veröffentlicht am 29. August 2013
We hardly got to the border and before we knew it we were in El Salvador. Within the first few minutes we got acquainted with El Salvador’s daily food. Pupusas are maize tortillas which have a bean/cheese filling. We were hungry and thought that some tortillas would be great and were surprised when we took our first bite. One doesn’t see the filling because they put it into the tortillas before they flatten them and bake them on a hot plate.
Knowing our first destination we sat in the “chicken bus” as they call them in Central America, heading for La Palma, known for its colorful houses with paintings which were introduced by the painter Fernando Llort, pictures made of colorful shapes outlined with a black line. We were a bit disappointed of the village, because there were not that many paintings and the main traffic goes right through the village making a lot of noise and contaminating the café were we sat the whole afternoon, because it was the only nice place that served good coffee and had Wifi.
The next morning we went to El Pital, El Salvador’s highest peak (2730 m.s.l.). The hike to the top from Río Chiquito (where we arrived by bus) was an easy walk on a dirt road. Near the top, there isn’t really a peak, just a concrete block marking the spot. Besides, it was quite cold, average temperature lies at 12° C, and we couldn’t enjoy the view for we were midst in the clouds. Despite the bad view it was a pleasant hike for it was only one hour from the bus stop. We also went to another view point that was 3 km from where we were. We nearly missed the spot, because we didn’t see that which stood in the guide book. The view would have been great, if only they would cut down the pine trees closing the view. From there we had a ride from a local to the bus stop were we enjoyed a funny conversation with some locals. The people from El Salvador are very friendly and are quick in giving a smile or starting a conversation. One feels so comfortable amongst them, even when others say that El Salvador is the most dangerous country of Central America. It is not for no reason, for not so long ago (1980-1992) they had a civil war and still people walk around with weapons.
On our way to Suchitoto, a small quiet town that lies just above the Suchitlán lake (an artificial lake built in 1976 to generate power) and still has its colonial charm, we had to change busses and were taken by the way they stress when leaving or entering the bus and that the assistant makes sounds as if he is calling a dog when he comes to collect the fare. It was also on this trip that the young man sitting in front of us wrote a message on his phone in English saying, “be careful with your backpack and camera.” Between busses we had to walk a small distance. While finding our way along the busy street Elisabeth leaped into the sky shouting, her hands flying around her neck. It was not till I removed the sting of a wasp that I understood why she was in panic. Before I even could take out the soothing cream a kind vender lady brought ice to place it upon the sting, which was also a relief from the intense heat.
In Suchitoto we ended in the best place ever to stay. We had a whole house to ourselves with a beautiful bedroom on the second floor with a picture perfect view of the Suchitán Lake. We could hardly believe that it only costs $ 20. We liked it and decided to spend two nights. In Suchitoto we visited the lake, nice coffee shops and enjoyed the cool shade in the park. Here we met a school class on a school trip and they really had fun talking to us, well there was only one boy that was brave enough to approach us (see photos)
Our journey continued and so did the surprises. Our next stop was Santa Ana which is not a very beautiful or clean city. Its historic center is small and full of venders. The hostel that we chose was called Casa Verde, meaning green house and yes the house was green and it didn’t have any sign outside that one could tell that one was at the right spot. Luckily all taxi drivers know the place. It was not long and we knew why it is the most visited hostel in Santa Ana. With spacious, clean rooms and bathrooms as well as good equipped kitchens, a pool and a beautiful terrace on the roof in a rather filthy city, this is the place to relax and plan the next excursion. The owner, Carlos, also stays in the hostel and is always there to give advice, help make preparations or give one a ride to the bank or bus station on no extra charge. We stayed here for three nights.
The first day we did the “Rutas de las Flores” known for its beautiful flowers during May when the coffee plantations in the area blossom. It is not only the coffee that attracts people from El Salvador itself and from all over the world, but also the small colonial villages with a lot of souvenir shops along the 37 km route between Sonsonate and Ahuachapán. We were there on Sunday and the villages were bustling with tourists, most of them from San Salvador and around. We didn’t get to see all the villages, because the rain interfered in our plans.
The following day we went to the Cerro Verde National Park from where one can hike up Volcano Santa Ana, El Salvador’s highest (2310 m) and most active volcano (last eruption was in October 2005). There is only one bus in the morning that goes directly to the National Park from Santa Ana and the guided hike starts once a day at 11:00 sharp, so we were glad we made it on the right bus at 7:40 together with a guy from New Zealand that stayed at the same hostel. Two ladies that also stayed at the same hostel wanted to do the hike as well, but didn’t make it because they wanted to go buy some supplies before and didn’t find the right bus station.
