Monthly Archives: June 2016

Zumba – Antigua’s Gym

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I joined Antigua’s Gym for my first week in Guatemala hanging out in Antigua.  Well, it turns out that I ended up spending 3 weeks in Antigua and I was at the gym most days.

Did a lot of 12 Minute Athlete workouts and started to get in to a stretching routine.  But my favourite form of exercise was Zumba with Mario.  He’s such a cool guy!  Loads of fun, always joking around and can really move!  I never missed a class 😉   This is the group from my last Monday morning class.  Thanks Patricia for the photo!  Yes, I’m exercising in hiking boots … you gotta do what you gotta do!

Zumba Class with Mario

If you want to see us in action:

https://www.facebook.com/AntiguasGymOficial/videos/1251769278180734/

And to remind myself of what a great time I had, here’s two of my favourite routines that we did in each class (no, it’s not actually us).  Going to miss it!

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Cheese Platters – Yet another addiction

Another of my obsessions when travelling is to tuck into any cheese platters I manage to come across.   While this would cause massive issues to my health and waistline in some countries (Australia, France, etc), in Latin America cheese platters are actually reasonably rare.

I’ve managed to find 3 so far in 5 months – the latest one at Bistrot Cinq, one of several French eateries here in Antigua.  Actually, I didn’t find it – I was told about it – Julia you shouldn’t do such things!

cheese platter - Bistrot Cinq - Antigua

It is hands-down the best cheese platter I’ve had in Latin America.   Soft ripe goats cheese, a camembert, a blue, and two hard cheeses (forgot to ask!) as well as candied figs and grapes, all served with a crusty baguette.    I actually only ate 1/2 for lunch today, I’ve got the other 1/2 for lunch tomorrow 🙂   Unfortunately it was also hands-down the most expensive cheese platter I’ve had in Latin America – but  oh well.  You only live once!

 

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Icecream in Central America

You don’t have to know me for too long before you come to realise how much I love icecream!  I admit it – I’m an addict.   So how does the icecream here in Central America stack up?

Icecream in Nicaragua

In Nicaragua, there are essentially two key ice-creameries.   Eskimo – which are absolutely everywhere, and Dos Pinos – which have slightly better icecream but are harder to find.  My recommendation is to go for the Neopolitan or any of the icecreams with peanuts in them (assuming you aren’t allergic of course) from either of the two icecreameries.  Most of the other flavours (on both sides) were a bit meh in my opinion.

The stand-out icecreamery in Nicaragua, however, is Kiss Me.   They are only found in León and Matagalpa and well worth seeking out, with flavours such as “Matagalpa Mud” and “Fruit Punch in the Face” showing the slightly quirky take they have on icecream.

Kiss Me icecream - Nicaragua

Given how hot it was in Nicaragua while I was there, my favourite turned out to the the passionfruit icecream – nice and refreshing if you could eat it fast enough before it melted!

Icecream in El Salvador

I started off in El Salvador eating icecream cones from La Nevería, but then never went back once I discovered Sarita icecream.  Then I discovered the Sarita Coco icypole and never had another icecream cone!   These coconut icypoles are the absolute best – even better than lemonade water icypoles in Australia!

sarita coco icecream

I only had one icecream at a more “upmarket” icecreamery, but it wasn’t anything to write home about (and in fact I can’t remember the name of the icecream place) – stick with the Sarita Cocos!

Icecream in Guatemala

Both La Nevería and Sarita are also found in Guatemala and I continue to buy the Coco icypoles for a quick treat (they are less than 50 cents after all).    But then Susan told me about the Sarita Frozen Yogurts and I just had to try!   Oh how I shouldn’t have 🙁

sarita frozen yoghurt - guatemala

These are very similar to the YogenFruz frozen yogurts I was addicted to when I lived in Chile – favourite flavour: coconut, pineapple and papaya.   Fortunately finding a Sarita shop that makes these is much more difficult than finding a Sarita Coco and they are 5 times the price  –  so not indulging in too many of them.

I also tried one of the not-quite-so-much-of-a-chain-shop icecreams – FruitiHelados.  This is a Mora and Yogurt (Blackberry and Yogurt) one and yes, it has been hand made in a plastic cup with an icypole stick stuck in it.  Actually quite good to be honest!

