El Salvador: the little country with a big heart

Why is that I never have any pictures of us in the heat of the moment, when my moto is laying on its side, mirror spun around, GPS kitty wompass and my pannier dented to hell?  It’s because when you have a knarly wipe out, the immediate reaction is to get busy picking it up and assess the damage.   I’m not thinking about the camera when I’m whining about how I’m not sure I can ride 20 miles on this shit.

We left beautiful Playa CuCo heading for Playa Tunco in El Salvador on perfect morning.    We planned to go the dirt route along the coast the 30 or so miles to Tunco in spite of the hotel owner advising us that it was not possible as it was very difficult terrain.   Of course that statement in itself makes Tad salivate, so off we go.  The road was awesome, hugging the coast from high above and giving us beautiful vistas as we passed a few remote pueblos.   About 10 miles in that changed (surprise, surprise!) and the road quickly turned into a relatively thick layer of baby head size rocks, round and perfect for rolling beneath your motorcycle.  Trying to focus to stay upright and keep my momentum, it wasn’t long before lost it and went down really hard within a mile the stuff.   After assessing the road a distance down it didn’t appear to get any better.   After we got the bike up, it was pretty lodged on rocks, so while I removed the panniers, Tad was working on trying to get it unstuck.  It’s time like this I question whether I’m really cut out for this type of riding.   Tad, fearing this might be a ride of more picking up the moto’s than riding (at least mine) elected to turn around so we might get to Tunco in a decent amount of time and in one piece.

View from our balcony at Playa Tunco

View from our balcony at Playa Tunco

We arrived at Tunco and had a most excellent 3 night stay with a fantastic beachfront room.   We were mesmerized by the massive roaring waves of the ocean (so close we could almost touch it!) and the astounding sunsets from our balcony.  Being a self-proclaimed beach bum, it was hard to put on all the motorcycle gear and leave our little beachfront utopia in such hot weather but it was time to move on to explore more El Salvador treasures.

When you think about gastronomy Central America doesn’t typically come in high on the list.   In fact, it probably doesn’t even register on any list.  Since leaving Mexico, we haven’t had any real blow your hair back experiences that would send foodies flocking here.   But let’s set the record straight, we left San Salvador a little thicker around the middle, with no need to eat again for 3 days after and a promise to share the delights of this awesome little country.  We may not have found the ‘real’ deal had it not been for the generous hospitality of our wonderful hosts Mario and Fernanda Lecha of San Salvador.  There is some damn fine food to be found here and we were more than spoiled by these two professional eaters.

Mario and Fernanda Lecha, Big El Salvador Hearts!

Mario and Fernanda Lecha, Big El Salvador Hearts!

We were introduced to Mario through our friend Julio Hartman of Guatemala, who was introduced to us by our friend Lance Carnes of Mexico, who was introduced to us by our friend Don Stover of Tennessee, who was introduced to us by our friend Lee Wagoner also of Tennessee, who we met at the GS Giants Rally in Arkansas.   Prime six degrees of separation example, no?

We weren’t going to spend any time in San Salvador, but after a few email exchanges with Mario, he graciously invited us to come to San Salvador and spend a night, share stories and relax before we headed back to Guatemala.

DSC01331 (640x480)Mario met us late in the afternoon and we followed him back to San Salvador through an enjoyable twisty back road.  We stopped at place called the Devil’s Doorway – a cool outcropping of gigantic rocks with cliff side trails towering over the valley below.  At first glimpse it reminded me a mini Machu Picchu but before we could really get out and explore it much, a cool dry fog had consumed us and we couldn’t see didly.DSC01300 (480x640)

We arrived at his lovely home overlooking the city of San Salvador and were warmly greeted his gorgeous wife Fernanda and their daughters Julie and Fernandita and 1 yr old grandson Toto.   Before we knew it, out one night turned into three.  Not surprising as these folks were a hoot to hang out and each morning they suggested we stay another night.

