PUPUSAS, BITCOINS AND THE PACIFIC
Leaving Guatemala felt pretty hard but the strange CA4 visa regime (read here more on the kind of mini Schengen between Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) left us no choice but to move on.
El Salvador welcomed us friendly and the border officers explained to us that we should apply for an extension of our permit rather sooner than later as we had already used up 2 months of the permitted 3 months stay in the CA4’s. Of course we knew that but it was nice to hear their concern that we wouldn’t stay long enough in El Salvador to see all of its beauty :-).
Our first stop was Lago de Güija, directly at the border. It shows also as a kite spot on the map but we were obviously out of season. The water level was also very high so that the drive along the shore was rather challenging. Our next stop was Santa Ana, capital of the the coffee-rich province and named after the nearby volcano (or was it the other way round?). The town is very lively and visiting the market was a blast. Endless rows of vegetables and fruits, a sight we had missed so often in Guatemala that despite growing them exports most of them - amongst others - to El Salvador.
Another positive surprise was the street food. We had heard of the national dish already in the US but now we were in “Pupusa Country” and pupas were everywhere. Pupusas are a flatbread made with cornmeal or rice flour stuffed with one or more ingredients, which may include anything from cheese, bean paste, and vegetables to sausages, shrimp or any combination of it - and most of the time they are just delicious!
Wanting to pay the old lady for my first pupusas the next surprise awaited us: You want to pay with Bitcoin? She asked. El Salvador was the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender and you can pay essentially anything and everywhere with your digital wallet.
The government programs to introduce Bitcoin were very extensive and every citizen received a certain amount of “free Bitcoins” when creating a wallet. While many find the experiment a great idea, there are also some critical voices, especially around the fact that the government has put a 10 year lid of secrecy on how the Bitcoins were acquired in the first place. For us a s foreigners it was interesting to see how well adapted the use of the Bitcoins and wallets were just months after its introduction, it gave us a glimpse in the future.
After these first experiences it was time to explore some of the country. We headed to nearby Lago de Coatepeque, a huge crater lake nearby Volcan Santa Ana where we found an amazing place to stay. We explored the area and hiked to the top of Volcan Santa Ana, itself famous for its crater lake. The hike climbs through tropical forests, coffee plantations to the rocky top of the volcano that awaited us with torrential winds. We enjoyed the views for a while but were glad to get back down and take a refreshing bath in the lake.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America - just 21’000km2 - which adds the big advantage that you can travel almost anywhere in the country within just a few hours. To hike a mountain in the morning and jump into the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon is not very uncommon and many people in the country make use of these short distances to travel and party on the weekends.
Our next stop was the capital, San Salvador. We had to pick up some spare parts that we had shipped there but most importantly, we had to explore the famous climbing area “Puerta del Diablo” just outside of town. At least for us foreigners, San Salvador has a pretty bad reputation of gang violence, kidnapping, drugs, and corruption. While many of these problems do exist we found a modern and buzzing city with friendly people and a great spirit. We were lucky to meet fellow climbers Sarah, Estela and Federico that mad our stay in and around the city so much more interesting and exciting (and brought us to the best pupuserias). Thanks to Federico we even got a private tour of the closed but impressive art museum and learned a lot about the civil war, politics and culture in this young country with a tough history. Berna was always curious why, contrary to Guatemala, almost nobody was wearing traditional costumes? The unfortunate truth was that earlier governments suppressed and even killed indigenous people pushing them into the mountains and suppressing their culture.
As we had found an incredible and quiet spot for our Rouletout near la Puerta del Diablo high above the city (surrounded by the finest pupuserias) we took our time. Climbed, explored the city with our motorbike, danced in the streets and did our permit extension for the CA4’s.
Having said goodby to San Salvador we turned south to the coast. Beaches with black sand, impressive waves (El Salvador has one of the best surf breaks in the world), countless birds and fisherman surrounded us while we watched impressive sunsets and volcanos from the beach. We followed the coast, passed “Bitcoin beach” (where the idea to introduce Bitcoins as legal tender was born) and partied with locals on top of the cliffs.
Before leaving El Salvador we visited Volcano Conchagua, a viewpoint overlooking the Gulf of Fonseca with its three neighbouring countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
On our last night we stayed at a beach next to the border where friendly neighbours offered us “El Salvador” T-shirts for Christmas. This was so typical for the El Salvador experience as we got to know it - thank you for a short but wonderful time!
On the 24th of December we crossed into Honduras but as always, more on that in the next blog post.