February 27 to March 19 2012
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It was the cheapest flight I could find from Montreal to a Spanish speaking country on this planet!  For 600$, I flew (return) to El Salvador.  On a plane loaded with 270+ tourists, I was THE ONLY ONE not going to an all inclusive resort. The purpose of this trip was to practice my Spanish that I learned so well in Mexico last year.

I started my trip in San Salvador (capital of El Salvador) and was somewhat disappointed to see the city with no major attractions.  Talking with locals, I quickly learned that there are 16 active volcanoes in this country and an average of 3 earthquakes daily in this country.  That explains it all: the city has been destroyed and reconstructed several times since 1980.  Even the tap water in San Salvador smells like rotten eggs (sulphur in the water).

Hard to believe, but on day 1 of my trip, my expensive D80 Nikon reflex camera broke!  A camera I had for 6 years and took wonderful pictures…  I had to buy another smaller digital camera as a trip without pictures is like an amazing dream you can’t remember in the morning…

After 2 days in San Salvador, I took no less than four buses to El Tunco, a surfing heaven.  I was surprised to see how undeveloped this town is: two dirt roads, many bars & about a dozen hostels.  The waves were about 1.5 to 2m tall.  Perfect size for me, but too small for the tattooed pros that live there… 

I continued my journey to Jayuya and Conception de Ataco, two small towns on the ``Ruta de Las Flores`` trapped between 6 amazing perfectly shaped volcanoes.  These colonial towns have little attractions to the exception of the food fair on weekends.  I ate Iguana eggs and snake and managed to hold a 6.5m (80lbs) python!  Pretty amazing!

After a week in El Salvador, it was time to hit Guatemala, my 65th country on this planet…  I had mixed feelings going to Guatemala as I knew (heard) that it was super touristy.

It took me no less than 8 hours and 5 buses to get from Ataco (El Salvador) to Antigua (Guatemala), a small 230km journey!!!  Customs were clean and without trouble (didn’t have to bribe), and crossing the bridge by foot was somewhat scary…

I waited about an hour on the Guatemalan side before catching a chicken bus to Guatemala City.  The ride was long (4hrs), painful, loud and crowded with an unpleasant strong smell of vomit…

Incredible, but I made it to Antigua by 4pm!  Antigua is a very pretty town, and I was surprised to see how well tourists and locals blend in a respectful, helpful mutual way.  The town is not overtaken by tourists (not in March 2012 anyway).

I spent two days walking down the cobblestoned streets; looking constantly at the volcano (I saw the summit an hour before leaving town!).

I took a shuttle to San Pedro de La Laguna on Lago de Atitlan.  The shuttle was supposed to be faster than the chicken bus, but ended up being just as long…  An 85 year old man travelling on the shuttle ended up having huge back problems because the road was terrible.  I though the man would die at some point… (seriously)

The view of the three volcanoes overlooking Lago de Atitlan was simply spectacular.  I took Spanish lessons, ran in the morning, ate amazing burritos, visited Mayan villages and relaxed in my private room (all my trip so far was in dormitories).  I also climbed ``La Nariz Del indio``, an amazing view point from which I watched the sunrise on Lago De Atitlan with 5 active volcanoes in the background.

After 4 days in San Pedro, it was time to hit the road again and move on to Quatzaltenango also known as Xela.  I took another chicken bus which took 3 hours to complete the 65km journey (yes, yes).  We went through a 3150m pass before going down to 2300m to Xela.  The central park of Xela is beautiful with colonial buildings, an old church (from 1580) and a very tranquilo vibe.

I spent 6 days in Xela learning Spanish in a language school.  My 15 hours really helped me.  With the school, we visited the church in Xecul, a nicely colored church that has a mixture of Catholic and Maya saints.  What an interesting mix of cultures!  We also visited Maximon, a Mayan Saint that local revered…  We watched curiously as locals offered and demanded things to Maximon.

 I hiked volcan Santa Maria to see Volcan Santiaguo explode (see movie here)and took a bus to Guatemala City on the same day.  I took a final bus to San Salvador and left this part of the world on March 19th 2012 speaking more Spanish that I ever did!  Another cool trip!

See itinerary map of this trip