Drowning in the heat at San Salvador’s Consuma Fair [YQrtw Day 117 Aug 5]

welcome to consuma

Location: San Salvador, El Salvador

Today was my first full day in El Salvador. The hostel doesn’t provide breakfast so I lazed in bed until well past 9:30am.

The hostel owner, Ana* (her real name), was around when I was heading out. She told me about the Consuma Fair happening nearby and that the museum is right across the fair.

In the first week of August, El Salvadorians have a week of holiday in celebration of El Salvador del Mundo, patron saint of San Salvador. Consuma is part of this celebration.

Welcome to Consuma 2013
Welcome to Consuma 2013

I walked to the convention center where Consuma is held from July 25 to August 6. I bought an entrance ticket at 25 cents extra from a lady selling tickets. The other way was to queue for a long while and pay only US$1.50 but it wasn’t worth it.

The hall was rather full with visitors and exhibition booths. From the second level, I looked down at the booths. It had a strange mix of appliances, clothes, toys, phone and many other things. It felt like a Sitex fair gone wrong.

Exhibition hall at San Salvador's Consuma
Exhibition hall at San Salvador’s Consuma

I had a coffee at one of the booths before heading down into the hall. The place was so crowded that I had to move very slowly with the current of the crowd.

Based on the booths, I found El Salvadorians’ version of week-long fun strange. How fun it is when you are squeezing with 20 other people in a 5 square-meter space?

I thought I had seen enough when I saw the 10th clothes stall. I found the exit and went out into more exhibition halls and food booths.

I lost count of the number of exhibition halls. Some had a mix of food and clothes while others had cheap clothes that do not look attractive on any body. There was even fun fair games, one involving plates on waters and coin tossing.

Toss quarters into the plate and win soft drinks.
Toss quarters into the plate and win soft drinks.

I also passed by a large tent area which smelled of horses. They have horses at a fun fair!

By this time, I shouldn’t be surprised by anything else but I found a full-fledged amusement park with roller coasters and even a pirate ship. El Salvadorians really take their fun seriously.

Pirate ship at Consuma 2013
Pirate ship at Consuma 2013

Despite all the promised fun in the fair, I was feeling very uncomfortable due to the heat and the size of the crowd.

I checked my watch and was surprised to find that I was only there for 2 hours when it felt like I had spent the whole evening there. My head was pounding as I looked for the exit. Everyone else’s steps were too slow and they were between me and the exit to fresher air and the blinding sun. (I dislike the sun but I hate crowds more than the sun.)

Visiting San Salvador’s city center

After escaping the fair, I took a bus to the city center. The bus fare was cheap at 25 cents. I didn’t memorize the map so I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to get off the bus.

In the end, I followed the crowd and got off at the second bus stop after most of the people went off.

The streets of San Salvador’s center was different from where my hostel was. Here, things were dirtier. It didn’t look like a proper city center but more like an abandoned area populated with people.

I had lunch at a fried chicken place where there was thankfully Wi-Fi. I figured out the nearby landmark and saw the National Theater, the church of San Salvador, the National Library and other monuments.

I took a bus back and rested a while before walking to the shopping malls near the hostel. MegaPlaza mall was huge but under-visited. It looked very empty and some of the shops were not occupied.

I walked over to another mall which was even more depressing. I headed back to MegaPlaza where I had dinner until it became dark.

I debated if I should walk back to the hostel. It didn’t seem wise as it was also raining. In my head, I kept seeing passages in travel guides about the dangers of walking at night in Central and South America.

In the end, I took a cab and was given an over-fluctuated price. I bargained one dollar down. I reached my hostel after the taxi took many long turns.

The Wi-Fi on the second floor of the hostel has miraculously fixed itself. Thank San Salvador!

Journey from Lima to San Salvador [YQrtw Day 116 Aug 4]

YQ at Lima airport

Location: Lima, Peru -> San Salvador, El Salvador

I woke up this morning before my 6:30am alarm. My taxi to the airport would be arriving at 7:15am and I need to be ready before that.

Since my things were packed last night, I only had to finish my morning routine and slap on some sunscreen and I was alright.

The hostel owner had called a cab company to send someone to pick me up. I didn’t want to get a cab from the streets because early morning haggling isn’t anywhere near my favorite-activities list.

