01.12.2016 - 06.12.2016 34 °C
We chose to travel to El Cuco partly because we felt we needed one more stop in El Salvador and mostly because Tortuga Verde Lodge advertises a boat trip from La Union El Salvador directly to Nicaragua, bypassing Honduras. If you look on a map this seems like a great idea and their website is very convincing that despite the cost ($75us per person) this is a great way to go and they are the ones to get you there. Upon our arrival and finding that none of the staff speak English we consult with one of the backpacking volunteers and his exact words were “It can be done, but I don’t recommend it…” We still wanted to try but after asking around and getting some more detail found that it would be as long or longer than the bus, a 4am start, the waters are rough and they basically dump you off in a small town on the other side and leave you to find your way to Leon via several chicken busses. Ok, we are convinced, so it will be a long bus ride through two borders but a guarantee that we will arrive in 8 to 9 hours… ugh. Tortuga Verde Lodge is an interesting, and I mean kind of weird little place in the middle of nowhere that caters to local Salvadorians on the weekends and has lodging for tourists like us as well as free accommodations for volunteers located about a 15 minute walk up the road. The owner Tom is an eccentric but interesting guy, a middle-aged surfer who escaped the North American rat race about 13 years ago to come down to El Salvador to surf, smoke pot and develop his beachfront property into a lucrative, if disappointing, little hotspot. The food was drab and there were no other options but the volunteers were fun and overall we came away feeling rested and relaxed. The highlight of this place is the turtles. Over the years Tom has developed a turtle hatching program, purchasing turtle eggs from the poachers, otherwise they go to restaurants, and burying them in the hatchery beside the lodge where they incubate for 50 to 56 days then releasing them on the beach which was very cool to see and raised Tom a bit in my estimation of him. We stayed two nights which was one night too long but considering we have been travelling for over a month and this is our first disappointment we feel grateful. Upon leaving and paying, what we would consider, a pretty hefty bill for El Salvador we are driven about 20 minutes away down winding dirt roads until we met the highway where we wait on the side of the road for our shuttle to Leon.
If you can imagine, we are the last ones on the shuttle and after loading our considerable luggage we enter the passenger van that seems impossibly full and has been travelling for several hours to a dozen sleepy and now grumpy travelers who have to readjust and make room for three more. Emily is seated in the front seat between our two drivers a most fortunate location. I am in the first row between an Argentinian musician, guitar and all and a young French fellow who reminds me of Pigpen in the Charlie Brown comics. Scattered all around him are clothes, backpack, electronics, grocery bags that turn into a buffet stretched out on the floor in front of us of bread, peanut butter, cheese-itz, fruits, vegetables and to top it off he does not appear to own deodorant so every time he stretches I near pass out. It takes everything in me not to subject him to an unsolicited lecture on organization, boundaries and personal hygiene but just then the musician put his head on my shoulder and promptly fell asleep, sigh, it was a very long 9 hours… The border crossings are always a little nerve wracking, border authorities and armed soldiers tend to instill fear, but we are getting more comfortable with it and in this instance we have considerable help from our second driver and we realize it is mostly about the exit and entrance fees. We did get stopped and pulled off the road by a random police checkpoint in Honduras, the driver talked his way through it but I heard after from the Argentinian that the policeman was being a jerk and wanted us all out for interviews. I consider that a close call… The lineup of semi-trucks going through the border from Honduras to Nicaragua was a solid traffic jam so one of our drivers got out to try to find us another way through and when we backed up to turn around the other driver ran over one of the many street peddler’s. It sounded like he hit him pretty hard but Jim having seen the whole thing isn’t convinced that the fella hit wasn’t trying for a con, either way the driver gave him 20 bucks and we were on our way around the back of the immigration building to skip the traffic, pretty sure there was a bribe involved in that too but whatever, we are through Honduras in one piece and who are we to judge the ways of this country. We arrive in Leon after dark and cannot get away from our fellow passengers quite fast enough, our hostel is only about a four block walk but we are all exhausted and grumpy, so we gripe and pout our way down the street to Hostel Lazybones. It is the perfect little oasis in the middle of the city with a clean pool to cool off in, good wifi and a fully stocked beer fridge next the front desk. We head out in search of a meal and find a highly recommended Cuban place that serves chicken, pork or fish in a variety of presentation. It’s delish and just what we needed! That night we cool off with a dip in the pool and head to bed. Leon proves not to be our favorite city and I guess it’s because we were expecting it to be similar to Antigua, the streets are dirty, the square is busy and filled with tacky Christmas displays and the people not particularly helpful or friendly. It could be that we are all tired of traffic and cities so we don’t fight it we just take a couple of days to get caught up on homework, blogging, sleep and laundry. The most popular tour activity from Leon is volcano boarding but the risk of injury on a long trip like this outweighs our sense of adventure and Emily has sworn completely off volcanoes after our last hike. Lol! All in all, it’s a good stop because Emily is able to catch up on some schoolwork and Jim and I have a chance to plan the next leg of our journey to Estelí and the Miraflor National Cloud Forest for a home stay with some hiking and horseback riding. Onward and upward!