San Salvador was a shock to the system, after weeks of village life, in the mountains and by the sea. Suddenly we were stuck in traffic jams, on long wide streets lined with fast food restaurants and shopping malls. Then there's the city itself, far larger than we had imagined. We stayed in the northern part near the national university. A nice neighbourhood although we were still advised not to walk anywhere after dark. This was the first hint of the city's obsession with security, and due to the history of war and gang problems, it's not surprising. Walking along the residential streets you notice that most houses have high walls around them, with rolls of barbed wire or electric fencing above. You don't see gardens or front yards, but rows of walls of different colours. Many businesses, from banks to supermarkets, have armed guards outside, and you don't enter the small corner shops to browse. Instead they have windows with iron bars with their wares displayed on shelves behind and you ask for the things you need. Everyone seems to travel by car and the traffic was crazy all day. All this motion and noise took a bit of getting used to. We didn't do much exploring of the city, having so little time there. But we found the people to be incredibly friendly, though very different to Guatemala. My impression was that people were more direct. When our taxi drivers asked for directions people were happy to help and gave very detailed explanations, with less of the excuse me's and thank you's necessary. In our hotel, Anu was the center of attention and even when out shopping, strangers came up and asked if they could hold her or gave her a kiss, all saying she's like a little doll. I didn't expect this in such a large city. But of course, Anu enjoys the attention!
We planned a trip to Joya de Ceren, the Pompeii of the Americas, about an hour from the city, and in the taxi on the way to the bus station out driver offered to bring us there and to another Mayan site for such a good price, we couldn't refuse. So off we went, getting the chance to ask lots of questions as we went to our private taxi guide. Joya de Ceren was really interesting, though Daniel was perhaps a bit disappointed that there were no bodies, but the inhabitants had fled before the city got covered in 8 meters of ash in about 640 AD. The village was hidden from the world until it was discovered by accident in the 1970's.
We then went to San Andres a few miles away. It dates back over two thousand years, and while not as impressive as many of the other sites we visited, it was nevertheless very interesting, particularly as here the Mayans had to use other materials to construct their temples and pyramids so the buildings have a different style of architecture. Most are only half excavated but there is a very good museum onsite.
On the way back we stopped to see the lava fields, which from a distance look like the commercial bogs back home. Miles of black rock, at the foot of a volcano.
The most impressive volcano we had seen was, as we later learned, Izalco, a perfect grey/black cone, visible from the motorway soon after entering the country from Guatemala. We got to see a lot more of this 'lighthouse of the Pacific' later, when we moved on to our next destination, Juayua, on the Ruta de los Flores, the flower route.