Monday, November 30, 2015

Hotel Aaculaax Review aka Lush Review

We didn't have reservations when we arrived in San Marcos on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, but we had a few accommodation ideas in mind. Our first stop was Hotel Aaculaax (aka Lush). The super fancy, manicured grounds and abundance of impressive design details had me doubting it's affordability immediately. However, because we were possibly the luckiest people alive they had 2 budget rooms available. Lush (as I think they prefer to be called now) had a beautifully decorated spacious room for Q120 ($16USD) and another smaller oddly shaped, but still atmospheric room for Q100 ($13USD). We scooped up the bigger room and were pretty impressed with our score. The room was a warm yellow and decorated with a combination of glass and tile mosaics, 3D stained glass, funky wood furniture and rock slab shelves. It was one of the most unique rooms we've ever stayed in. The bathroom, shared between the 2 rooms, was practically a piece of art. With so much colour, murals, stonework and stained glass, I can safely say that it is the only bathroom that I have ever taken a panoramic picture in. Bonus- it was always super clean. There was a huge, beautiful terrace entwined with vines, flowers and rustic wood. The tables were slabs of huge trees and the chairs had thick, colourful woven cushions. Tropical birds and hummingbirds flitted around the spectacularly lush, dense gardens constantly. Honestly, it was a little slice of lake front paradise and I can barely believe that we cheapos got to stay there.

There were more expensive rooms too, which would definitely be worth the splurge, if you were so inclined. The main difference between our room and the expensive ones- was the view. If I were to pick one bad thing about Hotel Aaculaax it would be that there isn't a general area to relax with a lake view. While the gardens are gorgeous, we're all really here for the lake. My guess is that this luxury is reserved for the people willing to fork out the cash. Fairly, I suppose. We met an awesome couple from Alaska who were nice enough to show us their fancier room (about $50USD) in which their bed was set into a huge bay window (that opened!!) with a spectacular view of the lake. It's hard to imagine a nicer place to wake up. The more expensive rooms (which go up to $100 USD) had balconies and huge windows, all which had (I'm assuming) I-have-to-sit-here-all-day type of views. Many of these rooms are actually apartments, so if you did splurge for a fancy room, maybe you could save a few bucks and cook dinner for yourself, although its hard to imagine wanting to tear your gaze away from your view for that long.

Speaking of beds- ours was super comfortable, which is a luxury in itself, and the pillows had nare a lump in them, which is practically impossible to find in our experience. And the wifi was by far the strongest and most reliable we've seen in Central America. Oh the perks of staying at an adult hotel!

The staff were friendly and spoke English. You could get beer (a bit expensive) at reception, and breakfast (also expensive) on the lovely terrace. You can't reserve the cheaper rooms in advance, so its really a game of luck if that's what you're looking for. However, if you are considering the long haul, Lush offers the 8th night free if you stay 7 (at least for the cheap rooms). We would definitely stay here again if we were lucky enough to find ourselves back in San Marcos La Laguna.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

San Marcos La Laguna: Hanging with the Hippies

San Marcos on Lago de Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands is a meeting point for what the Lonely Planet calls 'global seekers'. The town certainly has it's fair share of hippies and crystal healers, reki whatevers and dread-locked travellers attempting to find their spiritual something or other while wearing a uniform of raggy woven hippy pants and oversized sharp looking wooden earrings. Oh and if you're seeking kindred souls who like to chant and beat drums down on the dock at sunrise. And sunset. And any time their spirit animal encourages them to do so- you'll find that crowd here, too. I've personally had the pleasure of overhearing such characters claim to have memories from “before the dinosaurs” and discuss retreats that they were going on where they would survive soley for weeks drinking some sort of magical potion, rubbing healing stones and meditating. Pretty much any new-age, hippy, healer thing you're into- your kin are in San Marcos.

The whole scene we found pretty entertaining, right up until the point that it became super annoying. However, it was slow(ish) to wear on us and by that time, we had fallen in love with San Marcos La Laguna, holistic obsession and all.