Ok so back to the eating part.  Word:  Pupusas. Definition:  A little disc of goodness.   This is a corn maza dough (what you make tortillas out of) is formed into a ball and stuffed with just about anything you want.  Shrimp, cheese and chicken, or maybe a jalapeno and chicharron, straight up roasted veggies or chorizo and queso, the list goes on and you get the idea. They are then flattened into a tortilla shape and grilled to perfection.  You’ll find a giant jug of shredded fermented cabbage slaw on the table which is typically spread over the top of the pupusa before starting its short journey from your mouth to your belly.  Washing it all down ice cold beer or two you will then waddle out of the restaurant too full to speak.

Day 2.  We’d hardly had time to digest our breakfast of frijoles, eggs, sausage, fruit, crusty French bread and a wedge of firm white salty cheese, before Fernanda began preparing lunch.  While we were heads down catching up on Wi-Fi, the smells of garlic, roasting peppers and chicken were making our mouths water.   The result was a delish hoagie type sandwich topped with fresh tomatoes, onions and a spicy green sauce.   Before we could wipe the last bit of green chile from our lips, Fernanda wants to know what we want for dinner.  Forget brushing after each meal, we needed a nap after each meal.  That good and that filling!

DSC01316 (480x640)After an afternoon of sightseeing and hiking around the Volcano San Salvador and Mario’s coffee plantation (Finca Tepeyac) we made our way back home.  Mario’s grandfather was a Spaniard and Fernanda began preparing Paella from the old family recipe handed down for generations.  It was a gigantic platter abundant with mussels, shrimp, chicken and pork politely nestled in delightful saucy rice, with a side of that awesome fresh crusty French bread and perfectly paired red wine.   I couldn’t help but feeling piggish when I went back for a second helping.  And let me not forget Fernanda’s homemade New York Cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries for desert.  I wonder how Fernanda manages to keep her rockin’ body in shape?    A couple cubre libres and a shot of icy cold tequila later along with brilliant conversation, we said goodnight with the intension of heading out the next morning.DSC01363 (640x480)

But that wasn’t meant to be, we hadn’t finished eating!

Day 3:   They took us to a seafood restaurant for lunch owned by one of their friends.  The extensive menu included just about any seafood combination you could think of shrimp, octopus, calamari and a number of different fish options.  We were provided a small ceviche sampler – one was a cream dill base and one the tradition tomato lime base. Tad and I opted for the tomato option.  margarita beer (640x478)After an appetizer of small smoked chorizo sausages, thick toasted tortilla wedges, avocado and a chipotle type sauce, our ceviche arrived in bowls the size of a big baby heads.   The bowls were so full jammed packed we could hardly finish, but not being quitters, we found the bottom of the bowl.

We made our way to downtown San Salvador to an amazing church (can’t remember the name), which isn’t much to look at from the outside, but it’s absolutely stunning inside.

You can still see bullet holes on the outside doors.

You can still see bullet holes on the outside doors.

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Little rooms lined the streets with prostitutes waiting of Love you Long time!.

A domed shaped building with a stained glass ceiling, the reflections of the glass on the walls and natural lighting was breathtaking.  This church has a sad history many people were shot and killed outside of the building during rebel protests.  You can see the bullet holes in the cathedral doors – a sad reminder of the tragedy the square.  We toured a bit more around down town, cruising through the market/shopping area and red light district with the ladies in waiting all dolled up and ready to serve.

We made a stop at the iconic Café Bella Napoles which interior is still the same as it was in the 1960’s.  You wouldn’t know if from its run down façade and interior, but it’s a well-known and famous San Salvador coffee shop where politicians and intellectuals have made many important decisions over coffee and dulce.   So while still full from our bottomless ceviche, we thought what the hell and managed down a few pastries along with our cappuccino.  Oink!

Later that night, in spite of not being the slightest bit hungry, Mario suggested we go for cocktails and something ‘light’.  We ended up at another friend’s restaurant which was an open air restaurant/bar with a roadhouse atmosphere.  I joined Fernanda with the house special – blue margarita with a beer floater.

blue margarita (478x640)I’d like to take a moment to personally thank the genius who thought up this tasty libation!   Being that it was the size of a small house, martini’s seemed to be the better option for our 2, 3rd and 4th drinks.

DSC01378 (640x480)Our light snack started with a margarita pizza.  Well enough, as we didn’t really even need that.  But that’s not how Salvadorians’ operate.  Mario began to order a number of unique items on the menu and a short while later piles of food began to appear at our table.

