The El Salvador breakdown

17 May

We spent 12 stifling days–April 27, 2014 to May 9, 2014–in El Salvador, beginning our journey in Las Chinamas and ending in Santa Rosa de Lima. We would have driven through the country faster to avoid the uncomfortable heat but I flew to NY for 5 days in and out of San Salvador airport and then we had some maintenance done on the truck that lasted 2 days. Here’s a bit of a recap of our time in the country.

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El Salvador was pretty cheap and rightfully so. We didn’t think there was much to see or do there, thus, cheap to stay and eat. Even the maintenance we did on the truck was inexpensive. We paid $235 for 9 hours of work on new rear brake pads, a new muffler hose and attachment piece, a new coolant thermostat, new rear slack adjusters and replaced part of the air brake system. We spent a total of $708 while in the country, coming out to $59 a day. It would have been less had we not got a room while at El Tunco beach but it was just too hot not to.

BORDER

This was by FAR the most disorganized country when it came to entering and leaving. It was as if it was their first day letting people in.

We entered from Guatemala at Las Chinamas around 4pm and it took about 2 hrs to enter the country. Once you check out of Guatemala, there is a long bridge and we had to wait on the Guatemala side because there was supposedly not enough space for us to park on the El Salvador side. I walked the bridge to try to expedite the process. And, of course, there was plenty of space for us to park. I got the run around and was pointed in one direction after another until I went in a complete circle around the property without accomplishing a thing. Had we just been allowed to drive across the bridge, a person would have come up to the car and started the vehicle permit process. Since I was walking over, I was trying to explain to the un-uniformed customs people I needed the vehicle permit for my truck across the bridge. It was like I had 3 heads. “But you are walking, not driving.” “Where’s  your car?” “We need your car.”

Eventually, I convinced a nice man to make the copies we needed just as Hani crossed the bridge into El Salvador. Then man inspected the outside of the truck and motorcycle, got our VIN numbers, filled out the permit paperwork by hand (ignoring the dogs) and said it wouldn’t be much longer. He gave his handwritten notes and our copies back to the guy who had initially made the copies for me. That guy imputed our information into his computer at a painfully slow speed. It’s now starting to get dark and as I tried to have this man hurry up, he made typos, which then made everything even slower because he had to reprint the corrections.

With all our vehicle documents in hand, I ran to Hani and we were off with a quick flash of our passports to an agent (they don’t stamp your passport when you enter or leave El Salvador). We were trying to beat sundown at this point because we don’t like to drive in the dark and of course, there were more hoops to jump through to enter. We were stopped 2 other times within 5 feet of each other to inspect our vehicle permit paperwork, with each stop being about 10 minutes. And then we were allowed to officially enter.

We left El Salvador at Santa Rosa de Lima at 11:30 in the morning. It took 2 hrs to leave the country. TWO HOURS–by far the longest we’ve spent trying to get out of a place. Totally absurd. There was an insanely massive line that stretched 2km+ from the border exit. We drove around half the line of parked semis until a police officer flagged us into a lot and said we had to wait in the line to exit the country. A “helper” approached us and we got the impression that would be the only way to bypass this line. Helper Jose asked for a bunch of our original documents and left to make copies–um, no. I ran after him and trekked in the blistering heat to the front of the line with Jose. He had me make a bunch of unnecessary copies and hung around the cluster of “helpers” drinking a coke, not making any attempts to show our paperwork to anyone. Then Jose told me I shouldn’t stand with him while he talks to the border agents because they don’t want to look like they are accepting bribes. Annoyed, I stood in line and Jose walked away. With our paperwork. So I followed him back to Hani. Jose lamely tried talking to the cop to let us pass but nothing happened.

