Monthly Archives: May 2016

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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Gastronomy Tour – Salvadoreño desserts

Once I’d finished making (and eating) pupusas on my gastronomy tour with Sapito Tours in Suchitoto, Luis introduced me to Cecilia – another of the women who has a small comedor in the food court of the Municipal Market. Yes, Suchitoto has a very large food court – usually something you only find in the big malls in the larger cities.  Very random!

suchitoto food court

Suchitoto food court – it’s empty because we were very late for breakfast

Cecilia’s specialty is Salvadoreño desserts, and although I didn’t get to have a hand (literally) in making the different dishes, she was great at explaining to me what they all were and how they were made.

Buñuelos / Nuégados

Cecilia was arms deep mixing the dough for Buñuelos (or Nuégados) when we arrived so we started there.  Essentially what she’s mixing is bread flour (though they are also commonly made with yuca – a kind of tuber), eggs, baking powder and a little oil.

Salvadoreño desserts postres

Once its mixed well, she forms it into little balls and fries them.  So it’s kind of like a donut.  These are then drizzled (sometimes drowned) with miel de panela, a syrup made by combining unprocessed brown sugar made from sugar cane juice with water.

Salvadoreño desserts postres Buñuelos y miel de panela

Buñuelos and the raw ingredient for miel de panela

I have to admit, these were my favourites of the desserts 🙂

Buñuelos

Although I had tried Buñuelos in Nicaragua, the syrup here was much, much stronger, and its usual to have the next dessert with the Buñuelos to cut through the sugar somewhat.

Chilate

Chilate is a hot drink that accompanies all these super-sweet desserts.   Its base is atól which is made of toasted corn (yes, you can turn corn into a drink) and, in this case, Cecilia adds “fat peppercorns” and star anise.

Salvadoreño desserts postres chilate

It tasted a lot like chai actually and I couldn’t taste the corn at all (unlike some other corn-based drinks I’ve tried in Central America).   Not sure it is strictly necessary for the enjoyment of Buñuelos (there is not that much syrup involved with them), but definitely would have helped when I tried the next 2 desserts!

Plátano con miel

This is an easy one – it’s essentially banana that has been cut into chunks and boiled with the above miel de panela.

Salvadoreño desserts postres plátano con miel

It is super, super-sweet and you can barely taste the banana at all – the dominant flavour is definitely the miel, hence why you need the Chilate to cut through it.   Definitely needed a smaller portion of this one (see below)!

Torrejas

The last dessert I tried was Torrejas.   In this recipe, you take a special type of bread (Cecilia bought hers elsewhere in the market, you can also use a type of butter cake) – cut it into pieces, soak it in well-beaten egg with a bit of baking powder and fry.   Then you layer all the pieces in a casserole dish, pour over the miel de panela and make sure it soaks through well.

Salvadoreño desserts postres torrejas

In other words, it’s kind of like French Toast, but that has also been soaked in the syrup.  And again, the syrup is much, much stronger than you would typically get with French Toast – you really need the Chilate to cut through it.  If not, the interior of your mouth starts to feel like its puckering due to all the sugar!  I would recommend eating less than the below in one sitting!

Salvadoreño desserts postres torrejas y plátano con miel

Torrejas (left) and Plátano con miel (right). Trust me – you should eat less than this in one sitting!

So a fabulous excursion through several Salvadoreño desserts – even if my mouth felt like a prune at the end of it!   Had a wonderful time with Cecilia who was very talkative and keen to answer all my questions and explain the different processes to me.    A huge portion of each dessert cost 50 US cents – so US$2 all up!  But I also gave her a big tip to thank her for taking the time out for me.

 

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Making Pupusas – Suchitoto

In my ongoing pursuit of trying as many of the typical dishes as possible of whatever country I am in, after some emails to uncover how I might go about doing it, this morning I did a gastronomy tour with Sapito Tours in Suchitoto.   It was brilliant!

In this post I’m going to focus on just one part of it where I had the opportunity to make pupusas – the most common dish in El Salvador.

Met Luis at the “Centro de Amigos del Turistas” (“Friends of the Tourists” office) – a wonderful and incredibly helpful tourist information initiative in various part of El Salvador – where I was helped by one of my dancing buddies from the “Los Panchos” concert to organise my horseriding tour for tomorrow.   Luis had already talked with a couple of women in the Municipal Market about hosting a visitor and showing me the processes of how they prepare their food so we headed there first.   Given my spanish is very good, he explained that his role was really just to make the introductions/connections and leave us to chat.   The real stars are the women who actually do the work.

