Tag Archives: El Salvador

Volcán Santa Ana – El Salvador

The main reason most travelers come to Santa Ana in El Salvador (apart from staying at the best hostel ever – Casa Verde) is to visit Cerro Verde National Park, the starting point for hikes up Volcán Santa Ana and Volcán Izalco.

If you don’t have your own car and/or if you don’t want to pay for your own private guide, you have to leave Santa Ana on the 7:30am bus (fortunately only a few blocks from the Casa Verde) in order to join the once per day hike up Volcán Santa Ana.  Now normally chicken buses in Central America leave from a dusty dirt lot in the middle of a swarming marketplace, so you can imagine my surprise when I turned up to find a proper terminal and waiting room!

bus terminal to Volcán Santa Ana

The trip out takes about 1.5 hours which gets you to the National Park (US$3 entry) at about 9am.  Having done the calculations back in Santa Ana, I made sure I took a book so I wasn’t bored while I waited around for 2 hours for the tour to start – turns out there isn’t really that much to see around the parking lot.   Made some good progress reading Clive Cussler in spanish while I waited and hoped that the thick fog that I was sitting in would dissipate before we set off.

There ended up being 8 of us hiking the volcano on this day (6 gringos and 2 El Salvadoreans) and after a short spiel and payment of another US$1 to Cecilia, the guide that would accompany us, we set off into the mist with our 2 policemen protectors.

No, it didn’t clear 🙁   and although this meant that we didn’t get any wonderful views of the Izalco Volcano, it did make for a nice and moody hike that was a little cooler than normal.    We also got out of paying the recently introduced US$6 to do the climb because the guy who should have been there to collect it was nowhere to be seen!

Volcán Izalco from Volcán Santa Ana

Best view we had of Volcán Izalco (just visible behind the clouds) on the way up Volcán Santa Ana

The walk itself is actually relatively easy (though the El Salvadorean girls turned back after about 10 minutes) and it only took a little over an hour to get to the top.  Word of warning – the guides tend to think it is a race and will set a cracking pace!   In the upper reaches of the walk you cross quite barren landscape that is the result of the most recent activity of the volcano.  But there are plenty of desert-like plants to add interest.

Volcán Santa Ana

However, the reason you climb Volcán Santa Ana (apart from walking off some of the pupusas you ate the night before) is for the view of the spectacular turquoise crater lake.  It really is amazingly beautiful and fortunately the clouds didn’t spoil our view of it.

Volcán Santa Ana crater lake

We could even see areas of the lake that were bubbling and gasses rising off the surface thanks to the ongoing activity in the volcano.

Volcán Santa Ana crater lake

We hung around at the top for about 1/2 hour to eat (I bought my lunch with me) and admire the view, but then it was time to head back down – partially because the guide and policeman were keen to get going and partially because we were suddenly beset by bees!

Volcán Santa Ana

Not much of a view beyond the crater of Volcán Santa Ana this time

I spent the walk down chatting with one of the policemen about everything from El Salvadorean food (yes, this is a common theme with me) through to politics.   Glad there weren’t any panoramic landscape views to be had as I was engrossed in our conversation and otherwise only paying attention to where I was putting my feet so I wouldn’t fall over.

Got back to the main road and then it was a bit of a trudge back up to the carpark where the bus would leave from.  Then another hour sitting around waiting for the bus (seriously, take a book with you) and then back to Santa Ana.

Volcán Izalco next time!

 

Recommendation:  Its definitely worth hiking up Volcán Santa Ana, especially since the walk is relatively easy.  Bring a book or something with you to do as there is a lot of waiting around if you use public transport and join the 11am tour.   Also bring snacks/lunch to eat on top of the volcano.

Booking:  Just show up before 10:45am in the carpark of the Cerro Verde National Park.

Time Required:  About 3-3.5 hours for the actual hike, but depends on how fast you walk and how long you stay at the top.  To do the trip using public transport – you leave at 7:30am and return at 5:30pm.

Cost:  The bus is US90 cents each way.  US$3 to enter the National Park, US$1 for the guide, US$6 for the hike.

 

Best Hostel ever – Casa Verde in Santa Ana

Whenever I talked to a fellow traveler who had come through Santa Ana in El Salvador, every single one of them said “You HAVE to stay at the Casa Verde in Santa Ana.  It is incredible!”  So while in La Palma, I booked 2 nights there – enough time to hike up Volcán Santa Ana at least, the most recognised thing to do in the area.