We had taken a shuttle from Antigua to San Marcos. Somehow it had been cheaper to get a shuttle all the way to San Marcos than just to the main Lake Atitlan town of Panajachel (Pana). We paid Q70 (about $9 USD) for the shuttle, and I'm sure we could have gotten it cheaper if we had shopped around as opposed to choosing the convenience of just booking it through our hostel. It took about 3.5 hours to get from Antigua to San Marcos, the last part of the ride being a pretty steep and narrow road that winded its way down the mountain.

San Marcos is quite unlike anywhere else we've ever been. It is connected by road to the outside world, which isn't the case for all of the lakeside villages. North of the road and climbing the mountain is where the local Mayan people mostly live, in boxy concrete houses clinging to the steep landscape. South of the road, is Bohemia-ville. There is one main, narrow stone pathway with the majority of restaurants and shops. Snaking off from the main path are other small pathways of packed dirt or stone that wind their way through fincas with large coffee plants, avocado trees, large estates, hotels and holistic centres. The pathways are lined on each side with either tall bamboo fences, thick jungle or stone walls. No matter where you're headed, its a pretty atmospheric wander.

The views from San Marcos are spectacular. The sun, the clouds, fisherman and wildlife provide a constantly changing foreground from which to frame the town's lakefront volcano vistas. I could have sat on the dock from sunrise to sunset (which I sometimes tried) just trying to capture all the lake's costume changes.

See the light on top of the Volcano- that's LAVA
As you can maybe imagine, early morning and late afternoon are when Lago de Atitlan can really take your breath away. I thought that we had seen a few good examples of just how majestic the lake could be between the soft yellow sunrise, bright blue sunny afternoons and fireball orange sunsets. And then the Volcano Fuego started burping and we were blown away again. We were sitting on the dock watching the sunset over the lake when we noticed red coloured clouds in the far east. We originally thought that it was the setting sun throwing its glow across the sky. But then, as the colour drained from the sky and dark settled in, we could still see red clearly against the blackened eastern sky. We saw the outline of a perfect cone, and bright red intermittently shooting up from the cone that looked suspiciously like lava, but still, although all evidence pointed to an erupting volcano, we couldn't believe our eyes- because who gets to see an erupting volcano? We asked some locals to clarify. 'Si, Fuego!' They confirmed, barely giving it a second glance. What!!?!!? And then we couldn't tear our eyes away. Volcano Fuego is one of the 3 volcanos closest to Antigua and not all that close to Lago de Atitlan, but the distance didn't at all take away from its impressive spew of red hot lava into the night sky. The next morning there was a warning from the US government in regards to Fuego's activity, warning its citizens that the volcano was throwing rocks, lava and ash an impressive 5000ft into the air! No wonder we could see it from all the way in San Marcos!

At the far west of San Marcos is the small but worthwhile nature reserve Cerro Tzankukil (Q15). It is easy to while away half a day on its pebbly trails that lead to various viewpoints, contemplating life on a shady bench overlooking the vista or jumping off it's new wooden platform into the crystal clear lake. The gardens were well kept and full of flowers, birds and butterflies. I was much more impressed than I expected to be and found the reserve to be worth the admission price (which is rare).

If the eccentric hippies, spectacular views, narrow pathways and erupting volcano hasn't sold you on San Marcos than I have one last secret that most definitely will: chocolate chip cookies. Now, we certainly are not the type of travellers who search out Western food when we are abroad. We would, in fact, almost always choose local food over what we could get at home. We were just innocently walking past the Restaurant Fe when we saw their cookie display from the street. And then we just went in for a quick look, and then just a taste- and then we had to leave San Marcos just to put a healthy amount of space between us and the chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were perfect in every way. Huge, thick, soft and heavy on the chocolate chips. Most of the time (especially outside of North America and Europe) I find that baked goods are very rarely as good as they look behind the glass. As a self-proclaimed cookie expert (J: cookie monster) I am happy to announce that this is absolutely not the case with Restaurant Fe's chocolate chip cookies. Maybe, just maybe, although I'd have to taste a few more just to be sure, these cookies just might taste even better than they look.

Where we ate:
Comedor Susy- a small restaurant on the main square serving up big portions of local food at a
reasonable prices, always with a smile. She was closed weekends when we were there.
Cafe Horus- just steps out of town in the direction of San Juan (2mins up the hill from Moonfish Restaurant) is a tiny little spot with 4 tables and a nice view. The portions are big, the family is friendly and the food is just slightly cheaper than in town.
Restaurant Fe- We just stopped in for the cookies- about twice a day.... although their wood fired pizza looked scrumptious.

