Getting here was so easy at first, and then we hit the Guatemala/El Salvador border and somehow the predicted light winds turned into 25 knots of solid wind, gusting to 30 for over 24 hours. When it first hit us it was on the nose and as we plowed into waves, we watched the GPS go down to 1-2 knots and it was pretty frustrating. Soon after we had a wind shift and we able to sail fast along the El Salvador coast. El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America and the coast was lit up like the coast of Southern California. All those people must eat a lot of fish, because there were hundreds of small fishing boats out all night. Of course none of them have AIS, they are mostly small fiberglass boats that don’t show up on our radar and of course they don’t have any running lights. Most often all they have for lights is a high power flash light that they flash if you get too close, but it is a little unnerving racing along at our top speeds hoping we don’t hit some sleepy fisherman. The marina we decided to stop at (one of only two in the country) is located behind some shoaling rocks, with a narrow entrance, the guide suggests you call the marina for a complimentary pilot boat. That would be great, if the marina answered their radio or email. When we got there before sunrise and after anchoring out for a few hours, we decided we had the way points to thread through the sand bars and rocks and find the channel. We got to the third waypoint and there didn’t seem to be an opening in the crashing waves. It just didn’t look right. We anchored again and decided to wait until we finally reached the marina or Port Captain. Turns out all the charts and the two guides we are following through Central America have not been updated and several years ago the channel took a complete different course and is drastically different. Eventually we did get someone to respond to us and we had a pilot boat guide us through the channel and up the river. We are currently moored in a private marina for El Salvadorian boat owners. Boat owners include the super rich of El Salvador that come in, mostly, by helicopter or plane, and go out for a few days on their super swanky fishing boats. It is a strange mix of the super rich and the sailboating riffraff that have their laundry hanging from their rails and look like castaways themselves. There are only 3 other non El Salvadorian boats currently moored out and we asked one of the workers and he said there have only been 4 other boats that have come and gone in the last 10 months. Apparently we didn't get the memo and the "other" marina is where the cool kids go! We were a little disappointed at first, but we have been treated like gold and have the place to ourselves. Coincidentally, 14 years ago when we were last through, we helped out in a nearby village that had been devastated by an earthquake that occurred while we were there. Another boat took the lead and spent 6 months, based out of the marina, working and soliciting help from other boaters to help rebuild the village. They provided resources and medical services (from the cruisers with medical backgrounds). We only spent a couple of days on the mountain chipping bricks and clearing debris, certainly nothing important, but because we were here for the earthquake we have been included in that elite group that made such a difference locally and have received som VIP treatment. The workers have invited Z to play soccer with them in their daily afterwork soccer game. He's a little intimidated, but hopefully before we leave he'll jump in. Maybe I'll have to show him how its done!
Although we aren't spending much time in El Salvador, we are making the most of our time here. On our first day here we traveled into the nearby "big" town during market day, and experienced the frenzy of an El Salvadorian market. The produce was amazing and everything was huge and looked fantastic. We saw cabbage that rival those grown in the midnight sun, carrots as big as your arm, huge radishes the size of apples and lots of tasty fruit. We loaded up on cantaloupe, watermelons, oranges and bananas. We also had some of the best chile rellenos we've ever had in a stall in the market on plates I'm pretty sure weren't washed between customers. Nothing like boosting the old immune system with a minor dose of Hep A. The boys are keeping a list of the sketchiest things we eat. On the top of the list of things they wanted to eat and we vetoed was a frigate bird egg we found cold on the ground and a 4 inch fish in the stomach of a larger fish we caught. Zander, in particular, likes to see if he can gross other people out. We recently ran into a cruiser we had met in Baja and he retold the story of wanting to eat a frigate bird egg and he was totally encouraged by her response and look of complete disgust "It was Awesome Mom, I think she threw up a little in her mouth". Anyway, living with almost teenage boys in a small space continues to be fun! Back to El Salvador. On our second day we hired the marina's driver and spent one day touring the country side. We visited San Miguel, the only active volcano in the country with a little steam billowing out of the crater top. We went through several other villages and fields filled with sugarcane, banana, and cocoa and hillsides covered by coffee plants. All the coffee had been picked, but Mike bought some green beans in the market and has already roasted them himself. The best of the beans go to export and since El Salvador does not historically have a culture of drinking coffee, what is left for local consumption is second rate, but adequate. We did find a few beans that had been dried in the sun on the coffee plants and we threw those in with the others, so we can technically say we picked our own beans and roasted them. We also found some cocoa trees and Z was super anxious to try and make chocolate, but alas, we missed the season there as well. All the pods we found were very young and not ready to be picked. He did buy some raw pods in the market and if we can find a grinder in Costa Rica he is going to try roasting, grinding and making his own chocolate with cream and sugar. I told him I will help him with anything, as long as he blogs about his experience!
Lastly, and probably the highlight of our trip, was a walk to a nearby forest to see wild spider monkeys. Because the country is so densely populated El Salvador has only 3 percent remaining natural forests and the smallest concentration of spider monkeys in Central America. In fact the only population of Geoffroy's Spider Monkey in the whole country is about a mile walk from out boat. We took a short walk through some banana plantations and into a wooded area full of Giant buttressing Ceiba trees, towering Mangos and plenty of others I could't identify. As we walked through the little path a caretaker of sorts met us. He introduced himself and started calling "Pancho". Apparently he has somewhat habituated the patriarch of a group of about 40 monkeys. Wild, but used to a few visitors, the monkeys started swinging high over head through the forest canopy. It was amazing to see the distances they could swing/jump between trees. Larger monkeys would make a monkey bridge to help baby monkeys cross. We were able to toss them ripe bananas, and watch their theatrics. The boys would throw a ripe banana up in the tree above their heads and seconds later a peel would rain down on them. They had one monkey locked up for his own safety, apparently he doesn't play well with others. He may not play with well with other monkeys, but he was incredibly social with humans. He shook our hands, turned for back scratches, even scolded Michael for giving him a green banana.
All good things must come to an end and we are going to spend tomorrow readying the boat for another, potentially, windy crossing to Costa Rica. If the weather cooperates we may take a short side trip into the Gulf of Fonseca where El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras share a gulf of water. Technically we are supposed to go directly to Costa Rica, but why ask for permission when you can beg forgiveness! We can always claim mechanical problems!