A New Chapter Begins

As we left the beaches and volcanoes of Southern Nicaragua our next stop was to visit the two colonial towns of Granada and Leon. After the colonial history burst we planned to visit the highlands of Nicaragua, to a town called Esteli, and thus complete our set of the travelling hotpot of altitudes, climates and adventure. Although a very much subconscious decision at the time, in hindsight it was evident that we were searching. Searching for what, we weren’t sure; some energy, some drive to carry on, a rise out of a travelling slump that we found ourselves in, some passion and excitement at the wonderful cultures and views that we were experiencing. We had left Costa Rica a mere 8 days ago before entering the cobbled streets of Granada, but something in us had changed. We were tired. Tired both mentally and physically. The gregarious imposing churches were no longer exciting, intriguing or gregariously imposing. The lakes, volcanoes, hills, town squares, museums, local food, beers, cultures and people were either becoming common place or annoying. We didn’t have the enthusiasm or drive that we started out with, the enthusiasm or drive that bought us to these far off magical lands, the enthusiasm or drive to get excited about the next city or town. We wanted to give these amazing places more of our time and passion, but were finding it increasingly hard to find that energy as easily as waking up and being enthused about the day ahead. We were in the travelling blues! I’d been in them before, seen them before in other people, experienced them first hand; this weird phenomenon that around the three to four month mark of a long trip backpackers loose the focus and wonder what they are doing. Some of the time people come out of them; sometimes they don’t and leave early, other times people carry on in vain attempts to find the lost passion that they had when they first jumped off the initial plane into the adventure that awaited them. We knew we had to do something and spent a few nights over a few beers talking about what we personally wanted over the next 2-3 months. Our plans changed almost hourly, some purely through hypothetical conversations, some more defined and purposeful like trying to buy bus tickets to Panama, and others through research with twenty different flight prices and times open on the laptop. What did we want? We came to two conclusions. Firstly that we needed a change; be that in culture, lifestyle, or continent, and secondly that we needed an end date. We realised mentally we needed a stop point, not a vague open-ended season that we might be home, but a flight booked home, or at least to some next stage in our journey. We battled these inner demons for a wile before coming to the conclusion that travelling through Central America was coming to an end for us. With my mum and uncle arriving into Mexico for a holiday we used that as a date to meet up with them, and then devised extraordinary plans afterwards of myself flying to New Zealand then onto Vancouver to see my sister and friends respectively, with Han flying to Tel Aviv to visit a friend who had moved there previously and she hadn’t seen for a while, before both meeting back up in the UK near the end of February. Suddenly our journey to far away lands sprang back to life. We had an end point, a focus, a drive, a goal to work towards; the grass started to grew greener on our side of the fence, the sun was not a hot sweat inducing annoyance, but a warmth giving ball of energy, and we were once again motivated, intoxicated with excitement of what was to come and what had come to pass. We made future plans...

Juayua

Juayua (pronounced ‘why-you-er’) is a quant little town, founded in 1577, nestled up in the mountains of El Salvador that is famous for its food festival that lines the streets every weekend. For this reason we had pushed back our visit from earlier on the week and arrived at the cobblestone-strewn colonial town early on Thursday afternoon. The email directions of 5 blocks east and 3 blocks north from where the bus drops you off were surprisingly accurate as we lugged our luggage through the town square to our hostel we had reserved previously. The owner, Darren, a devout Ipswich Fan from England, was more than accommodating and the place had that great feel when a westerner manages to throw in some western comforts amongst the character and traditions of a local hostel. After successfully navigating the often crazy and misguided El Salvadorian bus system, changing buses in record time in the functional yet dirty town of Sonsonate, we had arrived at Juayua at the pleasing and refreshing time of 11am, so still had a full day of fun ahead of us. We quickly organised a tour for later that day to see the local waterfalls that inhabit themselves, conveniently, a pleasant 4km walk away, passing through a local village and into the jungle strewn surrounding countryside. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery Our guide only spoke Spanish but that only forced us ‘practicar sus Espanol’ (still probably wrong), and we had a good hour traversing down the hill, chatting about local happenings and history and being shown the local fauna, flora and coffee plants that inhabit the area. After a detour to follow a trickling stream we arrived atop a precipice that overlooked a majestic waterfall cascading over the cliffs 100m away. Toppling over 7 or 8 different cliff edges, the rushing waterfalls appeared from within the dense forest and disappeared amongst the enveloping jungle below, with only the sound of the river giving any notice that the water flowed beyond our field of vision. We carried on our water adventure by visiting some different waterfalls shortly after, these ones however spanned over 500-600m in width, broken up by cliffs and jungle, and allowed us to swim and play in the cooling fresh waters. The highlight however was the cave system that had been built between the falls. Originally built for irrigation purposes for a local water plant, they now allowed tourists and locals alike to slowly walk neck high in water, through dark and echoing tunnels, barely big wide enough for a human to turn around in. After a fun, refreshing, pleasing 40 minutes we changed back into our hiking shoes and trekked back up through the winding paths and plantations back to the hostel. It had been a good day, managing to move towns safely and conveniently, as well as visit some sites, sounds and senses later on in the day, and we sat back enjoying our ‘1 free beer’ from the hostel, watching a film in the lounge in the quiet hotel with the hostel staff. We had opted to stay in Juayua until Sunday morning, where we were planning on heading back to the capital to sort out a bus to Costa Rica, and with Saturday given over to gluttonous pursuits at the food festival, that gave way to Friday for exploring the sites and town on the 34km ‘Ruta De Flores’. After the usual morning activities and picking up some bread from ‘El Salvador’s Best Bakery’, which we had ordered the night before, we jumped on the old dilapidated American School bus and started to loudly rev our way onwards. Lightened, for once, without cumbersome backpacks we trundled off in roughly North Westerly direction to visit the three towns and a coffee plantation we had penned in to see. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The first town offered...

