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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

A prison, a muddy road, and finally an oasis

This morning we hopped in the rental car and headed off for Suchitoto.  An inland town up in the mountains 90 miles from the marina.

At one point we passed a penitentiary.  High concrete walls topped with razor wire.  Looked like your average prison except for the guard shack outside.  Sandbag walls and two guys with machine guns in full military garb, including stocking masks over their faces making them look more like terrorists than guards.  Presumably this is because the local drug lords occasionally try to break out their buddies.  We elected not to stop and take a picture.

About this time Melissa turns to Dave and asks whether it’s safe to drive around the countryside – even in daylight.  Dave says, “Well not if you read the State Department reports”.  Well, yeah, but if you read those things you would never go anywhere.   We already know that those reports are political cover your ass stuff.  Fights amongst the locals here in Central America rarely affect tourists because (ironically) the drug lords invest their drug earnings in the hotels and hence want tourism to flourish.  So Melissa asks whether the Americans who organize the El Salvador rally had anything to say about us driving across the country side.  And indeed, Dave confirms they knew of our plans and had no concerns. 

But still…El Salvador is a poor country.  Poorer than Mexico it would seem.  Though that may be a false perception since most of our time in Mexico was spent on the coast which is where most tourism is centered.  None the less sometimes it’s hard to interpret the difference between how poor the people are and how desperate (and hence dangerous) the area might be.  Hence the only hope is to rely on local knowledge.

At one point we were pulled over at a random traffic stop.  We’ve seen these everywhere and been told they are an attempt to stop the drug trade.  We’ve been stopped previously – albeit while in a tourist van when someone else was driving.  Dave pulls out his driver’s license and car registration and hands them to the officer.  The officer asks in Spanish if we speak Spanish.  We reply “Poquito” (a little).  He smiles, thinks for a minute, and says in English (clearly practicing), “How are you doing?”  We smile, and tell him we are doing just fine.  He asks where we are headed.  We tell him Suchitoto.  He proceeds to give us directions – telling us the list of all the towns we will go through.  Melissa holds up the map and points to each town he names.  We thank him and drive off.

Though we did indeed know where we were going more or less, navigation out here isn’t quite as simple as it usually is for those of us equipped with multiple GPS systems.  Why?  Because the roads aren’t on the map.  Or if they are on the map, you can’t tell whether something will be asphalt or a dirt road.   Dave decides on a “short cut” through one of the mountain villages.  As we drove through town we were openly stared at.  You would think they had never seen an American before.  We discovered on the far side of town that the road turned into a questionable dirt road so we hung a U turn, headed back through town – to be stared at yet again.  After that, we attempted to stick largely to the “main highway” which was frequently oil coated gravel in this case.  We hit a section that was being rebuilt for the last 20 miles between Tejutepeque and Suchitoto.  Mud so deep it hit the undercarriage of the car.  We thought we might get high centered, but using snow techniques Dave managed to navigate through it all.  Between rebuild sections there were a few sections of the original asphalt road.  It was scary to contemplate that these were the sections good enough not to be worth replacing.

The trip was all worth it though when we arrived at this oasis of a hotel (Los Almendros De San Lorenzo) run by a Frenchman.   Great French wines and tasty food.  Who would have thought? Melissa got a great massage for only $30.  Might have to have another one tomorrow.

The place has tons of lizards everywhere.  But they are fast little suckers and Melissa has yet to successfully snap a picture.

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