The day before it was raining and in the morning there was a lot of mist, so we were not quite sure what kind of weather to expect. Our short and easy hike with seven other tourists, topped with great weather took us through lush forests and lava rock fields to the top of the huge crater. From the top we had a marvels view of the surrounding coffee fields, the Coatpeque Lagoon, the green acid Lagoon inside the crater and the perfect shaped Izalco Volcano till to the Pacific Coast. On the hike we had a guide, that didn’t fulfill his job; after all we would have found the way and felt safe anyway because of the two tourist police officers that escorted us to the top and back. This is a free service from the government of El Salvador on all hikes within the country, because of incidents that have accrued in the past. We spent the rest of the evening in the hostel enjoying dinner and packing for the next day.
Carlos drove us to a bank and then to the bus station early in the morning where we caught the bus to Guatemala City. The bus we took came from San Salvador and because we boarded in Santa Ana our passport information was not at the border by the time we got there, therefore we had to leave the bus and go to immigration. The other passengers could stay seated while the officer double checked their identity. Four hours after we left Santa Ana we arrived in Guatemala City.
veröffentlicht am 24. August 2013
The journey to the border in our "private shuttle bus" was really pleasant. At the Honduras border we were asked to enter a small office next to the customs counter. Here an officer behind a desk asked us were we are from, were we are heading and our professions. He filled out the immigration forms for us and put the required stamps into our passports after we paid the immigration fee. With a kind welcome and a street map as a gift he let us go. It was the fastest and warmest border crossing we have experienced. From the border it was another 3 hours to Tegucigalpa which lies in the highlands. All roads to and from Tegucigalpa are mountain passes. They don’t have any tunnels or bridges over valleys, so the road goes up the one mountain, down on the other side and up the other. We took the curvy road to the north after changing our private bus for a normal one heading for San Pedro Sula. Because the roads are filled with bents, it takes much longer to cover a certain distance. After 4 hours of mountains, valleys, beautiful scenery, a lake and a thousand stops we reached San Pedro Sula. Stalking their customers as prey, the taxi drivers were all over us before we even left the bus terminal. Our tour guide book says it is the biggest in Central America and that the airport of San Pedro Sula is bigger than the international airport in Tegucigalpa. After about 10 min sitting in the taxi because the driver wanted another client to come along, apparently the HL 120 (about CHF 6) was not enough for him; we got out and took the next which did it for HL 100. We spent the night in a hotel and had our first Baleadas (tortillas filled with bean sauce and a cream like cheese) since March when we were in Honduras with OM delivered to the hotel and they were great.
We didn’t see much of the city on our way to the hotel and back to the bus terminal the next morning were we got the next turtle bus to Santa Rosa de Copán. These old American school busses are not fast and the drivers can wait forever at a stop till someone shows up. The Latin American people don’t like to walk at all. The bus will stop every 20m because the people won’t go to the official bus stop and wait exactly there were they are standing. In Santa Rosa de Copán we looked for a hotel for the next two nights, because we choose this colonial city as a base to visit different sites within the area. At first we didn’t find the colonial city, because the busses stop at the bottom of the hill on the main road were the new city is. Well, we didn’t like what we saw and thought that it was a bad decision to stay here. The two of us unhappy with the situation we took out the guide book and the next taxi to the old colonial city where we found a cute hotel and some great traditional food. While enjoying or food we saw, on TV, that there was an occasion within the central park going on. It was the miss girl election with music, fireworks and a lot of people. We stayed to be part of this local celebration, till the fireworks went haywire.
The next morning we got up early so that we would be at the Copán Ruinas when they opened at 08:00, because it won’t be that hot then and the light is better to take pictures. Well, just don’t plan that much ahead here in Central America. The bus had longer than indicated by the guide book and because we had to change busses in La Entrada we got to the ruins at 10:00. These are the most southern ruins found from the Maya’s with a few Temples and buildings as well as statues. We were told we should spend 3 hours to take a look at the ruins and because we didn’t take a guide we went to the village of Copán Ruinas after an hour. The village is a nice colonial village located near the ruins on a hill overlooking the land. Here we had lunch, baleadas, but we could only eat half, because the other half had coriander and we forgot to ask when we ordered. We also bought coffee as a souvenir, since this whole area around Santa Rosa de Copán is known for its coffee.
