Loaded down with our bags, Audrey and I walked to the edge of the short street that is home to practically everything in El Tunco. We were on the lookout for bus 102A to San Salvador. After standing at the edge of the street for about ten minutes, we saw it barreling down the road towards us. We flagged it down, loaded inside, paid the $1.50 fare and were off. Although it’s only a short hour ride to San Salvador, we had no clue where to get off – the bus just stops on the side of the road, after all.
Rather than chancing it and getting off in a dodgy area, Audrey asked the lady sitting next to her which exit “la feria” was. Curt and obviously annoyed that Audrey had dared ask her a question, she responded that it was at the end of the line. Clarifying, Audrey quizzically asked in Spanish if she had understood correctly, and that we were indeed getting off at the end of the line. “Si,” the woman responded.
At each stop, the bus lost more and more passengers. Finally, with only a handful of people left, the bus pulled into the chicken bus station – which was clearly not “la feria.” Not wanting to be left to our own means at the dodgy chicken bus station, Audrey and I frantically asked the bus driver where “la feria” was. He promptly took us to a taxi and helped us get everything sorted. For $7 total, we drove ten minutes and the cab dropped us off along the route we had just passed. Grr, thanks for the help, lady from the bus!
Since we had an early bus ride the following morning, we decided to stay at the Hotel Meson de Maria. It had good recommendations from the man who arranged for our tickets in El Tunco (from San Salvador to Estelí). We walked up to the reception and inquired about a room. $32 for a room. That was nearly double what we had paid in El Tunco! We thanked the receptionist and walked down the street to Wendy’s and used their wifi.
Unfortunately for us, there were no hostels or hotels that were close for much cheaper. We decided to suck it up and go back to the Hotel Meson de Maria. We had filled out all the paperwork and were pulling out our wallets to pay as the receptionist asked what Tika Bus number we were on the following morning. We informed her that our tickets were through Tranporte del Sol. Apparently this hotel has an arrangement with Tika Bus. Since we were traveling with a different company, the rate went up to $45 per night. No way. We arranged for one of the independent taxis outside of the hotel to take us to JoAn’s Hostel for $2 a person. (If you’re ever traveling in Central America and need a taxi, mototaxi, tuk-tuk or anything else other than a bus, negotiate! Gringos are quoted higher prices, but if you refuse to pay their inflated price, you can usually get them to go down. In this particular instance the taxi went down 43%, from $7 to $4.)
As the taxi pulled up to JoAn’s Hostel at Calle del Mediterraneo No. 12, it seemed we were at a private residence. The driver rapped on the door and a young man named Rigoberto answered. We were escorted inside what definitely looked more like a home than a hostel.
Audrey and I took a minute to look around and liked what we saw.
There was a lovely patio outside, complete with a satellite fit for communicating with aliens. Rigoberto went through a small door and rolled up a canvas type thing to reveal a reception desk and office. We paid $30 total for our own private room and set out to explore the city in the few hours we had left.
Ask anyone, San Salvador does not have much. Locals and fellow travelers alike will caution you to stay away from the capital. Not only is crime rampant, there is nothing to see. The biggest highlight of the city: the mall. Audrey and I passed the beautiful Basílica Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe on the way to the main road to catch a chicken bus to the mall.
I think it’s funny that our destination was the mall. It’s certainly not a place you put on your bucket list to visit while in Central America, but it made for an interesting day none-the-less.
The Metrocentro (mall) is along the Bulevar Monseñor Romero, which is an incredibly busy highway. It consists of six lanes of constant traffic and is fed by many other routes, so it’s always busy. Therefore, it is impossible to cross the road. This handy dandy bridge solves that problem! It’s a rickety structure made of concrete and metal; there are some holes in the concrete as you’re walking above the highway, so you definitely have to watch your step!
Rigoberto gave us directions to the Metrocentro, so we crossed the pedestrian bridge and asked a lady on the other side which bus we needed. She sent us back to the other side of the highway. After getting back to where we originally were, we asked another lady which bus to take. The first lady thought we were going to Metrosur, not Metrocentro. The second lady sent us back over the bridge to catch bus 29. We caught the bus for a quarter, and less than five minutes later we were walking into the mall. We could have easily walked!
The mall was like any mall you’ll find in the States. It definitely had a similar feel to it, too. It was full of several American shops and eateries. The biggest difference between there and the US was the price; import fees made the prices skyrocket.
After grabbing some grub at an amazing local taco shop (we refused to go to the Taco Bell right next door), we perused the Metrocentro.
The highlight for me was the World Cup game. There were big, flat-screen tv’s with plenty of seating spread all throughout this huge mall. Who says you can’t shop while still keeping up with the games? ;)
We left the mall and needed to buy a few items at a grocery store. There was a Walmart right behind the mall. Neither Audrey nor I are fans of Wallie World, but there were some things we had to get. It was going to be dark soon, and San Salvador wasn’t somewhere we wanted to be roaming around too much anyhow. We bit the bullet and went in.
Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to imagine how big ‘soccer’ is south of the US. The World Cup made the entire city come to a screeching halt in Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and while San Salvador kept on moving, support was everywhere (even Walmart)! All of the sample girls were wearing Brasil shirts and jerseys.
We rounded the corner and heard a couple of guys speaking English. When they discovered that we spoke English as well, we somehow ended up all high-fiving, hugging and making quite a scene with our excitement about finding fellow English-speaking foreigners. It sounds silly, but there is an instant bond with someone you meet who speaks the same language while traveling.
Steven and John were stationed in San Salvador with the U.S. Navy. They ultimately gave us a ride back to JoAn’s Hostel and met up with us later again that evening. Thanks to Audrey for the photo (and the one of the bridge) by the way!
Along with Rigoberto and a Colombian also staying at the hostel, we all went out to a taco stand for dinner and came back to hang out for the remainder of the evening.
Like so many times before, San Salvador proved to us that what makes an impression and makes a place amazing is not the city nor the food. It’s the kindness of strangers, the lives of the people who live there and the friends you meet along the way. We were excited about our next Nicaraguan adventure, but sad to leave the city we thought we’d need saving from as well as the people we met along the way.
Central American country number four coming up soon! Nicaragua or bust!