I am cycling to raise money for the fantastic UK based chaity Macmillan Cancer Support. Big thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far! Justgiving is a quick, easy and secure way to donate online. See my other fundraising page, specific to the Macmillan organized part of the trip

Monday, 19 April 2010

Laguna Verde, Apaneca

I had a very peaceful day yesterday at Laguna Verde, the crater lake on the outskirts of Apaneca. Started the day with a stinking hangover after going out with Elena and her mates drinking til all hours of the morning, but luckily I only had a tiny distance to cycle, although pushing Peggy up the 3km of the steep rocky slope to get to the Laguna Verde Guest house was enough of an effort to mean I´d sweated all the alcohol out by the top! It was completely worth it though, becuase the views up there were stunning. As I set my tent up on the wooden platform mirador next to the dorm building last night there was the most dramatic sunset, and it was a beautiful start to the day this morning to be able to unzip the tent and gaze out across the mountains towards the mist shrouded coast.
Walked through the forest surrounding the lake, and because its a crater again there were very steep slopes to navigate, thsi time often filled with composting vegetation so I was pretty reliant on a big stick to test the path stability as I went... pretty glad I was on my own, would have been slightly embarassed if anyone else had seen my stumbling-navigation-clumbsiness! Saw a wild cator perhaps fox atone point, and could have convinced myself I was exploring the wilderness apert from the rubbish I kept coming across.
Back at the lake shore spent a good few hours drawing which got the attention of Sammuel, one of the police working there alongside a good few army men too, and later a big bunch of local kids. I met another traveller Asa who recommended the hotel I´m now sat writing in in Juayúa (my 3rd time here, lets see what luck that brings!). It was possibly the shortest ever day to get here, really easy apart from that I fell off my bike on the stony downhill from the hostel this morning... not hurt but irritating graze to my palm.Here in Central America there are only two seasons, summer and winter and right now, slightly early apparently, it´s changing from summer to winter, which means that it is staring to rain a lot in the afternoons. Right now I can hear a lot of thunder outside, there was a hugely loud rumble just now, though I can´t hear any rain yet so will brave a wander to the main square...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Laguna Espino, Ahuachapan, Tacuba and Ataco

Have finally answered my recent cravings for outdoordom...yay! Have spent the last few days based at the very chilled Mamá and Papá Hostal of Tacuba so that I could visit the famous Bosque Impossible. I´d heard a lot about it, and it is a really beautiful place. A protected area, the forest covers 30 square kilometers and my first foray into it with my nifty guide Avel covered a lot of land, we were walking for hours, tasting fruits and gazing out over the lush green mountains to Guatemala and the Salvadorean coast. At one of the miradors he pointed out a mountain in the distance where apparently there are pumas, according to the park rangers, although Avel hadn´t seen them for himself.
This part of El Salvador is relatively high, so it is ideal land for cultivating coffee... Avel got me to taste the raw bean of one strain that was sweet and apparently really strong, needing very little attention. I also visited Manolo´s coffee farm... Manolo is the son of the Mamá and Papá of the hostel and is the one who organises the tours into the Bosque. His Dad, Papá, or Osiles Gonzalez (once confused for Speedy Gonzalez over an airport tannoy so he tells me!) gave me the tour of the farm, which was a large area of land covering a really steep slope leading down to a river. The gradients of the slopes the coffee is grown on is sharp...I was totally amazed by how the campesinos can tend and harvest the plants when I was struggling to even keep upright on them! Likewise I was astonished to see a really young girl of maybe 6 balancing a large urn of water on her head (the common way for girls and women here to carry wood, water, baskets of produce, balanced on top of a rolled up towel) and zipping up the steep slopes behind her older brothers (the boys and men carry their loads on their shoulders, which looks less comfortable than the perfect-posture-inducing head option, though both look really hard work).
I was able to do a second tour on the Friday when another tourist turned up, another Brit called Mhyr, who it turned out had walked on the Volcan Izalco tour last Sunday, it took us nearly a day to recognise each other, odd seeing as there seems to be so few foreign tourists in El Salvador (most tourists being El Salvadoraneans form other parts of the country, or living abrroad and home for the holidays)... it was his knee brace that gave it away. We took the famous cascadas tour, which was beautiful but also slightly terrifying... I had to admit to myself after only doing 4 out of the 7 jumps freely plus one in a harness, that I am a big wuss when it comes to juping off rocks into pools! Oddly I managed the highest jump... just about, in that I took one rock lower than the recommended one... it was something like 10 meters high, but you didn´t need to do a run up which seemed to be my major downfall on the ones I missed completely, I just couldn´t make my legs move into a run... doh! Overlooking the quivery knee moments, it was a stunning walk, the highlight being walking down to the top of a 70 meter waterfall drop... gorgeous.