Back in Santa Rosa de Copán we had mielies from the stands around the central park for supper. They sell the here everywhere, even in the busses. You can have them grilled or sautéed within the leaves.
Again we woke up early to take the bus to the nearby village of Gracias, which used to be called Gracias a Dios. It only lies 43 km form Santa Rosa de Copán at the end of a good road that leads through lush green forest and crosses a river three times with stunning views of the nearby mountains and valleys. Yes, it took the bus 1.5 hour to reach the village. Having found some breakfast at a bakery and a coffee at the central park, all colonial city or villages in Central Amerika have a central park with a church on the one side; we headed for the fort on top of the hill. The fort was built in 1860 to protect the village and now it is used for exhibitions, festive occasions and open to the public, against a small fee. From here we had a more or less good view of the village. There were some big trees in front of us. Around Gracias there are two thermal baths. We went to the one that is accessible with a Tuc-Tuc and we found these clear pools were the water comes straight out of the rocks. There were three pools, all with different temperatures and crystal clear water with a slight sulfate sent. We enjoyed the pools for an hour together with another 4 native guest. We were so glad that another guest arrived with a tuc-tuc shortly after we left the pools otherwise we would have had to walk the 2 km to the main road at midday, were more tuc-tucs pass-by.
We had in mind to visit another village far up in the mountains in the afternoon and spend the night there. We were told the last bus due to the village left Santa Rosa de Copán at 12 and because we left our bag at the hotel we thought we wouldn’t make it on time. Leaving Gracias at noon we planned to head for the El Salvador border instead of going to the village. When we got to Santa Rosa de Copán we were told that another bus to Belén Gualcho is leaving in half an hour at 2:30. We got our bag at the hotel and managed to catch the bus. Belén Gualcho is the last village on a dirt road high within the mountains. It took the bus ages to get there, but the forest and river landscape was so beautiful and that alone would have made the trip worthwhile. Here we found the cheapest room ever. It was a small room with clean beds and showers outside for $9. We went to bed early for there isn’t much to do and we were the only tourists. The next morning we went for a walk through the village before we left with the same bus that brought us up at 8:00 am.
We were completely surprised when the bus driver, we exchanged a few words as we were waiting outside, came up to us and gave each of us a carton of orange juice. It was a great breakfast. He even asked us if we enjoyed the music he was playing on the radio. Some busses have such loud music, that one can hardly talk, some traditional while others go for worldly music. A few play movies. It is always an old American school bus.
When we got down from the mountain, we changed busses and headed for the border to El Salvador.
veröffentlicht am 19. August 2013
After enjoying the best of Panama with our friends and family from back home we started a new chapter in our travels. Luggage tucked away, we took the express bus to San José. Leaving from Panama at 11:00 in the morning and arriving in San José at 01:00 early morning. Without electrical power at the Panamanian border the whole process took longer than expected and gave it an insecure feeling. From the Costarican border we slept most of the way after changing our seats that were next to the toilet that stunk badly. The rest of the morning we spent in the bus terminal in San José, trying to get some sleep on the hard chairs. Leaving the one bus terminal at 5:30 to catch the bus to La Fortuna at 6:30, this bus starts from another terminal across town. San José doesn’t have one or two big bus terminals, but several small ones, scattered all over the city, each serving its own transport association.
Costa Rica is home to a hilly landscape with nice volcanoes and lush green hills. A lot of these hills are used as farm land to grow all the pineapples and bananas that we enjoy in Europe. The ride to La Fortuna was so much different than all the trips we made in Panama, because of its hilly landscape and ever changing scenery.
We reached La Fortuna, which is known for its active volcano that last erupted in 2010 and a beautiful lake, at noon. Having found a place to sleep we enjoyed sweet beverages at a cute coffee shop, were we also had lunch and dinner because of its great service, friendly owner and great food. Walking through the streets of La Fortuna it is hard to oversee that tourism is the biggest business. Every second office in La Fortuna is a tour office offering the passers-by the very best of adventure tours in town; from canopying, river rafting to climbing the volcano. Not willing to pay a lot for an organized tour we went to visit the La Fortuna waterfall that is not far from the village on foot. It was a beautiful one hour walk one way with a perfect view of the volcano, at times covered with clouds and at times in perfect sight. We also got to see a lot of toucans. The waterfall was huge with a nice pool at the bottom, but we didn’t swim because it was getting late and we didn’t want to walk back in the dark. At this point I have to mention that Costa Rica is overpriced in tourism, even when they write that “ all the monies is for the community,” [sic] $10 per person to look at the waterfall is a rip-off…! Very early the next morning we took the bus towards the border heading for Nicaragua.
