Eric and I awakened yesterday morning in Antigua and ate a quick breakfast at our favorite cafe, Café Condesa. After finishing a satisfying meal of eggs, pancakes, and robust Guatemalan coffee, we caught a chicken bus to Guatemala City. From “Guate” (as the locals call it), we took another chicken bus bound for the border town of Valle Nuevo.
I’ve come to learn that there are basically three classes of buses in Central America. The first (and most expensive) are private shuttles that seat about ten people and don’t pick up any extras. The second tier buses, referred to as “first-class” buses, look basically like the Greyhound variety that you would find in the US. The first-class buses will usually only take on enough passengers to fill the number of seats available. At the bottom level are the buses you’ve heard mention of before, the “chicken buses.” I’m finding them in all the Central American countries. They are still of the Blue-Bird variety, formerly used as school buses in the U.S. They will pick up and squeeze in as many people as they possibly can. All of the chicken buses in Guatemala are custom painted in a style that is reminiscent of “The Grateful Dead.” The buses are even given names that they etch across the back-window. The bus we took to Valle Nuevo was named “La Esperanza” (Hope).
The bus ride took nearly four and a half hours and was a typical chicken bus experience, replete with overcrowding and being forced to sit in uncomfortable positions while our bladders burned for hours. After exiting the bus in Valle Nuevo, we walked about 300 meters to a bridge that spanned over a small, chocolate-milk-brown river. On the side we entered the bridge, a sign read “Feliz Viaje La Desea La Republica de Guatemala,” which loosely translated means “Wishing You a Happy Journey, the Republic of Guatemala.” On the opposite end we could see another sign stating “Bienvenidos A La Republica de El Salvador” (Welcome to the Republic of El Salvador). Eric posted up on one side of the bridge to urgently relieve his bladder, while I snapped a picture of the bridge and the two signs. I think I’ll title that picture “Eric’s Last Piss in Guatemala.”
With our backpacks strapped on, we hoofed it half way across the bridge where we encountered two guys wearing sunglasses and baseball hats. They were dressed casually in shorts, with ID badges that hung from the pockets of their white T-shirts. After a quick check of our passports they welcomed us, and we were allowed to walk to the other end of the bridge, entering country 46, El Salvador.
As we exited the bridge we noticed there didn’t appear to be any further immigration or custom checks. This concerned us a little as our guidebook mentioned a $10 entrance fee, and a tourist sticker that should have taken up an entire page in our passports. Wanting to play it safe, and also feeling robbed of such an interesting addition to our passports, we walked back to the two gentlemen on the bridge and inquired about this. They told us that it was no longer necessary to pay an entrance fee or even receive an immigration stamp in El Salvador, Honduras, or Nicaragua. We were glad not to have to pay the fee, but not receiving even a simple stamp made us feel somewhat cheated. We inquired further about whether it was possible to get a stamp anyway, and we were directed to a small immigration building a few meters away from the bridge. The office looked like it belonged in a ghost town, and the two sole employees behind the counter seemed surprised that someone was entering. After being told once again that stamping our passports was not necessary, one of them reluctantly walked to the back of the office and found the stamp. It was dusty, inkless, and had a date that read 07/06/03. After blowing off the dust, reapplying the ink and changing the date to 03/05/07, we received our much-coveted El Salvador stamp.
We then took a couple more chicken buses that got us here in Juayua (pronounced why-you-a). Juayua is a sleepy little colonial town, located in the mountainous heart of El Salvador’s coffee country. It is part of a series of towns known as the Ruta De Las Flores (Route of the Flowers). We are staying in a beautiful and artsy place run by two musicians called Hotel Anahuac. Prices here are a little more expensive than in Guatemala. We are paying $7 each to sleep in a dorm with private bathroom. Fortunately there are no other travelers staying in the dorm, so we actually have the room to ourselves. There are very few travelers in El Salvador in general, so this is a relaxing change from the beautiful, but uber-touristed Antigua. We plan to spend another relaxing day here in Juayua, then we’re off to bustling San Salvador tomorrow.