I had another waterfall-filled day today... 30km of a serious amount of uphill brought me back through Ahuacahpan where I was the night before Tacuba and to the high-enough-to-feel-chily town of Ataco. Happily I had company to distract me for the last 9km or so when I cycled with a young lad on his fixed gear BMX.. that´s some serious muscle power on these gradients I tell you. After a wild goose chase for a non-existent hostel recommended by the Rough Guide I checked into Hostal Cipi and the really lovely owner Elena gave me a lift to the stunning Don Juan waterfalls where I sat and drew for a good few hours while large family groups came and went... I swam briefly in the topmost of the naturally very level pools and was surprised to find the water too cold to stay in for very long.

Wild goose chases seem to be a side effect of using the Rough Guide as a few of its recommendation don´t exist. Although it can seem irritating while I´m going round in searching circles, it can actually lead to good stuff, like the other afternoon when I got to Laguna Espino just outside of Ahuachapan. I was hoping to camp at a restraunt which just wasn´t there, but came across Restraunte El Gran Rancho instead where I was allowed to camp (after some confused hesitation). It was a beautiful spot... I pitched up on the wooden pier so that my sleep could be wrapped in lapping water and when I woke up was spoilt by the beautiful early morning skies. But even more so, I was spoilt by the hospitality of the owner´s son, Artur and his friend, who entertained me for the evening in that incredibly generous way that I´m finding is typical of Salvadoreans. They drove me to see the local toursit attraction, the Ausoles, a geothermic plant just ouside town which apparently is one of five plants in El Salvador, and supplies 15% of the country´s energy. They showed me around town, treated me to yucca and took me to their mate´s coffee bar where they gave me my first ever chess lesson... I was uber slow, I got the rules, but couldn´t see far enough ahead to know what moves to make...

Ahuachapan is a really pretty town, covered with lots of murals that show traditional campesino life in bright colours with manga-large-eyed characters. I noticed the painted lamposts again, like we´d seen in Juayua, and Artur explained that it was to stop political parties painting on them, which is banned in the town, though you see it a lot in the countryside.

I popped back to Ahuachapan yesterday after my sandals broke on the cascadas walk, and managed to get them repaired for just 50 cents in the main square by this really skilled shoemaker... there is something really satisfying about being able to have things repaired, not just because I don´t want to spend travelling money on buying new ones, but I feel guilty about our throwaway culture where it is cheaper to replace than repair, when repairing reduces personal waste. At the Mama and Papa hostel was lucky to be able to install myself in the rooftop mirador with a beautiful view out across the town and surrounding mountains to draw and make jewellry. I had used up almost all of my seeds on these few pieces, so Manolo brought me a huge bag of guanacaste from his farm, which I shelled with some help from the smiley duck man of the house... so thepierce-the-seeds-mission starts again! I´ve also got another good luck talisman to add to my collection, Lydia,. the Mamá of the house gave me a lovely carved wooden ring.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Day trips from Santa Ana

¨Cuando tu abras tus ojas por la mañana, expresa que marviloso y bello es tener vida´
Quote from one of the chicken bus mirrors, meaning, ´When you open your eyes in the morning, think how marvelous and beautiful it is to be alive´... inspiring.

