In the previous post, I mentioned that I already had a nostalgic feeling for el Zonte--the small beach side fishing town with some of the best waves. Upon looking at the surf report before leaving Los Cobanos, I turned to Christie and said "we need to go back."
The report predicted an ocean swell arriving the following day and peaking over the weekend. And while our plan was to shoot up to the mountains from Los Cobanos, I knew I had to take advantage of the conditions and get some big waves while I had the chance.
We returned to El Zonte with a "we're back!" feeling, and it did really feel like returning home in a way. We got the same room, and settled right back in to the beach lifestyle. The comedor across the street served up a delicious lunch for us, and as we ate I noticed these golden nuggets:
And who was corraling this newborn batch of ducks? Two four year old girls who found them on the beach...I think that to them, this was a chance to play with some real life rubber duckies.
The following morning I went out for a long paddle, and immediately I noticed how different these waves were. Big, fast, powerful hills of water marched past me as I waited for a ride, and when I did catch one, I knew I was in some good surf. The waves had so much more energy, pushing me along with great speed, and before me was a wide glassy surface to carve. I did two sessions that day, with the plan of saving some energy for the swell's peak.
I was a little nervous to go out the following morning, but once I paddled past the surf´s breaking point, those nerves soon vanished. While the swell was certainly larger than the day before, and much more consistent, I felt entirely comfortable in my ability to manage the waves. Perhaps the best part about it--and I still don't understand why--is that I was one of only two surfers in the water. The first wave I took was one of the largest in my humble surfing career. And after steering off the glassy face I thought, "I could ride these all day." I worked up the courage to paddle into some of the larger sets, and I can safely say it was the best surf session of my life.
My final wave was particularly great, crashing above my head as I rode with glee. Knowing it would be my last of the session, I decided to take it all the way to the beach... but this wave had other plans for me. It was reaching it's final pitch, and I shot down with speed, but looking behind me I saw a wall of water crashing in...I took a deep breath. Wham! The wave smacked me to the ocean floor with incredible force and all went black, my body a writhing rag doll thrown in the washing machine. In time the white wash released me from this short torment, and luckily I emerged unhurt with my board in one piece. I think it was the ocean's way of letting me know just exactly who's boss.
Now that my surfing fix was satisfied, it was time to head to the mountains for some new flavor. Christie and I hopped in the rental car, whipping along the Carretera Latoral once again, which hugs the western coast with sharp turns and steep climbs. Passing through the industrial town of Sonsonate, we followed signs for the famed "Ruta de las Flores"--a winding camino of mountain vistas, lined with blooming wildflowers, that ascends to a community of small, artisan mountain villages.
We made our home in the wonderful little town of Jayuya, which is nestled between--count em--11 volcanoes. We were lucky to arrive on the weekend, when the cobbled streets become overrun with vendors selling all sorts of goods--jewelry, wood crafts, clothing, fruits, pastries, fried foods...I even got to put a fat 10 ft yellow snake on my shoulders for the price of $1.
That night we ate at a recommended restaurant called "R&R." Christie and I planned on it being a romantic splurge, but looking at the menu we were surprised to find how cheap it was. A wonderful, candle lit, romantic setting, the restaurant had every detail attended to. And when the food arrived, we realized this was going to be dining of a whole different magnitude...the "papas" that came with our meal, which we expected to be some potatoes on the side, were incredible...perfectly crisped thin slices of potato, served steaming from elegant, small wooden bowls, smothered in a melting delicious cheese. And for the utensil? A small, but wide metal pitchfork with balled ends, that made the perfect to tool to stab or scoop up all the deliciousness. We practically licked the bowls clean.
And the entres were no less impressive. I ordered a dish said to be their specialty--a medium rare steak, cooked in a coffee sauce, with a side of tortilla, rice and chimichurri. It was one of the best, and most unique, meals I've eve had. And for Christie, she did her best with an astounding portion of delicious vegetarian lasagna. From the incredible tastes and outstanding presentation of our meal, you could tell that the cook--a wide Salvadorian native who personally came out with a big smile to check in with us during our meal--was utterly passionate about his cooking. And the total bill? $27, and that included a bottle of Chilean wine. Needless to say, we came back the next night, and it was just as outstandng.
While Juayua had some wonderful colonial charm, we wanted to explore other parts of the mountain region--specifically a town that bordered a reserve called "el impossible" national park. We hopped back into our black Kia to wind the mountain roads again...this time with our sights on the tiny town of Tacuba.
Currently reading / Monuments Men
After driving far and fast from our cockroach infested night stay (see previous post), Dusty and I backtracked a little east to Los Cobanos, a tiny little fishing village home to the Los Cobanos national marine reserve. The town is known for its fresh fish, snorkeling and scuba diving to coral reefs and ship wrecks.