I wonder where the other tourists that were with us on the first bus would have landed if we didn’t ask the driver to drop us off where the other bus would pass by. Only after the money collector asked them if they also wanted to go to the border, did they leave the bus. It was a long and hot ride to the border and we were glad that the border crossing was easy and fast. Where there are tourists there are also taxis offering the “best” price. Having found another person who also wanted to go to “Isla de Ometepe” and barging with the driver we had a quick ride to the harbor were the ferries for the island leave, just in time to catch the waiting ferry. Just after the border one cannot oversee the huge wind turbines that line the shores of the Lake Nicaragua. There are 22 wind turbines, which nearly cover 40% of the countries power supply. Still most of the eastern and northern part of Nicaragua is not connected to a power source and relay on generators or other self-generated electricity.
Isla de Ometepe is a twin volcano island found 15 km from San Jorge in the Lake Nicaragua. The two volcanos are joined by a small narrow land strip. Volcán Concepción (1610 m, last eruption 2010), has a perfect cone shape and its slopes rise 45° into the sky. With a guide we climbed the path that goes straight up the volcano, through cloud forests at the bottom with loud howler monkeys which changes into thick shrubs that cover the stony stairway like path with giant leaves. After 3.5 hours we reached the cone and we were glad that the sun didn’t make it through the thick clouds around us. Most of the way there is no shade from above and one would be completely exposed to the sun. We were not able to enjoy the view, nor did we see much of the volcanoes interior, but we felt the heat rising from the rocks and gravel beneath our feet and the cold moist air beating our faces.
It was great being up there and the way back down, well, we felt our muscles and knees 3 days
after the descent. The island also has a spring, cold and not hot as one would expect from a volcanic area, with clear and mineral rich water gathered in a beautiful pool surrounded by lush trees which are inhabited by squirrels, parrots, howler monkeys (sound like lions, but are the size of a big domestic cat), bats and many more amazing birds and butterflies. It was the best place to relax and cool off after an afternoon of exploring the island with a scooter if it didn’t start to rain…
On our second day in Granada we went to the nearby Masaya Volcano National Park which has an active volcano to which crater one can drive to by car.Leaving the island, as we came on the ferry we headed for Granada, a city with a great colonial history and big influence in the political change of Nicaragua. Walking through the streets it is hard to miss the beautiful architecture of the colonial age brought by the Spaniards, every house opening its doors as a souvenir shop, coffee shop, restaurant or a Chinese all you want shop. There are also many workshops helping the many street children one sees in the parks sniffing glue, teaching them how to make a hammock or other crafts. We would have bought a lot if Elisabeth wouldn’t have filled our backpack with all her clothes J.
Let me make a short comment to the efforts made for tourism here in Central America before I continue with our adventure. It is amazing how Central American countries try to have everything in English and Spanish. Here a few examples of their best English:
- Pets are not alow at any time.
- In case of rock explusions, you can protect yourself under your car.
- This protected area offers you adventuring tourism, therefore Visitors need to accept its risks.
Okay, now back to our travels. Having missed the spectacular scene at Volcán Concepción we could enjoy this crater with its smoke rising from below. We took a taxi to the crater, because it was hot, a long way to walk and Elisabeth’s legs still hurt. On our way back the driver asked us were we were going next, hoping he could make us a good over and make more money. He took us all the way to Catarina, were we had a spectacular view on to the “Laguna de Apoyo,” the city of Granada and the Lake Nicaragua.
Returning to Granada we decided to head for Leon on the same day. Leon, another of Nicaragua’s influential colonial cities is also the oldest in Latin America. Well we had to pay a bit more for our room because we left after check-out time, but the clerk was reasonable. We were relieved that the bus ride from Managua, the new capital after Leon were we had to change buses, to Leon was in a mini bus with air-conditioning which is not as popular here as it is in Panama. We walked the streets of Leon and visited all of the 10 churches within the city. It also has the biggest cathedral of Latin America. For me this is the nicest I have ever seen, with its white interior and magnificent paintings on the wall it is slightly decorated and a great masterpiece. Another church with its wooden ceiling and pillars was a delight for my carpenter’s eye. Other than its city, there isn’t much around Leon to do, some beaches for surfers and a few volcanoes. We wanted to do a tour with an agency to go to the active volcano, Volcán Telica, to see Lava after sunset; unfortunately we were the only two to go, so the tour didn’t take place.