I´ve just had a fantastic few days...being based at the construction-site-cum hostel Casa Verde in Santa Ana turned out to be really lucky because of meeting Andrea and the two Carlos´s there. Carlos who runs the place was really lovely, he even gave me a guide book for Mexico, and his cousin Carlos was wicked company and really generous with his time...the day I turned up he drove me and Andrea all over visiting archalogical ruins. The first one was Joya de Cerén, which happened to be all the way back along the carretterra near to San Salvador, it was funny to zip along it so quickly and easily in the car after it being such a struggle on Peggy when I´d be feeling so ill the day before. We saw the remains of a village there that had been buried in ash in the sixth century and was discovered in 1976 - I enjoyed seeing the medicine man´s house, split into three buildings, the ´surgery´, the sleeping area and the kitchen. We then went to the acropolis at San Andrés, which would have been the centre of a Mayan city and was a 21 foot tall platform built on top of the old plaza, which is just starting to be excavated. The Acropolis symbolised the high status of the Mayan ruler and would have housed palaces and funerary temples, a place of exclusive precincts where they lived and vereated ancestors. The third site we went to was Tazmul where there was a structure of five pyramids on top of one another, and which also turned out to be an area of El Salvador reknown for its yucca, so Carlos treated us to the speciality dish, which was really tasty... the yucca is served boiled with salsa, salad and chicharron (sort of like pork scratchings, as in pig skin fat and meat in little cubes, way tastier than it sounds to anyone who´s been put off by pub pork scratchings at home!) .

Once it´s finished off it sounds like the Casa Verde will really be a wicked place to stay, and Andrea and I rekon Carlos will be the socialite of the place. He took us out another night to a few bars in Santa Ana itself. The last place we went to was a beautiful building, and old house with lots of separate rooms around a courtyard that would be perfect for a big club night. It had a really bohemian feel to it...Hendrix and Beatles posters... beanbags and deckchairs... candles in a bathroom and loads of really friendly young folk with lots of dreads, sandles and natural jewellry. We felt really welcome, like I´ve experienced time and again here in El Salvador everyone was very patient with the pigeon-Spanish and were keen to hear if were enjoying their countryand equally keen to knock back shots of tequila with us.

El Salvador´s National park of the volcanoes lies fairly near Santa Ana geographically, although by bus its a hefty trip that drops you off part way up Volcán Cerro Verde, which as its name tells is beautifully green. Andrea and I went there on Friday to climb Volcán Santa Ana (also known as Volcán Ilamatepec, meaning ´old lady mountain´ in the indigenous Nahual language) and back again on Sunday to conquer the slopes of Volcán Izalco, which was a lot steeper and as it is a younger volcano has no vegetation, so is an intimidating scree slope of rock and ashy sand that was pretty slippery to come down. It was the better climb of the two volcanoes because it was tougher so more satisfying (and impressively a 65 year old El Salvadoranean managed it quite happily along with the reast of us). The walk up Santa Ana was the more beautiful, passing through three terrains, firstly forest that gave way to an Alice-in-wonderland-esque greenery srouting with agape or pulque, the plant tequila is made from, which sends up huge flower shoots that tower over you, and lastly barren rocky slopes leading up to the very windy and cold peak. The crater was huge and very deep and the most impressive thing was the stunning turquoise crater lake whose colour is due to the reaction between sulphur and rainwater. You used to be able to hike down to the crater as well, until an explosion in October 1995 destroyed the path, now you would need ropes to absail, which our incredibly friendly police escort Rayo , or José, had done. Rayo was actually far more informative and chatty than the guide, and was very open about his opinions about El Salvador´s political situation which he saw as being unstable due to conflict among the governing party who cannot agree on how left they are. Some are middle left and want to align themselves with Brasil, others are more extreme and identify with Hugo Chavez and Cuba and want to join ALBA. During the war Rayo was conscripted into the army, then joined the police and worked in various divisions, including anti gang and narcotics, before joining the tourist police. He clearly really enjoys his job and told us he had been very disillusioned with the police force, finding it frustrating when he was working against gang crimes, as he recognises that the gangs actually generate a lot of business for the companies that supply private security paid on low wages to guard shops and banks etc, and for the companies supplying the arms they carry. He feels very lucky to have had the opportunity to transfer to the tourist police, which he did a lot of very specific training for including first aid, horse riding and English, and was keen to empasise to us that the police presence on the volcano tours was only partly for crime prevention, and that also their role was to provide information and to make sure we enjoyed our experience. He was very aware how important it is for tourists to have a good impression of El Salvador so that they will encourage friends and family to visit.