Although I booked in for 2 nights, I ended up staying 5 nights.   It really is an incredible hostel – a “hostel resort” if you like – and thoroughly deserves the word of mouth reputation it has.

For a start, the owner, Carlos, is really friendly and actually likes interacting with his guests (he speaks Spanish and excellent English).  He often wanders around the common areas chatting with travelers, answering any questions they might have and helping them make arrangements for the coming days.  He even took me out to lunch one day so I could try more of the typical food of El Salvador (I’d told him about my fascination with local food).  He’s amazing and makes you feel so welcome and at home.

Then there is the accommodation.  I opted to stay in a dorm at the Casa Verde ($10/night) and it was amazing.  There are actually 2 separate dorms – mine had 6 beds (no bunks!) each bed with its own fan, light, locker and luggage storage, and there was heaps of room for everyone and all their gear with space to spare.   Each dorm had a separate bathroom for men and women and the shower was the best I’ve had to date in Latin America.  It was incredible!

Casa Verde Santa Ana dormitory

Then there are the kitchens – yes, 2 of them!   Large, clean and incredibly well stocked with communal use oil, a huge variety of communal use spices, communal cling wrap and aluminium foil, and a large array of cooking pots/pans/utensils/electrical appliances.  And they sharpen the knives! It’s was better stocked than my brother’s kitchen back home (sorry Bill!) There was even a blender – made my first breakfast smoothie in over 4 months 🙂

Casa Verde Santa Ana kitchens

I ended up cooking all most of my own meals for the 5 days I was there, the supermarket was only about a 10 minute walk away.  Omelettes and tomato for breakfast, guacamole and carrot sticks for lunch, vegie stirfries for dinner (it can be quite hard to get your fill of vegies on the road if you aren’t cooking for yourself).   However, they also provide pre-cooked meals that you can purchase (which are apparently quite good) and have a freezer with a variety of different icecreams – guess what I went for 😉

Then there are the communal areas.  Gorgeous areas including long communal tables, hammocks, rocking chairs, a TV room and a terrace on the roof.

Casa Verde Santa Ana common areas

And then to top it all off, there is the swimming pool, which is perfect for mitigating the Santa Ana heat.  Yes – even I went swimming!

Casa Verde Santa Ana swimming pool

Really can’t recommend the Casa Verde highly enough.  It is amazing value and has an incredible vibe.  It is not a party hostel (you have to be quiet after 10pm) but that just makes it even better!   If you are going to Santa Ana – this is THE place to stay.

El Pital – El Salvador

While in La Palma, Andre and I decided to head up to El Pital – the highest point in El Salvador, on the border with Honduras.

We started out at 6:20am taking the 119 chicken bus to San Ignacio.  From there we switched to the 509 bus that headed up the mountain.  It’s an impressive drive!   The road goes straight up, and I don’t think we got out of second gear the whole way.

Got off the bus at Río Chiquito with the administrator of the park, and he offered us a lift up the 4WD-only road that essentially takes you to the top of El Pital.  Yes – just like in Australia – you can drive pretty much all the way to the top of El Salvador.   However, we elected to walk the 5.5km up the road to get a bit of exercise and check out the views.  Unfortunately, this time of year it is pretty hazy, so the views weren’t quite as spectacular as they could have been, but we ended up picking up a couple of tour guides fairly early on in the walk that accompanied us the whole way.

El Pital - El Salvador

Hazy views across to high mountains. Andre and our two tour guides

Got to the El Pital entrance after about an hour and a quarter (the administrator only beat us by 10 minutes as the 4WD is a communal one) and really wasn’t expecting what we found.   Huge, well-maintained lawn with several restaurants around it!   Apparently it is a popular spot, and the locals were starting to arrive (in 4WDs, only gringos hike up) when we were getting ready to walk back down.

El Pital - El Salvador

The trig point is where the radio tower is

Ate our breakfast of crackers (me) and cream biscuits (Andre) and then set out to find the trig point before the clouds closed in.

El Pital breakfast - El Salvador

It was located at the top of the steepest part of the walk, and I have to admit it wasn’t the most impressive trig point I’ve ever seen.  That fence is the border with Honduras, and yes, there is an open gate in it where you can walk freely through.

