of days. We started off with a fairly long walk downhill at around 2km in distance. It was nice to walk through town and see some new things such as a horse tied up next to a shop in the middle of the street.
Once at the bottom we made a navigation error. You walk into an area where you have to pay $0.50 each and there is a carpark, restaurants and a shaded park area. If you’re trying to get the cheap ferry across, look immediately to your right as you enter for a dirt patch where cars are also likely to be parking. Walk straight towards the lake and this is where the car ferry arrives and departs. There’s no clearly marked waiting area or entry path onto the ferry except for a natural rocky ramp that cars use. We walked around the other area to then see the ferry departing. This means you have to wait 1 hour until it returns again.
This did give us some time to look around the area which is quite beautiful and well maintained. We were very surprised at how many tourists were around. These again seemed to be local tourists, maybe from San Salvador or other areas. Overall, it doesn’t seem like this is on the usual tourist trail for others in El Salvador or Central America.
The ferry is actually a car ferry that holds 4 cars and then squishes some more people in and around. You pay $1 per person each way. The alternative is to pay for a private tour of the lake in this same area which we think was somewhere around $15-$20 for a couple of hours split amongst the number of people you can convince to do it with you. They did seem popular. The ferry ride lasts about 20 minutes and gives some great views of the lake. On the other side we walked up the hill into the little town of San Francisco Lempa. We were hoping to eat lunch at a local Comedor, but it was sadly closed. With nothing else happening in the town, we walked back to the ferry and had lunch and a beer at the restaurant right on the lake. We had a simple fish meal for $4 and it was delicious.
Once you get back to the Suchitoto side, you then have to figure out how to get back up the hill into town. I think most days there is an irregular local bus operating. On the day we went it was a holiday, so we hitch hiked our way up on the back of a pickup truck. It was a really nice one and others had jumped in, so we assumed they didn’t mind us jumping in for the short trip. They let us out at the town square and waved goodbye. This is much easier than having to walk back up.
Suchitoto to Santa Ana
We did debate how to do this and asked around a little and looked online. Our hostel was suggesting we go down to San Salvador, get a taxi to a different bus station and then go up to Santa Ana. This seemed like we were taking the long way if you look at a map and the taxi wouldn’t be cheap. We then stumbled onto the below blog which I’ll give credit to since it confirmed what we could do and we followed it without any problems.
From Suchitoto take bus #163 West to Aguilares. Ride it to the end. The bus to San Pablo Tacachico is a 2 block walk from where 163 drops you off. Ask the driver or someone for directions. We had to wait 1 hour as we probably had just missed one. Ride this bus to the end in Tacachico, which is a dirt parking lot at the main town market. The #232 bus to Santa Ana starts from the same place but tends to be a bit irregular as we also had to wait 1 hour. This was the perfect time to get some food at a Comedor in the market for $2 each for a big plate of food.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/