Jan 2, 2002 (Updated May 9, 2005)

The Bottom Line You should have seen the original working title for this review. "Playing with the P*ssy (cats) on the Pacific".

After narrowly escaping the unwanted attentions of the pair of local juvenile delinquents on the Santa Ana bus ( see the previous instalment "How To Get Mugged On Rural Buses in El Salvador"), I continued on my journey westward to the Pacific like some ancient Spanish Conquistador. Well actually by this time I was technically heading south, but you get the idea..

The bus from Sonsonate to Acajutla 20 kilometres away was a switch from the ancient battered, second hand school buses, quaintly referred to as "chicken buses" by the locals. This one was a tiny, battered second hand mini bus. I'm quite familiar with these little vehicles, as they're employed throughout the world in the tourist industry.

Usually they're used to move small groups around Either to and from resorts to airports and/or on day trips to whatever local points of interest are available. I've ridden on these workhouses from Cuba to Morocco and usually found them practical and fairly comfortable conveyances.

Normally they hold comfortably 14-16 tourists with minimal luggage, say an oversized camera bag, and ample room for the driver and guide. The one I crawled onto that night with my oversized back pack had some forty of us crammed into and on it. By the way when I say on it I mean that literally. There were people hanging on the sides, well at least the right side as we sped down the highway.

I was perched on a small fold down jump seat up behind the driver. Normally that wouldn't have been too bad, but I had my back pack on my knees which incidentally were drawn up under my chin due to the lack of leg room. Various assorted knees, elbow and other body parts were jammed into other various parts of my own anatomy. The rest of the bus was like that, with people of all ages, shapes, sizes and incidentally attitudes toward basic hygiene, crammed in behind me.

Probably the worse off of everyone was the conductor. Now I was already used to the antics of these remarkable young men having been riding chicken buses for over a week in four countries, but this guy took the cake. I'd seen his cohorts weave their way down the aisle through impenetrable crowds. I'd even seen them walk along the roof and come in through the rear door while we were still moving and rather fast too.

This kid, and they're all kids by the way, however went one better. Like I said there were people literally hanging on from the open side sliding door of the bus/van as we tooled down the road, clinging on by their finger tips. One of them was the conductor, but he wasn't just clinging. Somehow he was still collecting fares, handed to him hand over hand across the breadth of the bus, and making change!

How he was managing to do this and still hang on was beyond me. I only presume that some of the other's clinging to the side were holding him there, because I saw him using both hands to sort through a pile of coins and notes and hand someone back their change. Why he didn't just wait until the bus stopped and collect the fares from the departing passengers was beyond me.

The only two people in relative comfort were the driver and the elderly lady riding shot gun up beside him. Even she had her problems though. Aside from a small child and her shopping on her lap she also had a small pile of pizzas.

The mystery of this was soon made clear to me. Most of the other passengers had obviously spent the day shopping in Sonsonate and were on their way home to Acajutla or one of the small villages on the road there. Part of their Saturday outing seemed to include grabbing a pizza from the local version of Pizza Hut in town. As trying to carry them back in steerage with the rest of us galley slaves would have damaged the pies , not to mention run up everyone's dry cleaning bills an ingenious alternative was dreamed up.

The old lady up front was holding everyone's pizza, and here I thought she was just very hungry. As each person reached their respective stop and the bus slowed down and stopped, sometimes, the got off and ran to the front. Here the pizza lady handed them their, hopefully, pie of pies from her rapidly diminishing stock.

Eventually we reached Acajutla. The number of warm bodies and pizzas had diminished to the point that no one was riding "on" the bus, as opposed to "in" the bus. Our conductor, Evil Knevil then asked me where in town I wanted to get off.

This one caught me by surprise. My entire detour into El Salvador had a been a spur of the moment thing. I had no hotel reservation in town. I didn't even know if there were any hotels in town. There were none listed in the guide book.

I asked him if he knew of any, and he nodded. A couple of minutes later we pulled up on a dark and semi deserted street, there were several rowdy drunks under a streetlight, and the bus stopped. A second later it was gone into the night leaving me standing on the sidewalk, ok the ditch/open sewer, staring at the worst dump of a motel I've ever seen.

I strolled inside rather quickly, the drunks on the corner had finally noticed me, and stepped over the semi comatose bodies sprawled in the doorway. Inside was the "lobby." Well actually it was a combination bar and liquor store from the looks of things, that occasionally dabbled in the renting of rooms.

Of course they had a room available, and with a private bath. The cost was $8.75 US and I think that included the couple of bottles of beer that I bought. The room was in the next building and the generous manager quickly took me there and then just as quickly to another room. He rather surprised by my request that I wanted one with a door that locked and key that went with it.

The second room was a little better. It had two doors, both of which had working locks. The key only worked in one of them. I was a little reluctant to accept his explanation that the "other key" had been lost "a long time ago." After he left I piled my luggage on the cleaner of the bigger and cleaner of the two beds and then dragged it and all the other furniture over to the second door.