El Pital - El Salvador

We did the usual touristy thing of sitting/standing 1/2 in El Salvador, 1/2 in Honduras, and really love the bottom image from Andre – he was braver than me to stand up there like that!

El Pital - El Salvador

By the time we finished pfaffing around at the trig point, the clouds were pretty thick and the view almost gone, so we decided to walk back down and catch the 12:30pm bus back to San Ignacio and La Palma.  Passed 3 more gringos walking up, I don’t think they would have seen very much once they arrived!

Artesanía – souvenir making in La Palma

One of the first things I did in La Palma was ask about the availability of workshops where you could learn/experience a little more about the artesanía and artwork the town is famous for.  Turns out, there is only one – at Taller Paty – so I went and had a chat with Estela about what it entailed.

Artesania workshops at Taller Paty - La Palma - El Salvador

She explained that I had two options – I could either paint a wooden box (typical of a lot of the artesanía that is made from pine wood) or paint a Copinol seed – also very typical and one of the big inspirations for Fernando Llort in his artwork.  According to his website:

Walking through the streets of La Palma, Fernando found a kid rubbing a little seed against the ground, and discovered that it had a white surface with a brown frame, “a framed painting” he thought, and he painted it with very small and colourful drawings.

I agree with Fernando – the Copinol seeds are very cool, and I actually used one as the accent seed in my bracelet I made with the Mujeres del Plomo near Matagalpa (in Nicaragua it is called Guapinol).   So I opted to work with the seed – other advantages being that it was small and could be turned into a necklace 🙂

André arrived the next morning and ended up coming with me to do the artesanía workshop.  Estela already had the Copinol seeds cut and drawn with patterns, but she showed us where she works with wood and the seeds out the back of her store.  Inside the large light-brown casing are several of the smaller darker-brown seeds which are cut into thirds to produce the surfaces for the paintings.

Preparing Copinol Seeds - Taller Paty - La Palma

First step in the workshop was to choose the designs we wanted to paint.

Copinol Seeds ready to paint - Taller Paty - La Palma

Then we headed out into Estela’s wonderful courtyard, where she has painted artwork onto the besser-brick shelter and even the trees.   Although we started out at the bench in the garden, we had to quickly retreat into the shelter as the afternoon downpour started.

Taller Paty workshops - La Palma

Turns out that coloured textas are used to “paint” the Copinol seeds, though actual paint is used for the larger designs on the pinewood boxes.  The only “rule” was to avoid the black ink of the design as we coloured in so that it wouldn’t smudge into the colour, but Estela also said that it was traditional to paint the roofs of the houses red.

Finished Copinol seeds painted in the style of Fernando Llort - Taller Paty - La Palma

Finished Copinol seeds for inspiration and textas to “paint”

I ended up making 4 pendants and André 2.  We are both analytically inclined so it took us forever to finish our artwork.  Estela kept coming out and checking on us — I think she was wondering what was taking us so long!  I’m sure she could have knocked out 6 of these things in about 1/10th the amount of time it took us.

Artesanía in La Palma in the style of Francisco Llort - Taller Paty

André is a picture of concentration, I’m checking out what he’s up to.

The final stage was to dip the pendants in varnish to protect the artwork and make sure the seeds don’t start sprouting when worn!  The trick was to ensure that the varnish was evenly distributed over the pendant and there were no drops hanging off the bottom – hence the little squares of newspaper.

Final stage is to varnish the painted seed - Taller Paty - La Palma

Hung around Taller Paty for about 1/2 hour after we’d finished to let the pendants dry a bit and also wait out the storm.  Here are my final products – front and back – before the final varnish.

Finished products - Taller Paty - La Palma

 

Recommendation:  The workshop is lots of fun and Estela is really lovely.  Its a great way to make your own very typical and authentic artesanía from El Salvador.

Booking:  Ask at the Amigos de las Turistas office and they can point you in the direction of Taller Paty.  Its just down the road past the Casa de Cultura.

Time Required:  Depends on what you decide to do and how slow you are about your artwork.  We were probably there for about 2 hours all up.

Cost:  Each of the Copinol seeds were US$2 or 3 for US$5.   Absolute bargain, and you have something very typical from El Salvador!

 

Many thanks to André and Estela for some of the images used in this post (I was too busy colouring in!)

