Tag Archives: Slow Travel

El Salvador

By now you most likely know this but I’ll start with a quick update on the fallout from the presidential election in Bolivia.

Striking and riots continued after our notorious night time escape a few weeks ago.

On Saturday the police stood in unison with the people of Bolivia. After, Morales, the president said he was up for another election. Sunday morning the military stood with the people of Bolivia. By Sunday afternoon the military and police suggested Morales step down and he did – running to Mexico for safety. Now what?Onwards….We flew from Managua, Nicaragua to San Salvador, El Salvador. Unfortunately it’s known as the most dangerous country in Central America due to crime.

I say it’s the most dangerous because there are 6 active volcanoes (17 inactive) and earthquakes are commonplace. Witnessed by us as our hotel swayed in the 5.1 quake on day two, the aftershock that shook the pool deck and the 5.9 quake the next day that lasted longer than the day before. Yieks!!!El Salvador has suffered severely. The civil war was from 1980 to 1992 and it’s only now slowly turning around. A new president was elected in June and citizens seem happy. Gang violence, drug trafficking and crime is the current battle.

Despite the negative, this place has me bewitched. The people couldn’t be nicer and it’s absolutely beautiful. We toured the city center of San Salvador (Sivar) where the El Centro market expands 20 blocks. Everything from undies to Christmas decorations can be found here.The Cathedral – rebuilt for a third time in 2001 – a victim of multiple earthquakes. Hopefully someone got a clue this time around and built it to earthquake standards.The fascinating pressed metal Basilica Sagrado Corazon Church had multi cultural beginnings. Around 1901 some of the 14 rich families that once financially ruled El Salvador decided that since they were doing so much exporting of goods they needed to import items as well. Case in point – “Let’s order us up a church and hospital. We’ll have Belgium manufacture the pressed metal walls. Indonesia can make the wooden supports. Italy can supply the tile floors and let’s get the windows from Spain.” I’m sure it went something like that…..

It was erected first in Belgium (to make sure all the parts fit), dismantled and then put on multiple ships for delivery. The church parts made it to San Salvador but one of the ships carrying parts for the hospital accidentally delivered them to San Salvador, Brazil. Whoops!

Completed in 1913; the metal walls looks like an exquisitely designed stone building and the ceiling looks like the hull of a ship.Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalm 119:105. Welcome the El Rosario Church. Inconspicuous on the outside, this concrete building is filled with God’s light on the inside. Free of structural pillars – this beauty literally shines.Off to the countryside where jungle greenery surrounds hilly roads. We headed to the small colonial town of Panchimalco. A stop in Planes de Rendero for pupusas, gave us expansive views and a glimpse of Lago de Coatepeque.My favorite place was the adorable town of Suchitoto on the Ruta Azul in the state of Cuscatlan.There we stopped at:

Film maker Alejandro Cotto‘s hacienda which he donated to the community after his death.And – Casa 1800 for views of Suchitlán Lake which is currently covered in a bed of lilies (an annual event). The limonadas were delicious.Suchitoto was so captivating. Tranquilo with colorful, terra-cotta roofed homes and cobblestone streets. Lavish, lush, with dense vistas, charm and preserved structures make this a popular destination.One wouldn’t know this peaceful community was a hot spot in the war where the people suffered the worst atrocities.Trans-Americas Journey’s blog discusses Suchitoto and the war – click here to read.

Women have been greatly persecuted here and solidarity stamps supporting women’s rights are found on walls outside of homes saying women will no longer be victimized.Next time we’re staying here, overnight, to linger.

Oh yeah and cruise the Ruta de Las Flores.It’s Christmas in El Salvador.

We normally don’t do this but with all the negative press about El Salvador we hired EC Tours to drive us around and teach us about their country. They’re the best and we highly recommended them.

Some fun little tidbits:

We’re used to being called gringos in Mexico but in El Salvador’s we are Chelitos. White skinned.

A cora is a quarter. When El Salvador adopted the US dollar as their currency the locals had a hard time saying quarter so they said cora.

Chivo means goat. However they say – Que chivo for how cool.

We saw a Ferris Wheel in the distance and when we pointed to it and said “Hey, there’s a Ferris Wheel.” Our guide Estefany said “That’s a Chicago.” So for those of you who don’t know the Ferris Wheel was built for the World’s Fair in Chicago.

Life is good!!!

Panama City, Panama

Believe it or not immigration in Panama did not ask about our flight out of Panama. Go figure.

The airline clerks in Lima were more about Panamanian Immigration than the Panamanians were.

It’s all smoke and mirrors!

The good thing about the whole ordeal was that we didn’t have to spend the night in the Panama Immigration Hotel.