Los Cobanos

With the only tourists in sight, we jumped off our old American yellow school bus into the dirt track at the edge of Los Cobanos. Not being suddenly bombarded by touts, taxi’s and tourette driven money changers was a breath of fresh air, and we were soon realizing that El Salvador is an often missed out gem in the backpacker circuit. The minus side however is that Spanish speaking is a must when you’re trying to find a hostel of choice, or directions to somewhere that can house two weary travellers for a couple of nights. On the plus side though, everyone is so helpful and friendly it wasn’t long before we were walking along the beach, stepping over the ropes that were holding boats at bay along the coast, through dark shack alleyways that lined the ocean-lapping sand and through to the other side of this isolated fishing village to one of the hostels that the Bible (the Lonely Planet) mentioned. We were quickly shown our room (a dorm to ourselves) on this beach fronted ‘probably-was-beautiful-when-it-was-built-20-years-ago-but-is-now-a-bit-in-need-of-repair-and-love’ hostel, just in time for sunset and some pupusa’s on the beach. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The fishing village of Los Cobanos is small, so small in fact that you can wander its 2km length in 20mins, and it could be roughly described as two distinct parts; the slightly more upmarket shack esque ‘bars’ and hotels, and the slightly more down-to-earth fisherman’s wharf, both of which are comprised of walking along the beach, or through and around its shacks and houses that are thrown up randomly along the coast. The fisherman’s wharf gives you cheaper food, real hard-graft life and straight-from-the-ocean fish sales, along with some stares and laughs, where as the other...

Firework Ridden Bulls

We crossed the border of Guatemala into the lands of El Salvador with open minds and ready backpacks. El Salvador is an often avoided backpacker destination, with travellers opting to shoot through it on a nice cosy bus, flying out the other side into Nicaragua unscathed and hassle free. The very nature of this though is what bought us to this intriguing country; we were looking forward to getting off the Gringo trail, experiencing towns and cities where tourists were infrequent and where our lingual dexterity would be put to the test. Our adventure though didn’t start well. After clearing customs and wondering why no stamp was needed in the passport, we alighted at San Salvador bus terminal to be greeted by obnoxious money driven taxi drivers who knew they were our only option of finding our hostel of choice. After some fierce negotiations and joining up with another foreigner we settled on a price and headed on our way. It left a slightly bitter taste in our mouth; that the first contact with El Salvadorians was mixed with greed and stubbornness, but nevertheless we arrived at our hostel around 10:30pm and crashed out with thoughts on moving on quickly the next day, heading West to the town of Juayua. The backpackers privilege of freedom and drastic life altering decisions being made on the fly, however, was bought into play the next morning as we chatted to our host and made internet checks on transport options throughout the country. Although roads exist like a spider web of connectivity throughout the land, in a twist on the ancient Roman proverb, all roads lead to San Salvador, which means that any links from one stop to another would involve a change in El Salvador’s capital. We altered our plans that morning and decided instead to head to Suchitoto a few hours North, allowing us to hit the beach town of Los Cobanos before finally settling at Juayua the next weekend – giving us plenty of time to experience the food festival that the town is famous for. I hastily emailed the hostel I had booked in Juayua to change to the next weekend, and booked Han and I into, for our 5 year anniversary, what Lonely Planet described as … ‘Without a doubt this is one of the best places to stay in El Salvador. A posh boutique hotel set in a restored 200-year old home, high-end Salvadoran art, antique and modern furnishings, custom-made doors and several gurgling fountains set the scene for six immaculate rooms.’ I put my credit card details in, was amazed as again they were accepted by my grudgingly obliging bank, and we set off, the hotel a surprise. The rural farming population, 6 elderly smiling ranchos with their machetes slung across their backs, the colorful, the weird, the wonderful, and one other gringo, piled onto the market good laden bus and trundled North through the country. Stopping seemingly randomly for anyone who stuck out their hand, and some who didn’t, we slowly but perceptibly got more and more cramped until the ‘maximum 49 passenger’ stickered bus was holding around 90 people, before my vision got impaired by a man wielding a large broomstick that was a holder for another 25. Edging my backpack, my day sack, Han’s backpack, my juggling ‘fun bag’ and our food bag into tighter and tighter corners, trying to not be the stereotypical ‘annoying gringo who carries too much’, I got as comfy as possible and held on. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery Three hours later on the two-hour journey, with the bus slowly emptying as passengers jumped off at random grass strewn village lanes, we trundled into an amazing colonial town, piled the baggage onto our unwitting bodies and strolled down to the amazing hotel. We checked in, somewhat embarrassingly with our backpacks, smelly clothes and obvious biscuit...