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krisek La Libertad - A travel report by Krys
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La Libertad,  El Salvador - flag El Salvador -  La Libertad
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krisek's travel reports

A few retro thoughts on El Salvador

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I went to El Salvador in 2001/2002, when touring Central America from 21 December 2001 to 8 January 2002, starting and ending in Costa Rica, passing through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. El Salvador surprised me probably the most.


La Libertad
La Libertad
San Salvador

The airport was the first surprise! Super modern, some of the European capitals’ airports are a lot less impressive. Finally, there was a civilisation.

The entire city of San Salvador was very modern, too. Luxurious hotels and glass and steel building were not rare at all. It was a surprise also because this country was known to have been experiencing frequent earthquakes. Some of them very strong and devastating like those two in 2001, in January and February. Still, the country was spending money on profligate buildings. Was this so different, however? Both San Francisco and Los Angeles are prone to earthquakes, too and it does not stop people putting money in the extravagant architecture. There were few colonial buildings and old churches in the town as well, but El Salvador should rather be admired for its landscape and nature, but not necessarily only for the best and longest point break waves on the entire planet of ours.

La Libertad

This beach is very well known to the surfers from all over the world for its longest point break. La Libertad was not a nice place and the beach was even uglier. Surfing was the only thing that kept this place alive, but beginners should avoid taking lessons here, because the waves reached even 2 meters high! The high point about La Libertad was however the bunch of superb seafront restaurants serving incredible seafood with magnificent ocean views. The lobster was so affordable (USD 10 – 15, and USD is the country’s currency) and I highly recommend it. I always recommend lobsters, by the way. I had one specially made. It was grilled open with vegetables with a lot of garlic! The plan was to stay there for couple of days on the beach and improve the skin colour, but it had to be changed because the accommodation offering in this little village was, for the lack of a better word, unsatisfactory. The shabbiness of the hotels was unbelievable! And the beach was bad, too.

Favourite spots:
Atami Beach Club
Atami Beach Club
Well, I was not quite prepared to drive half the country to find a better spot and this was exactly like it. Hours of driving around and looking where to stay. Not an easy task, as there were not many public beaches in El Salvador and even fewer hotels. Luckily, there was this Atami Beach Club, a private property comprising of several ranchos and two private beaches. The Club itself was a separate establishment and had 2 bars, restaurant, swimming pools and plenty of hammocks around many shaded picnic areas.

Access to this property was restricted only to foreigners and the club members who must hold an American passport but be of the Salvadoran origin. At the gate, right on the main road, there was a guard who looks very fit and extremely serious. No sense of humour whatsoever! He was there all the time and I strongly believe that he actually lived in the guard shack. He was there at night, early in the morning, in the afternoon. He registered cars and took passport details of all.

What's really great:
Sonsonate market
Sonsonate market
Just before sunset, the security at the club was making themselves more visible. Guys of a considerable size carrying massive automatic guns made an extraordinary sight. The problem was that their presence didn't make you feel safer at all, because it rather made you think what possibly could be the reason of their presence.

Sonsonate

Insignificant and dirty town of Sonsonate had a remarkable shopping centre. I haven't seen much nicer shopping centres in London! The connotation of the place was the contrast it made with the rest of the town, which was very poor. In the shopping centre, you could buy anything and everything, and go to the cinema if you liked. The air conditioning worked perfectly and shop assistants were very polite. There were fancy places to eat and fountains and benches for people to sit down and relax. In the town itself, the streets were dirty and the buildings looked like they were made of whatever could be found in the garbage bins.

Sights:
Santa Ana Cathedral
Santa Ana Cathedral
Santa Ana

The next city was Santa Ana. We stopped there only for a short while, for a cup of coffee, really. It was said to be a good party place with many different establishments to visit. The coffee place was really cosy, just across from the outstanding cathedral. It looked like a garden. There were trees inside! The cathedral was pretty and quite big. The town itself was nice but there was nothing particularly amazing about it. Maybe I would change my mind had I stayed there a bit longer.

Izalco

Volcan Izalco was an absolute must for any visitor to El Salvador. This magnificent volcano, one of the youngest in the world, had been throwing lava continually for over 180 years until 1950s and therefore became known as the Lighthouse of the Pacific. It has not spoken since 1966, but is still considered active. Smoke kept coming out of small vents in the cone. Almost entire mountain was made of ash which contrasts nicely with the green surroundings, and other volcanoes in the area.

