el cuco

Don't Go There! You'll Die! Pt. 2 aka What we did in El Salvador

Don’t Go There! You’ll Die! Part 2 – How we spent our time in El Salvador

We started our journey from the border by heading down the Ruta De Flores to meet up with our friends Here Until There , John and Mandi , Dream, Drive, Repeat and Down The Line, who were all camped at El Zonte beach and had been patiently waiting for our delayed arrival in town.

The Ruta de Flores is basically exactly what the name says, a quiet road through the countryside and small towns with A LOT of flowers along the road, both wild and planted.  It was a nice change from the often boring and repetitive highways and byways of Central America.  We did the Ruta quickly because we were anxious to meet our friends but I’m looking forward to spending more time on it when we head North again.

Along the Ruta is a town called Juayua that has a popular and well-attended weekly food festival.  You can try all the local fare and some more “exotic” foods as well such as guinea pig or even, snake.  Most plates cost around $5. 

Another town is Ataco which has gorgeous, understated wall-murals and beautiful views of the multiple coffee farms below.

 

We arrived in El Zonte just in time for happy hour sunset drinks (an overlander tradition) with our friends.  We were emotionally exhausted from two-months delayed in Guatemala facing the realities that our cancer-fighting superhero of a dog, Gracie, was slowly losing her battle and the loving faces of our road-family was just what our little crew needed. 

El Zonte, at first glance, isn’t much – a teeny tiny little dusty beach town with a few surf hostels, 3 or 4 makeshift restaurants and one bar.  

 

We camped at D’Takito Horizonte Surf Resort.   The car-camping area is really just a dusty parking lot with outdoor bathrooms and showers.  I wasn’t sure we would stay more than a couple of days there.  Two weeks later, I was calling it one of my favorite places on Earth.   They even have an iguana on the property named Paco.

 

I’ve had a hard time planning and utilizing my days on this journey.  Just like at home, my brain is scattered, my goals for are too many which means I spend all of my time split between several activities and constantly feeling guilty about not doing anything other than what I am actually doing.    At El Zonte, my friends inspired me.  Saskia of Dream, Drive, Repeat, would spend her mornings doing yoga and then working on her Raw Food/Life Coaching business freeing up her afternoons for walks on the beach and playing with her friends.  She was disciplined and it allowed her to enjoy her days without guilt.  John and Mandi, endlessly organized and also disciplined, had days set aside just for food prep.  I’ve never seen such perfectly lined up and stored silver dollar pancakes.    Because they did this so religiously (don’t dare interrupt them during the process!), they saved both time and money.    Matty and Ingrid of Down the Line are committed to surfing as much as possible, which is also a business for them as they are surf instructors and they have some sponsorships.  They had a daily routine that ensured surfing and playing in the water was part of it. 

 

In El Zonte, I found routine.  I found peace in having coffee, working out with a video (something I had not managed to do on my own to this point in the trip) spending a couple of hours working on income-producing things, spending an hour cleaning and organizing the rig and prepping food and having the afternoon to play with Gracie on the beach and spend time on my crappy but fun boogie-board named by Matty “Floppy-Seconds” or pathetically attempting to surf.  I even managed to do some reading.  At night, from the tent, you could hear the waves crashing.  It was so…peaceful.   My brain was quiet, my body felt great.  It was heaven. 

And did I mention that in El Zonte you can get $2.00 breakfast every single day?? $3 if you come after 10am. 

Eventually, our friends moved on to their various next locations, other surf spots nearby.  We, seriously, could have stayed at El Zonte  forever.  But Gracie had other plans.  Our sweet Gracie is…curious about small animals – rodents and birds, in particular.    At the campsite, they have several parrots.  Three gorgeous macaws and one, smaller, seemingly shy but possibly riot-inducing green parrot.   

Karin was washing dishes, like any other morning.  I was exercising in another part of the campsite.  Gracie was, as usual, not well-supervised and wandering around the grounds. I assumed she was with Karin.   

Its important to note here that, upon our arrival to D-Takito Surf Hostel and Campground, a sweet older woman named Alejandra walked up to us to say, in Spanish, that we could have our dog here if and only if we promised she was “tranquilo” and would not mess with their prized exotic birds.  She said it would be a $1000 fine if anything was to happen to the birds.   Given that the birds were not at Gracie eye-level but in high off the ground dwellings and that Gracie had never before shown an interest in large birds, I confidently gave her my assurances and went about the business of setting up camp. 

We had been there a couple of weeks with no incidents.  And then the murders happened. 

No, they didn’t – no bird or human was actually harmed in this incident. I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.