Where we stayed: Aaculaax (aka Lush). This amazing place is going to have it's own post with as many pictures as we can fit in.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

San Juan La Laguna, Lake Atitlan

San Juan La Laguna is meant to be the village on Lago de Atitlan that all other villages aspire to be.
Getting off the boat at the town dock, however, we were met with a barrage of touts, taxi drivers and tour guides all jostling for our attention. It was the same on our way out of the village when a taxi driver came up to us without provocation and blatantly lied about the boat schedule, trying to convince us that we would be stuck in San Juan for hours if we didn't take either his private boat or taxi. At least it was entertaining for us, knowing that he was a liar and watching the public boat pull up behind him as he insisted that our situation was hopeless. Very un-mellow like, opposite from the Lonely Planet's description. It was not a good first or last impression.

Thankfully, the further we got from the dock the more we liked San Juan. The main road up to town was lined with stalls selling colourful, beautifully woven fabrics and handicrafts. It was like the appetizer for the town itself. San Juan has smartly created its own tourist infrastructure that highlights and presents the townspeople's traditional crafts to visitors. You can go on a tour and see women weaving and coffee production for around $10USD. We just wandered up into town and made our own tour. All the shops that sell the handicrafts will proudly explain (in Spanish, but with props that make everything very easy to understand) that the textiles they sell are made by hand, according to tradition and that all the material is dyed with natural products like plants or tree bark. There are associations of women who weave at home and then deliver their work to the
shop they're associated with. At some shops the scarfs have tags with the name of the woman who made it, a unique product number and a price. Unlike almost anywhere else, prices are
non-negotiable. The quality of the products are exceptional and reflect the enormous amount of time and skill that goes into making each item. In many stores there is a woman weaving away, showing you just how much time and work goes into the craft. Its very impressive. Another aspect of the San Juan shops that is unlike elsewhere is the complete lack of pushy sales tactics. Its the opposite from the goings on just down the road on their dock. Its a relaxing, un-rushed, no-pressure shopping experience. The women know the quality and worth of their work and don't push the sale. Their attitude only makes you want to support them more. Genius.

San Juan, in addition to the alluring crafts, is a nice town for a stroll. The streets are clean, the buildings all look bright and freshly painted and the town walls act as a canvas for talented local painters. San Juan really is unique on the Lake Atitlan village circuit and worth a few hours of yourtime. Just do yourself a favour and don't linger near the water! That being said, while you're busy ignoring the taxi liars, you can marvel at the buildings half covered in water along the lakeshore! The lake's rising depth is by far the most noticeable from San Juan's dock. One house that is still inhabited right on the water's edge has a new water feature- the lake- creeping into the front yard!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Guatemala's Lago de Atitlan

Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala's Western highlands, is even more spectacular in real life than it was in my imagination. A sparkling lake hemmed in by 3 volcanos, mountains and steep cliffs is jaw-dropping no matter which direction you look. Villages are nestled into the nooks along the shoreline and climb up the lake's steep slopes. The weather is near perfect, in our opinion. Warm and sunny but not too hot during the day and slightly chilly at night. Whether you want to hike, explore the villages or just relax in a hammock, life on the lake is a delight.

The local Mayan towns that surround the lake are all built high above the lake's water level. Every village around the lake its a steep hike up to the town with tuktuks waiting at the boat launch to take locals up. Studies show that the lake's depth has risen and fallen over the course of the centuries, so the locals with generations of knowledge know that building on the water is risky. Often, this land is sold off to foreigners. The risks of building so close to the water has never been as apparent as after Tropical Storm Stan in 2010. The lake rose 5m in 18 months! One theory is that landslides from the storm blocked drainage channels. Paths were washed away and some of the town's docks had to be rebuilt. Now you see trees standing off shore that have slowly drown since then and, most obviously, in San Juan, houses and the old cement dock sitting half covered in water! Its a disturbing, fascinating sight. One positive is that now, the sunken bars and houses offer interesting underwater sights for
Lake Atitlan scuba divers!