La Palma – El Salvador

From Suchitoto I headed further west and north to reach La Palma, right up near the Hondurian border.   This small town is renowned for its artesanía and murals that are all done in a very specific style brought to the town by Fernando Llort (a very famous artist in El Salvador) in the 1970s.

This artistic style is often described as “naive” (ie childlike) with influences of Cubism.  It is geometrical and 2-dimensional and characterised by bold colours.  Its primary themes are of nature, everyday life or religion and it has essentially become the artistic style that is most recognised and synonymous with El Salvador.

La Palma an amazing little town to walk around – as every second building has a mural painted on it.  Here are some of my favourites.

Even the hotel I stayed in – Hotel La Palma – is positively covered in murals, including inside the room!

Hotel La Palma - El Salvador

These days, 3/4 of the population are involved in producing artesanía with this style of artwork – either on pine wood (boxes, crosses) or seeds from the Copinol tree.   And although you can buy it anywhere in El Salvador, much of it is made in this small town.

Suchitoto – El Salvador

Suchitoto in El Salvador is a really beautiful and interesting little town with amazing colonial buildings and cobblestone streets.  Although it is very quiet during the week, and several places of interest are only open on the weekends when a lot of El Salvadoreans make the trip up from San Salvador, I absolutely loved it!

It has one of the most beautiful churches I’ve poked my nose into in Latin America – loved the wooden pillars and the painted roof in particular, and stayed around to listen to some really very good singing + guitar playing during one of the masses.  It was also the fullest church I’ve ever been in – no matter what time of day mass was being held.

Suchitoto church

Suchitoto is also full of little details if you are looking!  It has tons of well-cared-for coloured colonial buildings.

Suchitoto buildings

It has some stunning examples of ironwork.

Suchitoto ironwork

Many of the poles are painted with animals and flowers.

Suchitoto street art

Almost every house has the following stencil of a Guardabarranco and the words “In this house, we want a life free from violence against women” on the outside somewhere.

Suchitoto stencil

In fact, Suchitoto is very much a women’s empowerment place.  The Mayor (and many of the councillors) are women, and the key exhibition in the Centro Arte de Paz (Art for Peace Centre) is about women leaders around the world, with a full room dedicated to profiling women from Suchitoto.

Centro de Arte y Paz - Suchitoto

I also loved this series of murals about kissing that adorned the sides of a rotunda in Parque San Martin – teaching kids about what is and is not appropriate.

Invalid Displayed Gallery

Really loved my time in Suchitoto and could have easily stayed a few more days chilling out.

Recommendation:  If you find yourself in Suchitoto, I can highly recommend staying at the Hostel Casa Suchi.  It is located in an old colonial building a few blocks away from the main square and is very, very good value – it’s secure, the rooms are enormous, the WiFi is good, the shared bathroom is clean (there are also rooms with private bathrooms), there are lovely common areas (both inside and out, there is even a wading pool!) and there is pretty good kitchen for you to use.   While it doesn’t have a view of the lake, you can always head to one of the other restaurants for that.

Los Tercios – Suchitoto

One of the most advertised things to do in Suchitoto is visit a local waterfall called Los Tercios, 2km from town.  I wasn’t going to bother (there wouldn’t be any water) but decided to join André when he said he was going to do it.

The tourist office organises a free, accompanied trip to Los Tercios at 3pm if there are people interested in going.  This is really just to ensure that tourists aren’t pick-pocketed on the way to the waterfall so we were quite surprised when we ended up being accompanied by a policeman (William) and 3 guys from the army!

Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

Seemed like overkill to us, but I chatted with William quite a bit throughout our hike and he was explaining that because there are not enough police, they always patrol with 3 guys from the army in this way.  He was also telling me about life as a policeman in El Salvador – it’s a tough gig to earn only about 1/3 more than the minimum wage.  Very long hours and the fact that he can be transferred with little notice, meant that he was one of very, very few people over the age of 25 I’ve met that isn’t married with a family.  I asked him why people do it – he replied that at least it was a steady income stream.  Fair enough!

The reason the waterfall attracts so much attention is because of the hexagonal, columna structure of its rocks.   It does look cool, but if you’ve been to Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, you may be disappointed if you go in with high expectations as it is much, much smaller.

Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

View from the top of Los Tercios waterfall in Suchitoto

Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

View from the bottom of Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

Still, we had fun scrabbling around the super-slippery rocks (we’d just had a torrential downpour) to the bottom of the waterfall and back up again, while joking with our protectors.    We also stopped off at the viewpoint overlooking Lake Suchitlan before heading back to Suchitoto (we actually managed to get a free lift in the back of a truck!)

Lago Suchitlan from Los Tercios waterfall Suchitoto

Two views of Lake Suchitlan

Los Tercios - Suchitoto

William, me, Andre and one of our army dude protectors at the lookout over Lake Suchitoto near Los Tercios waterfall

Recommendation:  Its a nice little trip that isn’t difficult if you have done a bit of rock scrambling in your time.  You could also catch a bus/get a lift to the waterfall which would cut out about 3km of walking, but it’s really not necessary.  Make sure you go with the protection just to be safe.

Booking:  Ask at the Amigos de las Turistas office and they will organise.

Time Required:  About 1.5 hours, but depends on how fast you walk and how long you stay at the waterfall.

Cost:  The trip and the protection are free, but it is customary to give a small tip to the guy who maintains the site.

Añil (indigo ink) workshop – Suchitoto

One of the main forms of artesanía in the Suchitoto region is the production of Añil (indigo ink) dyed clothing and textiles.   There are a few places where you can do an Añil workshop in Suchitoto, but Luis from Sapito Tours introduced me to Irma in the Women’s cooperative as we were walking around the town on our gastronomy tour and I decided to help this wonderful initiative by creating my masterpiece there.

Fortunately, given my love of scarves, the workshop was to make a “bufanda” (ie a scarf) and the first step, obviously, is to choose a design.  Unfortunately, visualisation is not something I’m terribly good at but in the end I chose to do two stripes of diamonds near each of the edges of the scarf, with a different pattern running down the centre.   Irma set about laying down some guides on the scarf and then showed me how to sew the pattern down the edges.

Añil workshop Suchitoto
After about 1/2 hour of us both sewing, it was clear that my design was going to take too long to do (it was towards the end of the day).  I am a terrible at sewing and definitely not fast (in the end Irma sewed 3/4 of the diamond patterns while I managed to sew only 1/4) so I ditched the idea of the different pattern down the middle, which was fine – I wasn’t 100% certain about it anyway.

Once we finally got the sewing done, Irma pulled all the threads to tighten them so the ink would not stain the pattern, and then it was off to actually dye the material.

Añil workshop Suchitoto

I donned long rubber gloves and an apron and set to work swishing my bunched-up scarf under the foam that floated on top of the barrel of dye that had been prepared using 1kg of Añil powder + 50L water + bacteria!

Añil workshop Suchitoto

The bacteria actually turns the dye green, but when the dyed material is exposed to oxygen, it changes to the blue colour we are accustomed to.   For this reason, after swishing my scarf around for a minute or two, we wrung it out thoroughly and hung it up to air for a bit, making sure that all surfaces were exposed.

Añil workshop Suchitoto

In order to achieve the deep blue that I wanted, we had to repeat this process 5 times,  Then we washed the scarf really well in water (probably about 10 minutes worth of washing) to get rid of the excess dye, and then dunked it in white vinegar to “set” the dye.

Añil workshop Suchitoto

Once that was done, Irma removed the threads that we sewed into the scarf and there was revealed the pattern!    Really happy with it actually 🙂   Another one for the collection!

Añil workshop Suchitoto

 

 

Recommendation:  Although there are a few options for Añil workshops in Suchitoto, by doing it through the cooperative you help these women earn money to support their families.   They rely on people buying merchandise from their small shop or doing this workshop.

Booking:  The workshop at the cooperative is not advertised well and the Amigos de los Turistas office initially send me to an up-market Añil shop to ask about workshops.   To arrange the workshop, all I did was call into the cooperative and ask to speak to Irma.

Time Required:  Depends on the pattern you choose.  To create this took 2 hours.

Cost:  Cost for 1 person = US$25 which covers the cost of the materials and the workshop itself. There is also an option of making a wider scarf for US$30 but you should let Irma know in advance if you would prefer this option.

Horseriding & History – Cerro Guazapa

Woke up early to catch the 7am bus out to Sitio Guazapa for our horseriding tour on Cerro Guazapa with Guazapa Tours.