Fruitifrozen - Guatemala - icecream

And then I discovered Helados Exóticos in Antigua.  This is the Kiss Me of Guatemala but (dare I say it) even better!   It is a hole-in-the wall related to the Sobremesa Restaurant and offers up the most intriguing and bizarre flavours –  Wasabi Fig (not bad actually – you get the wasabi hints but it is not overpowering), Apple Chipotle, Chocolate Bacon, Strawberry Parmesan anyone?

helados exoticos antigua - icecream

I’m slowly working my way through the different flavours (you know I have to) but to date my favourite is the Piña Cobanero.  This icecream has sweet pineapple chunks offset with a mild (but noticable) burn and smokiness from conabero chiles.  I look forward to my homework each day at this intriguing icecreamery 🙂

 

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Working out in Antigua

The Street Food Tour was the first of 4 foodie activities I had planned for my stay in Antigua.  So to counter all this (and the fact that I ate waaaaaaay too many pupusas in El Salvador) I decided I had to get back into working out in earnest.   Also helps that I’ve finally found some cooler weather!

Given that I’m staying in a dorm room, and there is a distinct lack of nice places to work out in Antigua (it’s all a bit cobblestone-y, I’m not sure how the Krysta finds such nice places to work out for the 12 Minute Athlete),  I decided to join Antigua’s Gym for the duration of my stay.

It’s a very cool place that is really well equipped, and where you end up working out under what looks like a circus tent!

Antigua's Gym

So I’m back doing High Intensity Interval Training with the 12 Minute Athlete app and am having fun exploring the workouts that use equipment (normally I can only do those that use bodyweight and a skipping rope given that is all I have with me).  It’s amazing how much fitness you can lose in a month, and it turns out hiking up volcanoes once/week isn’t enough to retain it 🙁

While that is my morning workout, I have also been returning in the evenings to do a group class – in particular, I did my first Zumba class the other day.  Not sure how Zumba is normally, but the class I did seemed to be a cross between 1990s step aerobics and latin dancing.   Not a lot of cueing going on (goes against my aerobics instructor training), but a decent workout and I didn’t do too badly given I was a novice.

I was so enthusiastic after my first Zumba class that I decided to go to the International Zumba Masterclass that was to be held the next night.  It cost 20 Quetzales (about $3), all proceeds went to the Hospital Pedro de Bethancourt, and both local and international Zumba instructors led the exercise program.

There was a very impressive turnout and it was rather crowded in the Salon Cesar Brañas, especially once everyone started moving!   I was one of about 5 gringos there, and there were a few men in the crowd – but predominantly Guatemalan women decked out in the Zumba-branded attire.  And not just from Antigua, there was a fair contingent make the trip from Guatemala City!  Here’s a taste of proceedings.

 

I have to admit, I do feel better for having started working out again. And I ask myself again – why did I ever stop?  It’s so painful to get back into it…

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Street Food Tour – Antigua

After finally leaving El Salvador, I decided to hang out in Antigua, Guatemala for about a week – partially because it is such a nice place and partially because I found a bunch of foodie things to do 🙂    First on the list was the Street Food walking tour with Arianna at Taste Antigua.

As has happened to me so often on this trip, I ended up being the only one on the tour, and I’m infinitely grateful to Arianna for running it with just me.   Turns out we had a lot in common anyway, talked non-stop about our love of Latin America and interest in food, and I think I’ve managed to convince her to go to El Salvador for a visit 😉

The street food tour itself is wonderful.  Plenty of food (my trick, given I’d already eaten a lot in Central America and was familiar with staple foods, was to avoid the rice, potatoes and tortillas that typically come with the dishes), with the added bonus of Arianna talking about the history of certain key sites in Antigua while walking between each of the places where we ate.   For example, I had noticed long lines of people outside the San Pedro church at 6am every morning on my way to the gym.

San Pedro church

Arianna explained that the queue is actually to enter the “Social works of Saint Brother Pedro” (Pedro is Guatemala’s only Saint), which is attached to the church.  This is Antigua’s only free public hospital and a place where disabled people, elderly people, poor people, people with mental illness, etc can seek help/support.  It also has several operating theatres that are staffed almost all year round by mostly foreign volunteer surgeons who perform even quite complex surgeries for free.  Really remarkable work!

Our first stop on the food tour was El Porton, where I tried Hilachas – a traditional beef stew from the Guatemalan highlands.   The beef is shredded into fine strands and the sauce is based around tomatoes, onions and capsicums.

