RUGGED, WILD AND FREE EL SALVADOR

Here I am in Costa Rica, sorting out my pictures and filling my Salvador images in a folder and realize that the only blog entry I’ve posted about my visit to El Salvador was somewhat negative and doesn’t do credit to the wonderful reception I’ve had in this beautiful and friendly tiny country.

So here is a rendition of the wonderful places I visited in my 2 weeks in El Salvador. The people are very friendly and so happy to see tourists coming into their country. They are proud of their culture and want to share it with visitors. They welcome the influx of business tourism attracts and are grateful to visitors.

My first stop in El Salvador was wonderful but ended on a sour note as per my blog “playas y maras”. Unfortunately that atmosphere of insecurity followed me, no matter where I stayed. Other than the incident with the local mafia on the beach, there was no other. Everywhere I went I was very welcomed but always warned about my safety.

My first encounter with Salvadorians was actually in Guatemala where I had a lovely young couple, Jessica and Eric for neighbors at Easter. Jessica is an interior designer and Eric a gym teacher in a private English school. Both young, dynamic, educated and speaking English fluently. We exchanged contact information.20170415_095418

After Garita Palmera, I drove the beautiful winding mountain road aptly called la rota de las flores to the small town of Juayua. I arrived on a Monday and the town was dead – all the stores and restaurants were closed, not a tourist in sight. I walked around discovering a charming little town with towering peaks shrouded in mist in the distance. I noticed a woman with a hair salon inside her house and decided to treat myself to a $2 haircut. My shampoo was done with icy cold water and when I yelped in surprise, the husband, who was just sitting there, watching his wife work… (no comment:) went into the kitchen to warm some water for me – sensitive gringa! I noticed a lot of little businesses set up inside of homes. The next day the town came alive with a market selling the most exotic looking fruits and vegetables.

 

I went into the hotel lobby and enquired about hiring a guide to do some hiking. There were two waterfall hikes to be done in the area, one was a full day of steep hiking up the mountain and rappelling down a cliff to a gorgeous waterfall, the other was a simple walk from the hotel to a 7 waterfalls park just outside of town. I was feeling tired and my back was hurting, so I chose the smaller hike. Unfortunately there were no guides available that day, but I was told that tomorrow I’ll have a guide. The next day happened to be my birthday and I was told by my guide, an eager pleasant young man called Eduardo that today, May 3rd, was the Day of the Cross, a major festival and that it would be a great opportunity for me to witness this unique celebration. A little village nearby, Eduardo’s home place, was hosting a celebration. First, Eduardo took me to the market to buy our offerings of flowers and fruits for the altar, he explained to me that most of the exotic fruits and decorations sold at the market were all for the purpose of decorating a cross for the festival.

 

We then walked to his village, where he explained to me how they are reviving this tradition in the hopes of attracting tourists in the area. It was their 3rd year of the festival and so far I was their first and only foreign visitor. They were ecstatic and awaited my arrival with eagerness. Eduardo would give them updates of our whereabouts by phone. I felt like a queen and was certainly treated like royalty. Eduardo was a wonderful guide, helping me discover local food, introducing me to his parents, little sisters, his teacher, his school. He told me about his culture, the way they live, his plans for the future, with university studies and career and about his girlfriend who is going to university in a different town than him. He introduced me to the festival’s organizer. When we arrived in town, we met up with the open-cab truck transporting the procession’s traditional characters of the grand-mother, grand-father, the jaguar, the monkey, the jackal and the devil. We also had an extra devil and a “scream” character for good measure. I got to ride in the truck amongst the celebrants.20170503_145113

We drove to the starting point of the procession and waited for the priest’s arrival for the ceremony. The atmosphere was very festive, with fire crackers being lit up, the masqued characters stopping and climbing onboard buses causing squeals of delight from kids. Everyone was laughing and enjoying themselves despite the rain. We took group pictures and I asked to borrow Grandpa’s wooden riffle to take a picture that would scare away any maras – don’t mess with me!

 

Finally a young priest arrived apologizing for his lateness and the procession started with chants from the crowd and fooling around from the masked characters. We arrived at the cross, heavily decorated with garlands, fruits and flowers. Under a canopy, a mass and blessing was delivered. The rain started to come down hard and kids started frolicking in the torrential downpour.

 

I was ready to go, but not before I sampled the wonderful warm local drink called Atole de Piña. We took a tuk-tuk back home and decided to meet again the next day to visit the waterfalls.