Cerro Guazapa

Cerro Guazapa

A 163 bus (love how buses in El Salvador have route numbers) came along at 6:50am so we got on that one and headed out along the highway. Then, after a while, the bus turned off the highway onto a very slow dirt road … It poked its way up there for about 20 minutes and eventually we asked whether we had missed our stop. The guy assured us that we hadn’t, it was coming up after we got back to the highway. Soon after, the bus does a 3 point turn, stops for about 5 minutes, then heads back the way it came down this dirt road. I made a bet with the two others I was travelling with that our stop was about 50 metres past where we turned off the highway for this enormous detour (we were also now 30 minutes late). Back on the highway, 50 metres down the road, they tell us that it is our stop. Seriously? Why didn’t you tell us at the turnoff and say it was only 50 metres further? We would have walked!

The good thing was that Orlando, our guide, was still waiting for us with our horses when we finally arrived!  I was the brave one and chose Bilcho, the male horse, to ride (the other horses were female). Turned out to be the best decision! Bilcho is the only horse I’ve ever ridden on one of these things that actually wanted to walk and go places.  It was an absolute pleasure to not constantly have to be trying to figure out how to make the horse go!

Cerro Guazapa horse riding

Bilcho – the horse that wanted to walk

The other two horses were not quite so keen, and one of them had an almost-1-year-old foal who decided to come with us and would try to get milk at every opportunity!

Cerro Guazapa horse riding

The first ~45 minutes of the horse ride was along a road past fields that were being prepared for the sowing of corn and frijoles (beans).  Orlando, it turns out, is actually a doctor – a GP – who takes tours in the morning with Guazapa Tours (another local cooperative of tour guides that started 12 years ago and is still going strong), and sees patients in the afternoon.  It was very easy riding and nice and shady given we’d started out so early.

Our first stop was an old Añil (indigo ink) processing place called an “obraje”.  There are apparently still Añil plants up on the highest reaches of Guazapa but we didn’t get the opportunity to see them on this tour.  Basically, the leaves were collected and crushed (with water, hence why it is located next to a river) in the large basin in the picture.  This was then strained into a smaller basin for collection.

Cerro Guazapa Añil

The road eventually came to a stop and the horses continued up a fairly steep and rocky trail.  This made the horse riding more adventurous as you had to keep an eye out to make sure you wouldn’t lose your head on a low branch or lose a leg as the horse brushed past a tree.  We continued for about 15 minutes and then dismounted in a clearing.  This is where we started learning about El Salvador’s civil war that ran from ~1980 to 1992, and was essentially the people against the Government (and hence army).   The war began because the people were barely surviving – all the land was owned by a few rich people who, if the workers were lucky, would give them enough food for their family to live on but nothing more.  The civil war was about the redistribution of land amongst all the people to allow everyone to be able to support themselves and not rely on the goodwill of the wealthiest Salvadoreños.

Cerro Guazapa

Viewpoint on Cerro Guazapa looking out over Lake Suchitlan and Suchitoto toward Honduras. The Guerrillas used this as one of their lookouts during the civil war.

It’s really quite staggering how many people were killed in uncounted massacres during this conflict, and the first civil war sites we saw on the mountain were specifically built so that people could be hidden from the army.   In particular, there are many Tatús scattered around the mountain.  These are small underground “bunkers” that could hide between 1 and 12 people (depending on the size) while they waited for the danger (the army) to retreat from the area.  Once the people were inside, the entrance would be covered with vegetation and other guerrillas would sneak them food and water – they could be in there for several days.   This one fit 12 people and would have been quite cramped!

Cerro Guazapa tatu

We also visited the site of the guerrilla hospital – about a 1.2km hike (round-trip) from where we left the horses after we had backtracked some of the way down the mountain.  There were no buildings constructed as they would have been easy for the army to find, but rather small tents were used when needed and the rest was just out in the open air.   Apparently the army never found this place.

Cerro Guazapa horse riding

It just looks like forest at first glance, however, exploring further, there were several examples of lookout points, trenches, and the sleeping areas were still picked out in stone.  There were also a few vestiges scattered around the site like old shoes, some cloth and a radio.