Taste Antigua - Street Food Tour - Antigua, Guatemala

It was very tasty and Arianna explained that a lot of Guatemalan traditional dishes are stews given the relatively cool climate of the Guatemalan highlands.   I’d actually tried a different traditional stew dish – Subanik – my first night in Antigua.

From El Porton, we headed down the road to Jorge’s food cart in the Tanque de la Union Park next to Iglesia San Pedro.   There I tried Chuchitos, savory tamales wrapped in corn husks and served with cabbage salad and tomato sauce.  I asked for mine to be spicy, so Jorge also put some chile sauce over the top.

Taste Antigua - Street Food Tour - Antigua, Guatemala

Have to admit, these were my least favourite of all the food I tried – though that tends to be my general consensus for savory tamales in all Central American countries (love the sweet ones through!)  Quite bland, though Arianna tells me that Jorge’s Chuchitos are more flavourful than most, and even the chili sauce didn’t have much of a kick to it to help out in the flavour department.  There was a very small amount of chicken and tomato sauce in the middle, but overwhelmingly it was just plain corn masa — hence the blandness.

This prompted a discussion between Arianna and I about under-nutrition in Central American countries.  The population is not malnourished (they get enough calories through things like meals that consist mostly of corn masa and rice, processed foods and sugary soft drinks – hence the burgeoning obesity problem here), but they are desperately lacking in nutrients. There urgently needs to be a massive push here in Central America about educating the population about proper nutrition.  The irony is that if you visit the market, there are piles and piles and piles and piles of inexpensive fresh fruit and vegetables that the people could be eating…

Our next stop was for my sweet tooth where we visited the most famous candy shop in Guatemala.  Doña María Gordillo has been operating for over 140 years and offers up 64 different types of traditional sweets.

Taste Antigua - Street Food Tour - Antigua, Guatemala

There I tried Canillitas de Leche – a milk fudge candy that was super-smooth, super-sweet, and melted in the mouth, kind of like a really high quality white chocolate but with more of a condensed milk flavour.  I also tried the Colochos de Guayaba (guava curls) that were jelly-like and coated in powdered sugar.  These were slightly tart but still more than sweet enough to appeal to my sweet tooth 🙂  The owls in the background signify wealth and prosperity and are the Guatemalan version of piggy-banks.

Then it was back to the savory dishes with Pupusas de Queso and a Longaniza sausage.   After eating waaaaaaaaay too many amazing pupusas in El Salvador that are positively bursting with cheese and other things, this one was quite disappointing.  The cheese was about 1/3 of that you would find in an El Salvadorean pupusa (Arianna tells me that these guys actually put more filling than most) and the cabbage salad on top was quite bland (in El Salvador this is quite spicy).   So my personal recommendation – go to El Salvador and eat as many pupusas as you can!    The longaniza sausage had a bit of flavour though and was quite nice, and here the food is being cooked in clay pots, which some people believe makes the food taste better.

Taste Antigua - Street Food Tour - Antigua, Guatemala

Our final stop on the tour was La Canche – a hidden comedor that you have to enter by walking through a small shop to some back rooms.   Although they have the menu on the front door, its really not clear where they serve the food, and without someone taking you there for the first time it would be very confusing to find it.   There I had the most famous of Guatemalan dishes – Pepián. This is another stew and definitely the most flavourful one I’ve had with some really complex flavours going on.  It was incredible!  The chicken just fell off the bone due to the slow cooking process, and the stew was a little spicy with several layers of flavour to it. Amazing!

Taste Antigua - Street Food Tour - Antigua, Guatemala

Then to top it all off, I had a Rellenito de Platano at the same place for dessert.   This is essentially mashed plantains that are filled with sweetened refried black beans and chocolate, fried and dusted with sugar.  Sweet and savory at the same time … loved this dessert!

Taste Antigua - Street Food Tour - Antigua, Guatemala

Really enjoyed exploring more of the traditional flavours of Guatemala and now have some nice cheap places to go for meals in Antigua – I’ll definitely be going back to La Canche!

My pacing worked well and I wasn’t feeling too full, until I stopped by a Bubble Tea place I happened to come across on my way back to the hostel.  Haven’t had bubble tea for over 4 months and really had a craving for it – but it did end up pushing me over the edge into the food coma :-/   Totally worth it though 🙂

Bubble Tea - Antigua, Guatemala

 

Recommendation:  In my experience, you should not be too worried about eating street food in Central America.  But if you are a little nervous, doing a tour like this where Arianna uses the same vendors each time is a good option.   This street food tour is a wonderful way to try some of the traditional dishes of Guatemala, find some cheap places to eat in Antigua (which in general is quite pricey) and learn a little about the city while you are at it.

