24 Feb 2015

A few days more

Our few days in El Salvador turned into a few days more when we found El Zonte, a fabulous surf bay with a surfer hostel that allowed overlanders to stay in the grounds. It has a lovely garden with a large pool, a number of huge parrots and an aging 3 foot long Iguana roaming the grounds. There was also a large terrace overlooking the bay with another small pool at one end.

We finally managed to drag ourselves away after 4 nights and drove the 150 miles to the other end of El Salvador and found a nice spot behind a restaurant. The next day we took a drive around Golfo de Fonseca and ended up driving within 100m of the top of  Conchagua Volcano up a very rough steep road. The idea was to get a good view of the Bay, but the volcano is so covered by trees there was no view on the way up and there is a guarded communication station with huge masts on the top. I walked up the last 100m to the perimeter fence but still could not get a view, until one of the guards called me up to the gate and let me in. Finally I could see over the trees, it did not help much due to the haze, but it was a good drive!

Without doing a major diversion there was nothing much to see in the short strip of Honduras between El Salvador and Nicuragua so we decided to do both borders in one day. We arrived at the El Salvador side of the Honduras border at 11.00 and were through both borders including a 2.5 hour drive and lunch by 17.00 and camped by a restaurant in Somoto about 15 miles in as we ( I mean Chris) did not want to cook after a fairly stressful day. The restaurant was listed in IOverlander as a place that allowed parking overnight, it did not mention the very loud karaoke that started at 8pm and went on until midnight, after which the customers moved into the car park for another 45 minutes of howling and cackling revving motor bikes and even a fight (tho the 2 drunken combatants were soon restrained by their amigos). Fortunately I think they were all too drunk to notice our tent on the roof in the middle of them.

The following day we moved to the more tranquil setting of Somoto Canyon and after a couple of days there we headed into the highlands and found some proper landcruiser roads and memories of Copper Canyon in Mexico (and also Mongolia when we had to cross a river). Initially the countryside was a cross between parts of the UK and Spain but later changed to more sub tropical vegetation similar to Guatemala. We had a vague plan of camping near a lake but night fell about 2 hours before we got there so we pulled into the driveway of a big house and asked if we could camp on their front lawn. It was actually a farm, the family could not have been more welcoming and actually wanted us to sleep in the house. We persuaded them to let us sleep in our tent, watched us put it up and then one by one went up the ladder to have a look.

Next morning we were woken around 5am by cocks crowing all around us and cows wanting to be milked, (just as loud but marginally more tuneful than the karaoke). At 6 am add motor bikes a tractor, dogs barking and some very loud machinery (probably for milking). Magically at 7 it all went very quiet and we slept again till 8!

After they had fed us a traditional breakfast of fried banana and cheese we headed back into the hills and we are now staying on a coffee plantation (which is listed on IOverlander) for a couple of days and plan to do the coffee tour tomorrow and hopefully some walking if it is dry. We have had our first rain for some weeks this evening. After which we will head for Leon and then to Granada (for a bit of culture) another Lake and probably a few more days on  beach before heading into Costa Rica.

Wild camping on the beach in El Salvador

Lots of tiny crabs with one huge claw

Chance meet with another overlander in a car park

The Pool in the garden at El Zonte

The pool on the terrace over looking the beach at El Zonte

Me in my new swimming shorts having a beer in the sun in the pool (sitting on a seat in the pool)

One ot the huge parrots roaming the garden in El Zonte (at least .8m from head to tail)

Marco the aging Iguana

Surfing in the bay

Views of the beach

Sunset on the beach
Possibly one of my best, but unfortunately last pictures with my 'new' sony camera. Following thid photo we had a few more beers, a bottle of wine with some giant shrimps and failed to negotiate the stepping stones across the stream back to camp and my new camera was submerged! It appears that I am getting unsteady in my old age, especially with very poor light - nothing to do with the alcohol you understand. It appeared to dry out after a few days and the charge light comes on when I plug it in, but that is as far as it goes and have had to revert to the old fugi , so I apologies if the quality of picture is reduced

Camping behind a restaurant near Golfo de Fonseca

Golfo de Fonseca

Lobster for dinner

Somoto Canyon

Getting a lift back by boat

Nicaragua highlands

Camping on a Nicuraguan Farm

With the family in their new kitchen

But they still cooked the old way out back

Chris shopping 'wild west' style

8 Feb 2015

Nightmare on Salvador Street

We are now in El Salvador but the trip almost ended at the El Salvador border!

