By noon, Nicaragua had relinquished her grip on our bus load of passengers and the Customs office on the Honduras side of the frontier had given our passports a small round blue stamp of approval. We were on the reverse of the earlier itinerary and now rolling down the mountains known as the Sierra Piedra Grande (big rock) and passing through small unnamed villages. Everywhere, from the mountains of Nicaragua to here, are many courses of hand-laid stone fences: usually about three feet tall, perhaps a foot across and well constructed. From their appearance, they were made a long time ago but by whom? If you’ve ever done any stone work or watched it done, you know that it’s a long and slow process: gather the material, pick out the base rock and build, one stone at a time. These rock walls go on for twenty, thirty or perhaps forty miles, up one side of a mountain, down another. Could the original Spanish hacienda owners compelled the Indians to do this? Who else? The Spanish Dons didn’t get their hands dirty except when gold or silver was involved and even then, they used the native labor forces.
The double decked Mercedes Buss-Car rolled on, down into the lower elevations of southwest Honduras, past the little towns of La Gatera, Cerco de Piedra (stone fence) and into the mean and dusty streets of Choluteca. The border of El Salvador is about 600 feet further and the small cinder block houses are unpainted and guarded by scrawny black and brown dogs that haven’t eaten lately. If you’re traveling in a luxury bus, the driver and his assistant do all the paper work: The Honduran guard with the badge boards the bus and checks outgoing passengers against the manifest. A few minutes later, the El Salvadoran customs officers board and repeat the process. On any day, on any route, it is a given that one or two passengers will not have proper documents: they sheepishly leave in the custody of whatever country’s border guards and we wait. Some return, some do not. El Salvador has the most rigid inspection and scrutiny of any of the Central American countries, either leaving or entering.
After being cleared for entry into El Salvador, there was one last rest break at a Shell truck stop: twenty minutes to line up in the convenience store, decide what looks edible or take your chances in the bathrooms. We were now three hours from the city, San Salvador and our reserved rooms. The twenty unit Meson de Maria is an oasis located over the Tica Bus office in the San Benito section and if you’re traveling via Tica, you’ll get a special lower rate, at least for the first night (and they love cash). My septuagenarian traveling companion of the two canes was well known there and the diminutive Salvadoreana girls cater to most of his whims. There was one last in-route movie to watch and the video monitors dropped down: no — it was a replay of ‘˜Mall Cop’, which obviously went straight to video. Once was torture and twice would be — unbearable. My Moviestar cellphone had an FM function — one side for the earpiece, the other ear stuffed with a finger. At last into the shady and green suburbs of San Salvador. Just get me to my usual room #9 at the Meson Maria, find a glass, ice, a splash of Flor de Cana and the sooner the better. Later, a ‘˜problem’ with yet another ATM machine and what happens when your telephones run out of time in another country.
Sources: Lonely Planet Guide Book, First Edition, 2006