Watch my YouTube video of the Day of the Cross here:

At the appointed time Eduardo picked me up and we took the bus to the path leading to the park’s entrance. The vegetation was lush and intense and the path led to a series a gorgeous waterfalls known as Los Churros de la Caleria.

 

On the way back Eduardo showed me how to eat a guamita, a fruit in a pod that didn’t have much flesh but was delightfully sweet.

Watch Eduardo demonstration on how to eat a guamita here:

The next day I left Juayua for the little town of Ataco but on the way I saw a sign for La Laguna Verde that I had read about in my guidebook. On impulse I veered into the lane and started to regret my decision as I left the town behind me and was driving down this isolated rural road, where the loud rumble of my engine advertised my presence to the locals. Where I am going? I started to worry. Would I even be able to turn around at the end? Am I attracting unwanted attention? Remember, my first experience in El Salvador was an encounter with the local mafia and everyday locals would tell me that I was not safe staying wherever I would be. I am usually a very positive person and not to dwell on danger. But I found myself becoming paranoid in El Salvador. When I got to the end of the road, it opened up to this gorgeous mountain lake nestled in the jungle. It reminded me of some of the remote lake camping I had done in British Columbia. Yes! I totally love it here, I decreed.

 

I asked a local person if I was safe staying here the night. Yes, he assured me, travellers do it all the time, it is safe. You can also ask for police protection. Oh, would you call them for me please? Yes I will, came the reply. So I started unpacking, taking out my lounge chair in the sun and preparing to settle for the night. But I had a nagging suspicion that I should follow up on this guy’s promise to call the police. He hadn’t of course but he helped me make the call myself. After a few attempts, my call finally got through and my conversation basically revealed that yes, the police in an effort to make tourists safe and comfortable would escort them anywhere they want. (Eduardo had told me so when I enquired about a group at the waterfalls escorted by Police). However, they cannot provide this service at night. Furthermore, it would be unwise for me to stay at the Laguna for the night. Too dangerous! And so, confused and a bit upset, I packed and left for Ataco which was a few miles away. Did the local man sincerely thought it was safe or was he going to come back with armed buddies to rob me that night? With hindsight I believe that the danger is real in El Salvador and that the local really feared for the safety of a single woman on the road, hence the perpetual warnings. My friends that are traveling in a convoy never had such a concern. I believe that everyone I met in El Salvador were well intentioned when warning me about my safety.

And so I arrived and settled in Ataco in the large parking lot of a hotel with a gate and armed guards. I took the bus into town right away.  I really liked this town, with its beautiful murals, colorful shops and cobbled streets. The next day I returned to the center to do some shopping. I surprisingly could not find much Salvadorian arts and crafts, most of them were from Mexico or Guatemala. I did find beautiful Indigo (anil) dyed clothing of the northern region. I enjoyed meandering the streets of Ataco.

 

My next stop was to be the town of Santa Ana and on the way I stopped at the archeological site of Tezumal. Compared to Mexican or Guatemalan sites, this was not much, but the stalls and local street food lining the street was worth the visit.

 

I treated myself to the typical Salvadorian fare of Yucca puree and I tried a glass of fermented tamarind juice.

Watch the serving of my Salvadoran meal here:

I camped right in front of the police station in Santa Ana. Policewomen were openly curious about my truck and so I gave them a tour. They were very happy about my hospitality and so impressed with my rolling home as they call it there.

It was evening and I was parked right in the center of town, so I decided to take in the sights. Behind the police station was the main plaza with a beautiful church and theatre house on 2 of the corners. There was a big carnival going on in the square and I relished people watching before retreating to the safety of my home. I was told that Santa Ana was not safe to visit. That was the extent of my exploration.

 

Onward I drove to the village of Alegria and after getting lost and stuck in its narrow streets, I decided to skip my visit and  go directly to the famous Laguna of the same name. Up and up I went to the crater of a volcano. There was a small lake with the brightest green water. It was absolutely mystical up there. High up in altitude, completely enclosed in green lush misty mountains. It was cool, devoid of city and people noises but full of jungle noises.