Rayo was also enthusiastic about the steam ´saunas´at the top of Izalco, which was what brought us back there on the Sunday. I´ve never had a sauna at all before so to have my first one atop a volcano in El Salvador I reckon is pretty wicked! There is no sulphur, so the steam is rainwater and we sat in clouds of steam on the rocks and sweated buckets (slightly more comfortable for the blokes who could take their shirts off, we women were sat there fully clothed)... supposedly very good for your respiritory system too, grand.

Another of our day trips was to the town of Juayúa, which is famous for its weekend food markets or ´feria gastronomica´s´m where I ate rabbit for the first time and tried chicha de arroz, an alcohol made from rice that was similar to mead but I wasn´t too keen on after the first couple of sips. Juayúa is a really pretty town with lots of street painting, covering walls, trees, lamposts, even bins. There was an artisan market there too and one of the jewellers, a really friendly guy Douglas from Santa Ana who came back on the 4 o´clock bus with us, sold me some cord to use with my seeds, and some raw coconut pieces that will need sanding down
to make into earings. There was also a lot of blue tyedye clothing ... añil, or indigo, is a plant that grows in the area and its green leaves when mixed with water produce blue dye, so I got a cute little dress for Hannah´s Lily, the first shopping I´ve really done on the trip, knowing I have to carry the weight of anything I buy is the best shopping detterrent! One of the big events of the day for El Salvadoraneans was the football match between Barelona and Real Madrid, which I heard was 2 -0 to Barcelona from one of the blokes in this crowd spilling out into the street in Juayúa. In the morning the family I met while drawing their coca-cola draped licuado stall (for Coca-Cola Syndrome postcard no.3 El Salvador) were all decked out in Barcelona shirts too. I love that when I start drawing people become interested, 10 year old Barcelona shirted Marcelo was the first to start looking over my shoulder and when I gave him the rest of my sketchbook to look at him and a couple of friends spent ages pouring over it. I am amazed time and again by the patience of Central Americans, he sat for the whole hour or so it took me to draw until our bus turned up. His older siter Rosa also came by, and Rafael who had sat still staring into space long enough for me to get him in the drawing seemed pretty chuffed with it. I´ve rapidlybeen getting over my shyness of someone watching me drawsince being in Central America, and happily so because it´s such a lovely way to meet people here, and its one of those things that spans all language barriers, I´m really lucky to be able to draw and enjoy it, am really grateful to have that skill.
Finishing the drawing off on the bus got some more little kids and the vendors interested... I find the buses fascinating here, the same old yellow US school buses as in Nicaragua (although you also see more white and green painted ones here too), they are a hub for street vendors who come through in droves selling anything and everything, endless sweets, gum and baked goods, juices underwear, and all sorts of medicineswhich from the vendor´s spiel sound like the cure every possible complaint from stress to pain to flu. I also just love the local markets, busy, noisy and dirty too, especially at the end of the day, but so full of life and colour, and again it is just fascinating seeing all the things on sale and watching the vendors go by with handfulls of live crabs, or drapped in belts or chains or watches, or with huge wicker baskets of produce balanced atop their heads!
Andrea and I actually ended up back in Juayúa yesterday (and seeing as I´m probably going through there again on my route this week it looks like it´ll be another of my three stop places) with a group of lads we met climbing Izalco. The idea was to go for the food market again but by the time we got there all the stalls were clearing up so we had some basic chicken sandwiches, not quite as exciting as the iguana I had heard you could try, but the company was great. They were a group of call centre workers, all from El Salvador and all spoke perfect English that they knew from living in various places in the States. That is another distinctive thing about El Salvador that had been obvious since first crossing the border, it is a lot more bilingual than Nicaragua, although perhaps the majority don´t speak English fluently they will shout hi and bye as often as the ádiós´I´d been used to, and then I´ve met so many individuals who are fluent, like Rodrigo and the drinkerteacher from the pool restraunt who´d lived in LA, even Carlos, as I only found out last night, speaks far better English than my Spanish and taught himself mainly from music, printing out lyrics and learning them by heart. For Rodrigo it is because he went to bilingual school, but for most it seems it is because they moved out of El Salvador with their parents during the war and were brought up in the US, or they moved away as young adults to work, like Geaorge the ex goth who also spent 8 years teaching English in the Czech republic. What is interesting is that the guys we´ve met have moved back here. Sometimes it is because they´ve been deported (the drinkerteacher), others are returning to get to know their country, like yesterday´s Carlos who had moved to the US as a child and returned a year ago and has ´proud to be Salvadoranean´tattoed on his forearms.