Booking:  Book the street food tour through the website of Taste Antigua at least the day before.   The tour has a maximum of 6 people to ensure that everyone gets a good taste of the dishes and the walking group is not too large (the places you eat are fairly small).  Arianna also offers a tour of the Antigua Market and a Sunset dinner tour.

Time Required:  About 2 hours.  You end up walking about 2km all up – and there are plenty of eating stops along the way.

Cost:  US$30 which includes all the food as well as the tour.

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Final thoughts – El Salvador

I wasn’t sure what to expect from El Salvador.  It has a reputation as a dangerous country, everyone tries to dissuade you when you say you plan to go, and most other travellers I’d met had spent a maximum of 2-3 days there, passing through on their way from Guatemala to Nicaragua.

Having now spent almost 3 weeks in El Salvador, I am here to tell you – it is an AWESOME place! I was planning to write a “Top 5 reasons why you should go to El Salvador” post, but my awesome travelling companion for the last week in El Salvador – Susan – beat me to it!   We spent a lot of time talking about this so, not surprisingly, her Top 5 are pretty much the same as mine 🙂  Here’s my take on Susan’s headings.

The People

I was essentially adopted in my first 24 hours in El Salvador, and absolutely everyone I met was super-keen to talk to me and make sure I had an amazing experience.  I think they are very aware of the reputation El Salvador has in the world and are very eager to change perceptions.  It really worked!

Estela and me at Los Panchos

Estela and her friend Beatrice essentially adopted me on my first day in El Salvador.

Nature

El Salvador really is much, much greener than Nicaragua and actually has water!  A political border is pretty arbitrary, so it was a huge surprise to note this difference between the two countries.

Green El Salvador

The Food

I LOVE pupusas!  They are cheap as chips and awesome patties of cheesie goodness.  Favourite fillings:  1) Refried beans and cheese, 2) chicken, jalapeño chili and cheese, and 3) prawns and cheese.  In addition, I got to explore a huge range of other El Salvadorean dishes from desserts, to drinks, to a full miscellanea of corn-based plates.

pupusas - El Salvador

The size of the country

It doesn’t take forever to get from place to place and the chicken buses are far less crowded than in Nicaragua.  They also don’t play music at limit of the speaker system!  Still no bathroom breaks, but this is less of an issue given the journeys are shorter.

Chicken Bus - El Salvador

Other Travellers

I’d always read other people’s accounts of how they met other travellers at hostels and ended up travelling with them for a few weeks.  This had never happened to me before El Salvador.   But in my ~3 weeks in the country, I think I only spent about 3 days by myself.  Somewhat surprising given how few travellers actually spend any time in the country!

travelling companions - El Salvador

Thank you André, Ryan and Susan for your amazing company through this incredible country!

Oh, and I finally found all the Australians in Central America!   Having only encountered one other Aussie in ~4 months in Nicaragua, it was quite a shock to discover they made up the majority of tourists in El Salvador!  Not that there are that many tourists, but those that were were predominantly from Australia.

In summary, El Salvador is an amazing country with incredible people.  So long as you are sensible, it is not really any more dangerous than any other country in Central America, as the main danger comes from gangs and is not targeted at tourists.  So don’t skip through it as you move from Guatemala to Nicaragua.  It has an enormous amount to offer and I’ll definitely be returning!

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San Salvador – Iglesia El Rosario

After stuffing my face at the Juayúa food festival and trying to mitigate the damage a little by hiking the Siete Cascadas, I said goodbye to Susan and headed to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, for a few days.   I usually try to avoid capital cities like the plague, but I wanted to send a parcel home and I’d heard some good things about San Salvador from a few others.  I decided to stay with Edwin from EC Tours (and his mum and grandmother) and do his Free Walking Tour of San Salvador the next day.

Edwin was really amazing (and his mum and grandmother lovely).  He came and picked me up from the bus station, took me to the post office and sorted all the things I needed to send my parcel home, then took me out for dinner to try another typical dish in Central America – Iguana.  I only agreed once he assured me that the iguana were farmed in El Salvador, and I admit I was curious.   Had the mixed plate which included iguana soup and roast iguana.   I know it sounds exceedingly cliched, but it really did taste like chicken!

iguana soup and roast iguana

The next morning Edwin showed me around central San Salvador on his walking tour.  It was a fascinating tour that covered the stories behind several important sites, including Kilometre Zero from which all distances in El Salvador are measured.