Once my barricade was finished I sat down, and repacked my gear while sipping on a cold beer. A quick look into the "bathroom" convinced me that I really didn't have to go that bad. Also that I could skip a shower for one day.

Maybe it was the Pizza, or more likely the fact I really hadn't eaten since a piece of toast and a cup of weak coffee for breakfast, and that had been several hours and two countries ago. Whatever the reason I was starving. I'd have to leave my little fortress of squalor and go and find some supper.

I rearranged my back pack and carry on bag and locked them to the bed. After a few minutes of other preparations I slipped out of the room and made a big show of strolling through the "lobby" and announcing I was going out. I crossed the street and found a spot in the shadows here I could see the entrance to my room.

I waited for a couple of minutes to see if the manager decided to make an unannounced inspection of my room and avail himself of anything there he desired. He declined. His good fortune as I'd left a few surprises there. It's amazing what you can do with a spool of fishing line, a knowledge of electrical circuits and a very warped imagination.

I began strolling away. The bus had dropped me off in a dark maze of side streets, but I was sure I could find my way back to the main drag, which also appeared to be the only street in town with street lights, or at least ones that were turned on. From there I figured I could find the beach where I was told there were restaurants.

Enroute some kid on a bike appeared and warned me in broken English not to go down certain streets as they were "dangerous." He then of course offered to guide me down the "safe" streets and alleys. Translation to the dark remote spot where his buddies could roll me , not the competition.

I declined, and before parting asked him if he had a couple of cousins that cruised the Santa Ana to Sonsonate Bus. I did of course check the pockets of my bush jacket to ensure my two "travelling companions" were secure. (Again please see the preceding instalment for an explanation.)

By following my nose, and my compass, I soon reached the beach and sure enough there were several small restaurants and bars in the area. Some even appeared to be open. For the most part the looked about two steps up from the lobby bar of my domicile so I gave them a miss, no Michelin Guide here folks. However one looked promising.

A neon sign advertised the Restaurant Mirimar perched on a small cliff above the beach. It was a nice open air little place which probably had a magnificent view, in the day time. Oh well at least the sound of the crashing surf below me was pleasant.

I was the only customer and was soon enjoying a cold bottle of Pilsener beer while I perused the menu. Actually I didn't have to peruse much as one item caught my eye almost immediately. Screw this back packer mentality I thought, and ordered the lobster.

When it arrived it was perfect. It was of course a Pacific lobster, small and without claws, more like a crayfish on steroids than it's Atlantic cousin. It was however grilled to mouth watering perfection. With it were a nice half dozen large tiger shrimps also lightly grilled. Of course there was a nice salad and french fires to finish filling the plate to bursting capacity.

All this was washed down with copious amounts of Pilsener Which by the way I was now convinced was the only thing about El Salvador I liked. That is aside from bus conductors.

There was even a floor show of sorts while I gorged on my meal. A mother cat and her two kittens came out and began to explore the almost empty dining area. Naturally they gravitated under my table looking for table scraps.

These were rather discerning felines I'd like to point out. They rather disdainfully turned their noses up at the cauliflower and brussels sprouts I flung at them. They wanted shell fish. Mind they did settle for a couple of french fries, chasing and scampering after them under the tables and bumping into the chairs.

Of course there was a down side to all this good food and fun and games. No it wasn't the bill. That came out to about $14.00 US including the beers. No the bad news was the restaurant was part of a hotel with the same name. Of course they had vacancies and the cost for a single was about what I had paid for the dump up the road, and this with an ocean view and a habitable bathroom.

I seriously considered moving. I knew I wouldn't get a refund, but I was willing to forgo that. It would be a small price to pay for peace, comfort and security. In the end I decided against it. Something told me that the sight of me dragging my luggage down that darkened street would be too tempting for my buddy on the bike and any other would be Fagins out there. I'd already had one close call that evening and wasn't going to press my luck.

After dinner I took a quick stroll along the beach to enjoy a cigar. Just long enough to realise that all the muggers not in the alleys congregated here after the sun went down. I also peeked into the collection of run down shacks that passed for bars and passed. Even I have my limits and standards.

I reluctantly headed back to my motel. Once there I grabbed a couple of more beers off the manager, and locked my self in my room. Another look in the general direction of the bathroom convinced me I could hold it a little longer. Eventually I crawled into bed and watched the cockroaches drag off the mice while I sipped on my beer until sleep came.

I awoke at dawn and after disassembling my jury rigged fortifications and little surprises opened the door and stepped out into the breeze way at the front of the motel. I took one final glance at the bathroom and decided that I could go one day without a shower. I hoisted my pack on my shoulders, dropped my key on a slumbering drunk in the gutter (he looked like the manager), p*ssed on the petunias and strolled across the street.

A local bus rolled by within two minutes and dropped me off at the highway junction out of town. Here I caught the morning express bus for the Guatemalan border. Adios El Salvador.

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