Riding in the Back of Police Cars (a.k.a. Suchitoto Recall)

SUCHITOTO, EL SALVADOR: July 27-31


Steve: I'm going to get in trouble for making a lame reference to Total Recall which is coming out in the States about now. But really, why remake a classic such as this? Colin Farrell is supposed to replace Arnold "The Governator" Schwarzenegger? Please. Next thing you know they're going to remake Predator...wait, they already did...

Back to our travels: after leaving steaming Puerto La Libertad we made our way via bus to the small colonial town of Suchitoto. By all accounts, this is El Salvador's counterpart to Guatemala's La Antigua--a quaint village characterized by wide cobblestone streets, colonial Spanish architecture, scenic views of the nearby Lago Suchitlan and tourist-friendly shops and restaurants. The only difference is that we felt like the only tourists; to be sure, we have seen other tourists in this town but a scant few compared to Antigua. We found this refreshing and combined with the surrounding natural beauty this was enough to keep us anchored to Suchitoto for the past four days.

Upon our entrance, I sought out a hostel that sounded reasonable and came highly recommended in our guide book--Rinconcito El Gringo. Leah waited in the square with our bags since we've learned from others (hello, Ellen and Kevin) that when it's crazy hot out it doesn't make sense to have both of us walking around and lugging our heavy packs which only serves to make us both cranky and irritable. I quickly found the hostel in question and it turned out to be just what we needed--a cozy private room complete with a kitchen, WiFi and living room with cable television. While we're not travelling internationally to spend our time glued to a TV, it worked out perfectly since the Olympic Games were starting within the next several hours. Score. (While we are on that topic, some of you may have seen my Facebook postings regarding the opening ceremonies...whoever allowed Ralph Lauren to design Team USA's clothing needs to have their citizenship revoked.)

We are foodies. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. While we're relatively budget-conscious (as evidenced by my wife's post regarding our Guatemala expenditures and incessant daily note-taking (I love you!)) we haven't had any problem finding good food for cheap. This is how I segue into the comedor that we tried after arriving at the town and have eaten at for three of our four days here. The sign on the front advertised a complete meal with either chicken or steak, rice, salad, tortillas and a drink (in this case a fresco, which is a crazy-delicious fresh fruit drink that varies from day-to-day) for US$2. Turns out they didn't have the chicken so they offered a potato relleno instead. This might go down as one of my top 5, heck even top 3, dishes of all time. Cheese and green chiles sandwiched between two huge potato halves, covered in an egg batter (same as chile rellenos), fried and then covered in some kind of chicken broth/sauce. Unbelievable. In fact, I need to take a break from writing this post since this our last day in Suchitoto and it's time for lunch...I'll be right back.

Ok, I'm back. Correction: We were disappointed to sit down and find that almuerzo (lunch) at our comedor was over. After reconciling ourselves to getting some pupusas back at the market--which is a formidable consolation prize--we lucked out by finding someone else selling potato rellenos. Not as good without the sauce, but still quite tasty.

So there's other stuff to do here besides eat...imagine that. On our first full day here we ventured out of town to the large and scenic Lake Suchitlan. The guidebook mentioned that it was a cool, clear lake where we could go swimming. While the lake was beautiful, there's not much swimming to be had. After speaking with a local we found that due to a recent lack of rain (7 to 8 days to be exact...try that San Diego) the lake's water hyacinth population had increased dramatically, making the lake more of a marshy wetland than a swimmer's paradise. We hung out for a bit and took in the sights, and in keeping with the theme of our travels, we hiked the whole way back uphill, arriving back in town thoroughly exercised and covered in sweat. (Leah: I would like to interject here that my motto has quickly become: "If I never subir again". That's the verb "to climb" for those without Spanish prowess and the amount of climbing we do on a consistent basis--up ruins, up volcanoes, up steep streets, up hills and up stairs to monuments, is a bit ridiculous. It also doesn't help that while climbing it's usually approximately 100 bajillion degrees out with full sun and thick humidity--just a tad different than huffing and puffing on the stair master at the air conditioned gym with a fan in your face. Of course the reason we climb is always worth it in the end--incredible vistas, insane archaeological finds and the ilk--but I whinge the whole way up and vow to Steve every time that I will never subir again.)

