Releasing Sea Turtles in El Salvador

This is one of the best things that happened to us on our overland trip.

Our first day in Barra de Santiago we went out searching for some restaurant grub and happened upon a little beachside place that was, of course, empty. The owner was hanging around and said he could cook us up some pork chops and lentils, which ended up being totally delicious. We came to chatting and he mentioned that just next door was a sea turtle egg sanctuary, and if we wanted to stop by in the evening, we could check out the release of baby sea turtles in the ocean.

Hell yeah, we wanted to see that! Coming back to the restaurant at night we found the place filled up with cops. We ordered some beers and watched what turned out to be a gathering for a community beach watch. The police and local volunteers patrolled the beach at night making sure no one came out to steal sea turtle eggs (which must be delicious?) and to collect the eggs to take into the sanctuaries. 

After the group headed out on their patrol, we were called over to the sanctuary with another volunteer who led us through the netted-in protected area where nests were hatching! He put out a bucket and had me count in spanish the number of baby sea turtles that came out. They were adorable little squirmy things. Baby Olive Ridleys, I think, though the volunteer said they weren’t Olive Ridleys but there may have been a communication barrier as my spanish sucks. After we had counted out the nest, we took the bucket down to the beach and dumped them just before the wave lines. Local dogs seemed very keen to get them near their mouths but the volunteer said that they only liked eating the eggs. I still got nervous and held the dogs back. 

When we got back up to the sanctuary two more nests had hatched and Billy and I counted out those nests and then the volunteer just sent us off by ourselves with the turtles to the beach. We were in disbelief. How could they just trust us two strangers with 300+ precious baby sea turtles? 

It was the most magical experience and I was grinning ear to ear the entire time. The statistics that a baby sea turtle survives in the wild aren’t very promising but hopefully theres still one or two of “our” turtles out there kicking it in the El Sal seas. 

Barra de Santiago, El Salvador

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Barra de Santiago was our last El Sal destination, recommended to us by the owner of our first hostel in San Salvador, as she owned the place as well. The owner had told us it would be okay to camp there, though the staff seemed quite confused and had to confirm it with her on the telephone when we arrived. She was obviously anxious to get some sort of business as the only other tourists we saw in all of Barra de Santiago were two men staying at the hostel who left the day we arrived. I can’t access our financial records of the trip but I would guess that it was around $20/night to stay there.

We were able to set up shop right in front of the beach entrance to the place, giving us a nice ocean view. The hostel itself seemed pretty well maintained with the workers perhaps living there as well. Some wifi was available if you were close enough to the front desk, and there was a kitchen menu available for perhaps busier times. No beer sales, though! We had to head out of the hostel to get those. El Salvadorians are very strict on bottle returns. We again had to pay a deposit on our massive bottles of Brava beers- selling at a local shop for about $1.50. When that shop was closed, one couple with a little tienda in front of their house wouldn’t even let us buy small bottles of beer and walk off with them because they wanted the return on their bottles so badly. 

We tried to buy those bottles one sleepy Sunday when we walked into town to watch a local soccer game that a local guy had been raving to us about as he tried to sell us kayak services. The center of town is quite a walk up from Capricio Beach House and unfortunately we couldn’t find any shops to sell us drinks. In town before the game we grabbed some afternoon pupusas at a local pupseria and watched some graphic Law and Order type shows with the owners young daughter who sat with us almost the whole time singing “Gangam Style” in Spanish. 

The soccer game ended up being pretty amatuer to Billy’s disappointment. We sat next to some police officers and were maybe the only people buying beers out of a cooler that was set up as a snack stand. Walking back to the hostel along the beach, the local fisherman were bringing in the days catches. We were able to see them pull in big sting rays and cut them up and gut them right there on the beach. There were many empty vacation homes or perhaps hotels running along the beach lines. Not necessarily looking abandoned but certainly with no tourists occupying them. It was pretty temping to walk across their lawns and jump into the empty pools! image

I’ve left out the best part of Barra de Santiago to be shared in a separate post- when we released freshly hatched baby sea turtles into the ocean!

Riverwest 24- Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I’m gearing towards another big change in my life today- I’m finishing packing up my life in Wisconsin and will board a flight to Australia this evening. Before I do that and begin another theme of blogging (I swear I’ll finish my overland stuff yet…) I wanted to share these photos my mom took this summer at the Riverwest24 in Milwaukee. The Riverwest 24 is a 24 hour long bike race that takes place in my former neighborhood. This is my second year participating in the RW24. This year I had my own team, The Terrible People Team. Named as such after a little club my friends and I had when we were younger and made bad drunk decisions (I def don’t do that anymore…) and the fact that most people on the team kind of suck at biking.

The Terrible People team didn’t place well but it was probably my favorite weekend of the entire summer.

More photos to follow.

