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.
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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.
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The first town offered rural, old town, village pace of life, along with a fairly average 2 hour hike but rewarded with great views over the surrounding rolling countryside and coffee plantations. The second town threw in a slew of amazing wall murals and paintings, a leisurely but steep hike to a lookout and a nice cold beer for lunch. The third town was dirty and not worth visiting, so we instead went to visit some natural thermal pools slightly outside of town. Via a tuk-tuk, some mis-communication with distances but aided by helpful policeman, we covered our noses at the egg smells that poured forth in sulphur driven gas plumes from the floor, while Hannah dipped her trousers and shoes in the stinking water during our precarious river crossing! Eggy foot!
However the highlight was a delightful 2 hour walking tour of a working coffee plantation. Taking us from where the beans are delivered by local fincas (farms) in the surrounding area, through the drying, sorting, shaking, shifting, more sorting, and some more sorting, finally ending up with bagging and shipping, it was a great personal tour where we both learnt a lot and got to experience some fresh ground coffee in wonderful setting at the end. We both left feeling more appreciative of the hard work, machinery and, conversely, old-school simplicity of which the whole process takes in.
However knowing that tomorrow would hopefully bring feasting delights, we ended the day on a sunset run to a local town, only marred by some weird mashed potato fish concoction we ended up buying from a local vendor.
Saturday arrived and we both awoke fresh and excited in the prospects of what the nationalistic famous food festival would bring. After some initial internet planning we headed out just before lunch with some wallets of cash and hungry stomachs. We were to be slightly disappointed however. Where we were expecting stalls of weird and wonderful tidbits of tasty delight, that we could pick and choose small bits to much on wonder what we had just bought, we found out the festival was more a meat fest of massive proportions where it was more about buying 1 big dish with sides from a host of gazebo protected barbeques and grills. There was still the option of wondering what you had just bought, just not in the quantity of decisions that we were to make.
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Not wanting an opportunity go to waste however, I wandered the stalls weighing up all the protein laden options, asked questions about what certain meats were and realising my Spanish knowledge of animals didn’t go too far beyond cat and dog (both of which I luckily never received in answer). I settled on what I fathom was pork and beef, experienced an amazing meat lovers wet dream of a feast, where as Han opted for some multi-coloured ‘popping corn’ and a few fresh fruits, and we both managed to go away slightly lighter in our wallets but heavy in the stomach. Han even managed to buy a backpackers worst nightmare, of precariously made, likely to break wonky Reindeer souvenirs made of twigs and palms.
Juayua had been a blast. A great hostel, wonderful location, warming friendly people, a great diversity in rural farming communities, natural cascading waterfalls, activities, beautiful countryside and beautiful towns and a pleasant pace of life, had both of us happy at the 3 nights stay and yearning for more El Salvadorian treats. However with Christmas fast approaching we headed to San Salvador the next day in search of a bus to shoot us into Costa Rica to meet up with Hannah’s parents. That, however, is a story for another day.