Day 54: Santa Ana - San Salvador

San Salvador Travel Blog

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San Salvador bus station

I took the early morning bus to San Salvador. It is only an hour from Santa Ana to the capital, but I wanted to see and do as much as I could during my one and only day there. Once again travelling by modified American school bus. Not very comfortable, but a great way to meet locals, and I had loads of fun with a couple of kids and their mother.

I occurred to me that of all the countries I have visited on this trip so far, El Salvador is by far the most polluted and the people seem the least concerned about the environment. It is the richest country in Central America, mainly because many Salvadorians live and work in the US and together they send over 1.

San Salvador
5 billion dollars home every year (and I am talking about a country with 6 million inhabitants, you do the math). But the local economy also seems fairly good, (most) people have enough food to eat, the cars are running, the roads are good, et cetera. But at the same time all over the country they drive those old wrecks of modified school buses (that's 1), they have no intention whatsoever to place any rubbish bins, or to use the odd one that is there (that's 2) and they happily continue to cut down what ever forest they still have left (that's 3).
OK, they like clean buses, so everything is chucked out of the windows. If you look around at a bus station you see a whole trail of garbage at the side of the road, which is being thrown off the buses driving away.
Many buildings still show the effect of the earthquake of 2001
And I have a seen it happen. A guy came into our bus selling leather wallets, very nice. Several people bought one, and I saw one guy move all his money and cards from his old wallet into the new one, and then chuck his old wallet out the window. Unbelievable! Imagine driving your car next to this bus when it happens...

Another interesting fact about El Salvador is that they no longer have their own currency. In 2001 a certain George Bush decided it would be better for El Salvador if they would use US Dollars as legal tender. The US has quite a big influence in the Salvadorian export market, so it would be much easier to use the same currency in both countries. No exchange rates and such. Easier for the Americans, I hasten to add, as most Salvadorians I met were rather cross about the whole thing.

Some high-quality brands for sale in the streets of San Salvador
Not so much that they miss their old currency, but rather the fact that they can do nothing about it! The country is ruled by the US and not by the Salvadorian government.
The country has had 12 years of civil war, which could have lasted about 8 years shorter if the Reagan administration hadn't mingled in the affairs, so you can imagine most locals aren't overly happy about all of this. On the other hand, there are more Salvadorians living in the US than in El Salvador, and together they send millions of dollars home every year, so for many people here the US is still seen as the promised land.

I checked into my hostel at 8:30 in the morning and went to the city centre to find myself some breakfast. The centre of San Salvador is like one big market: the streets are lined with stalls and everywhere people are offering you all kinds of junk for sale.

San Salvador Cathedral
Not really a nice city for an extended stay, but fun enough to walk around for a few hours.
Of all the junk for sale I liked the battery salesman the most. Terrific brand names such as SQNY and Dura-batt - almost indistinguishable from the real thing! I didn't dare putting them in my discman though.

Many people think El Salvador, and especially San Salvador, is extremely dangerous. This is partially true, but not as dangerous as people make you believe. Unlike in Guatemala, tourists are mostly left alone, and it is mainly street gangs who are killing each other off at the slightest provocation. Sure, it's not a good idea to walk up a dark alley in the middle of the night, but during the day there is nothing to worry about.

Amidst all those markets I discovered a nice square with a very modern cathedral.

Statue of the guy after whom the city was named
The many earthquakes (the most recent one less than a year before my visit here) have clearly taken its toll on the city, though many of the old colonial buildings seemed amazingly intact. Most of the damage, like cracked walls or collapsed roofs, seemed to have occurred on the more modern buildings in the centre.
After a nice stroll through the centre I took a bus towards the suburbs to visit a few more sights. One of these was the statue of the guy after which the country has been named, a certain Mr Jesus Christ. While I am not entirely sure what this historical figure has actually done for this country in particular, it seems the Spanish conquistadores were sure this was the place Mr Christ loved the best in the whole wide world. Locally they call him “El Salvador Del Mundo”, which means saviour of the world.
Puerta del Diablo lookout
So therefore the country is called “The Saviour” and the capital “Saint Saviour”. Funny bunch, those conquistadores...

Today was Sunday and on Sunday Salvadorians like to go to the park. There is a saying, “when in Rome...” so I took a bus to the same park. Puerta Diablo, some 12 kilometres (an hour by bus) south of the city, was my destination. Puerta Diablo is a large rock, which has been spliced in two by tectonic movement, and forms a great lookout point. Apparently during the civil war it was also a popular spot for executions, as the steep cliff underneath the rock is particularly suitable for throwing people off.

From the top of the rock you have a wonderful view, and not just down (didn't see any bodies). To the left you could see as far as the Pacific Ocean (50 kilometres away) and to the other direction you could make out the mountains which form the border with Honduras.

Puerta del Diablo lookout
The country is quite small, not much larger than The Netherlands, and from the top of this rock it was as if you could see the entire country.

Altogether this was a nice little half-day trip. I was quite the attraction for all the local families, since not many tourists visit this place, and definitely not travelling by local bus.

The neighbourhood of my hostel was one of the better areas of the city, where most of the foreign (American) companies hold office. It was located opposite a large shopping mall where I had an uninspired junk-food dinner with a Salvadorian guy I'd met at the hostel.
Not the nicest option in San Salvador perhaps, but I preferred to stay close to the hostel and make it an early night, as I would have quite a bit of travelling to do the next couple of days.

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San Salvador bus station
San Salvador bus station
San Salvador
San Salvador
Many buildings still show the effe…
Many buildings still show the eff…
Some high-quality brands for sale …
Some high-quality brands for sale…
San Salvador Cathedral
San Salvador Cathedral
Statue of the guy after whom the c…
Statue of the guy after whom the …
Puerta del Diablo lookout
Puerta del Diablo lookout
Puerta del Diablo lookout
Puerta del Diablo lookout
San Salvador
photo by: Biedjee