It was fascinating to hear their perspective on El Salvador, I was especially interested that they see the dollarization as a negative thing for their country, both symbolically and because the dollar brought higher prices and lower wages, making things even more difficult for a country which has such a huge problem with poverty. A book Carlos at the guest house leant us ´El Salvador 10 years later.. History revealing itself 1992 to 2002´discussed post war policy and had a very pertinent quote ¨Poverty and wealth. Companion of the majority, privilege of the minority¨ Since the end of the war and dollarization the gap between rich and poor has widen even further, as the country´s economic policies have focused on protecting the interests of a small number of business groups connected with the financial industrial industries. Another point George made about the governement is that although it is the left they are not fulfilling the promioses made at the Peace Accords, he was angry that so many people died in vain as he sees it because the party their fought for is compromising its original ideals.
Having met so many emigrant that have returned home it was interesting to hear what they thought of the US, and sadly they all seemed to find it hard, Jersey said the people were very cruel when he was struggling with the language when he fist moved to New Jersey. El Salvador´s biggest export is seen to be its young people, its workforce that move abroad and send money back home, like Jersey and George and Andrea and I had been wondering about what their experience must be like. We were chatting about how often these guys move abroad full of hopes and dreams of a better life and better money but then find themselves far from home and friends, struggling with language in a hostile environment where they are treated as second class citizens and face a lot of discrimination and are paid appalling badly to jobs that the people of those countries think themsellves too good for, a problem made even worse by the fact that often the immigrants have entered the country illegally and so through lack of options end up involved in crime and drugs. It must be incredibly hard, especially considering back home they have often been highly qualified and respected in their professions. I must also be particularly difficult to be so far away from familly when Central American culture sees family as so important. From my experiencesback home I´d say it is a similar thing for Central Americans in the US as it is for Albanians in London, and from what Andrea says the Turkish immigrants in Austria face similar difficulties. These were such a great group of guys, they even drove us all the way back to Santa Ana when we realised we´d missed the last bus, even though it was the opposite direction for them. I hope back home if I ever get the chance I´d treat tourists as well as they treated us.
A sad point for me this weekend was Saturday, 10th April, it was the second anniversary of my Dad´s death. I miss Dad just as much now as I did in those first few months, and often on this trip I wish that he was still alive so I could chat to him about my experiences and all the characters I{m meeting because I know how much he would have loved listening. It seems strange to me as well because in a way I might not be here if Dad had not been ill, because it was Dad´s illness which led me to support Macmillan Cancer Support, and to start with all the long distance cycling. It was the Macmillan ride which brought me out to Panma and got me to Granada and gave me the confidence to set off on my solo part of the trip, and I am still raising money for them in memory of Dad. I actually made it over the 1000 mile mark last week, I meant to photograph my odometer at the time before it reset but didn´t hit the brakesd in time, am at about 1,140 miles now! Even though Saturday was a sad day and the motivation for my journey in that sense is sad, I also feel very strong because in a way that I can´t explain I often feel that Dad is very clode to me physically, there have been times on the trip when I get that sensation very powerfully and that is something that is very comforting and makes me feel safe and also makes me glad that Dad does know what I am doing and is enjoying the trip along with me. I am very glad that I am able to enjoy this travelling because I´m who I am as a result of how wonderful both my Mum and my Dad are, I keep feeling astonished at how lucky I am.
So... I have left Santa Ana this morning for the next part of the journey, and am exciting because I might get some swimming and camping in throuhg the next week. I´m going to be following part of the Ruta las Flores, and am in Ahuachapan right now aiming for a lakeside camping spot tonight, feels like it will be a colourful week after seeing the murals at a licuado shop I´ve just been to...