The first day was the hop on hop off bus and Yup…. it was a national holiday – diá de bandera (flag day) and half of the bus stops were closed. One being access to the historic district – Casco Viejo and all the museums. Flag day in Panama is a big deal. We caught a glimpse from the bus and hundreds of thousands of people were out packed in like sardines celebrating. It was great fun to see.Lucky for us we got to watch a huge ship go through the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal. I was able to experience locks growing up on Saranac Lake in New York. It’s a tedious and meticulously planned operation. Train-like engines guide the ships through the canal keeping the boat in the middle. It was a bit like watching water boil but thrilling none the less.A malecón (seaside walkway) called Cinta Costera Park links the wildly growing modern urban center to Casco Viejo – Panama City’s spectacular old town and UNESCO World Heritage site.We baked ourselves in the sun walking from our hotel to the historic center on the Cinta Costera but enjoyed the seaside breeze in the evening on the way back. Skaters, walkers, joggers, dancers, vendors, kids and their parents, novias and amigos relished in the cooler night temperature.Casco Viejo is a mixture of crumbling abandoned buildings and new or newly refurbished ones – stately, ornate and adorned with Spanish inspired balconies. Fantastic restaurants, super cool hotels and fun bars.Oh yeah – the moon righted its self. Explain that to me please!We happened upon a runner, Jan-Casper Look, who just completed running from Vancouver, Canada to Panama City. Phase one of his journey. It took him a year. He runs pulling a cart behind himself averaging 30 miles per day. You can follow him on Instagram @jclloo21 where there’s also a link to his blog. And we thought walking a few Caminos was a big deal.

Strange and crazy. This Camino Pilgrimage symbol was on a building in Casco Viejo!

The Peruvian Amazon

I sit on the top deck of our river boat typing and glimpse the pink dolphins frocking in the muddy water as white birds dance in the sky. Rising and falling to the sounds of nature. It’s a sight to behold.A two hour flight from the coastal region of Lima had us flying over the Andes mountains and landing in the jungle, Iquitos.Iquitos is the largest city in the world not accessible by road.

Our boat awaited one and a half hours away. The bus ride ended in Nauta where we boarded the Amazon’s only wooden river boat, the Amatista, for a seven day cruise.Before the road was paved in 2005 the journey from Iquitos to Nauta took 12 hours.15 Germans, 4 Canadians and 5 Americans filled 13 of the 15 cabins.

The Amazon’s wet season officially begins in November.

Clear skies on the first evening showed stars so abundant they seemed to be growing out of the tree tops. The Milky Way floated above our heads and the moon looked like it slipped – a U shaped sliver instead of a C shape.The abundance of flora and fauna was staggering.

Here’s a partial list of what we’ve seen: pink dolphins, manatees, a kinkajou, a coatimundi, butterflies, an ajouti, pigmy marmoset, bats, a black caiman, monkeys, frogs of all colors, a red tail boa, an anaconda, 3 sloths, birds too numerous to count, piglets (special Amazonian variety – HA), a tarantula, gray dolphins, turtles, household pets, ducks, chickens, roosters, piranhas and gazillions of unwanted bugs/mosquitos.Every day we took two skiff boat trips – one before lunch and the other later in the day. The naturalists pointed out wildlife while cruising through either muddy brown waters or sleek black water tributaries. Jungle walks gave us the opportunity to get up close and personal with nature and it’s critters.We visted the small community of Pampacaño – 192 people strong and not in possession of clean water.

A pipe pulls their drinking water from the dirty Amazon. To make it safe as possible to drink the captured water stands for several days so that the contaminates can settle and then they use the water from the top. Oil and lead are amongst the carcinogens.

That day lunch was served from the floor in Maria’s home – we ate with our fingers. One of the items on the menu was paca – a huge two foot rat that lives in the jungle. There too we saw the 15 foot anaconda that crept into their village five days prior.Amazonians are so used to the rain that they go about their daily routines immune to the drops continuing on as if the sun was shining.

Chicken and catfish are the main sources of meat in the Amazon. Fish and chicken farms are abundant. In the villages people also fish out of their lagoons instead of the unhealthy river.However, we did go piranha fishing in the black water and dined on them for dinner. Fishing for those infamous people-eating machines (lore) with tiny vicious teeth is quite basic. Take a four foot stick with fishing line tied to one end, a hook on the other and a little bit of beef for bait. You splash the water with the end of the pole and wait to set the hook. Bill successfully caught one flinging it with excitement right on the bag in front of me! They were served deep fried – had a tiny amount of meat, lots of bones and tasted like the grease they were cooked in.We visited a shaman/midwife. This calm woman all of five feet tall with hair past her bottom and bare footed, studied deep in the jungle for eight years to learn how to use plants to heal. Part of her spiritual therapy is using the hallucinogenic ayahuasca plant. Nine villages are dependent on her to cure aliments and deliver babies.Our crew was the best. The two naturalists were informative and have worked on the boat since it’s inception 23 years ago. The chef could make pollo and pescado in so many different ways you barely knew you were eating it twice a day.It only rained for a short period of time on a couple of days.

Soon it will be raining everyday and the Amazon will swallow the shores – rising as much as forty feet by the end of the rainy season. Homes on stilts will become islands and life goes on.Look at the waterline on the trees!