Warning: The ever changing vistas, colourful sunsets and the many different species of birds, along with the different vantage points from the various villages can lead to the whiling away of many lakeside hours...or days. Other than its gorgeous setting, what makes Laguna de Atitlan extra special is just how very unique the villages that surround it are. The party in San Pedro, which is only a quick boat ride from yoga in San Marcos might as well be a world away. The tranquillity of Jaibilito, inaccessible by road is unmistakeable and feels completely detached from the artisan weavers in nearby San Juan. We spent a week on the lake, staying in San Marcos La Laguna, Santa Cruz La Laguna and Pana. We visited the villages of San Pedro, San Juan and Jaibilito as day trips. One could easily find themselves squeezing a few more days out of their itinerary for the lake and it's outings, especially because there are so many great places, with very different atmospheres to spend the night.

Useful Stuff: Getting around by boat (lancha) is very easy. Don't believe the scam-o-ramas in San Juan when they tell you that another boat isn't coming for an hour or two. However, if you are going to San Juan, tell the Captain because they won't necessarily stop there if no one is getting off or on. Actually, it makes sense to always tell the Captain (or his helper) where you are going to keep everything as smooth as possible. There are boats to all the villages all the time. (Exception: Santiago Atitlan is on a different route) We never had to wait longer than a half hour, and even then, you're sitting on a dock on the water with a beautiful view- so its not that rough. Take a quick look at the map so you know what direction you're headed and everything becomes very clear from there. If you are walking down towards a dock and a boat is pulling out, point in the direction you want to go and the Captain will
pull back in if he's headed that way. There are lots of people on the docks who will direct you to the correct boat, although with the captain and his assistant calling out the direction, its easy to figure out on your own. As a general rule it costs tourists Q5 per stop. (I'm sure its cheaper for locals.) However, if going between San Marcos and San Pedro, it will be Q10 even if you don't stop at San Juan. And apparently San Juan- San Marcos is Q10 even though its also only one stop. Other examples are Pana- San Marcos or San Pedro Q25, San Marcos- Santa Cruz Q15, Jabilito- Santa Cruz Q5, Santa Cruz- Pana Q10. Just hand the man correct change and keep walking before he decides to up the quetzals. While it only happened once to us, we know its not an uncommon occurrence for tourists.

Here are some pictures from the few hours we spent in party-centric San Pedro:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Casa Mazeta Review

Casa Mazeta, in Juayua, El Salvador is a chillaxed hostel with 3 private rooms ($25 USD/night) and 6 dorm beds ($9USD pp). Each room sports its own unique, fun flair. There is a beautifully kept garden (great work, Carlos!) with plenty of seating, hammocks and even a turtle! There is also a large communal kitchen and indoor sitting area with instruments and lots of movies for a relaxing evening in. Cooking classes are offered ($1pp + food costs) and, of course, the (practically) Famous 7 Waterfalls Tour ($12-$20pp, depending on the number of people). Owner Suzanna is charming, friendly and a wealth of local knowledge. The sheer amount of information in English is one of the main thing that sets this wonderful hostel apart. Its rare that you get to experience a small town in such detail without speaking the language, but the helpful hints and binder of information makes this possible at Casa Mazeta.

We stayed in a room called La Pina. There was a giant pineapple painted on the wall, so there was no confusion as to which room was ours. The room came with a private courtyard and 2 hammock swings as well as a small wood slab table. The shower and toilet were in the courtyard and set up in a kitshy style that matced the rest of the hostel. The bathroom privacy wall was made of empty wine and rum bottles (you can see J sitting in the toilet area in the pictures below). The open air shower next to the toilet had a few fun details throughout.

Casa Mazeta has 2 super friendly dogs, Chiquta and Billy. Both, along with probably a couple other dogs like to accompnay you on the Waterfalls hike. Its probably because they know that there's a picnic lunch at the end and they hope you'll drop something! Either way, they're fun and always greet you with happily wagging tails when you return to the hostel. Lucky, the adorable, palm-sized kitten is the newest addition to Casa Mazeta. Who doesn't love a cuddly kitten? Here they all are in the photo to the left, saying goodbye!