Cerro Guazapa guerrilla hospital

Clockwise: lookout point, shoes left on site, an old radio, Orlando explaining how the trenches were used

Cerro Guazapa guerrilla hospital

Sleeping locations that were leveled and surrounded by stones in an effort to keep out animals

Orlando was telling us some of the stories about the the hospital (the first operations had to be done without anesthetic because it was extremely difficult for the guerrillas to get medical supplies), the doctors (one from Cuba, one from the US) who worked there, and others – like his grandmother – who supported its operation by running messages and cooking food.  Hard to imagine that all this was only 30 years ago!

We returned to the horses and backtracked the same way we came – about another 40 minutes in the saddle.  It was a wonderful tour, and I asked so many questions I think my companions were wishing I’d shut up 🙂

Cerro Guazapa horse riding

And to top it all off, we even managed the direct bus back to Suchitoto so we avoided the detour a second time!

 

Recommendation: If you want to learn a little more about the civil war in El Salvador, this is a great introduction.  Orlando was very keen to talk and tell the stories, but you do need to speak spanish to get the most out of it.  If you aren’t into horseriding, Guazapa tours also do hikes on the mountain.

Booking:  You can book any tour with Guazapa Tours through the Amigos del Turistas office in Suchitoto.   You just have to let them know before lunch the day before.

Time Required:  The horse ride itself took about 4 hours.  If you catch the bus that doesn’t do the detour, it takes about 30 minutes to get to the drop-off point from Suchitoto.

Cost:  Cost for 1 person = US$30.   Cost for more than 1 person = US$20 each.  Plus the cost for the bus of course (less than US$1).

Gastronomy Tour – Atóles and Pastelitos

In addition to Carmen (pupusas) and Cecilia (desserts), on our gastronomy tour of Suchitoto, Luis from Sapito Tours also introduced me to Marcela in the central park who specialises in Atóles, and told me where to find Nuria later in the day for another snack, pastelitos, that is common in El Salvador.

Atóles

An Atól is a warm drink that is made from milled toasted corn.   The most basic Atól is essentially milled corn, water, cinnamon and milk with perhaps a bit of sugar, but you can spice things up in a variety of ways.  For example, Cecilia’s Chilate is a type of Atól .

Marcela works out of a very small shop on the main plaza in Suchitoto and sells the normal Atól as well as two others that are very typical in El Salvador.

food of el salvador - atól

Marcela in her small shop that sells Atóles

I first of all tried the savoury Atól Chuco (left in the image below), where chile, ground pumpkin seeds, black pepper and frijoles (beans) are added to the base Atól.   It was spicy and salty, and there was no hint of a corn taste.  What you could taste was the ground pumpkin seeds and the spicyness of the chile, and the frijoles down the bottom were a nice textural surprise at the end.  It actually wasn’t too bad (though very strange) and I reckon it would be a good winter warmer.

food of el salvador - atól cucho and Atól de Piñuela

Atól Cucho (left) and Atól de Piñuela (right)

I went back the next day to try a sweet Atól, Atól de Piñuela (right in the image above).   This one was really thick – kind of applesauce consistency (they gave me a spoon to help).  To the base Atól, you add piñuela (a plant that grows here that tastes a bit like a pineapple), dulce de panela (remember from the last blog post), cinnamon, peppercorns and cloves.   This Atól had a very smokey, pineapple-y flavor and is probably the one I’d choose if I were to have these again.

The different Atóles were US 50 cents each.  Even if you don’t like them, they are worth a try for this price!

Pastelitos

About a block from where I was staying in the Hostel Casa Suchi (great place!  Highly recommend it) is where Nuria sets up shop every afternoon to sell pastelitos de verduras and pupusas.

food of el salvador

Nuria’s (left-most woman) comedor is set up outside on the footpath.

Given I’d made pupusas with Carmen, I was there for the pastelitos de verduras, which are essentially a corn and achiote (red food colouring that is often used in Central America and that comes from the crushed seeds of a plant) dough filled with vegetables and deep fried. This is then served with the ubiquitous Curtido (cabbage salad in vinegar) and tomato salsa.

food of el salvador - pastelitos de verduras

These were very yummy and again, only US 50 cents for 4 plus the salad.

You can eat very, very cheaply in El Salvador!  And no, I did not get sick at all.  In fact, none of the food I’ve eaten this trip (and I’ve eaten a lot of street food) has made me sick.  Don’t be frightened of street food!