Kilometre Zero - San Salvador - El Salvador

We also visited the Central Plaza, and the Cathedral, which houses the resting place of El Salvador’s most important son – Óscar Romero.

Tomb Óscar Romero - San Salvador - El Salvador

Edwin also talked a little about the National Palace and the National Theatre, and we visited the Civil war memorial in Parque Cuscatlán which names more than 30,000 people and has a plaque for the many, many unnamed people killed during El Salvador’s Civil war between 1980 and 1992.

Civil War memorial -San Salvador

But the absolute highlight was the El Rosario Church, which sits along one side of the Plaza de Independencia.  I’m not typically one that goes in for churches – I might poke my head into one or two for 30 seconds or so as I’m wandering around – but I don’t find them terribly interesting. I make an exception here.  This church is beyond amazing!

It was designed by one of El Salvador’s most famous artists and architects, Rubén Martinez, and from the outside, it looks just like a concrete bunker or disused aircraft hanger with a rusty sailing mast for a cross.  Not a traditional architecture for a Catholic church and I am amazed that the Vatican (yes, the plans went straight to the Vatican) actually approved its construction!

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

But inside – oh my gosh!  It is unbelievably amazing!   It is built oriented north-south so that as the sun transits the sky during the day it successively lights up the different parts of the arch of coloured windows that replaces the stained-glass windows of a traditional church.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

At a certain time of year, the sun lights up the back wall, which also has injections of coloured glass in the shape of the eye of God.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

The church has no columns or pillars, so as not to obstruct anyone’s view of the very simple altar that is placed at the same level as the congregation.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

The entire interior design is very simple and based on concrete, recycled metal and wood. These metal friezes depict, in a somewhat abstract style, various religious motifs and run the entire length of the back wall.

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

Abstract depictions of religious art in recycled metal: the rosary (top), an angel (middle), christ (bottom)

Continuing with the theme of abstract artworks, the church houses the most incredible depiction of the 14 stations of the cross.  Made from concrete and black iron, and showing only the arms and hands, it is the most amazing series of sculptures I’ve ever seen!   Very, very powerful work.  And the story goes that Rubén Martinez designed it in less than a month!

Iglesia El Rosario - San Salvador - El Salvador

From top to bottom, the gallery of the stations of the cross; Jesus is condemned to death, Jesus falls for the first time, Jesus falls for the third time, Jesus is stripped of his garments, Jesus is nailed to the cross, Jesus dies on the cross, Jesus in the sepulchre, Jesus is arisen

I ended up visiting the Iglesia El Rosario 3 times during the 2 days I stayed in San Salvador – I just couldn’t get enough of the stark beauty of it, and the incredible but simple artistry of its interior design.  It alone made the trip to San Salvador worth it!

If you find yourself in San Salvador, you have to go see it!

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Siete Cascadas – Juayúa

My trip through El Salvador was timed to ensure that I would be in Juayúa (one of the towns along the Ruta de Flores) on the weekend so I could explore the Food Festival that they hold there every week.    The other key attraction of Juayúa is a 5 hour hike called the “Siete Cascadas” or the “7 waterfalls”, and given the amount of food we would be eating, Susan and I decided we’d better get some exercise in as well!

We arranged the trip through the place we were staying – the Hotel Anáhuac – and our guide was there to pick us up at 8am – we were the only 2 on the tour.  We walked out of town (it’s not very big) and picked up another couple of guides along the way – one with 2 legs, one with 4.   Actually the 4-legged one, aptly named Chase, kept testing to see how good our stability was.  He was a young dog and kept falling behind and then racing forward between our legs, often bumping into our calves and/or stepping on our shoes as he raced past.  Here he is gearing up for another charge.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

The first part of the Siete Cascadas hike was up through steep coffee fields where we got a little explanation of how coffee grows – our guides worked in the coffee fields when they weren’t doing the waterfalls tour.  The trees had already flowered and the green coffee beans were everywhere.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - coffee growing

At a different time of year, there would be some wonderful views from the top of the ridge, where you can see one of the key volcanic complexes in El Salvador.  However, as is common at the end of the dry season, we mostly got clouds and haze (and bugs!).

