Saturday, September 25, 2004

Week 13 - Siguatepeque, Honduras to Granada, Nicaragua

September 18 - 24, 2004

Picking up the pace to meet a friend in San Jose, Costa Rica.


Left Siguatepeque by walking to the highway and catching a bus to San Pedro Sula which is the business/industrial center and second largest city in Honduras. Took two more buses, via Puerto Cortez, to get to Omoa. Omoa, population 2,500, is one of the oldest towns in Honduras and lies on the Atlantic. There is a very pretty fortress, San Fernando de Omoa, built centuries ago to protect the land and shipments of silver from Tegucigalpa mines to Spain, from repeated attacks of the British pirates. The fortress was later used as a jail, and is now a National Monument. This town is a very welcoming, Caribbean style, beach town. Very tranquil, peaceful, and not overly developed.


Backtracked to San Pedro de Sula and caught a bus to Santa Rosa de Copan. Met a Hondurian who convinced us to spend a night in his town of Gracias instead. And so we did. Awesome decision. Gracias, population 19,380, is an amazing, undiscovered, beautiful place. The town is a colonial jewel waiting to be found (or ruined?). Like Omoa, it is one of the oldest and most historic settlements in Honduras. In 1544, for a time, it became the administrative center of Central America. It is surrounded by mountains, including Montana de Celaque - highest peak in Honduras at 2,849 meters above sea level. It is also extremely forested - simply gorgeous.

Our friend, Walter Murcia, took us to many places around town including - the oldest botanical garden in Central America started by his great grandfather, hot springs, and a fort overlooking the city.

Botanical garden...

Natural hot springs...

Walter at the fortress...

We made a new friend and got so much out of a town that we did not expect to even visit. A highlight in Honduras!!


Left Gracias at midday for La Esperanza (which means "The Hope"). The town is difficult to get to via this route due to low traffic and no pavement - unreliable travel, especially during the rainy season. We hitched a ride to San Juan del Caite in the back of a truck. There we waited for almost three hours before finding a second ride to La Esperanza.


Ahhh!! Found a the back of a pick-up truck...

The two journeys were about 60km each, through pine forested, mountainous, amazing land. Of all our routes on this trip so far, this one was in the top three for sure - especially when riding in the back of a truck - open to see in all directions. Spent the night in La Esperanza.

Such a pretty route...


Left for Danli - had to stop and change buses in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. It means "Silver Hill" and was a huge sliver mining camp in the late 1500's. Danli, population 30,000, is a town know for cigar making and is also very pretty.

Wednesday and Thursday - MATAGALPA, NICARAGUA

Left Danli for Nicaragua - took a bus to El Paraiso (meaning, The Paradise) and another one on to the border settlement of Las Manos (meaning, The Hands). Went through Hondurian and Nicaraguan immigration - very friendly border crossing - no problems. Welcome to Nicaragua!

Check out what we saw on a truck at the Honduras/Nicaragua border!..

Took three buses to Matagalpa via Ocotal and Sebaco. Arrived to a town, at night, with no electricity or water - pitch black, dark and dry. It was a bit scary walking around an unknown city without being able to see anything at all...literally. No street lights, no lights in stores, houses, etc...dark, dark, dark. Found a hotel and managed to find dinner all by flashlight and candle. Ah,m how romantic! Electricity finally came back a few hours later - however, no water until the next day. Really makes you realize how much we take for granted.


Left by bus to Granada - three buses via Tipitapa and Masaya. Granada is a lot like Antigua but more open - not crowded. It is next to a huge lake, Lago de Nicaragua. It is also less touristy (or perhaps the tourist season is dying down). Possibly one of our favorite cities so far. Maybe a bit too hot though...for us anyway. With a population of 111,506, Granada is the oldest city on Latin American mainland. It is a very friendly, beautiful, colonial port city. It was founded in 1524 and was attacked at least three times by British and French pirates. It lies on the shore of Lago de Nicaragua which can be accessed from the Atlantic Ocean via the San Juan and Escalante rivers. Also lying at the foot of Volcan Mombacho - it is gorgeous.