An hour had past and we hadn’t got any closer to leaving El Salvador so I told Jose that if he got us out of there in an hour, he’d get a big tip. Then things started rolling. We walked-ran back to the front of the line where I waited and he went back and brought Hani and the  truck. Immediately a border officially started processing our exit paperwork, inspected the truck and bike and we were off. Happy the long part was finished, I tipped Jose $10, which he was less than pleased with. From there, we drove like 2 miles through  a city to the actual El Salvador exit where I stood in a short line to get a scrap paper stamped and passports inspected.

Even though I hate using a helper, I think we’d still be parked in the long line of trucks waiting to leave. But, money talks. I should have pulled the money card much sooner, especially on a hot day. Lesson learned.

Total: $11.50 LEAVING the country-$10 tip and $1.50 for a hundred copies. Free to enter.

 

SAFETY

Like every other country so far, we felt completely safe while we were in El Salvador. We never felt threatened and didn’t see any violence, gang activity or exceptional police presence, even though locals kept telling us this was the most unsafe country in Central America. We weren’t pulled over and didn’t even see any police checkpoints. The officers we did approach (for directions) were nothing but helpful, as were all the locals we interacted with.

Total: $0

 

CAMPING
This category should be titled “hoteling” as we stayed in a hotel on the beach for 7 days in El Tunco and boondocked 5 days. The hotel was simple but met our needs–a/c (the reason we got a room), wifi, private bathroom, dog approved and had parking for Skyhorse. Our boondocking began with parking in a hotel parking lot the night we entered because it was dark and ended with parking for 2 nights at the mechanic’s while they worked on our brakes. Not exactly exciting boondocking though one place we landed was. Outside of Playa Los Cobanos, we parked with Toby and Chloe on a local’s property and had our own private beach to our side. This was definitely the loveliest place we camped in El Salvador. And it was free 🙂

10374512_833766546652245_5515656609797780229_n Photo courtesy of Carpe Viam

Total on camping: $160 for 7 nights at a hotel

 

FUEL
Not much to say about this except that fuel was expensive. We filled up once, and it was only like half a tank–25 gallons or so.

Total: $105

 

FOOD:
We ate out a lot in El Tunco. The food was good and cheap, with a nice variety ranging from smoothies to Italian to an awesome Asian noodle bar. And I got my pupusa fix at the local market in Suchitoto. We spent $94.74 eating out, $54.75 on groceries, and $30 at the bar.

Total on food and bev: $179.49

 

PHONE/INTERNET:
There are 3 companies in El Salvador: Tigo, Movistar and Claro. Since we had a great experience with Tigo in Guatemala, we decided to stick with them. And this turned out to be the cheapest phone plan yet. The new SIM for our phone cost $3, which included 250mgb and I think some minutes to use in 7 days. For our second week, I put $5 on the phone for 500mgb of data and some texts and minutes.

Total: $8

 

DOGS
No issues with Shae and Olivia at all. No one asked to see their paperwork, acknowledged them at the border, or at any time we were in El Salvador.

Total spent on the dogs: $0

 

NOT TO MISS:
If you surf, El Tunco is supposed to be the spot. Since I wasn’t feeling well during my few days there, I wasn’t able to give it a shot but the waves looked huge and there were a lot of surfers in the water. The people were very friendly but it just didn’t seem like there was much to see in the country. Otherwise, drive right through. Sorry. Just being honest.

 

WHAT WE’D DO DIFFERENTLY:
Maybe we would have had a different experience if we visited when it wasn’t so hot…

 

STRANGEST THING:

I was pretty surprised that so many people spoke English. In a region where it doesn’t seem like there are oodles of tourists (like Guatemala), I was impressed with the amount of English I heard.

 

BEST MEAL:
The pizza at El Tunco. REAL PIZZA!! It was awesome. And I forgot the name of the restaurant.

 

FOR YOUR OWN EL SALVADORIAN ADVENTURE:
+ see and surf the beaches around El Tunco to La Liberdad

…and then you are on your own

One Response to “The El Salvador breakdown”

  1. Victoria May 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    If you liked the pizza in el Tunco you will DIE over the pizza in Cahuita, Costa Rica. The best ever. Seriously.

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