Suchitoto, El Salvador
After four hours of travelling on hot, crowded chicken buses we were keen to find a hostel and dump our burgeoning backpacks. Our travel guide gave us directions to a decent-sounding one, so we embraced the hilly roads and crossed our fingers that there would be room for us. No such luck. The manager was kind enough to give us a map and offer a few nearby suggestions, only a couple of steep hills away. We tried the closest one, with no name or signage to indicate that it was even a hostel. Tentatively we knocked on the door, and then entered a mini-oasis. A lovely, single-storey, colonial-style building, beautiful gardens, hammocks, a large lounge room, a homely kitchen and dining room, and an atmosphere that screamed relaxation. Luckily for us the manager was extremely nice and prepared a large room for us to stay in (they didn't usually allow walk-ins, hence the lack of information on the outside of the building).
For lunch we ended up walking back to the first hostel we tried, as they had a tiny restaurant serving pupusas with a variety of fillings you don't usually see in a pupusa stand. The basil and cheese pupusa was excellent, the mushroom was a bit too garlicky, and the avocado, jalapeno and squash varieties were all okay. On top of this Danny also ordered their TLT (Spanish for BLT). Another occasion where our eyes were bigger than our stomach, sending us into a food coma for the next few hours.
Walking around Suchitoto (plus all those damn hills) was our way of walking off our sumo-sized lunch. It was a small, beautiful town, consisting of cobbled streets lined with colourful houses. The centre square held a white, Spanish-style church and that was about it. It was so quiet I could have sworn the population was only about 100 people - we later discovered it was over 25,000. There were no supermarkets, only shops selling basic household goods behind thick iron bars, almost as if the shopkeepers had placed themselves in jail. Not a comforting sign to see staples like toothpaste and flour locked up like Fort Knox.
Quiet, colourful Suchitoto.
There wasn't a whole lot to do in town but I had read about a waterfall that was a short hike away. Apparently it wasn't an overly safe walk, and a police escort was required. I turned up (alone) to the police station at the nominated time and asked about the escort. A lot of mumbling, shuffling papers, mutterings in Spanish, before I was told "meñana" (one of Latin America's favourite words - tomorrow). I came back the next day, with Danny in tow, and found a Canadian couple who also wanted to visit the falls. Super happy to find out they spoke Spanish. Not so super happy to be told, via our Canadian translators, that the guide had been called away for an emergency so couldn't take us today. We were all keen for the hike, so we opted to go without a babysitter.
It was a fairly straightforward route along the roads, and our new best friends continually asked for directions to make sure we were heading the right way. A path turned off the road and led us to the top of the dried up falls. As there was no water, we could scrambl down the rocks to see what it looked like from the bottom. The rocks were like no others in the area: silver and a hexagonal column shape, fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle. Despite the absence of any water flowing down the rocks, we still found the place pretty impressive.
On our way back to town we passed a lady carrying an enormous basket of pastries on her head. It was over a metre in diameter - she must have had neck muscles of steel. We all bought a few snacks, in part to reduce her load. Apparently these treats weren't enough for us so we stopped at a cafe in Suchitoto, ordering a gooey banana cake covered in rum. I could have scoffed down a few of those, but yesterday's overindulgence was still haunting me.
The next morning I felt like I needed to get out for a run, but trying to run on cobblestones was only going to lead to disaster. I located a long, steep, half-paved road leading to a large lake and started down, instantly regretting the decision as I knew the run back up would be torture in the heat. The lake looked set up for tourists, with a massive, empty restaurant, a swimming pool and several tour operators ready to take your money in exchange for a boat trip across the calm waters. There was no one about. Might need to do some work on their marketing strategy.
I ran all the way back up the hill. It almost killed me.
One small complaint about Suchitoto: their nightlife. It was non-existent. We tried to find drinks at a few restaurants, but they only sold the devil's drink (beer), so I was left drinking freshly made juices while Danny kicked back with his alcohol beverages. No one seemed to be around after dark. The entire centre square had shut up shop and turned off the lights by 10pm. It felt like we were being given an unreasonable bedtime. That wasn't why we were on holidays.