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Watch the video here:

But yet again, as I paid my park fee and enquired about the gates closing at night and being reassured it was safe to spend the night here, a local family parked next to me and pointing at a group of teenagers heading to the football court at the end of the park, told me that I was not safe sleeping here. At which point I had it! I was so upset and tired of hearing it, of moving my truck, of being wary that I decided to forget about everything. I didn’t like how I was becoming fearful and untrusting. I had so for traveled through Mexico and Guatemala with a positive and trusting attitude, all the while being diligent about my safety and it had served me well. I decided to stay the night and enjoy it. I went out and played my didgeridoo surprised that contrary to my expectations, the sound didn’t carry and resonate in the valley. I guess there was too much humidity creating a heavy cupola over me, swallowing the sound. The energy was absolutely stunning. On the shore of the tiny volcanic lake I collected the best natural facial clay that nature could provide and filled up jars to give out as gifts.

The next day I noticed that I was not alone in this misty heaven. There was a school there. I could see the kids at recess, playing in the field. I decided that I was time for me to hand out one of the world maps that I had been given by David Pickering at World Map in Calgary. I made my way to the school and introduced myself to the school headmistress. I stated my purpose and she had all the children gather into the central courtyard. It brought so much joy in my heart to see all these children in such a playful, joyous gathering, not really knowing what was going on. It brought back memories of my own schooling, back when we had to address adults politely by their last name and all clamor “Bonjour” in unison. I told them I was from Canada and they had to find it on the map, they also had to point to El Salvador on the map. All in all it was an enchanting experience. Watch it here!

My intention leaving La Laguna de Alegria, was to go to the capital city Salvador to extend my 90 day-visa which was expiring soon and I had yet to visit Nicaragua. But to make a long story short, my dealing with Salvadorian officials was horrible, and mind you I was already in a foul mood. And so I decided to cut short my Salvadorian visit and cross into Nicaragua.

I am going to finish here by thanking all my wonderful Salvadorian friends who made my visit of their beautiful country so wonderful. I will always remember your generous and infectiously joyous nature.

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Before signing off I would like to ask my dear readers a big favour:

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Thank you in advance and until next time, Amigos y Amigas!

Au plaisir de la route!

IMG_20170509_101515_296  Kiki

 

 

 

 

DISCOVERING BREADFRUIT

You know me by now, I am an adventurer on land and with my palate as well. There is nothing like treating oneself to the local foods prepared in rickety shacks on the side of the road. A lot of travelers are wary of local food and in my opinion, they are missing out! It is a crucial part of discovery a country and its customs to eat at local stands. It is mama’s cooking at its very best and for the price of a penny.

And so it is no surprise that when a farmer approached my motorhome camped on Playa Negra in Cahuita, I had to see what he had to offer. The poor old man was skin and bone with no teeth and bent in half under the weight of his bag.20170706_115416

He had oranges, limes, avocadoes and a breadfruit. I was about to dismiss the breadfruit when he explained how to prepare it. That is one of the problems with unknown fruits and vegetables, they are so foreign to me that I wouldn’t know how to prepare them, so I pass on most of them. He explained how to peel it, remove the core, and eat the flesh. You can boil it, bake it, fry it or stew it, he said.breadfruit-cut

And so that night I decided to find out my favourite way of cooking breadfruit by boiling some, baking some other en papillote and by frying the rest. The verdict: Boiled has more moisture and its texture better for me, as the rest was really quite dry. It tastes just like potatoes and cooks a lot faster too. It was so tasty that I ate my bowl of boiled breadfruit as is, without any salt, pepper or butter. It was quite filling too.

The next day, I find myself discovering the stunning Parque Nacional de Cahuita. A jungle reserve bordering the ocean, brimming with exotic life! I was on my way back when all of a sudden I have an urgent need to go to the bathroom. I am hurrying my steps, trying to reach the bathrooms at the entrance of the park on time. My my, I thought, I haven’t had a bathroom incident since Mexico. I wonder what is going on? Was it the salmon that was not fresh? Hum, I would have been sick almost immediately had it been the case. I was in such a bad state that I even considered wandering off the raked path to relieve myself in the bushes. A good thing I didn’t since I learned during a following visit that Hognose Vipers are numerous and hide it the fallen leaves on the ground. They are of the same brown colour and almost invisible, hence the importance of staying on the path! When I learned of this I had this image of me, lying dead in my own shit, with my arse hanging out, bitten by a viper on the cheek. What an undignified death indeed!hognosesnake

It was not until a few days later, while browsing the stores in town and leafing through cooking books, books on fruits and vegetables native to Costa Rica that I come across this little phrase under Breadfruit: “Do not eat it raw as it is a potent laxative!” That’s when it hit me: that little bite, no bigger than my pinky’s nail, that I ate while preparing my Breadfruit was the culprit!

