Getting There – A Real Work Out
An early morning start to travel long distances between Central American countries is part of the deal if you opt for a more comfortable and quicker mode of travel…the shuttle van. Run by tour operators, 15 passenger vans dart all over central america, more expensive that the chicken buses and not as many changes, they can offer more scentic route than the largerr tourist buses that stick to the main highways if there is one. Sometimes you get lucky and your fellow passengers are compatible or the van isn’t full and other times not so much. We left Leon, Nicaragua at 3:30 AM (I’m not kidding) with a load of backpackers and their surf boards, all of us headed for El Salvador.
Booking our ticket to Copan in Honduras on the shuttle meant traveling via the south western section of Honduras into El Salvador where we would overnight before continuing the next day through Guatemala and back into Honduras, apparently the shortest route. We arrived in El Salvador with plenty of daylight left to see such a concentration of poverty all along the way. Grinding poverty as I have seen it written. People bathing and laundering in brown creeks, dirt floored shacks of cinderblock, scrap materials and roofs of corrugated metal, all painting a grim picture of the economic status of El Salvador and the lives of the people who call it home. And many of them don’t, as there is a huge El Salvadoran population in North America.
We entered El Tunca (named for a giant pig shaped rock in the water at the main beach) via an armed gate and proceded to the hotel selected by the shuttle bus company. We had cute little cabanas right by a pool which sadly was overrun with partying backpackers from various countries. We walked through the town and down to the beach and clearly the place existed only as a beach vacation destination mainly for the budget crowd. Along the way, lots of shops selling beachwear and trinkets, restaurants and bars. The beach itself was beautiful and as evening approached it was good to see it being used by the locals and not just the tourists.
All in all El Salvador is a sad little place with a desperate countryside. We didn’t go to the capital so can’t comment but can only imagine that it is plagued by overcrowding, poverty, crime and slums, the common symptoms of urbanization in developing nations.
Cowboys and Leg Waxing
Day 2 of our shuttle saw us cross the borders of Guatemala and Honduras arriving in The hilly town of Copan de Ruinas by mid-afternoon. I had pre-booked a room on Hotels.com, seduced by the promise of a swimming pool and Tom stayed in the centre of town for much less.
Copan de Ruinas is a beautiful little town with cobble streets, a cosy central park and some really nice restaurants. It seems to be somewhat affluent judging by the vehicles and many of the houses.This is a beef region and so the town is dotted with white cowboy hats and real crocodile skin cowboy boots. Lots of cowboys in town with their families to shop, visit, or attend church while we were there. Generally people get around on mototaxis and the in-town fair is generally 10 Limperas, which I was happy to discover as my hotel was up a steep hill.
Staying somewhere for a couple of nights always offers an opportunity to get cleaned up. Laundry done, really long hot showers with shampoo and conditioner, suitcase emptied, shaken out and repacked are reasons enough to celebrate when you are on the road. But I had a special treat in store for me in Gracias. While walking along the street a sign caught my eye and I was lured in by a special on pedicures and manicures. Inside, I found a small crowd of friends who were definitely the glitterati of Gracias if not the entire county of Honduras. They were all gorgeous with sleek black hair, or slightly blonded by some artificial means. They were really sweet to me and I got the feeling they were perfomring somewhat for my benefit. Perhaps the most interesting client was a handsome young man in his late teens who was having full leg waxes and with every rip of the cloth and every application of the hot wax he winced and whined much to the delight of the girls in the shop. When he was all done, including having stray hairs pucked by the sharp eyed aesthetician he left the shop returning with a banana for each of us so obviously he didn’t mind the teasing, the photo taking or the threats to upload same to facebook. When I asked why he would subject himself to this generally female occupation(because I did wonder), he said he played soccer and needed the hair gone for the sports tape he wrapped his legs in.
Maya Ruinas – Copan
We spent two nights in Copan and spent the better part of one day visiting the Maya Ruinas just outside of town. At the site, I hired a guide named Victor, a sweet old guy, missing a few teeth, who had worked at the ruins for many years. He had been hired on various projects with universities from all over the world and is considered something of a celeb at the ruins. He was very informative and had a great sense of humor. When showed me the area where dancing took place he told me it was the Mayan disco. One of the toothless heads carved in rock, he said was his brother. It was very hot and and although it was interesting it was good to finish after two hours and to move inside to the museum and out of the sun.