Juayua and the grand entrance into El Salvador
There are some times in your life when you question the decisions you are making from a rational point of view. This moment came to me around the time we squished into bus number three on the Guatemalan side of the border. Deciding that taking the cheapest possible route across a Central American border saving 20$ sounds reasonable. Until you realize that you are in a developing country far away from home, and that math on paper doesn’t always equate to the reality of the situation. When else would you add an additional 4 hours of physically strenuous and uncomfortable Guatemalan school bus rides, thus giving you probably an additional 2 nights of hostel beds? The answer is when you are traveling on a long trip. Budget traveling brings out the ruff and tough attitude of your personality while throwing the common sense part of the equation out of the window. You find yourself making somewhat of a game about figuring out the local transportation puzzle. Points are awarded for the most tolerable and affordable means. We found it between Antigua, Guatemala and Juayua, El Salvador at a cost of about 8$ (I challenge anyone to find a more cost effective solution, besides hitchhiking). Agencies in Antigua went down to about 30$ shuttle to shuttle ending in the capital of San Salvador. Our solution was a bit more non-traditional. We had recently developed a strong proclivity for school buses in Guatemala and made an absolute, but questionable, decision the night before we left.
By the end of the day we took a total of 5 chicken buses. We were the only foreigners on the Blue Bird’s that day. Almost every passenger was looking and wondering what we were doing way down that way, so far from the city. The leg from Antigua to the fronterra had two transfers prior to the border. A gas station in a bustling no-where town was our first stop, where were packed into a standing room only bus that rolled away before we knew for sure our luggage made it up on the roof. Our second layover was on the side of a 5 way intersection before heaving onwards to the fronterra. We walked a kilometer on foot through the no-man’s land that only a border crossing in a 3rd world country can cultivate. This one in particular felt very real, very much like there was plenty of room for the situation to run away from our control. After passing around 100 idling cargo trucks lined up for inspection we collected our stamps and walked into El Salvador.
Our bus driver on the other side of the border decided it was time to leave immediately after we set our tired backsides onto a tree root. The first difference I noticed between the two neighboring countries was that the ayudante would now sit in front of you and shake a bag of very familiar currency. Nickles, dimes, quarters, and dollar bills fill pockets of everyone living in or passing through El Salvador. The bus also didn’t get packed to maximum human capacity on our first ride. Our 5th and final bus of the day wiped away that hope in cultural differences as we became worried about how we were going to exit the bulging human container with our massive backpacks. This too, went away when the old Blue Bird dropped us off in a rainstorm in the small, quiet mountain town of Juayua.
Juayua’s main attraction is to experience the food fair it hosts every weekend. Nestled up in the mountains of El Salvador along the Ruta de los Flores, Juayua clutched it’s small village charm and a slow and easy Central American pace, of course. Latin American towns, especially small ones, have to have some sort of unique quality about them to attract people there since there are so many others in this part of the world. A food festival sounded like the most enticing trait a town could possibly have after a long travel day. We hunted around for hostels through empty food and fair stalls already set up for the weekend’s festivities, wandered around the piecemealed mercado below plastic tarps and stall ceilings before finding a cheapish hotel. By now it was 9 o’clock and we hadn’t really eaten anything since breakfast after being shuffled bus to bus since the morning. We encountered our first of very, very many papusa purveyors and made full bellies in a family run restaurant.
On Saturday the weather was dark, grey, and smelled like barbecue. The long tents had become loaded with chairs, tables, cooking stations, and charcoal pits. The quaintly slow and quiet town had turned into a Latin American festival overnight. Men selling every kind of nut imaginable lined the sidewalks in front of the church. Each vendor under the tents were almost rubbing shoulders with their neighbor while grilling up gigantic shrimp, chicken, beef, chorizo, and sausages. Whole fish were frying in hot oil while soups simmered over cherry red coals. With a bit of luck you could procure a table to eat on and the stall you placed an order with would find you when your dish was ready. Right after we inhaled pork ribs the sky opened up, resulting in a huge influx of bodies into the tents. Tables became extinct while quarter sized rain drops killed any inclination to go anywhere. But that doesn’t mean we stopped drinking special fruit blended apple drinks and eating paella. Performers sang renditions of popular Latin tunes and held their audience captive while a soccer match was aired on a plasma screen TV duck-taped to cardboard boxes. The rain was relentless but eventually decided it had done enough. We took a 20 minute tractor/train trolley tour of the town and were not surprised to find out they had barely anything to point out.
Juayua took us in from the rain and almost kept us from leaving because of it. When the sky finally cleared up we bounded a bus towards Santa Ana with the idea that we were going to transfer there to Suchitoto. When traveling in El Salvador it is important to not make any assumptions based on road maps. There was a direct road to Suchitoto from Santa Ana yet there was no transport offered between the two cities. Upon arrival it was confirmed that to get to the little mountain town it was necessary to head south to San Salvador first, and then northeast to Suchitoto. This also turned out to be a physical impossibility at this time of night. Santa Ana also felt like a very sketchy, very real El Salvador town. Perhaps it was serendipity that this mistake was made because it opened the door to experiences we would have never had if this bus existed.
Which leads me to this question for those that read this far; have you ever found yourself stuck in an unexpected situation from transportation while traveling? All stories are welcome.