17th of August, 08:00 on our way to Tegucigalpa in Honduras. The day before we asked in a tour office when the buses to the border leave and he told us we have two options. The one is the Tica Bus, the one with the stinking toilets for $35 per person or with their shuttle bus that leaves for Tegucigalpa at 08:00 also for $35. We decided to go with their bus thinking that it would be comfier. What we didn’t know at that time is that the bus had to go and pick up people at the airport in Tegucigalpa. We had the whole bus for ourselves!
veröffentlicht am 14. August 2013
Nach unserer Verabschiedung in Volcán ging es schnurstracks (in ca. 8h) nach Panamá City, wo wir es uns (Marco und ich, sowie Isabell und Mirjam und ein paar Tage später auch meine Schwester Barbara) in einem etwas heruntergekommenen, aber von nettem Personal geführten Hotel in der Altstadt gemütlich machten, da wir mehrere Nächte dort verbringen würden. Die Altstadt (El Casco Antiguo) hat zwar Charme – was vielleicht mit der Mischung neu renovierter, herrschaftlicher und zerfallender Gebäude sowie der Lage mit Blick auf die moderne Skyline auf der anderen Seite der Bucht zu tun hat –, ist aber auch etwas touristisch und dementsprechend teuer. Ausserdem wird seit einigen Monaten trotz Protesten der Anwohner eine Strasse durchs Meer gebaut, welche die Altstadt mit Unesco-Kulturerbe-Status umrahmt, was nicht nur völlig unnötig erscheint, sondern diesem schönen Ort auch einiges an Atmosphäre raubt. Nichtsdestotrotz genossen wir es alle sehr, während einigen Tagen an diesem Ort zu wohnen, am Abend durch die Strassen zu schlendern und die Restaurants auszuprobieren oder tagsüber in einem gemütlichen Restaurant einen Batido de Piña oder einen Kaffee zu geniessen. Nebst den Ausflugszielen, die in unmittelbarer Nähe liegen, wie der beeindruckende Panama-Kanal (wirklich eine Erfahrung wert!), das Velofahren auf der künstlich aufgeschütteten Calzada de Amador, das Schlendern auf der geschäftigen Avenida Central und die Aussicht vom Haushügel „Cerro Ancón“ gehörten auch noch ein paar Tagesauflüge zum Programm. So fuhren wir an einem Tag mit dem einzigen Passagierzug von Panamá City nach Colón (also vom Pazifik zum Atlantik in einer Stunde), besuchten die historischen Festungen in Portobelo und das in einem Vulkankrater gelegene Valle de Antón, machten eine Wanderung im Nationalpark Altos de Campana (wo uns die verwachsenen Wege und fehlende Beschilderung etwas in die Irre führten, wir dafür viele der wunderschönen Morfo-Schmetterlinge antrafen), und verbrachten einen Tag auf der herzigen und etwas verschlafenen Insel Taboga. Ein Highlight waren dann aber wohl für uns alle die traumhaften San-Blas-Inseln im Karibischen Meer, welche eine Inselgruppe von 365 Inseln bilden. Die drei Nächte verbrachten wir fast alleine (nebst den Einheimischen) auf einer winzigen Insel, auf der es nichts gab ausser ein paar Hütten, Sand und Palmen. Von dort aus unternahmen wir mit Angehörigen des Kuna-Yala-Stammes Ausflüge auf weitere Inseln, eine schöner als die andere.
Nebst den rassigen Bootsfahrten, der unglaublich starken Sonne (wir waren nicht traurig, wenn es bewölkt war), dem Schnorcheln und Fische und anderes Meeresgetier Beobachten in perfekt türkisblauem Wasser, beeindruckte uns auch, wie das Neben- und Miteinander des Tourismus (bzw. der Touristen) und der Einheimischen sehr gut zu funktionieren scheint und der Einfluss auf deren Lebensstil und Kultur in einem natürlichem Rahmen liegt. Man muss dazu sagen, dass diese Inseln grundsätzlich nicht auf den Massen- oder Luxustourismus ausgelegt sind, was wahrscheinlich auch gut so ist.
Mittlerweile sind wir bereits über Costa Rica nach Nicaragua gereist, wo alles etwas simpler, günstiger und wohl auch authentischer ist. Uns gefällt es sehr! Bald wird an dieser Stelle Marco über unsere Reiseerfahrungen berichten…