December 30, 2011 - January 7, 2012
It was a really damp, cold ride through the mountains. We were on our way to El Salvador, but first, we had two quick stops to make. Antigua was a beautiful city and appeared to be upscale. It is a very popular tourist area because it is possible to take buses from Antigua to many parts of Guatemala, also, because many foreigners like to retire there, and it is one of the most popular and best recognized centers for Spanish language study by students from Europe, Asia and North America. We were going to stop for coffee and some lunch but we decided it was out of our budget. We continued riding until we reached Guatemala City. We were returning there because it was in the direction of El Salvador, but also because we were a bit bummed that we broke our GoPro video camera while we were at the Cenote in Tulum, so we agreed to look for a new one. We had no such luck though. The store was out of stock.
When we finally reached the border of Guatemala and El Salvador, our peaceful ride was interrupted by pure chaos. As we approached the immigration booth, we were bombarded by a handful of men trying desperately for our attention to sell us currency. Rocky stayed outside with the bike and his new friends as I went into the immigration office to present all the paperwork.
After crossing out of Guatemala, we rode a few hundred meters across a bridge until we reached the crossing into El Salvador. We arrived at the booth and the customs officer asked us to park the bike and go back to see him. He passed me a clipboard and asked me to fill in the blanks. I speak Portuguese, although it is very similar to Spanish, I am not experienced enough to prepare government documents. Not one English word was on that form. I pointed to the blank clipboard and handed him all the necessary papers and passports. I tried explaining to him that I didn't understand the language enough to read and write but he barely understood me. He then proceeded to walk away from me and sat at a table inside the booth and started stuffing his face with food. It was bizarre.
I stood their waiting, confused, watching sauce drip down his chin. Just then, his cell phone rag and he held up his finger to his lips before he took the call. He answered his phone and spoke to a person who I can only assume was his wife. "Hi dear, what are you doing today? Nothing. What are you having? I just ate, too...". This conversation continued for longer than necessary and he finally left the booth. As he walked past me, I tried asking him what we were supposed to do but he held up his finger to the air, asking me to wait. He acted annoyed that he had to do some sort of work.
We waited at least an hour for him to return. He handed me a few documents and pointed to an immigration office down the road. While Rocky waited outside with the bike, I stood in a line up for almost an hour. My passport was stamped and so were the papers for the bike. I asked them if it was possible for me to trade spots with Rocky so that he didn't have to wait in line to get his passport stamped as well and after begging for over a minute, they agreed to let me run out and grab his passport. I was obviously confused but didn't hesitate. I returned to the same officer, passed him Rocky's passport and they stamped it without even looking at him. I wasn’t about to say anything. I gathered everything together and I asked them if I needed to do anything else. They reassured me that I was done and everything had been stamped and approved.
After a long day of border crossings, the sun was quickly dropping and I was worried that we would be driving at night. We rushed out the office and eagerly left the area. As we headed down a paved road for a few hundred meters we unexpectedly approached another booth and an officer asked to see our documents. How many booths does one border need? The officer told us that we were missing something and we would have to return to the immigration office, somebody there was expecting us. We were obviously annoyed but I had to re-enter the office. This time, instead of waiting in line, I was approached and told that a photocopy of the new stamped documents was needed and I would have to go down the street and around a corner to buy the copy. Now, I am known for having a lot of patience, but I felt my face burning and my eye twitching. I almost cried with frustration. There was no way that I was going on any mission in search of a store for a copy of anything, especially when there was a photocopy machine right behind the woman speaking to me. I was so confused that my facial expression must have communicated my thoughts because she finally made herself a copy and I gladly left the building.
It was almost completely dark out and we were finally well past the border crossing. Thankfully, we weren't too far from our next destination. I contacted a man on couchsurfing.org and we were welcomed to stay at his home. Attilio lived in a small town, not too far from the border, called Concepcion de Ataco. By the time we had finally arrived, we still had a difficult time locating his house. We rode up and down the cobblestone roads and we asked anybody we saw for help. We were grateful to be approached by an English-speaking woman who brought us to Attilio's house.
Attilio is a tall, built, and handsome older man with kind eyes. He welcomed us into his yard and showed us to our room. Since it was late and we were exhausted, we had an early night. It wasn’t until morning when we were able to get a better idea of our surroundings. Attilio’s house was what I consider simply perfect. It was small but large enough for guests and comfort. I loved how every room was accessible from outside, the kitchen was open to the outdoors and the dining table was out on the patio. A large yard with beautiful flowers, fragrant herbs, fruit trees and coffee bushes embraced us. It was a very peaceful home.
Attilio walked us around and we were immediately charmed. Ataco is a small village in El Salvador's northern highlands surrounded by lush green hills and coffee farms. The streets were narrow and built of cobblestone, warped with age. One of the most interesting aspects of Ataco was its collection of brightly colored murals painted on homes and businesses throughout town. We visited a bunch of shops that sell a wide variety of crafts including sculptures, ornaments, weavings, embroidery, candles, key chains and coffee but the most interesting was a local craft shop were we could see and appreciate gorgeous fabric being made using Leaver Looms.
We visited the local market to get some chicken for dinner. While there, Attilio introduced us to fruit we were unfamiliar with. Jocotes (pronounced ho-coat-es), is a small red fruit with the consistency of a plum and the flavor of a tangerine, but my favorite was green mangoes. Mmm, they are delicious on their own, dipped in vinegar, lime juice or sprinkled with salt. I prepared lemon chicken for dinner that night, using fresh lemons picked from a tree in Attilio’s garden. We sat around relaxing, enjoying the sounds of Jazz music and learning of Attilio's days as a basketball player and Greyhound bus driver in the USA.
