We have slept in at least 40 different beds since the beginning of June. According to the unofficial algorithm of backpackers, the relationship between a.) the price you pay for the bed, b.) the location of the bed, and c.) the amount of beds in one room is equal to, but not limited to the overall sleeping experience of the backpacker. We dealt with bed bugs, too small bed linen that pulls up at the sides (resulting in you waking up and discovering you’re laying on a dirty mattress) and other people’s stinky feet. But for every crappy hostel bed, there’s one good hostel bed. This is the story of one such bed. But we first have to start with the crappy bed before we can go on to the good bed.
The Bates Motel bed
We said goodbye to El Tunco and decided to go to Santa Ana just to see what the town is all about. We travelled for about 5 hours and arrived at dusk. There wasn’t any space available in our hostel of choice, so we had to settle for a hotel around the corner. But don’t let the word ‘hotel’ fool you. The concierge was not only the cleaner but also the nightwatchman who you can buy beer from. There were about 50 rooms, but only 5 were occupied (4 of them probably by the hour) and our door was very similar to the doors they use in jail. It also had that metal-on-metal echo when you shut it.
We were starving by then, just to discover that every food stand already packed up. There wasn’t a single pupusa or torta* in sight, and the neighborhood was about to put on its sketchy cloak. We found one local eatery, but a beggar in a wheelchair ordered the last torta. The only other thing the owner could offer us was leftover reheated chicken with cold tortillas and rice. We took our chances and ordered one plate, but got two.
After eating a reheated chicken drumstick one tends to sleep with one eye open. In this case, the hotel bed was really horrible so we had to force ourselves to keep both eyes closed. The night went by without any major event (like the squirtsies or the silhouette of Norman Bates standing with an axe outside the window), but we were happy to check out and hop on to the first bus to Juayúa.
The bed that was better than the one we have at home
If you want to pronounce ‘Juayúa’ correctly, just imagine having a mouthguard in your mouth. It must sound like something along the lines of ‘Why-jooh-aah’ (after spending almost a week in this little town, we were pros in Salvadorian pronunciation).
We had some of our best Central American memories in Juayúa. It’s a town small enough to fit into your pocket, but big enough to keep you busy and easy-going at the same time.
The hostel we stayed at was one of the best so far. Every room is decorated by a Salvadorian artist, the garden is humming with happiness and the people are super nice. The linen is white and crisp, the ensuite shower is nice and toasty and the towels are white and fluffy. For a stinky backpacker who just spend the night at the Bates Motel, this was something to write home about (as I’m doing now.)
Our first Juayúan experience saw us taking on the Seven Waterfalls hike with Douglas, our very charming guide (with a smile big enough to put behind his ears), his puppy dog Bonita (all legs and one very long tail) and Michael (a very friendly New Yorker with an uncanny ability to take the most amazing photos). The company was good, but the hike even better. We walked through coffee plantations, carefully shuffled past small waterfalls and went down big waterfalls with a rope, a strong hand and a will not slip and make a fool of yourself. We’ve done a couple of hikes since our arrival in Central America, but this was by far my favourite.
With post-hike lazy legs and waterfall hair, we decided to take a peak at the neighboring towns. Apaneca, the town next door, is the second highest town in El Salvador according to our trusty Lonely Planet. Apparently they also produce really good coffee due to the altitude. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a barista or something that resembles a coffee shop insight. So we had ice cream instead.
Ataco, the town next to Apaneca was a real treat. We arrived at 5pm, and got to see the town going home after a long day at work. The sun was lazy, the church choir sang and the town square was humming with the soul of a Friday afternoon. We saw a whole crowd of people dancing with gym clothes in one of the halls opposite the park. We saw a brass band practicing in one of the streets on the other side of the park. We saw nuns, children and happy street dogs. What I saw, made me happy – I wanted that moment to never end.
On our bus ride back to Juayúa, I also noticed for the first time in Central America, a man getting up from his seat and offering it to a woman. At that moment I was so in love with El Salvador I was actually blushing.
The day of the food festival
The actual reason for our stay in Juayúa was to eat our weight in local food during the town’s weekly gastronomy festival. We heard you can sample iguana, frogs and things. I wasn’t really up for the iguana or the frog, but I was first in line for all the things. Our friends Kristina and Saskia came from El Tunco to visit, and brought a happy Canadian called Kenneth with them. I was beyond myself with excitement.
90% of the food on offer was different types of barbecued meat/fish/prawns/chicken with rice, tortillas, salad, potatoes and onions. It wasn’t as exotic as we thought it would be, but we did see a frog on a stick. Here’s a list of things we devoured:
Tortilla soup: A smokey bean version of its crunchy cousin. A neatly souped up version of everything that you would expect in a big plate of nachos – tomatoes, cilantro, runny avo, cheese and thick tortilla chips.
Nahotes: Unfortunately, I cannot decipher my own handwriting, but I’m sure it’s called nahotes – deep-fried yucca with cane-sugar syrup. It’s almost like mini donuts with a more rooty, vegetable flavour. Yum.
Riguas con coco: My goodness, did I enjoy these little pockets of heaven. It tasted like sweet corn bread with coconut, fried in banana leaves and served with a salty, chewy cheese.
Horchata: Horchata is as delicious as rice milk with cinnamon can get. It’s really delicious, and I had liters of it.
Michelada: I’m not too sure about Michelada – it’s just like a Bloody Mary, but with beer. I love a Mary in the morning, but I’m not really a fan of its zingy Latin American cousin.
We weighed ourselves yesterday – the Bearded Wonder lost 10kg, and I gained 3kg. Now I know why…
On how we couldn’t leave El Tunco
We planned to cross the border to Guatemala the following day, but 5min after we woke up, we discovered that some clever (but rude) bloke cloned the Husband’s bank card and stole around $2400. So we had 2 admin days from hell – trying to explain to the policeman in our broken Spanish that the internet robbed us and not a gun swinging coyote, was impossible.
So the policeman phoned our hostel and asked the lovely Sala to explain to him what happened to the two flustered gringos sitting in his office. After 40 minutes of us trying to string 2 Spanish sentences together, the matter was cleared up in 2 minutes.
We left El Salvador a week later than planned. But we left with new friends, a better understanding of Salvadorian history and the prospect of visiting the most colourful country in the whole of Central America: Guatemala.