The car repaired – we’re back on our journey. To El Salvador’s top sight: Volcano Santa Ana. Then the trip thru the country’s civil war-torn provinces to Honduras and on to Nicaragua.
Suchitoto 1st visit, 25th February
On 23rd February we’re back to San Salvador. Again, we stay in La Escalon. Not because it’s extremely interesting or lively. No, just because you can sneak around in this area. Anytime, even in the evening to the nearby restaurants without any need to socialize with some bad girls or the famous maras (these US originating gangs dominating many areas of the town).
Next morning: the 1st thing to do is going to Toyota. Now with the injection pump. The mechanic inspects all – we’re lucky, it’s the correct 1.
Then we have to decide which other issues they found during their inspection should be repaired. For sure the leaking transmission. A problem we’ve had for the last 8 years. Time to do something. And a few other minor issues.
Despite our proposal they don’t want to replace the clutch if it’s not completely used.
Toyota, happy to have identified such an excellent customer, promises to finish all by Wednesday. Provided there’s not something else they find during the repairs. In the meantime we might already start thinking which bank to rob to settle Toyota’s bill.
Whatever. The next day we’re on the road with a rented car. 1 of these nano-cars you only drive if rented. On the way to Suchitoto, El Salvador’s famous colonial town some 60 km away.
On the way out of San Salvador quite some traffic, …
… then thru sugar cane fields.
Suchitoto: Just some 25 000 lost souls living here. Famous for its colonial character, colorful houses and cobble stone alleys.
And a prime weekend destination for the poor inhabitants of San Salvador.
Well, it’s Thursday, thus no visitors from the capital.
It’s true, they definitely have a nice central square and atmospheric cobble-stoned alleys. But on a weekday, there’s simply no life. Very few people sneaking around, a lot closed. Reminds us to Juayua.
A little outside a glimpse of Lago Suchitlan – a man-made lake to generate electricity.
And the ultimate place for a sundowner.
The next morning: early we get a mail from Toyota. By now they agree that the clutch may be replaced. We tell them where to find our spare in the car.
Time to visit Lake Suchitlan. A short drive down to the shore. Well, it’s not too spectacular.
No problem as Toyota keeps us busy. They tell us that our spare clutch is of inferior quality. Well, we don’t remember what make we bought some years ago, but think it’s ok. So, we have to drive back to San Salvador to check that out.
Definitely, the clutch isn’t of high quality. Unknown make, we even can’t find it on internet, looks suspicious. What to do, we have to buy a new 1. Shame on you Euro 4×4 Parts for such a quality and on us for not checking properly.
At the same time, we learn that the 2 oil seals of the gearbox need to be replaced – and they’re not available in El Salvador. But, if we give them some more time they will adapt other 1s to fit Prado.
Whatever, time to hang around some more days in San Salvador.
3 days later, they got it all. They tested the car intensively on some steep roads and present us a horrendous bill. Then we’re on the road again. In a kind of a new car, everything repaired we accumulated over the last 8 years – hopefully.
Well, if all works now probably Toyota did a pretty good job in San Salvador. Even if we’ve been extremely reluctant to do any repairs with them due to very bad experiences with Toyota in other countries.
Suchitoto 2nd visit, 2nd March
Finally, we leave San Salvador. Now with Prado. We’re on the way to Santa Ana. On the way a visit to Lago the Coatepeque – a popular weekend retreat for well-heeled Salvadories. Thus, the place to admire some of the fanciest villas in the country – provided security allows you to approach.
Then on to Santa Ana. We discover the very place to immunize against this Corona Virus. The guys are extremely well prepared. Not bad, isn’t it?
The next morning we drive back to Lake Coatepeque and then high up to the Parque Nacional Cerro Verde.
You leave your car at Bosque de Tibet, a kind of a guest house at 1800m. Pay 2$ for parking and a Quarter for the baño (each’n’every time to pay as mentioned on the ticket; so don’t return with the same ticket). Then it starts. The climb up to Volcano Santa Ana, to 2400 m altitude on a rather rocky path. You have to do that with a guide. No problem, they have organized tours from 10 am onwards – just when there are a few people. Costs just 1-2 US$ a person.