Casa Mazeta has a homey feel. You can curl up on a pile of pillows and watch a movie, hang in a hammock, or sit at a wrought iron table in the middle of the garden. When we came back from a day out, it really did feel like we were coming home, even if it was a temporary home. The happy dogs, the welcoming space...Maybe a part of it was also the decoration. The number of details add up to one very atmospheric space. Caza Mazeta has souvenirs and knickknacks scattered about that you can imagine picking up while you were travelling.The space is colourful and bright with impressive wall murals. Beer, coffee and filtered water are all on the honour system, so you can go to the fridge and grab a beer- just like at home! Unfortunately, it was only actually our home for 4 nights, but with so many reasons to go back, I'm sure we'll make Casa Mazeta our temporary home again sometime soon! We would definityl recommend making Casa Mazeta your home too when you're in Juayua.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Juayua, El Salvador: Food for Thought

Juayua, El Salvador is on La Ruta de las Flores. Its known for it's food festival that is held every, single weekend. Seeing as our priorities and Juayua's are pretty much insync, food being constantly at the forefront of both our minds, we knew before we even settled in that we were going to love Juayua. Throw in an amazing hostel, a 6 week old kitten, and some hiking and we were ready to make a commitment. Well, the kitten didn't do much for Jonathan- and despite the fact that I was the one chasing Lucky(the kitten) around trying to give him all my love, Lucky constantly chose to cuddle up with him every night. Anyways, I'm pretty sure I was Lucky's second favourite out of the two of us, at least.

Unfortunately, bad timing made it so we weren't even in Juayua over a weekend food extravaganza. And yet, still food was one of the main highlights of the four nights we spent there. Pupusas being the star of our personal food tour. Esmeralda's Pupuseria made a plate sized pupusa called "Pupusa Loco" which had pretty much every ingredient that  goes into pupusas. Well, it had beans, cheese, squash, la rocca, spinach, pork AND chicken.

Juayua is a charming, walkable town with bright all murals and super friendly people. In fact, I don't
think we've ever encountered such a welcoming town. Walking past people on the street we were always greeted with a smile and a hello. Without fail. Sometimes even the tip of a hat! People seemed genuinely happy to have tourists in their town. We met a El Salvador native who fled to the USA during the war at a pupusaria one night who shed some light on the situation for us. 1 The people were just super friendly in general, but 2. El Salvador gets a really bad rap, particularly in the US media and it scares most foreigners off. While everyone we met (who spoke English) are quick to say, that yes, of course if you were wandering around the outskirts of San Salvador (the Capital) looking for trouble, you'd be pretty quick to find it, but otherwise El Salvador is no more dangerous than it's Central American neighbours. The townspeople are happy that maybe, just maybe, the image of their beloved country is beginning to improve and tourists are starting to come back and visit. Salvadoreans are a proud people and would, it seems, love to share their country's beauty (and amazing food) with the world, if we'll only let them. I know we'll be back!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The 7 Waterfalls Hike- Juayua

Casa Mazeta in Juayua, El Salvador is a great place to make your home base on the Ruta de les Flores for many reasons. Their Seven Waterfalls Hike is just one of them. Led by a friendly guide or two  (we had Elmer and Jose, who were awesome) and accompanied by at least 2 dogs you hike through coffee plants and along steep slopes offering gorgeous vistas. The waterfalls come into the picture during the last quarter of the hike. As does the days biggest adventure: repelling down a waterfall on a rope! It sounds terrifying, but with the one-on-one help of Elmer, showing where all the foot holes are and staying with you your entire descent- its definitely more exhilarating than scary. Plus, watching the guides, and the dogs descend the waterfall without ropes, makes you wonder why you were so scared to begin with. Once you're safely at the bottom, of course... Here the tourists are donning helmets and shaking in their soaking wet boots, and Elmer and Jose scamper up and down the slippery rocks getting all the ropes set up for us wearing crocs. After conquering the waterfall its on to more seriously impressive waterfalls. But now we're just hiking past them..and sometimes through them. I gave up trying to keep my shoes dry almost immediately. Slogging up rivers, through puddles and into waterfalls made for some soaking wet, sloshy shoes. At the final waterfall we had a picnic lunch and took a very refreshing (read: chilly) dip. There was a rock retaining wall making the waterfall a natural infinity pool- with a spectacular view! After 6 hours of hiking, we definitely deserved it!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Pupusa Making 101

Pupusas are most certainly El Salvador's national food. AND, they're delicious.  Pupusas, for those who don't know are pockets of either corn or rice dough stuffed with any variety of ingredients and pan fried. We ate them everyday that we were in the country. We loved them so much we decided to learn how to make them. Our amazing hostel, Casa Mazeta, offered cooking classes for $1 per person plus the cost of ingredients, so we signed ourselves up!