The first person we visited was Carmen, who owned a pupusería – a place that makes and sells pupusas.  She was almost done for the morning (Salvadoreños only eat pupusas for breakfast and dinner) and was taking last orders when we arrived.   In between filling these last orders, she showed me how to make pupusas and guided me in making my own.

making pupusa suchitoto

Carmen explaining the pupusa making process

Carmen sells the 4 most common types of vegetable-based pupusa – cheese, beans (frijoles) + cheese, squash and cheese, loroco (a type of white flower) and cheese.  She was out of loroco, so I made each of the other 3.

The process really starts with the preparation of the “masa” or dough, which can be either corn or rice based.  We visited the molinero (the miller) after we visited Carmen, and it was quite a setup!   4 different mills used for different purposes – one mill for grinding dry raw ingredients (e.g. rice), one mill for coffee (keeping strong flavours separate), one mill to make the corn masa (for pupusas or tortillas) or for milling the frijoles (beans), and one mill for crushing the tomatoes that go into the salsa that typically accompanies the pupusas.

molinero suchitoto

Antonito has been milling for 36 years and he’s had this wild contraption of 4 mills since the beginning.  When it is running, the belt drives fly around in a massive amount of movement and noise – couldn’t help but recall that episode of “Life on Mars” where the worker gets killed by a similar belt driven machine…

molinero suchitoto

Back with Carmen, she fries the milled frijoles and combines them with a little cheese, and grates the squash with a little onion and salt to make the fillings.  All this is prepared in advance of the first customer arriving, and is laid out with the specific pupusa cheese and the masa.

making pupusa suchitoto

Clockwise: corn masa, pupusa cheese, squash filling, frijoles (beans) filling

To make the pupusa itself, you take a small ball of the masa and pat it out into a round shape

making pupusa suchitoto

Then add your desired filling (in this case frijoles) and the pupusa cheese

making pmaking pupusa suchitotoupusas suchitoto

Then you have to close the masa around the filling by curving up the edges and, once closed, you pat out again into a thick, round shape.

making pupusa suchitoto

This is then coated with a little fat and placed on the hot stovetop to cook.

making pupusa suchitoto

Takes about 3-4 minutes, they are piping hot when they are done (you know it because you eat them with your fingers – the Salvadoreños have asbestos fingers), and incredibly tasty!  These were the ones I made – didn’t do too badly – even if I say so myself!

making pupusa suchitoto

They are typically served with the tomato salsa (which is actually quite runny) and curtido – basically cabbage, carrot, onion and jalapeño chile that is finely grated, washed in hot water and stored in vinegar.   Incredibly tasty and incredibly cheap (for the most common ones – about 75 cents each).   It’s no wonder they are so popular here in El Salvador!   Pruebelo!

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Singing and Dancing in Suchitoto

On my first day in Suchitoto, El Salvador, as I was wandering around asking about tours, I kept coming across posters for a concert by “Los Panchos” that would be held that afternoon.   Although I was a bit dubious about “Mexican guitar music” (how one person described it to me), I had nothing better to do so I figured I might as well go check it out.

Los Panchos concert suchitoto

Caught the local bus down to the San Juan Port on Lago Suchitlán where the concert would be held and was really questioning whether I would actually survive the 2km trip.  Suchitoto is a colonial town that only has cobblestone streets, but the bus-driver was absolutely flying down these very narrow (and bumpy) roads like a madman, leaning on the horn the whole way to advertise we were coming (and most definitely not stopping), to anyone unfortunate enough to be coming the other way.

Fortunately, we did make it safely and I fell into step with another woman who was also headed for the concert, which was in honor of all mothers (they celebrate Mothers Day all month here it seems).   Estela and I got chatting as we walked the final little bit of the way and she invited me to sit at the table she’d reserved (the Port is a large building with several restaurants servicing it side-by-side – kind of like a very up-market food court).   There I met one of her friends, Beatrice, and together we chatted and sweated (it’s no cooler in Suchitoto than it was in Nicaragua) while we waited for the music to start.   Estela seemed to know everyone in the place and she even introduced me to Suchitoto’s (female) mayor!   She was really surprised at how few people were there, but when I asked her whether the entrance price of USD$8 was expensive for El Salvadoreños, she admitted it was – the average earning is USD$5/day.

Although the concert was slated to start at 12pm, the support band came on at 12:30pm.   Let me just say, the Grupo Guanday were AWESOME!   Seriously, seriously awesome!  They played for 1.5 hours focusing on the greatest hits from El Salvador over the past 30 or so years, and even took requests.   There was salsa, merengue, cumbia, etc and most of us – from the oldest to the youngest – ended up dancing. Given that I was the only gringo in the place and I was up dancing as well – I got a special shout-out from the band 🙂  It was fabulous!  Here are two snippets.