Breadfruit-shrimp-cakes-631I cannot imagine what would have happened had I eaten more! It would have turned me inside out for sure. Potent laxative! No shit Sherlock!

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Until next time my new road amigos!

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Au plaisir de la route!

Kiki

 

 

COSTA RICA, HERE I COME!

I arrived in Costa Rica and went straight to house sit my friends’ house in Atenas. It was wonderful to be sedentary for a while and staying in a gorgeous house with a swimming pool to boot. But after 6 weeks I was itching to get back on the road. I decided to start my discovery of this wonderful country by driving to the Caribbean coast. My first stop being the Parque Nacional Volcán Irazu. Up and up we climbed lush peaks that soon became completely covered in thick fog.20170627_091323

We easily found our camping spot for the night a bit down the road from the park’s entrance. It was wonderful to be layering clothes again and pulling out the heavy blankets, hey I’m Canadian after all! The air was thin and crisp. The valley below was shrouded in clouds; a lone crater peeking out of the whiteness.

 

The pets were in heaven with a lush countryside to explore. The temperature dropped to 8 degree Celsius that night. Brrr! The next morning, the sun was out. I was at the park’s entrance as soon as they opened as I had read that often the fog would come in late morning making any sighting impossible. I didn’t realize that the craters were 2 km away. I probably walked 8 km that day. I was walking to the uppermost crater and would stop every few minutes to take pictures of the luxuriant vegetation. Everything was new to me and I loved my walk. As I was climbing the steep path to the uppermost crater the fog started to rise, covering everything in a thick blanket. It was 9:00 am and I hadn’t even started my visit yet! I got worried but luckily, by the time I reached the lower craters, the fog had lifted and the sun was out for the rest of my visit.20170627_101215

As I was walking across a large crater, it started to steam! The sight of the rising smoke was quite impressive and the ground was warm to the touch. That was the highlight of my visit for sure, having never been around volcanoes, being inside of an active crater was quite magical.

Click here to watch my YouTube video!

I was home to the pets by noon. I had decided to stay another night in this high altitude heaven (we were parked at 3,432m) but decided that I was not up for another cold night. There was an annex to the volcano 12 km below that I heard was worth the visit. 12 km would definitely make a different in the temperature I told myself. And sure enough as I drove down the steep road I watched the temperature rise from 17 degrees to 25. Prusia is a park, annexed to the Volcán. I didn’t know much more about it and was hoping to camp there for the night and explore the area the next day. Unfortunately I soon discovered that no pets and no camping were allowed. Bummer! I had done all the hiking I could muster that day, so I decided to go back to the main road and drive to Cartago, the main city in the area.

 

Cartago used to be Costa Rica’s capital city until 1823 when San Jose took the title.

In itself there was not much to see. It is a surprisingly small town for a former capital city, nestled in the mist-shrouded peaks. However, the Basilica is worth the visit. The beautiful grey and white Byzantine Basilica of our Lady of the Angels hosts the “Negrita” a black virgin relic that appeared to a native woman in 1639. The Basilica was built on the site and despite several earthquakes due to the Volcán Irazu nearby, it is still standing. The black virgin is Costa Rica’s patron saint and the Basilica is a place of pilgrimage, on August 2nd, date of its appearance.

The exterior is beautiful and different from all the churches I had visited in Central America so far, but the interior, with its high ceiling in dark rich wood forming honeycombs and its tall gilded and painted columns was really stunning. It was of an understated beauty, not overdone, just right in the grandiose and reverence atmosphere it conveyed. Also, the energy was utterly calm and serene. It was 3 pm and people were coming in and praying, some supplicants would walk down the nave on their knees. I returned to the church 3 times to bathe in its wonderful energy.

 

We were parked on the side of the road, right next to the church and had a quiet and safe night. The merchants in front of me were curious about my truck and asked for a “visit” which I gladly obliged.20170627_151515

I have to say the response I am getting from Ticos (Costa Ricans’ nickname to themselves, in the same way Canadians are Canucks and New Zealander are Kiwis) has been very warm and enthusiastic. I would be driving down a road and cars would pass me by, yelling “Kiki” and waving their arms, they would honk their horn and show their approval of my traveling their beautiful country. I even had a truck slow down at my level, the driver showing me his baseball cap with a red maple leaf – a fellow Canadian!