Huevos de Coclorniz – hard boil quail eggs

Camaronies a la Diabla – melt in your mouth shrimp topped with a zesty spicy sauce and toasted garlic wedges.

Corazon de Res (Antioucho) – thinly sliced beef heart, grilled and seasoned with salt and smoke.  This was unique as it resembled grilled flank steak but had an ever so slight liver flavor.

Pescadaditas –  Fish minnows about 1-2” long in a seasoned battered and deep fried whole.  Heads, guts and all… down the hatch.  Crispy little buggers

Calamari -  Your typical calamari battered and fried, but cooked perfectly.  One of the best ever!

Cerdo a la plancha  – grilled sweetened pork chunks served on skewers with a side of pickled onion.

I’m not sure how we have the uncanny ability to chow down humungous portions of food even when we aren’t hungry. To delish to pass up or am I afraid I’ll ever have an opportunity for fried minnows again?    Nonetheless, our feast was a 5 star eating event.  Over the table that evening, Ferdanda gently clasped my hand and asked a small favor — to please tell our friends that El Salvador, the country she is born and raised and so proud to love, is a wonderful and beautiful place to visit.   This country has a violent history, but unless you go looking for trouble and throw common sense out the window, we found it to be a full of friendly, welcoming and beautiful people and places.

And with that said, after thickly sliced pound cake French toast and fresh watermelon for breakfast the next morning, we said our good-byes to our awesome hosts and headed off for the Guatemalan border.

 

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7 Comments

  1. Mary Ellen

    Awesome read! You two will never be the same after this trip……in a good way! Love and blessings to you both! Happy Easter! Emmy and Stuart <3

  2. A fine telling of the tale my dear but a couple of details that you left out:
    1. Our first few nights stay in El Tunco at Hotel Mira Flores – for surf dudes – was brought to us by six degrees too.
    2. Yes, I was excited to do the dirt, baby heads and all. You gave it a good go, better than many.
    3. Our first night in El Tunco we camped right outside a rather large and active restaurant. We were tired and it didn’t really matter. – Thankful for the cheapy Guate tent, but miss my Redverz!!
    4. The church your were referring to is Iglesia El Rosario and it is unique on many levels from the unusually stark / simple architecture to the amazing stained glass, magnificent and modern art and sadly a violent history too. Here are a couple of links worth checking out. http://www.elsalvador.travel/en/iglesia-el-rosario/ and also, “here lie 21 people massacred…” Oct 29 1979. http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/6d09b/ Before anyone thinks this overly violent and a reason not to visit El Salvador and San Salvador specifically, it is not. Look at our own history before we judge others.
    5. Aside from Fernanda’s great cooking and Mario’s great company and motorcycle hosting (3 BMW’s and a KTM in his garage) the name of the restaurant we ate such awesome food was called the Barracuda. The bull/cow heart was actually one of the best pieces of meat period during our time in Central America.
    6. Lastly, I think Gary and Donna gave foodies something to get excited about in Costa Rica too!!!! Between the awesome breakfasts & super hand made wood-fired pizza we would find awesome tea and very cold cervaza. Not to mention fantastic company. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Angel-Valley-Bed-Breakfast-Costa-Rica/286640514790708 or http://www.angelvalleybnb.com
    Again, great story – thanks for telling it Gaila. Tad :-)

  3. Mario

    It was great meeting you Gaila and Tad !
    Thanks for the kind words about our country , you know you have your house down here , abrazos !

  4. Becky

    Thank you Gaila!! For taking the time to share your adventures in such a way that I can almost smell the food and feel the adrenaline pumping!! Thinking of you both DAILY!!!

  5. David

    Great story about the food and friendship you found in El Salvador. I just moved to San Salvador and will be living here for three more years working at the US Embassy. I’m a big fan of pupusas, but clearly there’s a lot more good eating to be found. A question: doesn’t Mario have a motorcycle repair shop? My 650KLR just arrived after five years in storage. It needs some work to get it back on the road and the local Kawasaki dealer doesn’t inspire confidence. I’d appreciate any info you could provide. Thanks, David Schensted

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