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Semana Santa in San Salvador

So one slightly unusual piece of advice I got before coming away was from Andrew at work telling me I´d be bored sometimes, and it came... the last week I´ve been stuck in El Salvador´s version of Hotel California, dodgy-grubby-sagging-bed-Ximenia´s (one plus... spongebob squarepants pink blanket!) ... couldn´t leave for being sick sick sick with traveller´s stomach.. urgh! Watching endless rubbish american tv, making up for all those smug months of not living with a tv eh? Very little to do in the capital since everything was shut down for Semana Santa (easter) and everyone in their right mind was partying at the beaches (all I saw of the festival was a re-enactment of the stages of the cross by a local church group on the Friday morning and lots of coloured salt or sand ? religious pictures on the streets all over the place)... ach weel. At least there was another trapped person to share the crap tv with and teach desmoche (Nicaraguan version of rummy my hostdad Marcelo taught to me and Catharine back in Lagartillo) Canadian Cathy who was waiting for her awol baggage to turn up from its around-the-americas journey.

To be fair there were a couple of days in San Salvador before the sickness struck, got there on Thursday morning after one really long day, 100km plus getting from San Miguel to Cohutapeque, then a shorter but still tiring stint into the busy capital, where I got my first close encounter with traffic when a bus bumped my back pannier nudging me along the gutter... not even close to serious but gave me a shock. Even the Thursday was pretty much shut down, although I managed to visit the Museo de la Palabra y Imagen. There were three main subjects on exhibit, the first the famous Salvadoranean painter and writer Salvador Salazar Arrué, or Salarrué, born in 1899 , who was the first writer to address the 1932 massacre of thousands of Salvadoranean campesinos. I smiled at reading his prefered working set up ...writing through the night in a hammock, biro and paper resting on a big book, smoking... change the writing to drawing and I´m there.

Also really interesting was the information on the civil war in El Salvador, which started on 10th January 1981, and lasted 11 years until the peace treaty between the government and the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) was signed on 16th January 1982, an agreement which put an end to 60 years of authoritarianism, and was the start of democracy for El Salvador. At the back of the museum was a room dedicated to Radio Venceremos, the clandestine guerrilla radio station that was the official voice of the FMLN throughout the civil war, broacasting opposition propoganda and information from ´the Cave of the Passions` in the rural mountains of Morazán. Radio Venceremos played an important role by speaking out against the violations of human rights that were rife in San Salvador, such as the thousands of murders and disappearances of civilians. The radio´s continuing existance over the years demonstrated the territorial control and popular support of the insurgent forces and was important for the moral of the FMLN.