Step 1: Gather ingredients: Corn flour and oil for the dough, cabbage and carrot for the salad, tomato and onion for the salsa, cheese, beans, squash and whatever other fillings you desire. 

Secret ingredient: LaRocco! Its an herby vegetable that we've never seen anywhere else, but boy does it pair perfectly with pupusas!

 Step 2: The chopping. If you're horribly impatient like me, employ a kitchen hand (like your husband) to do tedious work like chopping up the vegetables super small (J: The truth is that she got fired from chopping).

 Step 3: Put small tomatoes, onions, salt and oregano into some hot water to boil and soften. Later all it will need is a few minutes in the blender and you'll have your dipping sauce (which I like to add hot sauce to). 

 It's always nice to have a local expert on hand! Thanks Racquel!

 Step 4: The classic pupusa side salad: Shred cabbage and carrot, give it a pinch of salt and squeeze a lime over it 

 Step 5: The dough. This is definitely the part that Racquel made look easy, when in actual fact, I know will be hard when we're trying to make these at home. Corn flour, mixed with water, and near the end a little bit of oil. Knead until its the perfect magical consistency which I will probably never be able to duplicate.

 Ingredients all lined up and ready: The big circle bowl is the dough. Left to right we have cheese, shredded squash, spinach, la rocco and refried beans! Veggie Delight!

Step 6: Work the dough into a flat circle that doesn't get skinny at the edges
Tip: Keep your hands oiled up when working with the dough. And be sure to let the oil heat up on the griddle before using it! 

 Step 7: Make the dough into a little bowl and start adding your favourite ingredients, like LaRocco...

 And beans and cheese......

Step 8: Fold the ends up around your bowl making it into a delicious little package.

 Step 9: Re-flatten out your dough so the ingredients get all smushed up and combined inside. Try not to have too much stuffing leaking out. You can add a little more dough to the rough spots, if needed.

 Ready to cook!? I'm hungry!!!

 Step 10: Drop your pupusas onto the hot oiled griddle. They may need to be flattened out a little bit with your fingertips once they're on the grill. Don't be shy- but don't get burnt! Flip them when they are nice and crispy!

 Tip: Keep pupusas wrapped up in tin foil until they're all done and you're ready to eat!

Finally its Time! 
Step 11: Eat your pupusas! YAY! YUM!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Snack Time in Juayua

Its snack time in Juayua, El Salvador! Lucky us! We stop in what has become our favourite bakery,
and get: a frozen coffee topped with whip cream and caramel sauce ($2), a huge glass of ice cold lemonade ($1) a slice of an El Salvadorian version of pavlova (60cents), and a pineapple pastry (20 cents). So.... $3.80 cents later we (J: "We"... that cookie thing in front of me was placed there only for the duration of the photo) are blissfully chowing down on delightful treats at little wood tables artistically painted with tropical animals. All while enjoying the view of the town park across the street. 'Soooo good!' I say, when we've licked our plates clean. 'Let's do it again!'

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

El Tunco to Juayua

It occurs to me suddenly: This should be weird. We're standing on the side of a highway (word used loosely) attempting to flag a bus as it speeds past us. A specific bus. This is how it goes: A bus comes barreling around the corner and heads straight for us. We lean forward, squinting at the bus from the tiny shoulder to try and make out either a number or the name of a familiar city painted on the front window before it passes us by. And this is how the conversation goes: What does it say?! What does it say!?! Is that it??!! UMMM.. Just a little closer!!! Come on eyes! Ummm. Its almost here!! Should I flag it just in case? Uhhhhhhh... NO! Ok, no, that's not it. The bus wooshes by leaving us in a cloud of dirt and exhaust. Sigh of relief (despite the dirt and exhaust). We didn't miss it- yet. Ohhhh, there's another one coming, Moon, can you see it?! (Of course he can't he's wearing coke bottle glasses). What's it say!? What's it say!??? Should I flag it?! Baahhhh!! (My heart's pounding)  Umm.. I think maybe, yes, maybe..umm... a little closer.... yes, I think. YES! That's it! Get it! Get it! GET IT! And that's how its done folks. Calm and cool, just like that. 1. Spot the bus 2. Thrust your arm out frantically (or not) 3. The bus stops and you get on. That should be weird, right? Is is weird to you? Sometimes I forget how normal people catch buses.