More iPhone shots:

Quito, Ecuador

The air is poco thinner in the second highest capital in the world. If we had flow in from Nevada we probably wouldn’t have noticed the 9,350′ elevation but coming from Charleston the dark night air felt more a deep water dive than cool crisp Andes mountain air. Not bad – just notable.

It was midnight by the time we got to our room. The 45 minute taxi cab ride had us blind to the distance but the roadways were clean and wide.

It’s the edge of the rainy season and the clouds obscure the surrounding volcanoes.

Quito sits on the eastern slopes of an active – yes active – volcano named Pichincha. The latest eruption was in 1999. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.We stayed at the JW Marriott on the fringe of La Mariscal neighborhood. Against the better judgement of the concierge – warned that we might be confronted by sketchy people – we decided to use up our daily breath quota and walked six miles to and from and around the historic downtown area.

On the way we passed the burned out government building and site of a Molotov cocktail barrage from the protests just a week before.Many buildings downtown were covered in concertina wire and security was plentiful.Other than that all was calm and peaceful.

The downtown architecture is magnificent. Intricate details, soft colors and wrought iron balconies are reminiscent of Spain.In 1978 Quito was named one of the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Cultural sites.Did you know that Panama hats are made in Ecuador?

There’s a method to our madness…

Bill and I discovered these fino and superfino sombreros in Waikiki, Hawaii 23 years ago. In awe of their buttery but shocked by the prices we vowed to fly to Ecuador one day, buy a hat and save money!!! Right….

I set out to buy a Montecristi and that I did.We learned that the Panama hat is on the UNESCO Intangible cultural Heritage list.

Off to higher places…

We’re gluttons for punishment.

Here are photos from Quito:

Life Happens While Making Plans

The Via Francigena pilgrimage had been in the works for almost two years – August 28th to November 19th – generous time to walk, explore and then return by means of a transatlantic cruise.In April of this year we learned our son and daughter-in-law were going to have a baby – the due date coincided with our walk.

Plane and cruise tickets had already been purchased and commitments to our pilgrim partners had been made. We decided to continue and make a plan when the time came.

Graciella was born October 8th.

Rome was five days out and the proud parents wanted some alone time. This allowed time to finish the Via, rest a couple days and fly home for some Gracie time.Oh, to hold a grandbaby. What a miracle.

It was only 36 hours after arriving in Charleston that Bill and I looked at each other said let’s fly back to Italy and get on that ship. The boat sails in 14 days…

The cruise took off from Civitavecchia, an hour outside Rome. We stayed near the airport and meandered our way to the port.First stop, Barcelona. We have great memories of our time here. I was particularly looking forward to seeing the progress of the Sagrada Familia. A Gaudí designed church. It’s a fantastical whimsical fortification – part adult hallucination part child’s mind. Within a year of the corner stone being set in 1882 Gaudí became the architect. He abandoned the original Neo-gothic theme for his own modernistic style. Rumor has it that the goal is to finish in 2026. This – Gaudí’s last project.

On the opposite end of the spectrum both in time and in design we toured his first commission, Casa Vicens. The juxtaposition from the start of his career to the end is a lesson in the creative mind.

The ship was scheduled to arrive in Funchal (an island just west of Portugal) in two days. However, a northerly storm with twenty foot swells put an end to that and we remain another day in Barcelona.

Tomorrow we head west, out into the Atlantic, where we will sail seven days to St. Maarten.

The Day After Finishing the Via Francigena

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. ~ Dr. Seuss

Today we went the office of the “Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi” in St. Peter’s Square for our Testimoniums (certificate for completing at least the last 100km of the Via). The pilgrims who started Canterbury get the same document.It’s just like the Camino de Santiago. Walking the last 100km (62 miles) gets you a Compostela.Chappy, Bill and I weighed ourselves. Bill was the winner at losing the most.Bill and I hoofed it to our new luxurious hotel where we will veg for the next three nights. Soft sheets, a bathtub and a huge TV with English channels. Not sure if we’ll get out of bed tomorrow. Chappy, Darrell and Roxanne stopped by to check out our new digs and we all walked to see the Trevi Fountain (along with 1,000,000 other people) to hug it out and say goodbye.Chappy is heading home tomorrow and Darrell and Roxanne are off to discover Italy by train.

Roxanne’s post and photos:

Completing our pilgrimage to Rome and receiving our Via Francigena Testamonium today means farewell to the Fab Five and hello to the positive memories we’ll share with each other back home in Nevada. Thanks Paige for sharing your blog with our loved ones! Luxury is clean cloths!Well done Pilgrims!

Day 39 the Final Day on the Via Francigena

La Storta to Rome – Sunday October 14th (Preston’s birthday – love you honey) – 13.3 miles in 7 hours 14 minutes.

The Fab Five made to Rome all in one piece and blister free.

What an experience! We’re so appreciative of our health, the ability to perform such a task and friendship.

Our walk today was…. well… you decide…. (photos are in order).Obstacles to climb over…95% was on pavement.We’re staying at the Vatican Garden Inn. Don’t stay here!

Roxanne’s post and photos:

The Fab Five have landed!
St. Peter’s Square, Rome.