Crossing the Bar
April 12, 2017
When we decided to spend this season in Central America, we were delighted to discover that the El Salvador Cruiser’s Rally coincided with our plans. And so, we were making the push to arrive in El Salvador by mid-March. After clearing out of Chiapas, Mexico, it was just a 2 night sail to the estuary at Bahia Jaltepeque where the boats would be gathering for the rally.
We had a fairly uneventful sail. There were no fish to be caught, as we had to reel in our lines after the brown boobies kept diving on our lures. Twice those stupid birds snagged the lures. Reeling in a dazed bird and trying to get the hook out of its beak is a lot more difficult than a fish. We have no desire to injure any birds, so we took the lines in for good after that.
Once we arrived at the entrance to the estuary, we had to call the pilot boat to guide us in. There is a sand bar you have to get across to safely enter the estuary. As sand bars shift often and can be quite shallow, you have to have local knowledge to make it across. You also have to time it at high tide so that you have enough water to cross without going aground.
The wind was blowing that afternoon and waves were breaking over the bar. It certainly looked intimidating! Luckily, the pilot boat was great. Bill, who helps organize the rally, was on the VHF relaying the directions of the pilot. He timed it between the sets in the swell and told us to gun it. Mike hit the throttle hard and pushed us through. The swell came in behind us, and the boat surfed the wave. Crazy. Then, Bill came back on the radio and said “Bievenidos a El Salvador!” We had made it across the bar and into El Salvador.
We were greeted at the dock with cocktails from the hotel at Bahia del Sol where we docked the boat. Immigration also greeted us as we handed over our passports immediately after we stepped off the boat. Clearing in was a pretty painless process. There is an immigration office right at the hotel and the port captain arrived shortly after to give us the import permit for the boat.
The small marina is attached to the hotel, and for $15/week we can use the hotel facilities including the pool, internet and $1 beers at the bar. The $1 beers were about the cheapest thing at the hotel though. El Salvador uses the U.S. dollar as currency. I think we had become quite spoiled living in Mexico this last year when the peso was so weak against the dollar. Our prices just went up.
One of our first tasks after arriving was to find an ATM to get some cash. We had limited US dollars on hand. After paying immigration, we needed some cash. There are no banks out on the peninsula by the marina. The closest ATM is in the “Supermercado.” The Supermercado is a convenience store about a 45 minute bus ride from the marina.
In order to get to the Supermercado, we had to take the “chicken bus.” Chicken buses (no idea why they call them that) are the local buses found throughout Central America. They are converted old US school buses which have been painted bright colors and often have crazy lighting. They also usually have some extremely loud sound systems with sub-woofers that make it nearly impossible to talk on the bus. The buses can get pretty tightly packed, and as the seats were originally designed for school kids you can imagine how easily Mike at 6’2” fits. The locals don’t quite have his long legs to worry about.
In addition to the bus drivers, each bus has a bus hustler. It is the hustler’s job to get people on and off of the buses quickly. It is not uncommon to hear the hustlers yelling, “rapido, rapido, rapido.” We nearly got pushed off the bus by one. I even saw one guy pick up a little girl (about 3 or 4) around the waist and carry her quickly up onto the bus. The mom seemed unfazed. Can you imagine that happening in the US? Me neither.
The estuary at Bahia Jaltepeque is quite large, and there are multiple communities that live in and around the estuary, including on several islands. Some have modern facilities, but others lack electricity and sanitation. Although many of the local people live quite meagerly, everyone we have encountered has been very friendly and cheerful.
On Saturday nights, we’ve been invited to the island across from the marina in the estuary. Bill and Jean live on the island and have introduced us to some of the locals who operate a make-shift pupuseria. The kids always come out and greet us with hugs, and we’ve had some of the best pupusas. Pupusas are to El Salvador what tacos are to Mexico. They are made with either corn or rice flour that is made into a thick tortilla. The tortillas are usually stuffed with cheese, beans or chicharron (pork). They are served with curtido, which is a fermented cabbage topping. And, they are delicious!
One of the great things about the rally has been meeting up with some friends we made back in Mexico and making some new friends. When cruising, friends come and go but you always hope to meet up again someday soon. A daily ritual has certainly developed of everyone meeting up at the pool in the late afternoon with those cheap beers when it is just too hot to be stuck on the boat. We’ve also had a few awesome potlucks. Cruisers can get quite creative in the galley when you have limited options to work with! The rally has also organized some fun activities, such as a dinghy raft-up, estuary tour to a beach and party barge.
One of the other fun trips we took was to a little town called Panchimalco up in the hills. We went to visit an artist gallery that had the most amazing sculpture garden. The artist runs workshops for aspiring artists in El Salvador and has showcased their work all over the world. It really was an amazing find in this little town.
The marina has also been a safe place to leave the boat to make some excursions inland within El Salvador and Guatemala, but more on that next time…