We settled in a sky-blue hostel, Los Cobanos village lodge, complete with beautiful sunny rooms with private porches overlooking the beach. It was a nice change from our previous night in cockroach purgatory. Although, we again had the entire place to ourselves. I think at this point we were both eager to run into some other travelers again.
The village itself does not have a shred of a touristy feel. Besides the hostel we were staying in, it consisted of a string of shacks and abodes on the beach lining the boat-filled bay. It was colorful, relaxed, and again, a little eerily quiet for our taste. Again, we got many stares for being the only gringos around. As a vegetarian, it was close to impossible to find something to eat, especially as the caretaker for our hostel was always conveniently missing during mealtime, or really anytime we needed him.
We didn't do much the first day, except for explore the village (attempting to find any food I could eat), and relax. After a night of pretty much no sleep, it was definitely a called for day off. Plans were made for the next morning, to do a 2 hour snorkel tour of the corals right off the beach. Unfortunately, we didn't have the amount of people required to go on a boat to the ship wreck (you need six).
I liked the tour a lot. I haven't snorkelled in probably around 10 years, and I forgot how peaceful and therapeutic it can be to live and breathe below the waves for a little bit. Dusty's opinion? He was a little unimpressed, but understandably so as his last underwater excursion was diving in Thailand... Pretty tough to compare to.
After one night in Los Cobanos, it was back to El Zonte for us. This place is starting to feel like the closest thing to home on this vacation. I have my favorite hammock, my favorite items on the menu, and they just started decorating for Christmas last night much to my glee! (If you didn't know already, I have an odd obsession with decorating for Xmas)
We returned for the swell, which is peaking this weekend and providing perfect surfing conditions for Dusty. I was happy to give in to coming back to the beach for a few days, although I'm really excited for a change of pace as we head to the mountains in just a few hours!
Currently Reading / Yes Please! / Amy Poehler
Otherwise known as.. cockroaches. This story has a few of these crunchy critters in it, and I probably won't be able to help cringing as I retell it. But first, a little back story on how we met the cockroaches.
After a few relaxing and blissful days in the quiet and tiny surf town of El Zonte, we decided to venture west to one of the most remote peninsulas and beaches in the country, Barra Santiago. It was a beautiful drive along the windy highway that hugged the hilly coast, which had frequent overlooks to the Pacific. And then we reached the peninsula. It was slow going across approximately 15 km of dirt, rocky roads to get to the very end of the peninsula and our destination. The road led us past many abandoned structures, shops and homes, frequent 'Se Vende' or 'For Sale' signs. Oh yeah, and we got lots of stares. It was clear there aren't too many gringos driving their shiny rental car across the peninsula very often. But seeing all of these properties in a state of abandonment left an uneasy feeling over both Dusty and I.
After a tedious 15kms, we reached the end of the road, and saw... nothing. No signs, no buildings that indicated we had made it to any establishment. Only upon further wandering along the beach did we find our hostel tucked away, with an inconspicuous tile sign out front. Our first impression? The place was dead... There were a couple of nice hammocks, lawn chairs, and a little patio for eating, but it felt oddly still and neglected. The place was clean and well kept, but I couldn't shake that uneasy feeling. It's saving grace was the beautiful expanse of beach 30 feet from our room. Next door was a top-notch Eco resort, where people pay top dollar to stay in custom crafted, brightly colored, eco-friendly villas. And that place? There was no one. Not even a light on.
So we spent some time on the beach, and settled into our room which was ok, nothing special. It did have AC though (first of the trip), which was a treat. And then came dinner time, which luckily was cooked up by the caretaker of our hostel, otherwise I am positive we would have starved being so far from anything resembling a restaurant, or civilization really.
After a couple hours of eating, playing cards and listening to music in the still night, we decided to head to bed at around 9pm. Pretty early compared to my routine back in Jackson, but down here it has become very normal. It's incredibly rewarding to go to bed early, and wake up with the sun.
A few hours into our slumber, I was awoken by Dusty saying, "Ow.. Something just bit my ear, Christie, turn the light on." Trying to pull myself out from under the blanket of confusion and grogginess I felt after being abruptly woken up, I struggled to find the light switch for about 15 seconds. After flicking it on, we stared at each other with a look of squinty, getting adjusted to the bring light confusion, and then at the bed and around the room to try to find the source of this 'bite.' And there it was, a cockroach laying right near Dusty's pillow. We jumped out of bed, and sat down on the smaller bed next to the one we we were sleeping in. And that's when we saw them.. Cockroaches crawling everywhere. 3 or 4 on the walls, 2 or 3 on our collapsed covers, and 3 or four scurrying around the floor. With the light on, they all started to find a place to hide, and quick.
Pretty disgusting, right? I bet your cringing just as much as I am at this point.