The following day, Rosario returned home from her visit in San Salvador and we were finally able to meet Attilio's other half. She was an incredibly sweet lady who smiled and giggled as much as myself. I was completely charmed by her. She brought a large Red Snapper back with her, and treated us to the best ceviche Rocky and I had ever tasted.
On our last night in Ataco, we invited Attilio and Rosario out for dinner. Once we were done eating, Attilio said we were going to pick up bread for breakfast and we followed them down a few roads and through a few alleyways. It was almost 9pm when we arrived at somebody’s doorstep and waited in the entrance. After a few short minutes, a small door was opened at a large bricked area and to our surprise it was a large brick oven full of fresh baked bread. The smell was intoxicating. One dollar later, we were walking home with a bag of bread. Our stomachs were still full from dinner but that didn't stop our mouths from drooling. We couldn't help but stuff our faces. It was the softest, warmest, freshest bread. Half way back to the house, Rocky and I couldn't help but decided to turn around and go back for another bag full so that we had some for breakfast.
Attilio and Rosario are the sweetest couple, living in the cutest village I have ever visited. Ataco showed me all the beauty of a simple life. Attilio and Rosario introduced me to the purest form of living it. I am forever humbled. And with these memories, I will always be reminded of the path my life should follow.
We left Ataco and began our journey through El Salvador. What a beautiful, interesting country! Women walked around wearing colourful clothing with cute lace aprons and I was surprised to see that a lot of people had the most striking blue eyes to compliment their otherwise dark features. Everything was pretty, even the light posts and guard rails had flowers, birds and butterflies painted on them.
It was a warm sunny day and the weather was perfect for a gorgeous ride along the coast. We planned on spending some time at the beach and stopped when we reached El Zonte, a small beach town along the southern cost of El Salvador. The beach was a rock beach. There was no fine sand, just a lot of smooth rocks of many sizes. We walked around searching for a cheap place to stay and settled for a place for $15 per night. It seemed like a steal but the room was dingy. It had two twin beds and each where covered with a thin unfitted sheet. The ground was cement and was covered in more sand than the beach had. At least it had a shower in the bathroom, but unfortunately, somebody forgot to mention that it didn't function. We ended up only paying $10 for the room since the shower didn’t work, which was still a generous amount.
We were a short distance from the beach and we took a walk to peek. It wasn't the greatest place I had been to, and Rocky must've agreed because he wasn't inspired to take any pictures. After a few minutes under the hot sun, we became thirsty and that gave us the perfect excuse for a beer. Luckily, the bartender told us that we could drink our beer up on the patio, attached to the second story of a really nice motel/hotel. The view of the ocean was awesome and so were the hammocks and swimming pool.
After an uncomfortable stay, I was looking forward to leaving in the morning. We packed up and planned on crossing into Honduras. The weather was perfect and Rocky was contemplating whether or not he should wear his full riding gear. I don't care how hot it is, jeans aren't sufficient when riding long distances, especially while riding through Central America. The road conditions were brutal. Most highways cut through towns and had only two lanes. If there was any slow moving traffic, large transport trucks would take any opportunity to pass, even if it meant moving into oncoming traffic. I can't count how many times Rocky had to dodge a transport truck that appeared in our lane, directly in front of us coming head-on. I was surprised to see most vehicles had window tint covering all glass including the windshield. The tint was so dark (illegal on any car window in Canada) that a thin strip on the windshield was bare at eye level in order to have some visibility, but I can't imagine that helped much.
It was late in the afternoon and we were getting close to the Honduras border. Having gotten stuck for hours at the border entering into El Salvador, Rocky was anxious to arrive in time so that we weren’t left riding in the dark of night. I could sense the tension on the road. The conditions were unsafe and full of distractions. I felt Rocky's frustration as he turned onto the shoulder of the road in order to go around a slow-moving vehicle. It all happened so quickly...CRASH!!!
We met Attilio on couchsurfing.org. Attilio lived in a small town in El Salvador's northern highlands called Concepcion de Ataco.
Attilio and Paula in front of Attilio's home
Many of Ataco's building were covered in brilliant, colourful murals.
Among the multitude of plants and flowers growing in Attilio's garden were the berries of the coffee plant.
There were many beautiful and exotic plants growing in Attilio's garden.
We visited a local craft shop in town were we could see and appreciate gorgeous fabric being made using Leaver Looms.
After shopping, we walked backed along the cobblestone streets to Attilio's to prepare dinner.
Paula in Ataco
We saw this interesting-looking old man sitting in the streets. He appeared to be homeless.
Attilio told us that he often saw this man and would help him with a few dollars whenever he met hm in the street.
The brightly-coloured murals on the town's buildings told the story of the region and the people who lived there.
We stopped at a local corner shop so that Attilio could buy some cigars. The shop owner was this beautiful little old lady.
Walking through town, we passed this interesting rammed-earth home.
On our way back to Attilio's, we saw this guy sleeping in the streets. He was outside what appeared to be a bar, and was likely drunk and had passed out on the concrete.
Rosario was Attilio's other half. We said so-long to both of them, and we left Ataco having glimpsed the beauty of a simple life.
San Vicente is a stratovolcano in central El Salvador. It is located next to the town of San Vicente and is the second highest volcano in El Salvador. -- Wikipedia