El Salvador

Waterfalls, black sands and a ‘Warm Shower’ with a big heart

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on May 25, 2016

So we entered our fifth country since leaving Alaska over 7 months ago. Thankfully, we enjoyed a much calmer entry to El Salvador than the chaotic border town that had welcomed us in to Guatemala. We descended into a valley and approached a river crossing which serves as the border between Guatemala and El Salvador. One of end of the bridge was in Guatemala and by the time we’d reached the other end we were a new country and, with minimal fuss at customs, we were free to explore El Salvador! Our first couple of days in El Salvador were spent on the ‘Ruta de las Flores’ or ‘The Route of Flowers’ so named because of the beautiful floral arrangements that adorn both the towns and the countryside along the way. It was really pleasant riding along the Ruta – though not without its climbs – and we enjoyed a couple of really nice stop-offs in the quaint little villages en route. Each village had its own typical food and attractions. We’d heard about the spectacular ‘7 waterfalls’ in Juayua and, given the humidity, thought it would be the perfect place to cool off. And so it proved! We spent a great afternoon, chilling out in the waterfalls and surrounding pools – the perfect solution to the humidity of rainy season in El Salvador! After steady climbing on day one, we enjoyed a morning of fun downhills after leaving Juayua. The downhill took us out of the mountains, past the hectic city of Sonsonate and onto the highway which would eventually lead us to the coast. We enjoyed a pleasant morning riding through the wide, palm tree lined roads as cheery villagers wished us well. The humidity was certainly building, though, and it was a relief to eventually reach the coast where at least there was a hint of a breeze. This was our first glimpse of the Pacific since leaving Mazatlan, just after arriving on the Mexican mainland on March 1st. We weaved our way in and out of the coastal cliffs, with some tough climbing which was reminiscent of northern California, and the views were every bit as rewarding. After a rest morning enjoying the black sand beach and the crashing waves in the surf town of El Tunco (also home to the most amazing burgers!), the next afternoon’s riding took us inland towards the city of Zacatecoluca. What stood out for me, from that afternoon, were the number of army trucks which passed us. The sight of the army patrolling the highways was nothing new – we’d seen plenty of trucks like this in Mexico. What was different in El Salvador, however, was the number of soldiers who were wearing face masks. This made things seem just that little bit more sinister and served as a reminder of the gang trouble that is still prevalent in El Salvador today. By dusk we reached the village of Santiago Nonualco and, while looking for a safe place to pitch our tent, a friendly face ushered us towards his house. As it transpired, it wasn’t a house but a church – or at least the makings of a church. The group of five who welcomed us, were a newly formed evangelical church and delighted in offering us a space to camp for the night. And so we lay down to spend our second night of our trip sleeping in a church. Certainly more humble than the relative grandeur of the humble little church in Lillooet, British Columbia, but a church nonetheless! We’d arranged to stay with Jose, a ‘Warm Showers’ host on the coast in the east of the country close to the border with Honduras. We were keen to reach there that night so we could enjoy a rest day on the coast the next day. However that would mean a tough day’s riding the intense humidity with some steep climbs on the last stretch leading to Jose’s home in El Cuco. The humidity was as intense as anticipated. We stopped to rehydrate, at an air-conditioned petrol station, and ended up sitting it out for over an hour as stepping back out into the heat was akin to stepping from a refrigerated room into a sauna. Thankfully though, the climb was less intense than expected and we reached Jose’s in good time. Jose is currently in the process of building a new house and the shell of the new build serves as a perfect place for cycle tourists to pitch their tents. We joined a touring couple from France and Chile who were heading north and gave us great tips for our road ahead, as well as a lone female cyclist, from France, who was heading south. As soon as Saria began telling her story, it began to sound really familiar. As it turned out, she had stayed with our friends Deejay and Kerry in Houston, BC– with whom we stayed for a week while Meg recovered from injury – just two weeks before we’d arrived. Dee Jay and Kerry had spoken very fondly of her and it was great to finally meet her, having both come such a long way from our common connection. Jose himself was an absolute gem. Born in El Salvador, he grew up in Montreal and, at the age of 30, decided to cycle back to El Salvador. He had some amazing stories from his trip across Canada and the US and south through Mexico. He was a man with a big heart, a passion for story-telling and a lovely family. He even lent us his car so we could explore the coastline around his house! Jose’s kindness and hospitality was a reflection on our whole experience in El Salvador. A beautiful country full of the most friendly and hospitable people.