Monday, May 20, 2013

Iron Vans in El Salvador


We went to explore Joya de Cerén, the supposed Pompeii of Central America Mayan sites. Albeit small, this site was really unique. Back before the Spanish discovered Central America, several Mayan villages and cities were covered in several layers of ash by a nearby volcano. Under 14 layers of ash, these sites went undiscovered until 1976, when a bulldozer, in the process of trying to level the ground, cut through a building. When they realized what they had found, archeologists were called in to investigate. Using state-of-the-art technology, they were able to find 18 buildings, covered by ash. Ten of these have been excavated and can be viewed.

While Jonathan and I had been exploring Mayan Ruins for nearly a month at this point, these ruins were rather unique. It was a village of commonplace folk, not the religious and commercial centers that we were used to seeing. Normally, the villages, made of more perishable materials, did not make it to modern day to be studied.


It was really cool how you could see the remnants of the farms and orchards around each grouping. Each grouping consisted of a domicile, a storage room, and a building that had a function for the community, as though each family was responsible for a certain aspect of the community. One had a meeting room, another the “clinic,” and another a sweat lodge.

DSC03874 The sweat lodge, used for cleansing the spirit and the body. The dome on the roof has caved in a bit.

DSC03881 The “clinic.” The cross-hatching rectangle there was a window of sorts.

They had made an enlarged reconstruction of the temazcal, sweat lodge.


DSC03884 Under that sphere inside, they would have a fire lit. They used the wood plug in the dome above the door to regulate the temperature. It was pretty neat.

After that, we started driving over the eastern half El Salvador, which took us directly through San Salvador. Thursday, when we were driving to the water park, we saw a Chili’s symbol on someone’s car. Jonathan said, “If they have a Chili’s here, I would like to eat at it just for kicks.” Remembering that, I pulled up the GPS and found that the Chili’s wasn’t far off our route, so I added it. We soon found the Chili’s and some parking.

DSC03896 You know you are not in the US when there is a guard watch tower in the parking lot.

DSC03892 Both remarkably and unsurprisingly, the Chili’s decorations were exactly the same as in the States, even down to the restroom signs.

DSC03893 The menu was even the same, except the descriptions were in Spanish, plus it looked like it was last year’s menu. And, they even had a non-chocolate dessert, which was an improvement over the US.

We appreciate the simple things anymore: Heinz ketchup, air conditioning, and well-cooked meals. Jonathan got his favorite: Texas Cheese Fries. I must say, these were the best cheese fries, I have ever seen. The cheese was evenly distributed and nicely melted, the jalepeños were seeded, and nothing was burned. Fantastic! Unfortunately, they didn’t have the Shiner Bock burger, our favorite at Chili’s, so we tried their fajita pita, an item we hadn’t seen before on the menu (and felt relatively El Salvadorian as a restaurant that served typical El Salvadorian food had a fajita pita). When we got it, I wondered if we had chosen poorly, but it was actually really good. The onions and peppers had been cooked to perfection, and the meat was tender and delicious. All and all, a wonderful meal. A bit more expensive than in the States, but worth it, after not having to cook and getting air conditioning for the first time since the Walmart in Guatemala City.

DSC03895 Chili’s Fajita Pita.

Afterwards, we needed internet, so we asked the waiter if he knew of a place nearby. He said there was a Starbucks just down the way. We wandered down La Gran Via, the pedestrian road down the middle of a nice shopping mall. It was like little America, with English music playing and places like Bennigan’s and Starbucks. There was even a Cinemark movie theater. The theater is what caught my eye, as Jonathan got caught up on emails, I went over and scoped out the showings. There was English-audio, Spanish-subtitled, non-3D version of Iron Man 3 playing at 1:30pm! And the tickets were only $4.25 each. I thought it was a deal and proceeded to convince Jonathan of such. We decided to go. There was an electronic ticket kiosk there, so we went there to purchase tickets. In the process, we got to choose where we wanted to sit when we purchased the seats, like when you go to the opera. And, everything only cost $7, which I thought was a steal. Inside, it was air-conditioned, but perhaps they needed to change their filters, as it smelled of mildew. The seats were fairly comfortable, though, and the screen quality decent. So I finally got to watch Iron Man 3, and greatly enjoyed it.

Afterwards, we found out that fellow overlanders and vanagon owners,, were only about 30 miles north of our current location. And, as we were now too short on daylight to get to where we had planned on going that day, we decided we go to the same town they were, Suchitoto. As we navigated the roads to the town, we soon discovered why you should not drive at night in Central America (again). There were manholes and storm drains that were missing their covers. They were truckeaters. To top it off, the manholes weren’t consistently in the same place relative to the road every time. So it wasn’t safe to stick to a certain path, thinking you would avoid them.

DSC03897 See how scary these look? And, don’t think just because they are on the side that they are avoidable. Lanes in Central America are often awfully narrow, combined with pedestrians, bicyclers, motorcyclists, and buses weaving on and off the road, that foot and a half on the edge of the road are often used.

We finally reached our new destination, but sadly didn’t see the van of our fellow travelers. Ironically, they heard us coming through town and saw us. Our broken exhaust is pretty distinguishable. However, we were down the road and away before they could catch us. And we left the next morning before they made it down to the lake.


After being distracted by Chili’s and Iron Man, we decided to proceed ahead to eastern El Salvador. Our guidebook portrayed Playa El Esteron as being near La Unión, so I typed that into the GPS. But, turns out they aren’t that close and when coming from the west, there is a quicker way to get there than traveling from La Unión. However, I didn’t discover that until too late. So we drove a little more than necessary that day. It also required us to take a back way into the beach area, but at least there were signs. We weren’t quite sure where we were going to camp that night. There were some room options, but our guidebook didn’t mention any camping. And, when we arrived, we didn’t even see the hotels mentioned in the book. So we got out and started walking around. One area looked promising. There was grass and palms right next to the beach. There was a $2 entrance fee, but no one came to take our money. While I was standing in front of the restaurant, waiting to talk to someone, a guy pointed me towards some cabins. We started walking that way and we saw a gringo come out from behind the cabins. He saw us and hailed us, saying that we looked a little lost. I told him, maybe. He thought we were looking for La Tortuga Verde down the road. I told him, kinda, but we were mostly looking for a place to camp. Turns out the guy we were talking to owns both La Tortuga Verde and the locals’ beach place we were at and he was more than happy to let us camp for the same rate we had been paying elsewhere in El Salvador.


We spent the day in a hammock and tried an iced treat there. I was expecting something similar to a sno cone. It wasn’t remotely like it. He added fruit on top of the ice, and then covered everything in really sweet and thick syrups, finishing it off with condensed milk. Really strong, but at least it was cold.


That evening, we made meatloaf for dinner, using my oven, silicone bakeware, and thermometer. It actually went fairly well and was pretty tasty.


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