Monday 5th November – San Salvador
This morning I took a bus into the city centre to join the free walking tour for tips. I met my guide – Natalia outside the Hospital Nacional Rosales to start the tour. There was only one other couple on the tour – they were on a long weekend trip from Colombia, which was such a coincidence and also great because we did half of the tour in Spanish! Natalia explained a little bit about the history of El Salvador and the current day situation. The hashtag they use #dontskipelsalvador tries to encourage tourists to make a stop in the country which has had a lot of bad press because of the gang presence and some of the highest murder rates in the world in recent years. Natalia assured us that the streets of downtown were very safe during the day due to the large police and army presence. We walked down the avenue of heroes, stopping to look at some of the architecture – interesting because, although the buildings were not very old due to the near constant seismic activity, they had been constructed of wood and covered over with steel made to look like stone. It was very beautiful and convincing until you got very close to it! We visited the central park: where we were able to see the Palacio Nacional, National library and the revered Cathedral where the remains of the priest Romero; who was assassinated by the government in 1980 while giving a mass in a hospital and in October was made the first saint from El Salvador by the pope, are kept. Another interesting church was the Iglesia de Rosado which was made in the shape of an arch facing from east to west with brightly coloured glass in the roof which reflects the sun during the day as it moves over the sky. It was beautiful inside, even though the building isn´t traditionally grand from the outside. There is also an eye of god on the northern wall made from glass that reflects the light from the sun during the summer months onto wall behind the pulpit. Really cool design!
After the tour, I had a look inside the National Palace which was a lovely old building which somehow had managed to escape the numerous earthquakes that the city had experienced. I strolled through the typical bustling central market before heading back to the hostel. A couple of the girls staying in the hostel wanted to head up to the Puerto del Diablo – which unfortunately was closed for six months which we hadn´t realised until we made it all the way up the mountain! Luckily, we were still able to access the lovely park area where lots of locals were out in the late afternoon coolness running or playing soccer. We also found a great mirador with views all over the city as the sun began to set. We were able to find a cool bar for a couple of sunset beers with the best views ever of the beautiful city!
Tuesday 6th November – San Salvador
Today was a Mayan day! I took a local bus – number 108 out to the two pre-hispanic sites about 30km from the city. The first site was called Joya de Cerén – also known as the Pompeii of the Americas. In the 500s some time, a volcano in the area erupted, covering the city with ash and preserving it, some of the best preserved everyday structures (ie. Not the houses of royalty and priests, but houses of regular people living their lives) that can be found in the world. The site is a UNESCO world heritage site, the only one in El Salvador which is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, it looked as though a number of the areas were being excavated so I only was able to see a couple of the sites. One was originally a steam house where the locals would have bathed – similar to the one that I had used in Guatemala. There was a store house and a regular dwelling. Other than that the site was pretty small so not too much to see. I had some pupusas for lunch before catching a bus and then walking in the heat alongside the highway to the second site for the day, the San Andreas pyramids. This site was similar to other Mayan sites that I had visited in Honduras and Guatemala – although not as grand. There were a number of partially excavated pyramids around a central courtyard. And barely anyone else around. The area was beautiful even though it was only a little way away from the highway. There wasn´t a lot of information about the area but the pyramids were probably used as ritual spaces and as burial sites, there was lots of pottery and other artefacts found there. I think I enjoyed San Andreas more in the end than I had Joya de Ceren even though both sites were really interesting.
Wednesday 7th November - San Salvador
Today I headed out with a couple of new friends Justin and Trisha to see the volcano close to San Salvador, San Salvador Volcano in Parque el Boqueron. We once again took a local bus out of town and then switched to another bus which took us right up to the top of the volcano. It was really only about 15 minutes walk until we were at the top with awesome views down into the crater of the extinct volcano. Because it is extinct, the inside of the volcano was covered in green trees and plants – all the way down to the bottom where there is a small crater where the action used to happen! We took some photos and walked along the rim of the volcano and then back down to catch the bus back to San Salvador – it was a really great morning out and about. My plan for the afternoon was to visit the National Museum of Art and the Museum of Anthropology. Both of the museums were awesome – In the Art museum there were some works by Fernando Llort – who is the most famous artist El Salvador has produced and whose works are really simple and beautiful to the eye. There were also some awesome sculptures with weird long fingers and a exhibit of cartoons made by an artist called Otto which were very entertaining. The Museum of Anthropology was my favourite. I arrived there at 4pm, only one hour before closing time and only made it through the first floor – which was a description of the history of the Mayas in the country through time and then the Spanish invasion. It was great to see a visual representation of the different sites that I had visited not just in El Salvador, but throughout the region along the timeline where they had flourished. I determined that I would definitely head back the following morning to finish the museum before I headed off to Santa Ana.