After spending a week at Maya Jade we received permission to bring the RHD Cruiser into El Salvador and set off the following day. Temperatures rose to 46 every day, still warm in the evening but cool enough to sleep overnight.

On the third day at Maya Jade Ahmed and Mira from Germany (we met in the Tourist Police camp site at Antigua) turned up in their motor home. They wanted to camp on the sand in front of the pools but the front wheels of the motor home sunk immediately, with the back still on the road. We had to use my maxtraks and the winch (which fortunately reached them without moving the truck) in order to pull them far enough on to the sand. As we left before them they will have to employ the services of a passing truck or bus to pull them off again or they could be there for good.

Mira is half Indian and is a Masseuse and Yoga instructor and promoting her skills to help fund their travels (we saw her giving a yoga class in the Tourist Police camp) and I took advantage of a couple of massages to ease the stiffness in my neck, she also gave me some exercises to increase mobility.

As we approached the border we caught up with a line of trucks, the car in front started to overtake them so we followed suit, finding a copy shop on the way so that we could print the permission for El Salvador. After about 3 miles of trucks a motor bike caught us up and offered his services to help us through the borders for $20. Fortunately we accepted, otherwise we would possibly now be back in Mexico.

After 5 miles of queued trucks we finally made the Guatemalan border and were through in 30 minutes. However, we could see where the potential problem lay when we read that if you cancel you Guatemalan permit you cannot re-apply for 90 days, if necessary they will issue a 24 hour permit to cross back to Mexico but this is very expensive. We had the option to not cancel the permit, but if we don't go back within 90 days you are in breach of that one and monthly fines apply (and we might want go back again someday).

After presenting our documents at the El Salvador border they disappeared for 20 minutes, on return they said they were sorry but we were being refused entry into the country. Whoops! Mega Whoops!!!

They read the part on the UK log book that says 'this is not proof of ownership' and seemed to think that the previous owner detailed was the real owner, but we could not access the man who made the decision to persuade him otherwise.

Our fixer then took us to an agent (who is responsible for arranging 24 hour permits) who provided us with a letter requesting that they re-examine the document and issue a 24 hour pass. With this we eventually managed to meet the administrator, explained the document, showed him our original purchase receipt and also the document showing when the licence plate was issued in the UK in 2004 (after being imported from Japan). He took all this away for another 20 minutes and finally came back saying that they would issue a full 60 day pass, Phew!!!

This whole process took 4 hours from the time that we were originally refused entry and we finally arrived in El Salvador at 19.30, in the dark and immediately stopped for a beer! Had we not been allowed in we would have had to change our flight again to fly back from Mexico and would have probably put another year on our trip!

Hans and Bente had emailed us and advised that they were on the coast, free camping on the beach 30 miles from the border and gave us their GPS co-ordinates, so after just one small beer we headed off to find them, missed them and ended up next to a beach bar at 21.00. They said we could camp next to the bar, they had large cold beers and could cook us fish (every other restaurant we had passed had been closed).

As we sat drinking cold beer I re-checked the GPS, found I had made an error and that they were literally 200m down the beach, so beer in hand we walked down and found them whilst our fish was being cooked.

Next day (yesterday) we headed into El Salvador to meet with Pedro and the Toyota Club and after a little driving around we found them and were ushered into a parking space they had reserved for us and asked to put up the roof tent. The meeting was basically held outside in the car park of a fast food court and the usual 20 cars had swelled to about 50 with people wanting a close look at our truck after Pedro had put it on facebook. They also presented us with a classic 1994 El Salvador number plate and some club stickers.

The original plan was that we would camp in the park but turned out this was not possible so we set up camp outside Pedros house and he then took us out for some traditional Salvadorian food. Viva El Salvador.

 Buzzed by a Bi Plane
Another sunset after highs of 46
 Ahmed and Mira trying to get their motor home on to the beach
 Benson pilots our pedelo in the river
 Whilst the rest of the local kids try to get on a flat canoe, they manged 7 in the end before capsizing again

 Pigs in camp, pigs and dogs roamed freely everywhere
 Smart (Bensons dad) waters the grass as the sun sets
Mira gives me a massage in the twilight
 We take a river crossing which goes down the river for a mile before crossing to the other side
 A big cheer from the Toyota Club of El Salvador
Dinner in a local restaurant

 Pedro and Family outside his business/home
 Pedro hands over an original 1994 licence plate (same age as the cruiser
 and it fits perfectly
 Pedro mounts it on the front of our roof rack

and we get a new moto