Neither of us was particularly eager to stay in the shitty San Salvador hotel longer than we needed to, so we were on the road pretty quick after we woke up – by 7:45AM (possibly our earliest start of the trip?)
How shitty was the hotel?
And our door lock? A padlock… from a different room.
So yeah. We wanted to leave the hotel and the city quickly, so we didn’t even bother trying to find breakfast. First order of business was getting away. Sadly, leaving the city involved getting on the Pan American Highway (for the first time on our trip!) and we didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find breakfast after we left. We passed very few commodores or restaurants, and the ones we did pass seemed to be all closed. We attributed this partially to being a Sunday, and partially to being early. While the people in the hotels where we stay all seem to rise early, Latin America, in general, doesn’t seem to get a particularly early start on the work day.
Eventually we spotted a big enclosed area with several rows of tables, lots of semi trucks stopped, and even a military truck full of armed men stopped. It was a row of commodores. A quick (legal!) U-turn later and we were pulling up in front of a couple of women with a grill who immediately started brandishing meat on a stick at Kay. This was a good start, we felt.
We had a bit of trouble ordering, as our Spanish is still quite bad (non-existent, save for a few important phrases we use often). The woman kept trying to ask us to make decisions – i.e. do we want meat done this way, or that way? Or this type of meat, or that type of meat? Or these sides? Neither of us could really pick up on what she was saying – I think she got a little frustrated but she was good natured about it and eventually put down in front of us some stick-meat, some tortillas, and something else that neither of us can remember.
The stick meat, as it turns out, was surprisingly delicious. And I mean delicious. Really effing tasty. We only got two pieces of stick meat each and I think we were both wishing we’d gotten a third piece. While we were nomming our meat (sans forks – food stands in El Salvador don’t seem to believe in forks), Kay noticed that the large woman was making something that looked like pupusas.
We were still interested in trying another one, after the recommendation that lilolita made, so Kay went and asked for two pupusas. They didn’t ask us what we wanted in them – I assume because we had such a hard time ordering before that they assumed our Spanish wasn’t up to the task – so when she brought the pupusas to the table, we discovered we’d gotten bean-filled pupusas.
I was mightily amused by this as Kay is getting tired of beans with every meal – particularly breakfast – and while we’d escaped the main part of breakfast without beans, here they were, haunting him. The pupusas were tastier than the ones we had in San Salvador, except for the bean filling. I think if we’d had the filling from San Salvador in the pupusas from this street-side stand, it would have been a home run.
A short, easy ride later, we arrived in San Miguel. The plan was to ride a short day and chill in the hotel in San Miguel. We weren’t sure if the border crossing offices would be open on a Sunday, so we didn’t want to chance it, and neither of us was feeling particularly well-rested after our night in the crap hotel in San Salvador. Also, we didn’t really feel we’d really experienced whatever it was people kept telling us was so awesome about El Salvador.
We gave the Rough Guide another chance and let it guide us to Posada Real, which turned out to be pretty nice. We had air conditioning, a clean bathroom, and only a handful of ants to plague us throughout the night. (The air conditioning was awesome – after only about an hour and a half of riding, we were both DRENCHED in sweat. It was around 95 degrees, or a bit more, in San Miguel. In the shade.)
After a quick shower to rinse off the sweat, we headed out into the city. We were only a couple of blocks from the giant street market, and we wanted to check it out. We happily started wandering, idly looking for more lithium batteries but not on a real mission, and spent probably a half hour poking around the street fair. Then we popped into a super mercado (supermarket) for some supplies, and when we came back out, we started looking for lunch.
We quickly discovered that the street market was shutting down… we thought maybe they were closing early because it was Sunday, and looked at the clock, only to realize that it wasn’t even 1PM yet and the thing was rapidly becoming deserted even as we wandered through it. Kay found a man who had hot dogs, and we wandered a bit longer looking for something for me, but even the commodores that we’d seen earlier had shut down since we’d been poking around. We tried going back to the hot dog man for me, but by the time we arrived, he was gone, too.
No problem, we thought – just try for a regular restaurant or commodore. We walked out of the big street market and realized that EVERYTHING was deserted. The entire town was shuttered. We consulted the Rough Guide again, hoping for guidance, and followed its directions to a street where everything was shuttered and the restaurant that was supposed to be there didn’t exist. Luckily, the search took us around the corner to a Pizza Hut.
Don’t get me wrong – neither of us particularly wants to eat like gringos. We really enjoy the local fare when we get the chance – street food, in particular. But Pizza Hut was literally the ONLY thing open at this point – around 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon other than the Pollo Campanero. We opted for Pizza Hut, and had a somewhat lame, but actually quite satisfying, meal. (Pizza Hut in San Miguel, by the way, must employ at least a third of the population. At one point, Kay counted something like a dozen people just standing around while another eight were on break. It was crazy.)
Went back to the hotel at around 2:30 and Kay decided to nap for a bit while I read my book. It was total luxury. Kay hasn’t gotten a nap since we hit the road, and he enjoys naps. I read for about 40 minutes before I had to give in and sleep, too. We ended up napping for a couple of hours, and it was total luxury. We loved it. I could have kept right on napping, but Kay pointed out that we should try to find dinner – particularly as things had seemed all closed earlier and dinner might be a more difficult prospect.
So we headed out again, following the Rough Guide’s directions to yet another restaurant. Which also either didn’t exist, or was hidden behind a closed shutter. We covered probably 10 blocks and only found three things open – a restaurant/bar, the Pollo Campanero, and Pizza Hut. Neither of us was in the mood for the ambience of a restaurant/bar (that looked more bar from the windows) so we opted for the Pollo Campanero. Which turned out to be surprisingly tasty. Seriously. We both nommed our food with gusto and wanted more. And felt lame about enjoying chain fast food… but enjoyed it anyway.
I was craving Coke (most of Mexico was Coca Cola country, but it turns out that El Salvador is Pepsi dominated. You have to look to find Coke.) and the temperature had dropped a bit with the arrival of dark so we decided to wander around for a bit and try to find an open tienda where I could grab a soda.
When we left the hotel, we both commented that we felt surprisingly safe. Trying to find the major road where we might find a tienda, though – that feeling of safety quickly dissipated as we walked down dark, deserted streets – two gringo touristas who were clearly out of place. We both agreed that we didn’t feel safe anymore, and hoofed it to the major street only to find that we couldn’t see a tienda anywhere. We did, however, see a Burger King, another Pizza Hut, another Pollo Campanero, and a bunch of other chain-type restaurants that were open – so apparently the whole town didn’t shut down. Just the town center.
Whilst walking back up the main drag to head back to our hotel, we ran into a street food festival. It was a bunch of tents with banners that looked like they represented several of the restaurants in the area. The food smelled tasty and everyone looked like they were really enjoying it, and we wished we’d ran into this unexpected gem before we’d had dinner at the Pollo place. Alas.
Headed quickly back to the hotel room, walking faster now that we’d realized we didn’t feel so safe wandering around after dark, and closeted ourselves with the A/C and a two-part season finale for Dr. Who. All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon/evening, although we probably would have enjoyed San Miguel a lot more if everything hadn’t closed down before 1PM.