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

The waterfalls are really amazing, and still plenty of water in them despite us visiting at the end of the dry season.  One of the most interesting things is that the water isn’t surface water that flows over a lip of rock to form the waterfall.  It actually emerges from between the rocks.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

One of the coolest aspects of this trip is that you get to semi-rappel down one of the waterfalls.  It’s not a true rappel, given that it was not a vertical or overhang, you are not strapped in, and you don’t jump and release.   If anything it was slightly more frightening given that you had to rely on your own grip and arm strength to avoid falling.  You would never be allowed to do this in Australia!   This is part of the reason I love travelling in developing countries 🙂

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - rappelling

It was also very wet business – here’s me looking a tad unco as I make my way down the last part of the waterfall.

 

These are not small waterfalls and I couldn’t imagine doing this tour in the wet season, though our guides told me that they did!

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador

The last couple of waterfalls on the hike form the Chorros de la Calera, where swimming pools have been created at the base of the falls.   These can be reached directly from Juayúa, and the majority of people actually drive most of the way to these falls to enjoy them on the weekend.   When Susan and I arrived, they were very crowded with locals!  Fortunately I had visited earlier in the week on my day trip with Ian and Erika. On that occasion, we were the only ones there and it was beautiful and tranquil.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - Chorros de la Calera

When we arrived at the first pool, our guides set about unpacking a lunch of baguettes, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, capsicum and tomato.   After a quick meal, we headed into the pools for a swim.   Word of warning – brace yourself for cold water!   Nice and refreshing after a hike, but not water you can stay in for a long time.

The final adventure on this trip was to brave the dark tunnel that links the two waterfalls of the Chorros de la Calera.  This freaked both Susan and I out, but we followed our guide into the dark abyss with hearts racing.

7 Cascadas tour - Juayúa - El Salvador - tunnels

The first part, walking from the light into the darkness neck deep in water, was the scariest part. Entering completely into the unknown! Fortunately, just as we completely lost the light from the tunnel entrance, the tunnel turned a 90 degree corner and we could see the light from the exit ahead of us.  This put us much more at ease and the added advantage was that rocks protruding from the roof were silhouetted for us to see so we didn’t gonk our heads as we kept nose and mouth (but not much else) above the waterline.  Definitely an experience!  Really glad we didn’t chicken out 🙂

Thanks to Susan, my wonderful travelling companion for the past several days for the video and being my model in the pictures!

 

Recommendation:  It is definitely worth doing the Siete Cascadas tour if you are in Juayúa, or at least visiting the Chorros de la Calera.  Would recommend spending a couple of days in Juayúa actually – it is a lovely little town with some of the best pupusas I’ve had in El Salvador.

Booking:  Arrange through Hotel Anáhuac or Hostel Casa Meseta the day before (or earlier).

Time Required:  About 5-6 hours which includes the hike, lunch and swimming time.

Cost:  US$20 each for the full Siete Cascadas tour (US$2 to just visit the Chorros de la Calera).

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Water baggies – slightly better than a bottle?

In much of Latin America, the water out of the tap is not drinkable.  In fact, the latest edition of Revue (Guatemala’s English-language magazine), features a story on a company that is trying to assist poorer families to have access to clean drinking water and to reduce the number of people who end up in hospital with parasites.

Fortunately, most eating establishments (no matter how small) do used filtered water (sometimes purified water), so I rarely have any stomach problems when I travel (touch wood!). And most of the hostels I’ve stayed in on this trip have provided drinking water refills for their guests from large containers.  This means that I’ve rarely had to buy water or use my trusty Travel Tap microfilter bottle that, according to the brochure, is supplied to Peacekeeping forces, Special forces, and USA Dept Homeland Security!   I have to admit, I was a little nervous to use it the first few times, but it is a total winner!

There have therefore only been a couple of occasions where I’ve really needed to buy water. But rather than buying yet another bottle that I don’t need or want, here in Central America they also sell 500ml water baggies.

water

8 cents for this one in El Salvador – about half the price of a bottle of water.  All you have to do is bite off a corner and squeeze!

Its really common for street vendors and bus vendors to sell these baggies rather than bottles (they save room for bottles of Coke and other sugary drinks that the majority of people are thoroughly addicted to), and it does seem to be slightly less wasteful.

The plastic is, in theory, recyclable (see logo on the baggie), but given that recycling is a relatively new phenomenon here, and certainly not adopted by all places, if only the plastic were biodegradable…

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Juayúa food festival – El Salvador

Juayúa, one of the key towns along the Ruta de Flores, is famous for its weekend food festival that is held in and round the central park.   For this reason, a whole bunch of us from the Casa Verde ended up descending on the town in order to eat our way through the culinary delights of El Salvador.

