Benjamin and I arrived at San Salvador, El Salvador at 6 AM, giving us plenty of time for a full day upon arrival. I decided to take an Uber to our accommodations (31 USD) and then make plans from there. (While I found the accommodations on AirBnb, I decided against making the reservation there and instead just showed up since the AirBnb host name was Hostal Punta El Zonte – Dorm Room and a search resulted in the location on Google Maps.) The hostel was a surfing hostel located right on the beach. The waves came all the way up to the deck when the tide was up. You could also sit and watch the surfers right from the hostel and listen to the waves all night. Cool!!
While T-Mobile is great in that it connects in almost any country at no extra cost. It limits connectivity to 2G, which is relatively painful when you are trying to research travel. Fortunately, our Uber driver was willing to pull over at a local stand and help me get connected with Tig0 at a cost of 5 USD. What I especially appreciated was his willingness to enter his El Salvador Identity card when signing up my account. (He did ask me to destroy the card when I left, but it was entirely an act of trust – which I much appreciated.) Feel free to reach out to our driver, Melvin Mena on WhatsApp at +503-7130-5297, if you are ever in the area and need a driver:
We relaxed for a few hours and caught up on emails and work before heading out for a hike in the afternoon. We started out walking up the creek right from hostel beach. It was very muddy to start but nothing to worry about as it was a short while before we were wading in the creek itself. We walk to the main road and then continued North along the road. Along the way we saw women washing clothes in the stream along with children bathing. On the road there were stalls selling fruits, especially near the bus stop. It was hot after only a mile or so, we navigated back toward the beach at the next village. Unfortunately, we couldn’t traverse all the way back to our hostel because the tide was in and we couldn’t navigate around the rocks without getting soaked (admittedly I got soaked by a surprise wave, but even so, we scrambled up the rocks to a private house, got scolded for being on private property, and then allowed to exit via the gate rather than going back the way we came. 😊
Back at the hostel, the owner suggested we rent scooters and go exploring. They were 25 USD each and we headed out to see Lake Ilopango, navigating through San Salvador. Unfortunately, San Salvador is 2,000 ft. above sea level, and by the time we reached there, a storm was brewing and it was considerably colder. Scratch that, it started to pour. We took refuge under a bridge for an hour before venturing out again only to encounter even heavier rain within 15 minutes. Bummer! We scrapped plans for the lake and looked for food and shelter. We selected a local pizza joint and headed there until the rain mostly subsided. Upon finishing our afternoon pizza snack, we decided to head back to the beach as fast as we could in the hopes of minimizing the time in the rain. We still got wet, but it warmed up as we approached the coast and wasn’t that bad. Of course, riding a scooter in the rain is a little precarious so we were relieved when we arrived without incident. We had dinner at the hostel before heading to bed. Admittedly, while we didn’t reach our destination, we enjoyed the journey and overall had an enjoyable day.
In the morning, I took a beautiful walk along the beach at sunrise and then spent the morning working on the deck. Once Benjamin was awake, we breakfasted, and decided to head out to El Tunco where we could upgrade from scooters to 250cc motorbikes. We waited on the main road for what seemed a ridiculous 45min. for the local bus to take us <10 km South (not sure why but the first bus didn’t stop at our stand). The bikes were significantly more powerful and hopefully safer if it rained. We headed East to Tamanique Falls. Upon reaching the town we asked a local mom for a guide. She made some calls and looked around but eventually her 11-year-old son, Horacio, came strolling down the road from school and she called him to take us. He didn’t seem particularly taken with the idea and took his time to get changed out of his school uniform. Upon realizing that he was going to ride on the back of the motorbike with me, however, I think he warmed to the idea considerably. He told me this was his fist time – not just on the motorcycle, but also in being a guide. I was excited to give him a chance.
The beginning of the trail was rock paved and relatively easy, but in short order it turned to dirt. And, unfortunately, when we started to go downhill in the mud the bike slipped out from under us and dropped, shattering the mirror. Ughh!!! Only minor scrapes and bruises for both Horacio and me. (I confess we were cautioned when renting not to take it on the trail but the 11-year-old kid encouraged us saying it was easy and way faster. Yeah, I know. I’m not interested in your opinion on the topic. 😊) We parked the bikes on the side of the trail and continued the rest of the way on foot. The turnoff could easily have been missed so I was grateful for our guide. The park was 1 USD per person (guide was free) despite the sign stating entry was 2.50 USD. The first view of the water was a jumping spot. Horacio encouraged me to go for it, but I asked him to demonstrate first. Rather than just jumping from the top, he cautiously climbed town to a lower point and then jumped. Encouraged, I went for it from the top. It wasn’t particularly high, and it was wonderful to hit the water and cool off. I jumped a couple more times. There was a second pool to jump into that was considerably higher, but the climb out was precarious (with a 100ft drop onto rocks) and Horacio wasn’t willing to demonstrate because of fear he confessed. I decided not to risk it as I really didn’t know the route back out. (I had a slight regret for not having an older guide to demonstrate the bigger jump, but I overcame my self-disappointment when I saw the next part of the falls.)
We hiked down to two additional falls and pools – which were progressively spectacular. I’m so glad we came. I (of course) took another swim in the pool of the tallest falls. Spectacular!
Back in the town of Tamanique, we met up with Horacio’s mother, father, and brother and took the former for a quick ride on the motorbike. I loved the family and would have invited myself to dinner if we didn’t have to get the bikes back. Instead, we borrowed a basin and washed off my bike to remove any evidence of falling in the mud. While I couldn’t fix the mirror, the rest of bike looked unharmed. We rode home, refilled the gas, and took a couple beach stops before returning the bikes.
At El Tunco beach we spent the late afternoon watching the World Junior Surfing Championship. These kids were awesome. Next we stopped in a local outdoor eatery for pupusas (a first for us) and then on the way back to the main road accepted an invitation to church. Hearing such gusto in the songs was wonderful.
Knowing the buses stopped running at 7 PM, however, we excused ourselves at 6:25 PM and headed to the main road. After waiting 30 minutes a bus came, dropped off a couple passengers, but then took off again before we boarded. Hmm… what’s the deal. By now it was dark. Fortunately, a small pickup truck stopped upon seeing my tentative thumb, and we hitched a ride back to El Zonte and our hostel for one more night. Having eaten already, we crashed early with alarms set for 3:15 AM to catch a shuttle and then a boat to Nicaragua.