Day 53: Antigua - Santa Ana - Parque Nacional Cerro Verde (2)

Santa Ana Travel Blog

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cathedral in Santa Ana

The bus would continue to San Salvador, however, I had planned to get off earlier in the city of Santa Ana, the second-largest city in El Salvador. I had discussed this with the bus driver and even though Santa Ana was a regular stop for this bus I was the only person getting off here, so the driver asked me where I wanted to be let off. Well, that was easy, so I asked him to drop me off somewhere as close to the centre as possible. I had seen a hostel in the Lonely Planet, and figure that if he would let me off near the centre I could walk the rest - it would save me taking a taxi from the bus station.
However, apparently the driver had decided that one gringo was not worth driving all the way to the centre for, and I was literally thrown off the bus in a suburb south of the city.

Lago de Coatepeque
The driver was not subjectable to any pleas or reason, he simply opened the cargo hold and chucked my backpack out on the middle of the street, and tried to to get back on the bus again.
I argued with the diver that this was not the deal, and that if he didn’t want to drop me off at the centre he would at least have to get me to the bus station, another 7 kilometres from where I got chucked out, but he would not budge. A taxi driver and another man who had been waiting at a traffic light came to my rescue, arguing with the bus driver as well (the taxi driver quite nearly attacking the guy - apparently it did not occur to him I’d be a great first fare of the day for him).
As the bus drove off the other man who had come to my rescue told me he was actually a hotel owner, on his way to work.
Volcán Izalco seen from Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
He offered to drive me to the place so I could check it out - no obligations.
In five minutes time I had experienced fine examples of both Good and Bad Salvadorians.

Obviously I took a little risk here. I mean, getting in a car with a total stranger? I am sure my mother must have tried to tell me a thing or two about that when I was a kid. And I admit that there were at least a dozen scenarios of possible scams that went through my head. But I decided that the odds of a bus driver working together with someone else to play bad guy/good guy on a tourist were smaller than those actually meeting a genuinely friendly person who just happened to be at the right place at the right time. So I got in the car with him.

Turned out he was a real good Salvadorian, and as I would soon find out, there are quite a few of those.

Volcán Izalco seen from Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
He did indeed have a little hotel, smack in the city centre. The Pension Casita was a nice little homely place, with decent rooms set around a nice little courtyard. The furniture wasn’t particularly new or nice looking, but it was clean and perfect for what it was. And affordable, I might add. Compared to Guatemala El Salvador is shockingly expensive.
When I saw the rack rates for my rooms I had to laugh, because the place also rents out rooms per hour. I remember this from Paraguay, where it was nigh on impossible to find a hotel with rooms for a full night, but the owner assured me that it definitely was not *that* kind of hotel.

I spent a nice little hour walking around Santa Ana, which is a lovely place with a nice colonial centre. Had some breakfast (after all, it was only 9 o’clock) and I was planning on taking a local bus to a national park south of Santa Ana.

Parque Nacional Cerro Verde

When I got back to the hotel to get my camera and daypack the owner offered to drive me to the bus station. However, once we were at the station he said “you know what? If you pay me five bucks for gasoline I will drive you to the national park instead”
So instead of spending two hours in a converted school bus, I now reached the park by comfortable, private transport with air-con, in only 45 minutes.

We stopped along the way at a viewpoint overlooking one of the largest lakes in El Salvador, Lago de Coatepeque. Immediately we were approached by a couple of guys who wanted to know everything about me. Where I came from, what I was doing in El Salvador, how I liked it so far, if I wanted to go out for a drink with them tonight… This confirmed what I had read in the Lonely Planet, that Salvadorians are incredibly nice people.