Unfortunately, although there was plenty of food, it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. Only one and a bit streets were set up with food stalls and most were selling very similar things – large plates of chicken, beef, or chorizo with rice, tortillas, and salad.

Juayúa food festival - El Salvador

We had all been expecting more of a “tasting” style of festival, where you could buy small portions of different dishes, including typical dishes from El Salvador.  But, given that that was not to be, both Susan and I agreed that this beef and prawn skewer was the best looking dish of the weekend.  Must admit, it was incredibly tasty!

Juayúa food festival - El Salvador

Later that night, after we had managed to digest most of lunch, we were wandering around town and found a stall set up in a different street (ie not part of the food festival) that sold a more typical dish – riguas.   These are like the ubiquitous pupusa, but while pupusas are made from dried corn masa, riguas are made from sweet corn masa.  It’s the same idea as tortillas in Nicaragua being made of dried corn masa and Güirilas being made of sweet corn masa.  Of course we had to try!

Juayúa food festival - El Salvador - Riguas

I was surprised to find that the sweet corn taste was not as strong as it is in the Güirilas in Nicaragua, but that might have been because these were stuffed with a heap of cheese that perhaps masked the flavour somewhat.  Still yum, and Susan declared that she actually preferred them to pupusas!  Big call!

On the Sunday we hit the food festival again and this time headed straight to the one stall that was selling more traditional food – particularly focused on corn (a dead giveaway that it is more typical in Central America).    While Susan went back in for the Riguas (this time with coconut instead of cheese – the cheese ones were better), I wanted to try the Elotes Locos (Crazy Corn) and the Atól con Elote.

Elotes Locos is a corn cob that has been boiled and then covered in tomato sauce, mayonnaise and mustard.  Finally, the server throws grated Parmesan cheese around the outside so that it sticks to the sauces.  It’s surprisingly good – even for a person who doesn’t really like mayonnaise.

Juayúa food festival - El Salvador - elotes locos y atol con elote

Elotes locos (left) and Atól con Elote (right)

Atól con Elote, yet another type of Atól, was super-sweet and, as the name suggests, had kernels of sweet corn buried in the thick drink.  Not for you if you don’t have a sweet tooth!

To finish off lunch, I had to have a pincho de fruta – another very common dessert in El Salvador, and they looked so good!  It is essentially a fruit skewer that has been frozen and is then dipped in chocolate and coated in nuts/sprinkles/etc in front of you after you have ordered.  I had the “mixto” with a strawberry, massive grape, banana, watermelon and pineapple, and Susan eventually caved into to have one just with strawberries.   Again – yum!

Juayúa food festival - El Salvador - pinchos

Also managed to try a few other foods over the course of the 3 days I was in Juayúa, including: chorizo (not as tasty as I’d hoped and drier than I am used to), Torta de Queso (cheesecake with a texture between the cheesecake we are familiar with and flan), Tortitas de Elote (essentially balls of sweetcorn that have been deep fried), and quesadilla.  Yes, a quesadilla in El Salvador is quite different to what we would think of.  It is not a cheesy tortilla, it is essentially a butter cake!

Juayúa food festival - El Salvador

Clockwise: Chorizo, Torta de Queso, Tortitas de Elote, and Quesadilla.

Lots of eating, and that’s not even counting the pupusería we went to 2 nights running with others we’d met at the Casa Verde!  This was one of the best pupuserías I found in El Salvador and was very popular with the locals as well.

Juayúa - best Pupuseria

Pupusas are amazingly addictive and dirt cheap – yes at is US 60 cents for one!  I had tried all the pupusas on this list (except the Locas, which is an extra-big pupusa with everything in it), and the one pictured here with a mountain of curtido (cabbage salad) is the Papelillo – yet another green leaf.  The reason there is a little pile of green papelillo on the plate is that when I ordered it I asked what it was.  The cooks were lovely and included this taster for me as well 🙂   The people in El Salvador are just amazing!

If you want to know my top 3 pupusa flavours:

  1. Frijoles y queso (refried beans and cheese)
  2. Pollo y Jalapeño (chicken and jalapeño chili and cheese)
  3. Camarones (prawns and cheese)

I’m really going to miss pupusas when I leave El Salvador!

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