Log #33—El Salvador, Central America
Thursday, June 8th through Monday, June 12, 2000

Guatemala to El Salvador—Thursday, June 8th through Friday, June 9th

We departed Puerto Quetzal at 13:00 on June 8th for the 125 mile trip to Bahia del Sol in El Salvador. We had heard about Bahia del Sol via e-mail from other cruisers, who indicated that it was a worthwhile stop.


Muddy Waters of Puerto Quetzal Meet the Pacific

On the way out of Puerto Quetzal we encountered a distinct water line when the muddy waters of Quetzal Bay, churned up by a recent storm, met the deep blue waters of the Pacific. The only other time I had seen anything similar was when we approached Juneau, Alaska, a year earlier and saw the silty turquoise glacial run-off collide with the icy blue water of the northern Pacific.

Friday June 9th, 2000—After an overnight passage we arrived at 13:00 at the contact point for the pilot to guide us into Bahia del Sol. We radioed on VHF to the resort. They responded and asked us to wait for several hours until the surge over the sand bar subsided. We held at the contact point (13º 14.99' N and 88º 53.40' W) until a panga arrived around 17:00 and dropped off a pilot on Andanté to guide us in. The exhilarating trip over the sand bar required us to surf the waves; our entrance speed hit 12 knots. I didn't look aft. I wanted to shoot a photo, but I couldn't seem to pry my hands away from the helm.

At 18:00 we were anchored off the resort Bahia Del Sol. One other cruising sailboat was there: Jan and Simon Turner on Quantum Leap.

Just after we anchored a skiff pulled up with a sailor from the El Salvadoran Navy. He boarded us, slung his rifle, reviewed our papers, and made notes in his notebook as he sweated profusely, which made us feel like our sweat glands were functioning normally after all. This seemed to be a courtesy visit, because he did not take our international zarpa or stamp our passports. We would have to find a time and place to get the real work done later.

It appeared that the sailor was still in the process of learning this job, because he recorded our three names in his notebook using three different sequences: 1) Last name, middle name, first name. 2) Middle name, first name, last name. 3) Middle name, last name, first name. I tried to point out his notation inconsistencies by numbering the appropriate sequence of the names, but this only seemed to confuse the matter.

After we waved him good-bye we motored our dinghy in to the resort and attempted dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the estuary. Unfortunately the mosquitoes were out in force. So we asked to move to the indoor restaurant. We followed our server, Armando, into the restaurant which he opened up for us. He unlocked the door, turned the lights on, and then started the air conditioner—a rare treat given days of exposure to hot humid weather.

The three of us ordered something simple from the menu—lobster thermidor—which was served to perfection. Needless to say, our first impression of El Salvador was quite favorable, although expensive. Three lobster dinners and a bottle of wine came out to $85.00. American Express accepted, however.


Flag of El Salvador


El Salvador, Spanish for "the savior" in honor of Jesus Christ, is the smallest country in Central America, but is the most densely populated. Like Guatemala, El Salvador is dotted with volcanoes that provide ideal conditions for coffee growing. Coffee exports have represented El Salvador's primary economic base for over a century.

Spain subjugated El Salvador's native population in the 16th century. Ninety percent of the country's population is mestizo, a mixture of Europeans and Native Americans who are mostly descended from the Mayans. Pure Native Americans represent less than 10% of the population, while Europeans represent about 1 percent.

During the 1940s, coffee landowners took over more and more land along the country's Pacific coast to expand into other exports such as cotton, sugar, rice, and beef. The landowners became more wealthy, while most of the population experienced hunger and malnutrition. These problems eventually led to the civil war of the 1980s.


El Salvadoran Fisherman Casting Nets into the Surf

In 1980 a coalition of guerrilla organizations, known as the FMLN, declared war against the government. Over the next decade they pursued military campaigns, assassinations, kidnappings, bombings, and sabotage. It wasn't until 1990 that peace talks between the government and the FMLN began. After long and difficult negotiations, mediated by the United Nations, the two sides reached an agreement known as the Chapultepec Accord in January 1992.