Accommodations:
Volcan Izalco
Volcan Izalco
There was a trail up to the crater that took about 2.5 – 3 hours round trip from the park’s entrance but could really be compared to the Sisyphean task. With every step up, you slide down two steps on the loose ash. Well, the park was closed until further notice anyway due to security reasons. In recent months, the number of bandit groups operating in the area increased so much that the government no longer could provide enough security forces to ensure safety of the visitors and the park was closed. Naturally, everyone was free to wander about and climb all three volcanoes on their own if one pleased but the security forces warned that people should not take anything with them. This included any type of currency, credit cards, documents, watches, cameras, cam recorders, bags and expensive clothing or footwear. I guess it is best to climb naked.

Nightlife:
Cerro Verde crater
Cerro Verde crater
Cerro Verde

This was the name of the national park where the three volcanoes stood tall: Cerro Verde, Santa Ana and Izalco. It was a green area and since trees prevented spectacular views, any gap in the forest providing a glance on the area, made it spectacular. Like the one of a crater lake of Cerro Verde. My mate and I drove around in our rental car trying to have a good look at the surroundings. Driving around without a proper map in the mountains among the lush vegetation was spectacular and an amazing experience anyway. It would have been more exciting if it was possible to do some hiking at that time, but the security forces were very adamant and advised us to stay in the car and keep watch on everything valuable (mainly our heavy cameras) we were carrying.

Hangouts:
Salvadorian coast
Salvadorian coast
The problem with El Salvador was that getting a gun was as easy as walking into a McDonald's and buying a hamburger. Provided one reached 17 years of age, it was absolutely acceptable to get a gun. Perhaps the ease of getting a piece or the percentage of the population owning one was not the problem itself. The issue, however, was that foreigners could not get a gun - and this was the unfairness of the system. Not that we would want to get firing arms or anything, but if we wanted to defend ourselves, we only had fists and teeth against all those pistols, revolvers and riffles. And that was the problem. Fortunately, we were not confronted with situation like that (it was a different country on this trip where a situation was rather sticky) anywhere in El Salvador, but the feeling was not comfortable. The country offered great scenery and the 'safety issues' hanging in the air were not helping to relax and enjoy the country as one should do.

Restaurants:
Cerro Verde National Park
Cerro Verde National Park
However, El Salvador was surprisingly safer than many reports had suggested. Yes, a number of national parks with spectacular scenery were closed due to some rather unspecified safety reasons, but moving around in towns did not seem particularly challenging or threatening. The contrast between the rich and poor was almost shocking. The flamboyant shopping malls neighbouring collapsing households was not what I expected either. But it was good to see that the population did not lose its sense of humour. Many shops were selling t-shirts saying 'I survived in El Salvador'. I got some for me and my friends back in London.

It was very easy to rent a car and organise your own itinerary. This gave a lot flexibility to see this tiny country. Public transport was very well organised, too. Getting a decent coach to go across the state and beyond was as easy as pie and inexpensive. Very convenient and hassle-free.

Other recommendations:
La Libertad beach
La Libertad beach
There was a frequent bus service from San Salvador to Ciudad Guatemala (Guatemala City). A corporation of several bus companies served this route and buses departed every hour. The trip took approximately three to four hours although the distance would suggest a lot less time. The distance might not be great but great were the mountains that had to be climbed.

The border service at Las Chinamas was efficient and very fast. The procedure took only two minutes. The officials attempted to earn some extra change by asking an entry fee even if the visa was already stamped in the passport. I said that I was not going to pay any more than I have already done in London and the guy deeply apologised. There was a queue before the immigration desk but the bus waited for everyone.

Published on Saturday November 14th, 2009


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Sun, Nov 15 2009 - 10:12 AM rating by gloriajames

5* -
eh...almost the same title as the other report?

Sat, Nov 14 2009 - 07:01 PM rating by jacko1

Up to your usual excellent standard Krys, highly informative and very well written.

Sat, Nov 14 2009 - 04:06 PM rating by pesu

Big congrats, Krys, on reaching the incredible number of report number 100! And it's not only the quantity but of course the quality of your texts and pictures that make your contribution so spectacular! Thanks a lot!

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