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Salvador - Day 4

2005.01.17

San Salvador - Soyapango - San Salvador - Panchimalco (Puerta del Diablo, Parque Balboa) - San Salvador - Soyapango - San Salvador
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San Salvador - passenger train of FENADESAL San Salvador - railroad through a slum

On Monday January 17, I wanted to see the remaining curiosities of San Salvador and surronding areas, which I had not seen yet. Initially, I was thinking about ruins of Joya de Cerén and San Andrés, rock formation Puerta del Diablo, park Balboa, lake Ilopango and of course a ride on the only train to Soyapango. Looking into a guidebook, I quickly discovered that all archaeoloigical sites were closed on Mondays and it would make no sense to go there. Tuesday will be busy.

I walked out of my house and got on a city bus to Terminal Oriente. It was a coincidence - this is where the train to Soyapango leaves from. After getting to the final stop, on an ugly square, I looked for the entrance to the station. The station building has been greatly leased out to vendors of construction materials. Discarded railcars are uses as warehouses. Next to the station building, there is a gate, leading to the platform. A soldier guards it and opens it to each passenger willing to board a train. It was about 9 am, half an hour before departure. I took a place on the train - cars were several decades old, without glass in windows and with wooden chairs. Several soldiers in helmets and with machine guns stood on the platform. They would guard us on the way.

The train departed at 9:30, as scheduled. It had five cars, in each of them one soldier and several passengers. Few places were taken. One soldier started a conversation. He said that they were guarding the railroad against terrorists, who could revenge against Salvador's involvement in Iraq. In a short while, it was however clear that their enemy was different. The tracks pass through the worst neighbourhoods of the city. People live in cottages from corrugated iron and roofs or fences are sometimes only inches from our train. On the way, we stop about three times and in 25 minutes arrive at Soyapango. The engine is detached, turns on a triangle and is attached on the opposite side of the train. In a short while, we take the same route back, this time with slightly more passengers. We arrived in San Salvador before 11:30. The tour along the only operational Salvadorean railroad was short. If you want to learn more (pictures, timetable, contact), take a look at a page on railroads of Central America.

The exit from the station is again guarded by a soldier. I ask him, how to get to the head office of the railroad. He points to the left, to a cement store. I go there, but there is only the cement store. I go back and another soldier sends me to the opposite side. I try it there, and in a while come to the entrance. I ask about Ms Contreras, who gave me the information on train timetable, and learn that she works in a different building. They let me in anyway. At the office, they confirm the previous information - there are no other trains in El Salvador. I get a simple map of railroad network with mileage - and this is all I could get here.

Where next? According to a guidebook, there is an interesting area South of San Salvador called Los Planes de Renderos. A big Parque Balboa and a famous view-point Puerta del Diablo are located there. According to a guidebook, buses in this direction leave from the southern corner of central marketplace. In a short while, I find a bus which would take me there through the whole downtown. As usual in Central America, a connecting bus to the South leaves in a few minutes. Puerta del Diablo is a twin rock, with perhaps the best view in El Salvador. It is possible to climb on both peaks. Walking up is quick, but there is an unpleasant strong wind. I have trouble keeping balance close to the top and almost cannot take pictures.

I took a bus back to Parque Balboa - it is a huge area with forest trails, restaurants, sport grounds, etc. where city dwellers go on weekends. Close to there is a pictoresque village of Panchimalco. I went back to the center from there.

What else could be done? The time is passing, it is already afternoon. would like to see lake Ilopango. According to a guidebok, there is a direct bus from downtown. I try to find the final stop, but without success, and nobody is able to tell me. I try another option - first go to the city of Ilopango and catch a connection from there. I come to Soyapango - this time on a narrow highway bridge, whose repair urged authorities to reopen the railroad. Driver tells me to get off, cross the road and change for a different bus on the opposite side. I get off, wait, but no bus is coming. When it all took about 20 minutes, it started to be clear that I would not get to Ilopango that day. I buy a few things in a hypermarket in Soyapango, come back to San Salvador, write several e-mails and finally go to my friend's house as I agreed that I could stay one more night there. Itake a bus with the same number as I took to the city in the morning. Soon, I realize a problem - the bus seems to go somewhere else. I ask passengers, and they tell me where to get off. It is about a 30-minute walk to the house. What has happened? City buses have a letter behind the number, which determines where the route goes in the suburb (in downtown, all buses with the same number travel along the same route). I missed the letter in the morning - and now got on a wrong bus.

Luckily, everything turned out well and I got to the house shortly after 6 pm, still under daylight. We went for a dinner with my friends. The last day, which I wanted to spend in El Salvador, has just ended. Tomorrow, I will start moving towards Guatemala.

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Updated: 2005.02.12

© Jan Pešula, 2005