Hell Salvador?

Last week, I reluctantly slid down the youngest volcano in Central America before attempting to sightsee in some of the most murderous cities on planet earth (not including Tunbridge Wells). This week, I search for a pair of waterfalls in two different nations as I hit the windswept Pacific Coast for the final time.

Day 43 – Los Naranjos, Honduras

Of all the places to find a microbrewery-cum-hostel, on the shores of a lake in the very heart of Honduras would not have been my first guess. However, here I am: at D&D Brewery (which sits about a kilometre away from Honduras’ largest body of water: Yojoa). Whilst comprising a dormitory for the impoverished, like myself, it mainly caters for wealthy American couples and families – and therefore is of quite a contrast to some of the destitute haunts I’ve inhabited so far.

A short bus ride from the brewery lies Pulhapanzak Waterfall, the prize asset of the region and somewhere worthy of a visit, if not a marriage proposal (as I witnessed on my way there). Commercialised to within an inch of its life, the falls impressed a great deal more than Niagara (which isn’t saying much), and it was obvious how important they were to the survival of the nearby town and its locals. Whilst striking, I equally enjoyed the return walk through my current base of Los Naranjos. Children playing football, families eating/fighting together and a palpable sense of gratification that couldn’t even be found in a Hooters on a Saturday night.

Day 44 – Los Naranjos, Honduras

The reason so many visit this remote part of Honduras, apart from Pulha Falls, is for its lake. Google images of the shoreside Eco-Arqueológico Park also paint an enticing picture. Unfortunately, the park is now patrolled by Honduran soldiers and the bridges across its marshland have fallen into disrepair. Crossing each one was akin to a challenge on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ and it was a minor miracle that I did not end up with a soggy bottom (as well as a broken tripod) as I hopped from one rotten plank to the next.

I must add that this is the first time since my arrival in Central America that I have required a second layer. Whilst this may seem insignificant to you, I have long since believed that my copious hoodies/sweaters were an extravagant waste of precious space and weight – oh how wrong I was. A light mid-layer was very much required on my visit to the Los Naranjos’ other ‘major’ tourist attraction: Bioparque Paradise! Whilst I deem their name a slight exaggeration, the park did contain some colourful flora, as well as a slightly-caerulein tinted lake. Huzzah!

Day 45 – Los Naranjos, Honduras to Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Lake Yojoa has left a longstanding legacy on view of Honduras but, more significantly, on my bank balance (staying at a brewery with my level of self-control was never a good idea). Thus, it was time to continue my catawampus journey across Honduras towards its very western frontier, to a town with a name wholly derived from its principal attraction.

Firstly, though, I had to continue my game of ‘Deadly City Top Trumps’ by stopping off in San Pedro Sula (S.P.S beats Tegucigalpa by nine places in the homicide charts). A search of this place online would be enough to put off the very dimmest of travellers but, unfortunately, it is also a transportation hub to many of the more remote parts of the country. Thankfully, as a result of its unpleasant murder-rate, the city decided to build its central station a good few miles away from the centre – and I could catch my next bus without fear of being macheted in the ankles.

Copan Ruinas (or Copan Ruins if you are that slow) lies just six miles from the Guatemalan border, but astonishingly it’s not one I will be crossing – more on that later. The town is just about as tourist-oriented as anywhere you can find in the country, which means the Brit I bumped into in the hostel had no problem in pointing me towards a London-themed bar in its central square – exactly what I wanted. We were joined by a group of volunteering Dutch students and, as Brits always do, felt obliged to show them who the real dart-playing nation was. Turns out, it’s Holland.

Day 46 – Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Today be the day to explore the first of many Mayan ruins I will encounter on my journey north to Mexico City. The archaeological site lies a ten-minute walk from the town and, upon my arrival, it felt as though I had landed in Benidorm. Busloads of bum-bag wearing, camera-wielding, Gauloises-smoking Europeans accosted my arrival like a Trump accosts journalists (as in Acosta). I hadn’t seen this many white middle-aged men since the class photo of the Republican midterm selectees. I waited until they ambushed the café before making my way towards the ruins.

Scarlet Macaw. No, not you-know-who’s latest sex scandal, but the spectacular bird that crowded the forested tunnel to the site. At least fifty of the radiantly-plumaged aracanga could be spotted in the foliage or feeding on their congested tables – a sight that fascinated me more than the upcoming relics if truth be told.

That would be doing them a slight disservice mind, as the site is extremely well preserved (scepticism in abundance) and some of the structures date back over fifteen hundred years to when Copan was the de-facto capital of the Mayan civilisation. It was the first time on this trip that my Indiana Jones boater felt apt (made for exploring archaeological sites), at least until the European touring party returned and ruined (pun intended) it for everyone.

Day 47 – Copan Ruinas, Honduras to El Sunzal, El Salvador

So, as I mentioned, I was just six miles from Guatemala – but not on my way there. Instead, I planned to go due south to my next nation: enigmatic El Salvador. Oh, how I wish I could have gone due south, but instead I had to go almost half the way back to San Pedro Sula, before making my first bus change in the wet and dreary Santa Rosa. From there, the usual Central American chicken-bus road-trip ensued: deafeningly loud reggaeton, several hundred connections and sellers boarding every five minutes to try and sell you their food/beverages/unbranded pharmaceuticals.

The El Salvadorian border was far less painless than expected and I was soon back on another ‘bus’ towards the capital: San Salvador. Almost the instant I got through immigration, the climate completely changed, and I was back in the sweaty heat-box I had largely become accustomed to. San Salvador (top of my Deadly City Top Trumps for this trip) would have to wait for a couple of days as I continued on south to the Pacific coast…

Day 48 – El Sunzal, El Salvador

El Sunzal, El Salvador: surfers paradise and backpacker’s haven. I must have been the only foreigner in the town who could count how many times they had surfed on one finger, as every other person you bumped into was carrying a board (or looked like the kind of person that had). From my hostel, I was able to follow the coast down to El Tunco: the ‘party’ town (as the brash American’s called it).

I, however, am not in the business of partying with rowdy bunches of Spring Break teenagers and attempted to find solace somewhere along the pristine coast where I could read (and burn) in tranquillity. The town itself was charming, as it has yet to be completely ruined by tourism. Old men playing guitar outside their thatched-roofed cabins while the women bake and sell tortilla’s through the kitchen window (by window I mean hole) – and everyone seemingly contented to laze in the shade from the baking afternoon sun. Time for a cerveza.

Day 49 – El Sunzal, El Salvador to San Salvador, El Salvador

Another day, another waterfall – this time about an hour’s bus ride north into the El Salvadorian hills. Cascadas de Tamanique are very well hidden and require a quite strenuous descent into a deep valley to spot. Upon my arrival at the bottom of the gorge, I was greeted by a series of five falls, each one slightly taller than the last – culminating in a pool which I had a good float in. This was extremely soothing for my countless mosquito bites, as well as providing respite from the liquifying heat.

I then had my first ever experience on a motorbike (I try to avoid them at all costs but accidentally agreed to a trip in Spanish), as I was whisked back to the hostel by my guide. He didn’t care much for leisureliness (or safety) as we bounced over rocks and through potholes the size of Lake Yojoa. After disembarking, I vowed to stick to chicken buses for the remainder of the trip, which should tell you how much I enjoyed my biking escapade. True to my word, I boarded another converted 1980’s school bus as I left the Pacific Coast for the ‘most murderous place’ I will visit on my whole trip: San Salvador…

J

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