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The main purpose of this blog is as a permanent record of my adventures throughout the Americas by motorcycle. Feel free to comment or ask me any questions - I'm an open book.

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Friday, 20 July 2012

El Salvador

Getting into El Salvador wasn't very hard, and the signs explaining that no fees were to be paid were both comforting and a great idea - If no fees are to be paid, then there's no scope for corruption. Or so I thought. After my papers had been checked down the road (a standard procedure in Central America), an official tried to tell me that it'd be 5 dollars to pass. It's probably a good indicator of how much I've changed when it comes to borders that I smiled, shook my head, told him it was free, and rode off (almost knocking him over). Riding through San Salvador has to rate as one of the craziest riding experiences I've ever had. Think Bangkok or New Dehli, but smaller and faster. A few times I decided the gutter or footpath were better options, and off we went. Seriously, I would probably be arrested for riding like I have, but here it's not only normal but necessary. (Note to self: write a post on riding in Central America).

Anyway, It was starting to get dark so I decided that I would pull over in San Vincente, a nice little colonial town built in the hills. As I was getting close, I heard a car backfiring. I whipped my head around to make sure it wasn't Isabella when I saw the lights and heard the sirens. It wasn't a car backfiring, it was a shootout. I don't think I've ever opened a throttle like that before, and Isabella probably hopes I won't again. As I disappeared into the distance, I set my sights on San Miguel, significantly further away, but the best launching point for my trip into the Northern hills the next day. It went dark, but wasn't that bad on the Pan American Highway - there were plenty of cars to follow and be protected by. Then it rained, the kind of rain that feels like a bucket has been dropped on your head. It was unbelievable, as was the speed in which it stopped. 10 mins later, I was riding on dry asphalt and had almost dried by the time I reached San Miguel.

 The entrance road to San Miguel is littered with 'nightclubs' (In CA a nightclub is a strip club, you go to dance at a discotech - a distinction that has no doubt resulted in a few awkward moments for tourists!), So I headed into town and asked some locals for suggestions. I ended up in a very nice hotel with a pool, gym and free brekky for a reasonable price.

 It should be mentioned here that despite the reputation for violence (not helped by what I saw on the highway), Salvadorians are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet. Whenever you put in some effort and venture off the tourist trail, the locals are appreciative. I had several people welcome me to their country, and were only too happy to help wherever they could. Combined with the distinct lack of touts and pressure, only serves to reiterate the golden rule of tourism: The most significant contributors to a crappy tourist experience are other tourists. This trip is starting to make me something of an adventure traveller, and I may well spend my next few holidays going to the danger hotspots of the world, after the danger has subsided - watch this space for a post on Iraq in a few years!! With Isabella, I'm not tied to a bus route or schedule, and can stop wherever I want. When I get to a hard-to-reach or previosly dangerous destination, not only are the locals more friendly, but the tourists are of a better quality. Think more hippy/adventure traveler, less brash and culturally-unaware resort traveller. Or if you'd prefer, think backpackers, not sheraton hotelers (I don't think that's a word, but I'm going with it).

 The next day I headed up to the mountain village of Perquin, former stronghold of the FMLN. The struggle for independance and the ideological tug of war in Central America (particularly El Salvador and Nicaragua) is something that I simply can't do justice here, but I recommend everyone has a quick read about it - it's somewhat of an eyeopener. Go ahead, I'll wait. So after the war, the government set up a museum and simulated campground to demonstrate the conditions suffered by geurillas and exhibit war paraphenalia and memorabilia. It was very interesting, and I was lucky enough to be able to get a tour of the campground by a former guerilla. My spanish wasn't good enough to ask all the questions I wanted to ask, but it was very interesting nonetheless.

 I was very impressed with both the resiliance and compassion of the people - most locals assume that I'm from the US, whose government was intimately involved in the war. I'm not sure I'd be so welcoming if the situation was reversed. FMLN has now become a major political party, and by most accounts has become a model for how a former guerilla group can become reintegrated with society.

 After Perquin, I headed back to San Miguel, crashed for the night, and mentally prepared for the next day (where I would cross the worst border this side of the Middle East).

Photos Available Here

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