One of the events that contributed to the start of the Civil War was the assassination on the 24th March 1980 of the popular Salvadoranean Archbishop, Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero. There was a large display dedicated to him in the museum and another day Cathy and I visited a gallery with a 30 year anniversary exhibition of paintings dedicated to his memory. He was seriously dedicated to helping the poor of his country, passing a lot of time amongst the people and in an beautifully humane gesture, diverted the funds for the reconstruction of the capital´s Cathedral Metropolitana to feed the poor in 1977. More shocking even than his assassination was to read about how during his funeral government armed forces shot at and killed many mourners following his coffin into the Cathedral. Perhaps unsurprising of a government that murdered thousands of it´s population thoughout the years of the war, a fact memorialised in the Monument to the Memory and Truth in Parque Cusuctlan. It is a disturbing thing to stand infront of such a physically large list of names, 29,134 names, it has a much larger impact than any written number, especially when you read the same surname time and again, and imagine the relationships between these people, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, nieces, uncles, cousins, thousands who were assassinated or ´disappeared´never to be heard from again. There was also a list of 300 odd masacres throughout the country, including college groups and whole villages. It made me incredibly thankful for my freedom of speech which we take for granted as a right, but it seems too often it is a luxury.

San Salvador in general was an odd place, the part around the hostel and even when I ventured further afield was very rich and North America, big air conditioned shopping malls as expensive as at home, huge billboards everywhere and chain fast food place after chain fast food place including the ubiquitous Mister Donut, which I have to admit I rinsed for its stomach settling chicken soup! For some reason the city reminded me of the Vienna of the 90´s film version of Romero and Juliet, perhaps the juxtaposition of allthe US-like advertising juxtasupposed with all the religious iconography? In the Western-esque environment I ended up going to the cinema twice in as many days, saw Alice in Wonderland (thought at first I´d make it an even more surreal experience by going to the 3D Spanish showing but changed my mind... Tim Burton does well enough on the surreal front as it is) the other film was Shutter Island, not bad...) It also rained mad-heavily for a couple of afternoons, oddly enough coinciding with both times that the lovely Salvadoranean Rodrigo (who spoke perfect English and turned out to be a web designer and motion graphics animator leading to lots of geeky conversations) took Cathy and I to mirador points above the city, though the first one we did get to look out across the nighlights before the downpour.

For all my moaning (come on, I´m British, it had to come sometime, and I´m a rubbish patient!) there was another really good point to being stuck in the city. One of the early unsick nights Rodrigo had taken us out to a few bars (including Irish... but no cider or pints!) and at one I met Maro, a really talented jeweller working with metal who ended up piercing all my seeds I´d collected in Nicaragua, so now I can finally start to make things with them, wicked!

I finally left the capital yesterday, a bit premature as it turned out because I then got so violently sick on the road after about 40km that I had to ask for a lift from a police pick-up for the last 3km to the nearest hostel in El Congo. It turned out to be a ´couples´motel...where they give you a complimentary condom along with the towel, soap and toilet paper when you check in and charge you by the day and night so ironically its turned out to be the most expensive place I´ve stayed yet. I was so zonked I slept all through the day and night, didn´t see or hear any other guests and felt better enough this morning to leave for the very short distance left to Santa Ana where I checked into the Casa Verde which is pretty much a building site apart from the one room I´m sharing with Austrian Andrea.

Oh and another good thing that came of my time in San Salvador was a resolution to my plastic bag guilt issues of the trip. After years of being an annoyingly persistent anti plastic bag person back home am finding it hard not to use them here, everything is sold in them, including water (since Honduras all the water is treated or mineral so you often buy it in bags which is admittedtly better than plastic bottles) And after seeing the rubbish burners in Honduras have been extremely aware of the rubbish I´m producing as an individual, I don´ñt want my plastioc fumes killing when Cathy told me about a place in Guatemala where they use plastic bottles stuffed with plastic bags as building ´bricks´ I was well chuffed, and have started stuffing my own bottle to drop off on the way past Lake Atilan... good solution for the time being.