 

Then the main event, Los Panchos, came on at 2pm.  This is a very famous Mexican band and the crowd were super-excited!   How they could stand performing in a full suit and tie is entirely beyond me – I was sitting still doing absolutely nothing and the sweat was pouring off me!

DSCF7095

While there was no doubt that the guy on the left had an amazing voice and the guy on the right was a master guitar player, their music wasn’t really my thing.  Very croon-y and easy-listening.  Have a quick listen to see what I mean.  The crowd were singing along though and absolutely loving it.

 

Once they had finished playing their set (a little over an hour), they did a signing – still in their full suits!   They had CDs for sale which sold like hotcakes (even though they were USD$15 each) and this is what most people asked them to sign. But to their credit, they signed other stuff as well – even down to the disposable paper napkins that the restaurants provide.

Once they were done, Grupo Guanday came back on for another hour and we spent that whole time up dancing.

Los panchos concert dancing suchitoto

So hot.  So sweaty.  So much fun!    Loved meeting Estela and Beatrice and feel like I’ve been adopted by them both.

Estela and me at Los Panchos

Estela and I enjoying the concert

Awesome start to my adventures in El Salvador!  It really is worthwhile doing things on a whim 🙂

 

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Final thoughts – public transport in Nicaragua

As I leave Nicaragua for El Salvador, some final Nicaraguan public transport observations.

Micros

I actually promised a blog post about this ages ago and am now finally getting around to it.

On certain routes in Nicaragua (most notably around the Pueblos Blancos where La Mariposa Spanish School and Eco-Hotel is located) there are not so many chicken buses, but rather “micros” or microbuses. These are essentially minivans that ply the routes between the towns, and in my opinion, they are actually much worse than chicken buses!

The main reason being that although they are designed to seat ~14 people, they more often than not have upward of 20, my record being 35 people jammed into one of these things.  Yes – there are actually 3 people hanging out of the door as the micro takes off in the image below!

nicaraguan public transport micros

This next image is what it looks like with about 20 people inside – so you can imagine with 35! Add in that there are a lot of obese people here in Nicaragua and you will start to get some idea of how incredibly packed these things are.

nicaraguan public transport micros

The person with the worst of it though (I have to admit) is the guy who is in charge of calling out the route to passengers waiting on the side of the road (usually 3 times in quick succession e.g. La UCA, La UCA, La UCA), opening and closing the sliding door, and collecting the money from passengers.   This is his standard position.

nicaraguan public transport micros

But he’s also one of the ones hanging on the outside if he manages to entice 35 people into the micro.  It’s hot and very uncomfortable work!

Chicken Buses

Nicaraguan bus

Thoughts from my last chicken bus trip in Nicaragua from Chinandega to Potosí:

  • It really pains me to see people throw rubbish out the windows of the buses – especially since most of the bus companies have provided rubbish bins just above their heads. I know this was common in Australia 30 years ago as well, and hope it doesn’t take that long to change in Nicaragua.
  • Many women travel with a cloth about the size of a face washer. Discovered that this is a very smart idea if the bus traverses dirt roads, because every time the bus stops to pick someone up or drop someone off (and this is quite often!) the bus fills with dust.
  • You’ll never go hungry on a Nicaraguan bus – provided you are happy to eat fried or processed food. At every major stop, the bus is swarmed by food sellers who enter the front of the bus and move down the aisle shouting (quite literally, some of them have VERY loud and piercing voices) their wares.  Sometimes they depart by the back door.  Sometimes they have to push past each other to return to the front of the bus to depart.    In addition, the bus will pick up other food sellers along the way.  There may be only one, but they follow the same pattern.  It’s incredible to see how many of the passengers actually buy something to eat each time!
  • The majority of these sellers are women, and almost without fail they are very, very large women who often take up the entire aisle with their bulk as they move down it.
  • In fact, a great percentage of Nicaraguan women are very large – I don’t know how they can stand the heat, nor the discomfort of squeezing into bus seats that are designed to fit 2 children (remember, all the buses are ex-US-school-buses) rather than 2 large adults.  Or squeezing into the micros for that matter (see above).  I wonder whether this phenomenon of obesity is relatively recent?  It’s very easy to buy processed food, food with lots of sugar, and food with lots of carbohydrates in Nicaragua.  Much less easy to find something healthy to eat.
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