Parque Nacional Cerro Verde lies atop an old volcano and its biggest attraction is another volcano: Izalco. This volcano was suddenly formed in 1770 (quite like the Pátzcuaro in Mexico) and continued to erupt and grow for over 180 years. Tourists and scientists came from all over the world to witness this wonder of the world. The location of the Izalco volcano next to Cerro Verde gives a unique vantage point, as you actually look down on the Izalco.
The influx of tourism resulted in the building of a luxury hotel atop the Cerro Verde. Legend has it that this hotel, simply called Hotel de Montaña, was opened in 1957. However, the day before the grand opening the lava flows of the Izalco suddenly stopped, after 187 years of continuous eruption. The only sign of life the volcano has shown since was a little puff of smoke in 1996, but by then the hotel had long closed because of the poor business. The hotel had been set up way too luxuriously and expensively, and the 12 year lasting civil war in El Salvador hasn't really done wonders for international tourism either. In 1991 the country was hit by an earthquake of 7.6 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre near the capital San Salvador, which turned out to be the fatal blow for the hotel, which was already in a bad state at the time. The chances of restoration and reopening are very slim.

We walked over to the hotel from which you still have a terrific view over the 1900 metres high black cone of the Izalco volcano. Earlier I had toyed with the idea of climbing up to the crater (climbing a volcano in every country? A nice goal!) but as my legs still hurt of yesterday's climb, and I was having too much fun chatting with the hotel owner, I abandoned the idea.

For dinner I went to some sort of family restaurant, which is absolutely packed with Salvadorian families on weekends. A national dish is “pupusas”, which are a kind of flat dough balls with filling. Actually they are not much more than tortillas, or actually they are more like pita bread, which is filled with chicken, cheese, beans or a mixture of all three, and then fried on a hot plate for about three minutes. And the resulting mini calzone pizza is then eaten with a sour vegetable mix (pickled carrot, cabbage, onions and pepper) and a spicy sauce. Very nice and also very filling, but above all dirt and dirt cheap (did I mention yet that El Salvador is an expensive country? Pupusas provide a good counterbalance)

It was great to watch the open kitchen and see three women do nothing but making pupusas at breakneck speed. They do this by scooping a handful of dough, knead the filling into it and then flatten the ball by slapping it with both hands. Finally they are frisbeed onto the hot plate where a fourth person fries them brown on both ends. Doesn't look like much, and if you think about it, it isn't really that much, but often the simplest things are the best, and they certainly tasted good!

I ate four of them, but the average family in the restaurant had a huge dish of pupusas on the table, eating at least 5 or 6 per person!

Stigen says:
sounds cool ! but I`m not sure about going to El Salvador....In nicaragua now....heard that El Salvador is extremely dangerous , and that you would have to be a fool to go there...
Posted on: Oct 04, 2009
Biedjee says:
Hi Wilhaney,
Thanks for the comment. Not entirely sure if I agree with all of your comments, but you are totally right that the American government is usually more than happy to start a war, as long as it is economically viable (either to boost the weapons industry or to protect import market).
What I am saying is that the America's ambiguous interest in the country contributed to the extended duration of the civil war. But you are right in saying that the American negotiation and aid money after the war contributed to the current stability and wellfare. Now if only your government could learn from this best practice and use the same tactic in other countries as well (dare I say Afghanistan?) :-)
Posted on: Jun 10, 2009
wilhaney says:
We enjoyed reading about your trip. I am from Los Angeles and my wife of 12 years came here from El Salvador after the war. She was granted asylum here like many others because her husband had been dragged from their home and shot by the FMLN and many of her friends and relatives had died or disappeared. The FMLN is a communist group who was backed by Castro to try and take over the country. Jimmy Carter was the first to get involved by sending 5 million after 4 American nuns were raped and murdered by the FMLN. Both Reagan and Bush inherited the war which Bush ended by putting together the peace treaty signed in 1991. I think the El Salvador people enjoy being the richest country in Central America as well as having 'Protected status' in the US which means they cannot be deported unless they commit a crime so many come here illegally and stay. All the El Salvador people we know love the United States and the American people and appreciate that we help keep their homeland free and properous. You can always judge a country by how many people want to get in and how many want to get out. Americans are always willing to give their money and lives for others. Even Europeons..........Bill
Posted on: Jun 04, 2009
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cathedral in Santa Ana
cathedral in Santa Ana
Lago de Coatepeque
Lago de Coatepeque
Volcán Izalco seen from Parque Na…
Volcán Izalco seen from Parque N…
Volcán Izalco seen from Parque Na…
Volcán Izalco seen from Parque N…
Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
Santa Ana
photo by: Biedjee