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34. Santa Ana

El Salvador

Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador, home to several markets, a couple of volcanoes and hands-down the BEST hostel in Central America. Maybe the world. I would recommend everyone go to El Salvador just to stay at Casa Verde. Here's a rundown of the awesomeness of the place:

  • Clean, comfortable and secure (a rarity)

  • A warm, friendly host

  • Large communal areas that were actually inviting

  • TV/movie room with hundreds of DVDs

  • TWO kitchens with more appliances than we have at home, free staple ingredients, plus your own designated cupboard for your food

  • Free water and coffee beans, with coffee grinder

  • Outdoor BBQ

  • Pool, with a variety of water sports ready to go

  • Hammocks

  • One litre beers for sale, that you marked down on a chalk board and paid for at the end

  • Free maps and tourist information (you would think this would be everywhere, but it's really not)

  • And most importantly, a wine fridge, with temperature-controlled bottles of wine for sale.

And it was cheap! It took us all of five minutes to decide we were staying longer in this town. There wasn't that much to see, but the chance to kick back and pretend we were at a resort was too alluring. We quickly headed to a down and dirty local market, where we stocked up on heaps of veggies so we could take advantage of the fantastic kitchens. We met a few locals there, who seemed starstruck and asked for photos with us (suuuuure). The market also sold massive bags of strawberries for $1, a fruit I hadn't tasted for months. I didn't know how Danny was going to drag me away from this town. 

The best looking building in Santa Ana.

The second best. It goes down sharply from here.

With the shopping done, and a quick walk around the busy, authentic-looking, tourist-free city completed, it was time to kick back in our little oasis. The rest of the day went like this: swim, TV, movie, popcorn, wine, swim, hammock, BBQ, movie, wine. And possibly the most incredible part of all of that was the TV time. I turned on the TV as we were preparing to watch a movie and it happened to be on a sports channel. For who knows what reason, this channel happened to be playing a highlights package of the Carlton vs. Richmond AFL (Aussie Rules Football) game from the previous week, commentated entirely in Spanish. I had no idea it was broadcast outside of Australia, let alone another language. I was transfixed for the next 15 minutes - an erupting volcano wouldn't have moved me from that spot. Could this place get any better?

 

The next day we dragged ourselves away from our haven of luxury to head up Volcan Santa Ana. A two hour bus ride plus an hour and a half wait until the tour started at 11am meant it was a slow start to the day. It was required that everyone join a tour with a police escort at the front and back of the group. I guess that summed up the reputation Santa Ana has, and why our hostel was so amazing. A 90 minute powerhike later  (our guide was in a hurry apparently) we reached the top, where there were hazy views out to a nearby volcano. The crater of Volcan Santa Ana contained a bright green sulfurous lake, bubbling away, with a layer of steam floating above it. It was pretty cool, but didn't stack up to the Guatemalan volcanoes.

On the way down we passed a group of people who were taking their large dog for a walk up to the crater. The dog must have felt a little threatened by us and started growling angrily. One of the policemen suddenly pulled out his gun and fired it towards the dog. I almost had a heart attack! When I saw the dog run away I realised the cop had used a blank, thankfully. A bit of warning would have been nice. 

 

That night the hostel became even more wonderful. A larger-than-life Canadian couple (who seemed to be in Santa Ana just to visit the hostel), decided to make everyone free mojitos, utilising the free mint and limes on offer in the kitchen. After this little treat, we discovered it was a German woman's birthday, which she celebrated by making mango-flavoured rum shots for all the guests. If there was a way to get all the different nationalities and personalities together for a long night of chatting and sharing our various tales, the generosity shown by these travelers was surely the way to do it. 

 

On our final day we headed to Tazumal, a small set of uninspiring ruins with museum attached that (for us) wasn't worth the effort. While we were there we stopped in at Casa Blanca, a museum with information in English about the Mayans and ruins. We were given a demonstration on using indigo plants to dye cloth, but it was all in Spanish and fairly useless to us. Next door was a small forested area, with even less impressive ruins and some sort of jumping/flying squirrel family that held our attention longer than the ruins did. The bus back to town had a huge hole in the floor, so we could see the road as we drove along. This also captivated us more than the ruins did. Tazumal was not the highlight of our holiday.

 

Did I mention how great the hostel was?