Somebody just passed pulled hearse on the way to the burial grounds.

Here we coincidently bumped into Claudia, the friend from Germany that we first met in Uspantan, Guatemala. Had dinner and enjoyed swapping travel stories.

Claudia and Sarah...

Tomorrow perhaps we will leave by boat for the world's largest fresh water island containing two volcanoes.

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Monday, September 20, 2004

El Salvador Map and Route

To track the route, follow the blue line...

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Sunday, September 19, 2004

El Salvador - Commentary and History

I wrote the following after reading information out of my travel guide, Footprint Central America and Mexico 2004 by Peter Hutchison, taking to locals, and reading information on the internet, local newspapers...

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. You can travel the entire east-west span by car in three and a half hours. The total area is 21,041 square kilometers. Guatemala is to the west, Honduras to the north and east, and the Pacific Ocean is on the south with 321 kilometers of coastline. There are volcanoes - the tallest being 2,365 meters (Santa Ana). Lowlands lie to the north and south. The highest point in the country is 2,730 meters. It is very green, colorful with tropical vegetation (200 species of orchid grow all over the country)...beautiful.

HISTORY - Much like Mexico and Guatemala, the Spaniards moved in and by 1550, occupied what is now El Salvador. The indigenous people and land were treated the same way as well...loss of land and rights. They were made to work the land that was once theirs and illnesses were brought on by newly introduced European diseases and germs. Central America formed its self sufficient government in 1821 and El Salvador declared independence in 1839. However, unrest was present as the indigenous tried to regain the land that was once theirs, but their attempts were met and stopped with brutal force. Land continued to be the main grounds for civil unrest, the peasant uprising in 1932, and the forming of coalitions.

The military coup in 1979 led to the formation of a civilian military junta which promised reforms. These promises were not carried out. In 1980, the opposition unified and formed the coalition, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Political tensions kept rising...reaching a civil war.

Many peace talks were attempted but failed - leading the FMLN guerrillas to strike hard in 1989. Negotiations continued but no agreements were made about the purging of the armed forces - which had become the wealthiest department in the country following 10 years of United States support. Between 1979 to 1984, 40,000 civilians were killed - mostly by right winged death squads. By 1989, an estimated 70,000 were killed, including Archbishop Oscar Romero - who was shot while saying mass in 1980. (See the following movies: Romero (1989), for information on the archbishop's assassination, and Oliver Stone's, Salvador, for more info on the civil war from a journalist's point of view.)

Finally, in 1992, in New York, a peace accord was signed and the following month, a cease-fire began. The United States agreed to "forgive" a large portion of the El Salvadorian international debt.

After the war and until now, people had little faith in the government as it never quite found itself structurally. The country has received many interventions from the United Nations, both politically and economically.

In addition to the civil war - as if that was not enough...El Salvador has suffered greatly from the devastating earthquakes of 1986 and 2001. They have also had severe drought (related to El NiƱo) resulting in a food crisis, and has also had recent border conflicts with Honduras.

ECONOMY - Agriculture is the main area bringing in 3/4 of export earnings. Coffee and sugar are the most important. Land ownership is very unevenly distributed - very few own most of the land. The main industries are food processing and petroleum products. Others include textiles, shoes, cosmetics to name a few. Maquila factories (sweatshops) have grown recently and provide 20,000 low-paying jobs.

In attempt to fix the economic problems, El Salvador adopted the US dollar in 2001. Their currency of the 'colon' is no longer in circulation. We found much opposition and strong voice against this in all towns we visited.

CULTURE - The country has a population of 280 people per square kilometer making it the most densely populated country in all mainland America. It is far more homogenous than its neighbor, Guatemala. The indigenous groups are not as visible as they are in Guatemala. In the places traveled, no traditionally dressed people were seen.

Interesting to note that there is not much in terms of "El Salvadorian" music. Most of their music has a Mexican influence.

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