The next morning we took a bit of a break from hiking as we found ourselves being chauffeured...in the back seat of a police truck. We wanted to check out a waterfall known as "Los Tercios" and found out from several sources that we were to check in with the local police (the tourist police to be exact) and that they would drive us down there since there had been occasional muggings in the past (Leah: the most recent happened in 2011 at gunpoint--we were all about police upon hearing that). The route took us past the "new Suchitoto" as its been called where a newer and apparently rougher neighborhood had sprung up (having seen a some "MS 13" gang tagging I was glad for our escort); it turns out the actual path to this waterfall was a bit confusing so their assistance was even more fortuitous. After hoofing it down a path with natural stone steps we came upon our destination--a huge wall of basalt columns forged by years of hydraulic erosion. While the waterfalls themselves were not flowing very strongly due to the aforementioned lack of rain, this was truly an amazing sight. Even the stone steps that we descended were actually similar columns, installed by nature to look like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

Leah: After buying our new armed friends a Coke (the service is free and while tips are discouraged to prevent corruption, you're apparently supposed to offer to buy the officers a soda or ice cream to thank them for their time), we decided to attempt the second set of waterfalls in town, El Cubo. These ones are safe to walk to being on the opposite end of town, so off we set through corn fields, over streams and past cow paddocks, only to have that path end. So we trudged back UP the corn field and checked our directions with the locals--we supposed to go left through the corn, not right. We set off the second time, picking our way precariously downhill and actually made it to the river, which we were supposed to follow upstream for 45 minutes to reach incredible falls with vine swings and pools we could actually swim in. However, we had been warned beforehand that if it rained we should abort our plans, since the river can carry out to the lake. Of course the drops started falling after about 15 minutes and we booked it back up through the jungle and corn field to high ground. By "booked" I mean I walked really slowly through muddy fissures, stepped over cow pies, tripped over roots and cursed every step of the way, as this was one steep, slippery, narrow and drenching climb (again, if I never subir again) that wasn't even worth it since we didn't see the falls. To top it off, we we got back home I realized that something had managed to eat the entire left side of my body, from armpit to hips--and it did so through my bathing suit and long sleeved shirt. Not cool.

However, besides that failed adventure, I LOVE it here and keep joking to Steve that we should start looking for a house; I'm mostly kidding of course, but this might be my fave town so far. It's heralded as the fine arts beacon of the country and there are galleries, museums and handicrafts everywhere. There are also several local non profit groups dedicated to children and women's rights and many of the houses bear a stenciled announcement proclaiming that violence against women will not be tolerated there. The trash system here is the first of its kind in the country--they pick up recyclables, trash and organic waste on alternating weeks. The streets are wide and cobbled, the architecture stunning, the tourists few and far between and the history amazing (apparently 90% of the population fled in the 80s during the war and ex-guerillas have mainly helped to resettle it). They even have a renowned arts festival every February.

It's also helped that we've more or less had our own apartment the whole time, since no one else is staying in this part of the hostel. Lounge area with hammock and the ability to watch the Olympics, fan in the bedroom, a kitchen where we can finally cook, a clean outdoor shower and place to do laundry by hand and all in a very secure and airy building. It feels homey and we have a bit of a routine established; I'm having a much better time now that we've slowed our pace and aren't trying to see every part of the country like it felt we were attempting in Guatemala. And of course the food, which Steve already talked about. The potato rellenos are to die for and we've even been buying an anona each day, a pulpy, rich tasting fruit that splits down the middle when ready, the flesh of which is either pink or white-hued. SO yummy. Steve's even continuing to grow his hair out--at almost a full month without a haircut (he usually buzzes it about every week) he's reaching epic proportions. But there's something to be said for Suchitoto--it definitely has part of my heart and I could see moving somewhere like here if I were on my own and wanted to do the expat thing for a while, but I'm just happy we were able to swing through (plus I think I'm starting to alarm my dear husband with the frequency of which I mention such things). Tomorrow we're crossing into Honduras and have Couchsurfers lined up for the next 3 nights, so here's to more adventures, hopefully few of which entail having to subir!

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Ellen July 31, 2012 at 11:00 PM

I feel like a total rock star with that personal shout-out, thank you! I'm so glad to hear that you are finding a rhythm. I miss you so, so much. E
P.S. Subir-ing is overrated!

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