Costa Rica stands apart from the rest of Central America. It is more westernized and feels very rich by comparison to its neighbors. Their physical appearance too is very “western”. The aboriginals having been for the most part completely integrated by the Spaniards and other European settlers through interracial marriages. They do not have the dark skin of their Latino neighbors. Costa Rica also very expensive! The price of gas is double what I would pay in Canada – Ouch! This makes my rambling around the country very costly. Everything else compares to what it would cost in the USA.  So I am trying to dry camp as much as possible to compensate for the price of gas, and lucky me, it is quite safe to do so in Costa Rica.

After one last meditation in the Basilica, I left Cartago for Puerto Limón, the main harbor town on the East Coast of Costa Rica. I was eager to get some Caribbean vibe!

La Negrita

Until next time my new road amigos!

Please subscribe, tell your friends and add your comments!

And don’t forget to follow me on YouTube! Kiki’sRvAdventures

Au plaisir de la route!IMG_20170627_102128_003

Kiki

 

HOW TO USE A LATIN AMERICAN CONCRETE SINK?

Ok, I admit I’ve been traveling Central America for 6 months already and I just clued in on how to use the typical 3-sided  pre-cast concrete sink that one sees all over Latin America.

It always baffled me as to why the locals would fill the middle basin up to the rim where dead bugs and leaves would accumulate. I know that I am not the only traveler to have been puzzled and frankly annoyed with this custom. For example in Antigua, at the Touristic Police where I stayed, there was only one basin to do your dishes and it was full to the rim. The water was already dirty with someone else’s soap and food scrap. The only solution would be to dip your arm to the elbow and pull the plug. Even in well-established campgrounds I noticed the workers fill up the tanks to the rim. I figured there was a reason, a way of using it that I hadn’t understood yet.20170424_093555

Well, the answer came to me this week and frankly I feel a bit ashamed of my ignorance.

As a person used to unlimited running water, I could not have understood the utilitarian purpose of the 3 compartment sink. It took a stay at a garage in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa for me to learn the hard way the importance of a basin full of water!

In need of repairs and upgrades I found a garage to do the work. They allowed me to stay in the van while doing the work. Being in the sun, the heat, the dirt and the bugs – for a whole week, you need to shower and do the dishes at the very least. I had arrived with just a ¼ tank of water, never thinking that I would stay for that long.

The first day, I was able to fill my tank up to ½   using buckets as the water pressure was too low to use a hose.  This is heavy work and to protect my back, I thought I would add a few bucketful every day. Understandably, to preserve my own water,  I went to the basin to do my dishes. And there it was again: a full middle basin! I did my dishes in it and rinsed them with the tap on the side basin. Well! The next day my mechanic saw the dirty water in the sink and was furious! Who dirtied my water? Those guys, he said, blaming the other mechanics… (knowing full well that it had to be me). I watched, puzzled, as he emptied the main sink and proceeded to scrub it clean with a brush for this purpose. I got from this experience that the main sink is to be kept clean, but I still didn’t have a clue as to why and how to really use this. I almost wanted to ask Eduardo but that would have been admitting guilt, so I didn’t.

The answer soon came to me when both taps on the property ran dry – for 2 days. It’s only then that I noticed the buckets full of water everywhere. Eduardo had even brought me one by the door. That day, when I went to the stand-up sink to do my dishes, forced into thinking on how to preserve the integrity of this precious clean water, I found the solution.

You never contaminate the water of the middle sink! Using a small bucket you take some clean water and do your dishes, your laundry, or wash your hands, in one of the side tanks with a drain. That middle sink contains gold! You never know when you will have running water again, even in a good-sized town such as Santa Lucia.

Sure enough during my week stay here, there have been more days without running water than with. When the taps are dripping, the men fill up all the buckets and containers again.

Having now experienced a total lack of water in the blistering heat, I will take bugs and leaves infested water for my dishes and my sponge bath any time!

So please gringos, learn how to use a stand-up sink and never empty or contaminate the middle basin. Use the container (there is typically one around – it could be a cut-up jug, a plastic container, a bowl) to take some water and use it in one of the side basin where it will drain. That middle basin filled with, what to our standard we would describe as “dirty” water, is precious.

I know I am not the only one to have been puzzled by this and thought that I should pass the word around:)

And if you’re still not sure watch this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op45rv2cOZ8

Happy travels and stay wet!

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Kiki