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.
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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 end gives you a slightly larger menu, maybe some music instead of a TV with your food, and some comfort.
Naturally we both, along with our wallets, felt at home with the fishermen, and after bartering for a fish with some salad, which in hindsight was cooked by someone next door from someone who owned a TV and a table, we sat down and watched some football with a beer with the locals. Half under cover by some makeshift roof we quickly munched down the fresh-from-freezer fish and questionable salad, paid our ridiculously cheap bill and headed back to our hostel to watch the waves and read our books.
With nothing to do in the small fishing village, changing hostels seemed like a fun timewaster the next day so we were soon up moving our gear to a nicer hostel we had seen around the corner. With the days activities complete by 10am however, we opted to spend the rest of the day failing to find a snorkeling spot, but nevertheless finding a deserted pristine beach further along the coast, and relaxing, reading, and eating our way through the time.
As the morning turned into the afternoon we wandered through the fishermen’s shacks and saw that a boat had just come in from a local haul the evening before. We soon got bartering with the locals, pretended we knew what a good fish looked like compared to a bad one, checking its eyes, scales and making useless conjectures, swapping a fish we were pleased with for another just to seem knowledgeable and made a purchase of a huge great Red Snapper for dinner later that night.
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The afternoon lazily moved aside for the evening as we wandered up-to a beachside wooden table strewn restaurant to ask them to cook our fish for us. They’d throw in a side salad, beer, rice and tortillas, as well as descale and cook our fish for us for the grand total of $5, which we once again pondered in the apparent guise of thinking on the price, before agreeing to the stately sum and watching another the sun set majestically over the Pacific waters.
Our time in Los Cobanos was short but not rushed, peaceful yet not stress free, hot yet not stifling and above all adventurous and enlightening. It was a real insight into what coastal life is, was, and will be like along the Pacific shoreline in El Salvador without the tourist strewn activities and negative impacts that the tourism trade can have. We had seen just 5 other tourists our whole time we were there, and to us, that was perfect.