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Day 12 Suchitoto

Written on: Saturday August 4th, 2007

A journal entry from: Central America Road Trip 2007

Another expensive cab ride to the Terminal Oriente, just SE of downtown. I use the term Terminal loosely here as there are no busbays or ticket offices. Just a mudlot filled with chicken buses, a bunch of market stalls and a hubbub of activity. Have no fear finding your bus. In addition to numbered routes, all the buses have their destination painted on the front and hawkers go around calling out destinations when their bus is ready to leave directing any stragglers to the right bus. All you have to do is get on board.

I´ve been on chicken buses before of various kinds but this trip provided a good example so for those who haven´t experienced it, so allow me to describe it a little.

In addition to the route and bus nickname painted on the outside of the bus, intricate painting is usually featured on the inside. In this case, there was an erotic drawing of a vampiress next to the drivers seat and a series of 7 skulls in black and blue with a chain below them and lightning all around and the signature Iceman. Personally, I prefer the also common biblical themes to such macabre offerings when I´m travelling on a bus of unknown and possibly questionable mechanical condition, but thats me.

The bus itself is a converted schoolbus, usually a Bluebird, which means the seats are spaced for schoolchildren. The latinos who ride these buses seem to not have too much trouble squeezing into them, but for this tall gringo it is a physical impossibility. The bus started out mostly empty so after it took off I moved up to the front row where there was more leg room. Traditionally this space is reserved for the old or handicapped etc., but why let it go to waste. As we slowly worked our way out of the city the bus made another stop on the outskirts to let on more passengers and I relinquished my seat to an old lady and moved further back. However, I was reasonably comfortable the whole trip as long as I could sit sidewise and keep my knees out in the aisle. It got a little hot at points when the bus slowed down going through a major market, but other than that there was a nice breeze coming through the open windows as the bus sped along.

At this point the conductor (or drivers assistant) worked his way towards the back of the bus collecting fares. Cost was 80 cents. At the other end he would get out and run around to the front to get back on board. At other times he would do it in the other direction and jump back on board at the back as the bus started to speed off. His other jump was to lean out the front door of the bus and call out the destination as we passed busstops (paradas) with people at them barely slowing down to alert of our destination if they had not already noticed. Sometimes the bus had to screech to halt to pick up those passengers or even back up a little while the new passengers ran to get on board. One last thing about the conductor, as people got on and off the bus I was amazed how he was able to remember who he had or had not already collected fares from. For me it was easy as I was the only gringo on board.

Another interesting aspect of the chicken buses were the vendors who got on board at each major stop. A virtual endless parade of hawkers streaming through from one end of the bus aat back out the other selling everything from bags of cashews, chicklets, watermelon, grapes, fried plantain strips, flavored ice, candies and food items I could not identify, one guy was selling belts and nailclippers which I thought was quite an interesting combination. Another older guy got on board and when he saw me he reached out his hand. I shook it and said "mucho gusto" to which he replied "equale" with a smile. He was selling little pamphlets with basic english lessons and the stars and bars and american eagle on the cover.

The other interesting part of this trip is when we passed throught the town of San Martin. I had seen the route to Suchitoto described on a website and it appeared like San Martin was lust a crossroads where one turns on to a highway for a breif distance before turning back off for Suchitoto. As we approached San Martin, thsi seemed to be the case. A highway with concrete newjersey barriers lining each side painted bright white and highway yellow and beyond brely visible a few shacks. But then as we took the exit ramp and crossed over a bridge over the highway, the bsu did not take the turn for Suchitoto and then I saw the real town acolorful market just on the other side of the highway barriers, that one would probably have missed if they had driven straight through as on the website map. As the bus entered the market and made a few twists and turns on streets barely as wide as the bus I looked out on an amazing variety of market stalls. These were mostly ramshackle affairs topped with corrugated metal to provide some shade. All sorts of vegatable, tomatos, carrots, onions, cabbage, lettuce, and meats, fish, live chickens and roosters, plastic sandals, shirts and blouses, cheap kids toys. The chickens were kept in broad wicker baskets enclosed in a mesh bag. One got on board but alas no chickens since we were heading away from the market. Maybe on the way back.

Finally we get to Suchitoto about 1.5-2 hours later. I get out at the central market and wander the 2 blocks to the central square and church. I was looking for an internet cafe so I could look up the name and location of the hotel I had earmarked for myself but forgotten to bring with me. Failing that I started to wander the town to see what I could find. The whole town is no more than a couple of dozen blocks and the streets were mostly cobblestone with some grass growing up between the cracks so it was interesting just wandering around. I came across a couple of places whose names I had remembered seeing but when I went in and asked if they had any rooms I was disappointed to find that they were both booked up. It being a weekend, I was beginning to wonder if I had made a mistake just coming up here expecting to try my luck and was wondering if I would need to head back to San Salvador but then I was directed to a place just 3 blocks from the central square called 2 Gardenias.

Now this place won´t find its way on to any Michellen or Fodors guidebook but at only $10/nt it was priced right. The room itself was a cell with a twin bunkbed and space maybe 3-4 times the ize of the bed. The bathroom was the size of a closet with just enough space for a toilet and a small shower (the sink was in the room). The floor was an uneven mix of tile and bare concrete and the ceiling was just the rafters with the barrel tile roof on top. No TV, certainly no a-c, and just a bare bulb for light. But it had a fan and it was clean and just outside the door was a beautiful courtyard. Beggars can´t be choosers, so I signed in for the room paid my fee and went off to explore.

My next stop for the afternoon was to see the lake so I started walking down the hill. It was supposed to be a 10 minute walk but seemed further than that to me. But it was a pleasant stroll downhill and about halfway down a tuck pulled over and offered me a ride the rest of the way. I hopped on the back afraid to step inside the truckbed as it contained loose rusty sheets of metal and stood on teh rear bumper grabbing on the metal bars above the truckbed as it sped off down the road. We get to the end and there is a $1 toll to get to the end. I offered to pay it for them but they just turned around and let me off. I then offered them a little money but they refused and then took off back up the hill. Huh? I thought they were just going my way as well, but were just helping me out. This is a great country.

At the port they offer boat rides on the lake starting at $12 for a half hour, but also offered ferry serivce to other towns around the lake. I chose just to stretch in hammock under a shade tree and rest and admire the view , while listening to the music that came from a nearby restaurant (Willie and Julio singing to all the girls they´ve loved and a variety of other balladas I didn´t know. After a while, I headed over to the restaurant and ordered a licuado de fruta. I chose zapote, having no idea what it was and turned out not to care for it too much, so I next turned to my old reliable coca cola. IT was getting late so I waited  a short while for the bus back up the hill, there was no way I was going to walk it in THAT direction, since the bus cost only 30cents.

Got back to town, finally found an internet shop and caught up on my journals for a couple of hours. Then treated myself to what I hoped would be a special steak dinner, since I knew I had not spent much money that day. It came with a local suasage and special local cheese. Again neither of which I cared for very much and the steak was not so great either, but I wasn´t expecting much there either. Still not a bad meal and I could watch the locals (and tourists) gather out on the plaza as the evening arose. Unfortunately around 7PM the skys started to open up so I hightailed it back to my hotel. Not much to do so I freshened up and went to bed. Around 10:00 the rain had stopped and I heard some muffled music coming from someplace not too far away but decided not to check it out. Around midnight all was quiet again.

Total cost for the day $33: $6 for the cab in San Salvador, $10 for my hotel, $9 for dinner and the rest miscellaneous.