I came to Lima by bus so I was very surprised by the distance of the airport to the city center. It took about 40 minutes for me to get there. Along the way, we passed by several casinos and some wealthy neighborhoods.

Usually I’m quite reluctant to travel from one place to another. The new destination is always a mystery. And what if all the dangerous things that people say about the new place are true?

This time it was different. I was excited about El Salvador. I cannot wait to leave winter for the tropics. Do they eat less potatoes in Central America?

Checking out Lima Airport

Lima airport
Lima airport

I booked a flight with TACA but the airline had changed its name to something that starts with A. I forgot about the name change until I asked for directions to the TACA counter.

As usual, the queue was very long. It’s strange that queues at airport counters are always so long and slow but when it’s my turn, everything’s done in 2 minutes.

At check-in, the person asked for my yellow fever card. I was excited. This was the first time anyone asked for it. The last 2 times, I had to forcibly show the officers my little yellow booklet. “Why doesn’t anyone want to see this?!” I asked them then.

At the immigration line, I was stuck with the queue where a lady was questioned for a long time. She left the line for another line.

When it was my turn, it was shift change for the officers. I watched the two officers cheek kiss each other. The new officer painstakingly reinked his stamp then went off somewhere for about 5 minutes. He inked his stamp again before finally beckoning me over.

As a result of all the queuing, I didn’t have much time (that would be an hour for me) to enjoy the airport facilities. Instead, I waited at the boarding gate until it was our turn to board.

Flying from Lima to San Salvador

The TACA plane I was on was comfortable. I feared that my flight would be like the one I took with Star Airlines–tiny and with bad food.

My seat was the front row of the Economy class so I didn’t bother with taking out my TV set. I mostly slept with my mouth open or read a bit on my Kindle. I felt a tiny bit of motion sickness so I didn’t read too much.

Food on the plane wasn’t too bad but there wasn’t much. I was hungry since I didn’t have breakfast so I vacuumed the tiny meal box in a short period of time.

TACA Airline food
TACA Airline food

The 3-hour flight ended quite fast and we were flying over El Salvador. I noticed a lot of greenery and not as much mountains as Peru. I didn’t see any semi-active volcanoes with smoke coming out but I read that there are volcanoes around.

At San Salvador airport, there weren’t any money changers around. I was hoping to change my 100 Peruvian soles to US dollars since it’s the currency used here.

The airport shuttle to my hostel cost US$25 which felt a bit too expensive for El Salvador’s living cost. Still, it was my only choice since I didn’t want to go on some random taxi guy’s car.

I was ushered into an 8-person van. “Just for you!” the man said.

From the airport to the city, I saw a lot of trees. They looked like they could be a part of Kota Kinabalu where I grew up. The heat and humidity also reminded me very much of home. I think I’m going to like it here.

Staying at a San Salvador hostel

My hostel in San Salvador looked like it was someone’s home. My US$20 single room has a bed, a small drawers and a space to hang my things. In this weather, I can finally hand wash some of my laundry and find them dry tomorrow.

I took a nap before heading out. I didn’t realize how tired I was until the hostel employee knocked on my door. I was fast asleep then. The hostel owner, Ana* (her real name), said she will be in tomorrow and can help with travel plans in El Salvador.

My lunch/tea/dinner was a medium-size burrito from Mils Burritos. I had Fez Tea, a flavored tea soft drink, to go with my meal.

Then I went in search of the supermarket. Nearby, there was a Citibank ATM. I’ve forgotten how ATMs are actually willing to give you more than US$300 at a time. The ATM here even gave me cash in 20 dollar bills–I read that they don’t accept US$50 or US$100 bills here because of counterfeit problems.

The supermarket I went to was amazing. After 2 months of travelling in South America, I finally met a really amazing supermarket. It was stacked with so much goodies and I found things I need and some I don’t but would like to have.

I bought a soft drink with the enticing name Kolashanpan. Is it Coca-Cola with champagne flavoring? No. It was a disgusting bubble gum-flavored drink with a bright orange color that reminded me of Mirinda Orange.

Kolashanpan is disgusting!
Kolashanpan is disgusting!

When I got back to the hostel and did a bit of hand laundry, it started to rain. Again, the rain reminded me of the sudden showers back home. The windy was strong and laced with lightning and thunder. It stopped just as suddenly as it started. Now I’ll be able to sleep well at night.