To make a long story short, Karin’s dishwashing was abruptly interrupted by the sounds of a shreaking, panicked parrot.   She rushed outside to see said parrot, cradled ever so gently between Gracie’s jaws.   She yelled for Gracie to “drop it!!.” Gracie complied without hesitation and ran off in shame.   As Karin was tending to the traumatized bird, Alejandra came out and witnessed the tail-end of the “event.”  The bird seemed to be shaken, but okay.  (What do we know about birds?) Karin came to get me so I could share the burden of what was taking place. 

I was convinced we were going to promptly get kicked off the property.  I went over to check on the bird as well.  Alejandra fluffed its feathers, patted its head, checked its feet and beak and quietly said, “muy tranquilo.”    There were three unspoken agreements made in that moment.  a) She would not tell the owner, allowing us to stay that night, but we needed to b) put Gracie on a leash and c) leave the next morning. 

 

So…we joined our friends, Down the Line, John and Mandi, Canada2Chile and Dream,Drive Repeat at El Tunco Beach, a few miles down the road, camping behind an old, abandoned restaurant/bar, about 20 paces to the ocean.    El Tunco was another perfect overlanding experience – not as “kept up” a sight as El Zonte but it had its own sets of charms.   We had family dinners and late-night sing-alongs and this, was happiness. 

By far, the most popular tourist beach in El Salvador, El Tunco has multiple restaurants, bars, surf shops and corner markets.   There is constant music coming from somewhere and during the week its an awesome place to lay your head, serenaded by the strong sounds of the crashing waves.  At dusk were the best sunsets in Central America, hovering over the iconic rock formations and landing directly on the ocean line.   On the weekend, El Tunco is a miserable, mind-pounding, drive you insane barrage of music, live and DJ coming from every inch and all directions of the town. 

 

We had to go.  We moved on to El Cuco, a beach a couple of hours further southeast down the coast.  We went to a proper backpacker/budget-traveler resort called Tortuga Verde, with the intention of camping.  Our friends, Here Until There, were staying there and Dream Drive Repeat were camped a bit further down the beach.   When we arrived, we discovered that the resort had rooms for 18.00 and that camping, with hookups, was 15.  So…a room it was to be!   We really liked Tortuga Verde, but for a couple of unfortunate observances regarding the staff, it was a nice place to hang for a few days.  They have two rescue pelicans that roam the grounds freely. Each one is missing an opposite wing.  In the mornings, they take a joint walk down to the beach, step in the water up to their ankles and seem to pretend to fly.    Then they waddle back to the resort and beg for table scraps. 

My mom decided to visit us while we were in El Salvador and was flying in on Thursday and staying until Tuesday.   She is always a good sport about letting us show her what we are doing and the places we loved.  The plan was for her to camp with us at the beach Thursday thru Sunday morning and then for her last two nights, stay in the city.

We picked up my mother, had drinks at the Cadejo brewery and headed back to El Zonte – it was our favorite spot, safe, quiet and proper overlanding – rough but not rough.  I figured my Mom’s smooth Spanish and people skills could smooth things over enough with Alejandra to get us back into her good graces.  It worked!  They charged us five dollars more than the previous time we were there (parrot trauma tax) but treated us like returning family.   I wasn’t sure if Alejandra had told the owner what had taken place but he was a landcruiser guy and thought our rig is really cool so I was confident all would be forgiven. 

This time around, I think my Mom started to really understand what we are doing and why.  She got to taste more of the experience – trying to get to a campsite and set up before dark, contending with outdoor bathroom and showers, cold water, frogs joining you as you try anything to feel clean.  Falling asleep to ocean sounds and tropical birds waking you up along with the blaring music and megaphones yelling out Veduras! Frutas! Aguacate! Cebolla! Tomate! from the morning fruit and veggie truck.   We introduced her to two dollar breakfast and had afternoon beachtime and sunset drinks.   We watched movies in the tent at night, talked, laughed.   She met other overlanders and vanlifers – they showed her their various rigs and talked about why they are living this way of life.  

For her last two days, we found a hotel in the city called Cinco Hotel  It was PERFECT.  Beautiful and eco-conscious.  Conscious in every way, really.  They have a natural food market and cafe downstairs along with a holistic medicine clinic.  All of the furnishings are recycled and found materials.   It was everything we all needed – hot showers, breakfast and coffee delivered to our door, comfortable beds, safe parking and a reasonable price. 

I was, as I am with each of her visits, heartbroken when my mother left but nourished by her sharing in our experience.   We had been in El Salvador for six weeks and were ready to go. 

What I will always remember about El Salvador is the grandness of its misunderstanding and reputation preceeding its amazing realities that mirror for me what I had felt so many times in my life.  The sharpness to which I realized that nothing I had been told or thought I knew was accurate, shook me – in a necessary way.  After our tumultuous end in Antigua due to Gracie’s health, El Salvador took us in, comforted us and gave us soft sand to land on.  ,

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