28/2/17. Today is our last day in El Salvador and it has been wonderful. This was helped by us having the company of Maureen and Ofer, until we separated this morning.
With much reluctance, we left El Cuco on Saturday morning, sharing a car with Maureen and Ofer, heading for the mountainous west of the country. We took the “pretty route” along the coast instead of going inland via the capital, San Salvador and it was really rather lovely. The first half of the journey was not actually on the coast but took us past two volcanoes which was a spectacular alternative. They are not active but they dominate the countryside around them which, while not flat, is not generally high.
There then followed a stretch of the route on a windy and hilly road clinging to the side of the cliffs with views of the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at a small restaurant right on the cliff top with a gorgeous view of the sea dashing against the rocks below.
The drive to Juayua on the Ruta de las Flores (the Route of the Flowers) took us about 6 hours to cover 270 km (see here for the map showing our overnight stops). Our destination is renowned for its food festival/market held each weekend. Unfortunately it was closing down by the time we had finished checking in and freshening up after the journey on Saturday but we followed the advice of a Canadian guy, Kitts (hope that’s the right spelling of his name!) and went for the best meal of our Central American trip, so far, at a small restaurant in the town.
On Sunday we caught the chicken bus (one of the old US school buses that are everywhere) to a neighbouring town also on the Ruta called Ataco. We had a great time wandering round the shops looking at the ethnic gifts for sale, many of which were of very good quality and a little bit different. We restrained ourselves to buying a fridge magnet as a result of our constraints on space! (We have brought one pannier each and we bought two small backpacks when we decided to extend our Central American jaunt.)
While shopping we had noticed a small drinks stand in the street which had a small “rooftop” area so the four of us climbed up and sat sipping mojitos while watching the world go by below – all rather pleasant.
In pleasant afternoon we returned to Juayua and looked round the food market and relaxed a little. After dinner the drinking session started! The driver the previous day had told us about a Salvadoran rum so Maureen was keen to compare it with a Nicaraguan rum, Flora de Caña, which they had bought in León. Stephen had bought a small bottle of TicTac which claimed to be the Salvadoran national drink. It looked as though it might be akin to paint stripper but surprised us all by being reasonably smooth and semi-drinkable!
The hotel where we were staying had links with three coffee farms so on Monday morning we went on a tour with the hotel manager who also runs the farms. It was fascinating, and the best bit was trying the coffee at the end. We roasted some beans that he had brought with him and then he set to work, firstly with a drip filter and then an espresso machine.
It was the best coffee any of us had ever tasted! It was only roasted lightly to let the subtleties of the flavours show through and we were all blown away by these when we were shown how to taste the drink “properly”. It really was akin to a wine tasting. Stephen, who normally takes his coffee black, very much enjoyed the macchiato while Christine was overwhelmed by the cappuccino, and was really disappointed that her susceptibility to migraines meant that she had to ration her consumption.
This morning we had to part from our new friends as Maureen and Ofer have another week in El Salvador before flying home to San Francisco while we must be getting on towards Guatemala. We took the chicken bus to Santa Ana, about 1.5 hours away, and made our way to the hostel which came very highly recommended by both Rough Guide and The Lonely Planet as well as having a rating of 9.8 on booking,com.
It did not disappoint! The owner, Carlos, was extremely hospitable and helpful, sorting out our tickets to Guatemala and the taxi to the bus stop early the next morning. The room was extremely comfortable with an excellent en suite bathroom (including a hot water shower – most of them are cold only, which is not a huge problem in these temperatures but can be a little breathtaking at first. There were two spotless and well equipped kitchens with free coffee and filtered water “on tap” while beer, wine, soft drinks and brownies were available on the “honour system” (you write your name and what you have had on an adjacent whiteboard).