About 1,5 h to reach the top …
… to admire the turquois crater lake, then …
… a short stroll along the edge of the crater …
… to view most of El Salvador with Lago de
Coatepeque in the foreground.
A last picture to proof that Monika made it – of course together with 1 of the policemen protecting poor tourists from being robbed.
And we’re on our way down.
In the afternoon we’re on the way to Suchitoto about 2 h away. Our chance to visit a few more places in this region. As we had to leave the town helter-skelter due to some increased need of Toyota to discuss about Prado’s future we missed them all.
Driving along Cerro Guazapa. A mountain just outside the capital and the place of fierce fights in the 1981 – 92 civil war. Especially during the US backed Operation Phenix eradicating dozens of village in this area.
Near Suchitoto, in the village of Aguacayo a visit to ruins of the church destroyed in 1981.
Late afternoon we arrive in Suchitoto. Time to rehydrate with a couple of beers and to admire Lago Suchitlan.
San Miguel, 3rd March
We head to western El Salvador. Ready to move on to Honduras and Nicaragua.
A drive along Lago Suchitlan, …
… small winding roads thru El Salvador’s back land.
A stop in Cinquera. Another place relevant to El Salvador’s recent history. A town leveled to ground by bombing in the 80ties. As a result of the influence of progressive priests of the liberation theology against the prevalent US supported regime, the National Guard tried to eliminate this flash point of communist insurgence. This in accordance with the official interpretation of the ruling power and the US. Consequently, the village was to a large degree erased and most inhabitants killed. Today, Cinquera’s central square is converted into a memorial site of this collateral damage of Cold War.
The remains of a government chopper shot down, …
… some bomb shells exposed in front of the church with the portrait of Bishop Romero murdered in 1980 in San Salvador and …
… a house showing the names of the locals killed.
After this grim experience of the devastating influence of cold war’s proxy war in the last century, we move on. To San Miguel in the western part of El Salvador. Some 4h thru arid landscape, temperature often around 40°.
San Miguel: definitely not the place you want to spend your life: quite big, dusty, hot, ugly – and to a certain degree gang infested. But still ok for a night, for a last shopping in El Salvador and to go for a couple of Pilsensers – provided you don’t need to walk too far at night.
Somoto, 5th March
Next morning, we leave quite early. If possible, we plan to reach Nicaragua in the evening. San Miguel’s dense early morning traffic, …
… then some 50 km to reach Honduras
About 2 km from the border it starts: a queue of trucks. Probably, for them it takes a week to cross.
Well, we simply bypass them. Until we reach a kind of Arc de Triomphe. The place to show El Salvador’s TIP. Avoiding all fixers and other wannabes, we quickly cancel Prado’s entry to the country. Then we make a bunch of copies of our all-important documents for Honduras’ bureaucrats.
We continue by-passing the queue of trucks. Just before reaching the border the road divides. Left for cars. Empty. We arrive at the border, pass immigration within minutes, buy some Lempiras for surviving Honduras entry procedures and we’ve left El Salvador.
We’re on the bridge – on the way to Honduras.
Something strange happens: a gentleman in uniform informs us about the requirement to temporarily import Prado. He accompanies us to the counter in the big immigration building. Of course, we’re not sure about this guy. Probably a fixer trying to get some money from our pockets to his. Well, he just tells us to leave the papers with the customs and disappears. We even don’t have time to thank him.
We head to the immigration counter, pay 3 US$ entrance fee each and get the all-important stamp.
In the meantime, 3 persons at customs try hard to establish Prado’s TIP. Visibly the very 1st time they had to do that. Whatever, after 45’ they’ve entered all information in the form and we get a beautiful stamp in the passport – somehow to make extremely sure we won’t sell Prado in Honduras. But, who the hell would do that.
We need to go to the nearby bank to pay the fee of 35 US$ for the TIP, make some copies of whatever is missing and Prado gets the final stamp on its TIP. All without any checks of the car or our baggage. We’re in. We passed what is often described as the most difficult border in Central America in less than 1 hour, without any problems and the active help of customs.
A little more than 100 km to Nicaragua’s border at the village of El Espino. Mostly thru flat land, very arid, around 39° C.
