We had no trouble having a nice nice t night bus sleep after a couple of Bill’s complimentary Gallos (and not having partaken in any special white stuff at a dubious ranch) and as requested, the driver woke us up when we got to Rio Hondo. We got off the bus and looked around and there was NOTHING there. It was pitch black, there was a shop but it was closed, and we were going on the vague internet rumours of a collectivo stopping there that went to the El Salvador border. We sat on the floor and opened a beer each, and smiled and acknowledged the two men that were pacing around with machine guns.
Susan went for a wander in search of a toilet and managed to find a little cafe that was (astonishingly, at 4 am in the middle of nowhere) still open, and luckily we succeeded in scraping together the couple of quetzals they were charging to use the facilities each. Jill returned from her toilet trip jubilant – “Haway! This minibus is going to the border!”. There was a collectivo parked outside the cafe, and Jill had approached the gaggle of people hanging around asking “Frontera El Salvador?” that was greeted with nods. Yay! Escape from Rio Hondo accomplished! There were only two seats left on the bus (and we had to pay with our emergency US dollars having still not located a cash point!)- Susan had to squeeze in the back between two blokes and Jill sat on the seat in front next to a couple of young lads. We opened another couple of beers to toast our departure. Jill ended up chatting to the lads as they spoke a bit of English, and were mainly telling her how much they both love white girls and that “your eyes are beautiful” and “your hair is so pretty” despite a) her being old enough to be their mother b) her eyes were as bloodshot and puffy as you would expect at 4 am and her hair looked like it had been chewed by a dog and c) the Pickwick Papers. In the meantime, Susan had dozed off, spilling her beer all over the sleeping man next to her and was nonchalantly trying to dry him off with her Delta blanket without waking him up.
We arrived at the El Salvador border after the sun had come up and, after having to walk along a road packed with HUNDREDS of massive lorries, we passed through the Guatemala side without incident, but there followed a seemingly endless no man’s land (“Where is it? I can’t see it!” What?” “EL SALVADOR!!”) before we finally turned a corner and the El Salvador checkpoint emerged into view from behind the mountain. The itinerary from here on comprised a number of chicken buses, and the first one was parked up next to the border so we asked the driver how much to Santa Ana. “Fifty”, he said. We had a look through our emergency dollar stash (thankfully US dollars are the currency of El Salvador so we weren’t stuck) and concluded that we didn’t have enough to get us both a ticket for fifty dollars each, and we hadn’t expected El Salvador buses to be so expensive! The driver obviously picked up on the cause of our distress and laughed “fifty CENTS”. We were relieved, amused and slightly embarrassed. Definitely a bargain for a two hour bus journey!
We arrived at Santa Ana bus station, which was in the middle of nowhere, and tried to buy tickets to our next destination (Metapan) from the window, but were told we just needed to wait on the street. There are no actual bus stops in El Salvador, and as we discovered, the trick is to hang around at a strategic point on the road and shout at passing buses (that usually have a man hanging out of the door shouting where they are going) where you want to go, they will shout back if they are going there, slow down (but not stop) and pull you up onto the bus. After a while standing shouting “Metapan! Metapan!” at buses, finally one responded “METAPAN! METAPAN! METAPAN!” and dragged us on. After learning from the Santa Ana bus that personal space is not an issue and that there is no need to stop and apologise to people you shove out of the way in your mission to get a seat and wedge your bags onto the racks, we barged and squeezed our way into the available seats. We were followed by a smart man in a suit, who as the bus drove on, stood at the front of the bus and delivered some kind of lecture about parasites, passing around pamphlets showing pictures of sick children before trying to sell the bus passengers packets of tablets (which we assumed were to treat or prevent said parasites). Throughout the journey, various other people boarded the bus to peddle their wares (a strange selection – toothpaste, blue loo, cold drinks, ice cream, snacks, sachets of cup-a-soup and hot chocolate, other dubious looking tablets…) which proved a welcome distraction and we enjoyed buying random bus things.
From Metapan, now experts at the chicken bus location unit, we got straight onto a bus to Ahuachapan for more of the same. The bus station at Ahuachapan was flanked by a busy shopping mall, and we got ourselves some lunch at a fast food joint and replenished our cool bag supplies (Bill’s Gallos had run out by this point) at the supermarket with cans of dirt cheap lime and rum drink and a bag of ice to keep everything cold, before getting on the bus to our final destination of the day, Tacuba.
Tacuba is a small, quaint looking mountain town (that was apparently the setting of the Americas’ first communist revolution in 1932), on the doorstep of Parc Nationale El Imposible, a huge nature reserve of jungle and mountains, stretching all the way to the Pacific Coast. Our accommodation for the night was the much acclaimed Hostel Mama y Papa, which didn’t disappoint with it’s beautiful garden and spectacular view over the park from the hammocks on the little terrace outside of our rustically lovely room. We chilled on the hammocks with beers for a bit, congratulating ourselves on surviving a long day of chicken buses. We had hoped to meet the legendary Manolo (the son of Mama y Papa, who lead most of the tours of the nature from the hostel), as by all accounts he is quite the character (according to the many internet reviews, he is quite keen to get female travellers to “party” with him,and one hilarious tripadvisor reviewer describes how he kept wanting to touch her feet), but alas he was out guiding another group of tourists on a 3 day camping trip. Instead, our hostess with the mostess was his amazing little Swiss girlfriend Irene, who arranged for Papa to take us up to the hot springs later that evening, a short hike to the highest point in El Imposible the next morning to watch the sunrise over the mountains, our dinner for the evening and even offered to ring the shuttle company to book our journey from Santa Ana to Copan Ruinas in Honduras the next day (as they hadn’t been answering the many emails we’d sent them over the last few days).
The hot springs were amazing and just what we needed after an exhausting day. Papa had kindly stopped by the supermarket and ATM in Ahuachapan en route, so we bought ourselves a case of beers, which we enjoyed in the various hot pools high on the mountain, mesmerised by the breathtaking view. We had been joined on the trip by an Australian girl called Christine who had been on a day-long hike through the park that day (and said it was amazing – the most beautiful, unspoiled jungle she’d ever seen) and hadn’t taken much persuasion that a nice soak in the springs with some beers would be just what her weary muscles needed. She had also got hideously sunburned in Belize, so we bonded over our blisters and peeling skin. We returned to the hostel, nicely relaxed, to find dinner was ready – Mama’s delicious homemade burritos!
After dinner we had a few beers, chatting to Christine, Irene, Mama y Papa, petting the resident puppy (and trying to avoid being pecked by the very territorial family pet duck, that was obviously Papa’s favourite as he sat cuddling it and having full conversations with it, to which it responded in quacks) before having an early night in anticipation of the early start the next day for the sunrise hike.