And then it continued to get worse. We began to cautiously move around the room to collect our stuff, and try to get it out of the room. Thats when I noticed one on the lip of my bag and it clicked... "Oh crap, they're in my stuff." At this point, I was in a constant state of shuddering, twitching, and also just staring in disbelief. I was trying my best to not freak out through this whole experience, but one thing I was not prepared to do was open my bag and search for cockroaches. The thought of it sent shivers down my body.
Luckily Dusty came to the rescue, and went on to shake every item out that was in my bag and his. Low and behold, my bag had about 4 cockroaches, and dusty's, 3.
After this long process of trying to get our stuff free of bugs, we arrived at a state of, "Well, what do we do now? Where do we sleep?" It was about 11:30 at night at this point, but the place was dead and pitch black. We wandered around with our head lamp for a little bit, calling the caretakers name with no response. There weren't even any neighbors around to reach out to. So we sat and waited, and debated. Should we just get in the car and drive? Should we sleep in the hammocks until sunrise and leave then? Should we sleep in the car? Or should we just suck it up and sleep in our room with the lights on? No option seemed like a good one, and luckily for us that is when the security guard walked up and noticed our problem.
Long story short, after much talking (to the caretaker, the security guard, and owner by phone), we found ourselves sleeping in a separate building not usually offered to guests. The cockroaches had originated in the palm roof of the main building, so the only option was to move to a separate one. It was around 2 in the morning by the time we got into that room, and yes, I insisted we sleep with the lights on to keep the bugs away. I spent the first few hours just staring at the walls for signs of bugs before drifting off. We surprisingly both got a few hours of sleep, and left first thing in the morning. We didn't stay for a tour of the mangroves, or for a tour of the turtle nests, we got out as soon as we could.
What did I learn? Always put your things back in your bag and CLOSE IT before going to bed, especially during the first night at a new place. You never know what critters could be around. And as for Barra Santiago? I wouldn't recommend it, unless you're looking to avoid civilization.
Currently Reading / Five Little Pigs / Agatha Christie
While El Tunco is wonderful, I was eager to move along the coast. Twice I have been to El Salvador, but I've never ventured far from this little surf town that has so much to offer. So we caught the bus to a neighboring town called El Zonte.
It was Christie's first Chicken Bus ride, and I was excited for her to experience it. Being Sunday, we had to wait for about an hour until the bus arrived. Luckily we shared the bus stop with a boy of about six, who had an enormous bag of candy and gum to share with us. He recited his ABC's looking adoring up at us...I couldn't believe that a boy of his age was about to hop on the bus by himself, like any other person. It struck me, as it has before while traveling, just how much freedom and responsibly are given to children down here. I tried to imagine a parent in the US allowing their six year old child to catch a city bus on their own, and it seemed impossible to me. There is something in the culture; a sort of understood support of one another and togetherness, that makes something like this not at all unusual.
Our bus finally arrived, halting at the corner with a wheeze and a groan. On board the atmosphere was friendly, and to the sound of sweet, sweet reggaetone we wound the hilly turns of the coastal highway.
El Tunco ended up being a great place to kick off our trip. Twice before I have found myself pleasantly stuck in this wonderful little surf town. Great waves, great food, and a great atmosphere--it's hard to beat it.
Our first day on the beach Christie and I had a small world moment. In Jackson I had taken on the role of editing TEDx footage for the Wildlife Film Festival, which is where Christie works. I edited videos for 8 speakers over a monthlong period, and there walking towards us on the beach was one of the speakers: Pat Crowley. It was particularly coincidental to me, because I had just spoken to him over the phone in Jackson. He was with his girlfriend Erica, and the four of us became fast friends, enjoying the occasional drink or meal with one another over the past few days.
The bus dropped us at the entrance of El Zonte, and we made our way by foot to the hostel. Right when I arrived, I had a good feeling about the place. The grounds of Esencia Natural were nestled right in the tiny fishing village, with an inviting pool, an in house restaurant, ample hammocks, and even an elevated terrace that looked out on the surf.
The owner of Esencia Natural, an El Salvadorian native with a legendary surfing reputation, was clearly an important figure in the community. Not only was he running a great little resort that brought in what I would think is much needed tourist dollars, but he also seemed to keep his workers busy with projects and continuing employment. Throughout our time there, he was very hands on when it came to the resort's daily tasks, like supervising construction, moving ovens, helping customers with surf boards... At Esencia Natural they even seemed to be taking in the older street dogs that could no longer fend for themselves in the town.
After the owner arranged for a rental car to be dropped off at the hostel, and providing us with an hour's worth of great tour advice for the country, Christie and I were on our way to the next destination, Barra Santiago--this time with wheels of our own.