The last 30 km climbing up the mountains, reaching about 1300m and cool climate.
Approaching the border, we’re buying some diesel to use the remaining Lempiras, …
… and we’re again busy with bureaucracy.
Leaving Honduras – a matter of minutes. We just have to give them the TIP, 1 copy of every document we have and get another stamp in the passport. Immigration: even faster. Ok, that was the most difficult part.
Sorry Honduras that we didn’t take more time to visit you.
Nicaragua is well known to have pretty straightforward and easy borders. So, we’ll easily reach Somoto in Nicaragua by early afternoon.
Again, a guy of customs receives us at the border. He checks if we have all documents and gives us a form. On to the immigration building. Immediately we’re told that we 1st have to visit health. Ok, we walk back to their tiny office. The smart lady wants to know everything about Corona in our CV. As our only experience is limited to Corona in bottles, we get a small paper to show to whom it may concern.
Back to immigration, we give them this health paper. They ask us if we have this other paper. We even don’t remember which 1. And they don’t remember how it’s called. Finally, it’s getting clear – this pre-approval Nicaragua has introduced some time ago. Something as crazy as this US ESTA. Yeah, we definitely have that. Only the date and the border post are completely wrong. But who cares. The paper is important, not the contents. Ok, we’ll get the immigration stamp. No problem, we’re just asked to 1st get everything we might need from customs.
Customs: not easy to understand what’s going on. Finally, we discover that we should even not queue up at their counter in the building, but contact 1 of the guys sitting outside. They ask us to complete the form we received at the entrance and everything will be ok. We do so. The guy disappears with our beautifully filled-in form. We wait ½ h.
Then he comes back for inspection. With a policeman. The cop asks us to empty the car. Completely. Then he would inspect everything to investigate what forbidden goods we try to smuggle in. After telling them that emptying Prado would be a huge effort for everybody, they agree to x-ray the whole car with everything inside. Thus, to the huge x-ray machine. Looks like newly installed. Probably a present of a developing partner trying to avoid drugs transit to his own country. Feels like the guys are still on a test drive – with Prado as a victim. It doesn’t take time to be done. Then we have to wait for the result. About 1 h. In the meantime, we learn, that all cars are x-rayed. But after emptying them.
The customs officer finally arrives with the result. Together with this policeman. On a really nice’n’colorful printout we can clearly identify what absolutely needs an in-depth inspection: The 2nd tire on the roof, the solar panel, our laptops and of course the 2nd battery for the fridge. We quickly clarify all these important issues with customs, just to activate our nice cop. Despite all clarification, he has to investigate everything again. Unfortunately, without the real understanding of what he sees, but with the hell a lot of emphasis to do an ultra-correct job. Well, ½ h later we’ve also clarified all with him.
Now we’re supposed to queue up at the custom’s counter. Fortunately, they quickly start with our TIP. Even no photocopies needed. They scan it all. And they don’t scan it just once. No, twice. As well as they enter all data on 2 different computers. Nevertheless, quite some time later we just get 1 single TIP, not 2. But valid for 30 days.
Back to immigration. We pay 12 US$ each – a kind of tourist welcome fee and we’re in. We don’t get a stamp as Nicaragua considers itself as part of the C4-countries.
Ok, we’re in Nicaragua. After 2,5 h. After having suffered of procedures resembling to Congolese borders. Well, maybe they had an exchange program with Central Africa. Maybe it’s just about testing their new x-ray machine. Probably all will stop once they have run out of color ink for these beautiful printouts. Who knows.
It’s 5.30 pm. We pass the queue of trucks on the way out of Nicaragua. Probably all waiting for this beautiful x-ray machine as well. We’re driving to Somoto some 30 km away. Thru the hills, passing a few rather poor villages reminding us to certain areas in Africa.
At dawn we’re in Somoto. Just on time for a couple of beers. By now, it’s called Toña.
To celebrate the 2 borders, we’ve passed in a single day. To be still astonished on how easy it was to cross Honduras and finally, to comment a lot on entering Nicaragua.
Well guys, enough for today. Soon there will be the next post about post-revolutionary Nicaragua.