It should probably also feel weird that when we do finally catch said bus and board it, we are met with the eyes of the entire bus. It's weird when everyone stares at you, right? It means you probably have toilet paper stuck to your shoe or spinach in your teeth. Or, you're blonde and travelling with a Jesus Christo (alleged) lookalike around Central America.... It's one of those things, I'm pretty sure.

The main difference between Nicaraguan buses and El Salvadorian buses, from what I can tell so far,
is the use of bird calling or whistling to get the bus to stop. This is something we haven't noticed anywhere else and its kind of a fun way to communicate. Usually there's a lot of yelling.

We were on our way from El Tunco to Juayua on El Salvador's Ruta de las Flores. Our bus drove west from El Tunco along La Costa del Balsamo. The coastal ride was gorgeous. When we could see the ocean the cliffs rose straight up on our right and fell steeply down to the water on our left. When we couldn't see the ocean we were encircled by lush jungle creating a green tunnel to drive through. There were a few terrifyingly narrow, unlit, black tunnels through the mountains, in which our driver decided that it would be a good place to pass a transport.. and then there was the fact that the driver seemed to like to go faster around hairpin turns than he did on safer straightaways...but then again, he was wearing an adorable sombrero and there were guardrails, at least most of the time.

As the bus turned inland the cliffs stretched out into rolling hills and palm trees dotted their way between tall green grassy crops. El Salvador- beautiful from every angle.

We arrived in our transit town, Sonsonante, which according to the Lonely Planet is a bustling, sweaty commercial town nicknamed Cinncinatti. As nice as that sounded, we wanted to move on quickly. Thankfully the bus to Juayua, our actual destination, was only two bus bays over. And there was a huge lineup of people. Almost instantly the bus pulled in and the mayhem started. People were going crazy like the bus didn't run every half hour. There was pushing and frantic elbowing. Someone pried open the back door of the bus and people started piling in both doors. We looked at each other. When in Rome... we jumped on through the back door and grabbed ourselves a seat.  When the bus pulled out of the station 30 seconds later, it wasn't even that full of people. Most of the seats were taken but there wasn't even anyone standing in the aisle. And there was still a small line of people standing in the bay. Weird. Oh well, off we went.

We drove at glacial speed through Sonsonate for some reason. Glacial is actually a funny adjective to use, because in actual fact, it was freaking hot. We had somehow, again, chosen the wrong side of the bus and our butts were roasting on the sticky vinyl. Driving so slowly through Sonsonate only cemented my original desire to move on asap. It was deserted. All the shops were closed and buildings looked like they were crumbling away, but not in a nice way like Leon or Granada. It was more in a sad, desperate way. In hindsight, the stores being closed might have had something to do with it being a holiday, but either way, I couldn't shake the 'Walking Dead' feeling.

When the bus driver finally found the gas pedal and we started moving at a normal speed out of town
and up along the Ruta de las Flores (the Route of the Flowers), two things happen both instantly and simultaneously. 1). We had driven up into the clouds and the sun was no longer threatening to bake us alive. We were in cool, fresh, high altitude air! and 2). We were surrounded by wild flowers! Although we were on the Ruta de las Flores, I didn't actually expect its name to be an accurate description for some reason. Yet, all around us on the narrow road, yellow, red and purple flowers cascaded out of the foliage, splashing colour as if arrows to guide us up the hill. Amazing!

We arrive in Juayua about 40 minutes later and the town was just hopping. People, music, shops and stalls are overflowing with flowers and happy people. Oh Yes! It's the Day of the Dead! The day everyone spends partying at the cemetery to honour their loved ones who have died. Judging by what was left of the celebration, I'm very sad we missed it. But judging by the friendly, smiling people and colourful looking town-  I think we're going to love Juayua.