Currently Reading / Murder on the Orient Express / Agatha Christie
We were stranded in Houston, missing our plane due to Denver's first snowstorm of the year (which they were wildly unprepared for). This is how our trip began, and for two travelers missing half a day of precious beach time, we remained upbeat. After an uneventful night in Houston, we arrived at the airport again to board our flight for San Salvador. And this is where our luck turned - we were upgraded to first class! First freakin' class, complete with hot towels, a warm breakfast and a couple of bloody Mary's. We were the obvious newbies of first class, giddy at every new (and free) amenity they brought us. I am taking this bump as a very good omen for our trip.
So why did we choose El Salvador? Not only was it the cheapest flight to Central America (around $650), but Dusty had twice visited a little surf town here named El Tunco and had since wanted to come back and see more of the country. Looking into it more, ES has it all - beautiful beaches for surfing, scuba diving, mountains, waterfalls, volcanos and relaxed artisanal and colonial towns. And the best part? Everything is so close together. ES is only about the size of Massachusetts, so most of our commutes will be an hour or less at a time. And yes, you've probably heard about how dangerous ES is, but upon further research it isn't any more so than other countries in Central America. There's always a risk when you travel in this region, but if you pick laid-back areas and travel safely, all should be well. There is gang violence, but the violence typically involves gang members, and is concentrated to specific areas.
We've decided to begin our stay in El Tunco, a tiny surfing village on the Pacific highly suggested by Dusty who has already visited twice. And man was he right.. This place is as relaxed, friendly and colorful as can be. Unlike other surf towns I've visited on Central America, El Tunco isn't swarming with bros and people just looking to party. It definitely has a tourist feel, but in a much more subtle way. It'd be easy to want to stay here for the whole trip.
The first place we're staying is at the Tortuga Surf Lodge.. Aka Paradise. This place has beautiful, clean rooms that open up to the ocean (right on the beach), a pool, plenty of hammocks, and a lovely ES family with two adorable girls helping their mom run the place. Besides us, there's only one room of with three long term girl residents, so the vibe is very laid back. Oh, and there just happens to be a resident puppy, a kitten and a talking parrot who will randomly spout Spanish and whistle as you walk under his tree. This place couldn't be more amazing.
Today will be the first full day here, which will hopefully be filled with some surfing, food, reading, and hammock-ing. I have only stood up on a wave once, so I'm excited to get back in the water and give it another try. Wish me luck!
Currently Reading / Lost in Shangri La
Arriving in Dublin with an afternoon to spare until my friend (and host) flew in, I decided to wander the streets in search of... well... I wasn't quite sure. This go with the flow attitude had come to define my time in Europe. I was on the no-plan plan.
The first thing that struck me is that Dublin is short. Walking around the city, you're not just a speck in the shadow of a skyscraper. Word on the street (from one slightly credible source) is that no buildings can be built higher than 10 stories. Must look into this later...
After taking the bus to city center from the airport, I ducked into a cafe to read up on the city a little. A coffee later, it was time to wander. Specifically, I was on the hunt for a cozy pub. When in Ireland, right? And so I set out without a map or GPS, with the intention of truly feeling my way around the city. After about an hour of soaking in the energy of Dublin at night - complete with my large backpacking pack - I heard the words out loud that I'm sure many had been thinking to themselves as I walked through the streets - "Are you lost?" Lucky for me, a warm soul with a big smile around my age spotted my backpacking self from a ways away, and within seconds invited me inside a pub for a drink with her friends - who were coincidentally also American. Our group grew through the night with other travel lovers from around the world who couldn't help but notice my backpack and want to know where I was from. The backpacking community is a special thing.
After a surprisingly eventful first night in Dublin, I met up with the friend I was staying with and we headed ten minutes south of town to crash at his place. Little did I know that he happens to live with 5 other young Irish guys. A.k.a.. I was staying in an Irish frat house. And... it was wonderful! The boys were warm, welcoming, funny and.. well.. boys. I wouldn't have had it any other way.
On Saturday, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with these boys as they showed me around the countryside around Dublin. The rumors are true - Ireland is incredibly green.
It's a green you can get lost in, that sticks with you. I can't wait to be back and soak it up even more.
Up next was Powerscourt Estate, a beautiful house with an incredible network of gardens, hidden towers, statues and fountains. If I didn't have 4 boys in tow who were familiar with Powerscourt, I could have easily wandered the grounds for the whole day.
Next up was a good old tourist day in Dublin. First on the list? Guinness tour..
The Guiness tour? Overpriced and a little underwhelming. It's saving grace was the beautiful pint waiting for you at the sky bar, which gave you a beautiful view of the whole city. My cheap self cringed at coughing up €16 euro for the experience but all in all, it was worth it. After all, when in Dublin..
My time in Ireland was short but sweet. I can not WAIT until I have an opportunity to visit again. Although next time, I'll keep my time in the city short, and focus on exploring the beautiful countryside.