Rough Surf Prevents Departure

Saturday morning, June 10th, we discovered that the nearest port captain's office was in La Libertad, about an hour away. Next came the process of renting a car. Tropic Car Rental had a compact available for about $30 a day, but the nearest airport office was closed on Sunday, so we would have to wait until Monday to return the car. We didn't want to stay that long, so we decided to move on to Barillas Marina, El Salvador's next port down the coast. Barillas Marina was reported to have better access to the port captain and immigration.

Although we wanted to depart Bahia del Sol Saturday evening, the surf was too rough. Instead, Simon and Jan Turner from Quantum Leap invited us to their time-share condo for some cool drinks. Afterwards, we hopped into their rental car for a quick trip down the road to a local restaurant.


Barillas Marina Club, El Salvador

Barillas Marina, El Salvador

We departed Bahia del Sol with Victor, our sandbar guide and pilot. By 9:00 we were motoring the 36-mile trip south to Barillas Marina.

Barillas Marina opened as recently as February of 2000. Although the marina is almost 10-miles inland from the Pacific, it's new and modern, and offers many cruiser conveniences like a snack bar, laundry, a small convenience store, diesel fuel, and soon, fiber optic Internet connections. Operated by Juan Wright, the marina's surrounding land was owned by his family. Although the military dispossessed his father of the land during the civil war, Juan has been buying sections of it back over the last several years.

While not a marina in the conventional sense—boats tie off to mooring buoys in the inlet between an island and the mainland—the marina provides a comfortable, hospitable stopover in an otherwise desolate stretch of coastline. Andanté was the 51st boat to arrive since the marina opened in February.

As soon as we arrived at Barillas Marina on Sunday the 11th, a large panga came alongside with Navy and immigration personnel, who checked us in, claimed our Guatemalan zarpa, and stamped our passports. We informed the group that we wanted to check out of El Salvador the next day, and they replied that they would have our paperwork ready for us around 10:00 at the nearby town of Puerto El Triunfo.


Panga Ride to Puerto El Triunfo


Monday, June 12th, 2000—The half hour panga ride to Puerto El Triunfo, courtesy of Barillas Marina, turned out to be a fascinating side trip. Thirty minutes away by panga that sped along between 35-40 MPH, El Triunfo gave us an opportunity to see a genuine El Salvadoran village unseen by most tourists and consequently untouched by commercialism.

We sped along past miles of lush green mangroves that lined the waterway, under deep blue skies. Silhouettes of volcanoes anchored the horizon. Occasionally you could see mud-lined crocodile paths for sliding out of the dense, swampy mangroves. Although we never spotted a croc, we viewed their habitat up close with several dinghy trips into small inlets underneath the dense mangrove canopy.

The local navy base handled necessary port captain duties, such as writing up our new international zarpa to Costa Rica, and also signing and stamping our crew list. Conveniently, the immigration building was directly across the street from the navy base.

Our immigration officer was extremely thorough in executing his duties, and very curious about where we came from, how long we had been out sailing, where we were planning to sail to, and why I chose the name Andanté. The word andante means a slow walk in Spanish, so the name is well understood throughout Mexico and Central America.


Conscientious and Friendly Immigration
at Puerto El Triunfo

Our immigration officer read our passports in such detail that he detected what he thought was an error. Dan and I are both 47, which is detailed on the crew list. But we were born in different years. We had to explain the discrepancy, which he accepted, then charged us approximately a $20 fee, and stamped our passports. No one appears to have any change in either Mexico or Central America. If you don't have the exact change, it's your responsibility to make a trip to the bank, if you can find one. Otherwise, you can plan on making a visit to a local tienda where you can buy a bottle of Coke to get some change with your purchase. The tiendas often don't have change either. Fortunately we were able to cover the charge with Quetzals and US dollars, which everyone accepts as legal tender in El Salvador.

Up Next ...

Log #34—Costa Rica

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