Portezuelo, El Salvador

Our accommodation coming out off Juayua was highly recommended by Life Remotely, the saints of overlanding who wrote a free e-book for fellow overlanders to prosper off of. Just north of Juayua, Portezuelo is a park up in high coffee country that has reasonably cheap campsites available. We stayed for two nights at $12.50/night.

The park seems to be used for a lot of school overnights. Next to our campsite there was an extensive and intensive obstacle course. Since both Billy and I are a bit scared of heights we didn’t make it very far on the course.

The first night we camped out there was a school church group staying overnight in a big cabin barn. It was funny to listen to them sing in prayer and then bounce a beach ball around in an icebreaker to songs like “Get Lucky” and “Mr. Boombastic.” With the church group present, there were also a large handful of armed guards patrolling the parks perimeter. The next night we only noticed maybe one other guard than the one at the front entrance. The armed guards were friendly with one another and didn’t seem too serious. I almost did feel comforted to wake up in the middle of the night with these “protectors” strolling past.

Horses were available to take out on coffee plantation walks. I don’t like horses so we stuck to the ground. Perhaps Portezuelo owns all the coffee fields around. We just wandered down some paths and would occasionally run into farmers or groups of boys playing soccer, in which they would yell out the few English words they knew to me- “I love you! I hate you! Mi novia!”

The first night we were at Portezuelo, all through the night we could hear the services and songs of a church that seemed fairly far away, blasted into the night sky. We made a mention to one of the guards what a pain it was to listen to that all night and he gave us a little look that seemed to say, ‘you are crazy! ‘

The climate up in the coffee mountains was so different to everything we had experienced so far. It was cool but not cold, foggy at night, and warm in the sun. Waking up there was a delicious treat. I remember the air just smelling amazing.

The workers at Portezuelo were quite kind and brought us firewood per our request. Unfortunately it was a bit too wet to use.

Juayúa, El Salvador

I love El Salvador.

Thinking back to this day I’m greeted with so many memories of the sights and activities that greeted Billy and I as we headed out of San Salvador and on to our next destination, Juayúa.

Our hostel owner, Lena, easily convinced us to swap our El Salvador beach towns from the overly touristy and trashy La Libertad, to Barra de Santiago, a tiny beach strip town in north El Salvador where she conveniently owned another hostel that we could camp at. We would head there in a couple days but first we would stop in Juayúa to enjoy their famous ‘Feria Gastronomica’ or weekend food fest, before heading slightly north to our next camping spot.

Getting out of San Salvador wasn’t too hard and the drive was beautiful as we headed up into El Salvador coffee country. We accidentally drove straight through the town of Sonsonate on our way up, a town notorious for gang activity. As we tried to navigate our way out, we saw there was quite a commotion going on in the center of town. Residents flocked out onto the street to watch as heavily geared riot police made their way towards something. We had parked Kavinsky and were trying to ask for directions when we heard some smashes coming down the street we were parked on. Fearing the worst for our vehicle, we saw a group of men running down the street throwing rocks, followed by some police. Kavinsky was okay.That sort of worry was our cue to go so we hit the Ruta de Flores and made it into Juayúa just in time for lunch!

Apparently Sunday is the big day for the festival, we were there on a Saturday afternoon so according to the man in charge, not as much was going on. We met the head honcho of it all after watching him get up and preform some songs for the diners on a microphone in front of some food tents. His English was quite good and he apparently traveled quite a bit to represent his town and country globally. Doing what I am not sure. We had watched a non official looking “security” guy use some excessive force to push some unsavory looking homeless guys out of the festival area earlier on. We asked the boss man about it and he said he has to have that security to keep the drunks out. He’s had them puke on people in the past.

Always craving meat, Billy and I got some BBQ plates to share. We sampled some ‘conejito’ or rabbit and drank quite a few Pilsners- our El Salvadorian beer of choice, along with my favorite drink, horchata and a ‘fruit salad’ type drink.

Before leaving to find our campground, we stocked up at the outdoor market on veggies, finding them to be cheaper than we had ever paid before!

Early morning pupusa breakfast- San Salvador, El Salvador

We woke up early in San Salvador and took a walk to try to find some grub before we hit the road. Just around the corner from our hostel, we found this little pupusa stand up against the back of a factory serving early morning workers breakfast. It was perfect and so incredibly cheap. For only $1.50 we had four pupusas and a cup of coffee each. We shared a laugh with the men at the table when Billy realized he had taken the fork out of the curtido, the shared coleslaw that goes on top, and used it to eat his pupusa with.

As we sat there, this legend of a lady walked by. I tried my best to get a good photo of her t-shirt. Billy and I almost died laughing. It reads in English “BJs Are The Best”!!!!!

San Salvador, El Salvador (by accident)

We had planned on heading to the beach our first day into El Salvador. The aim was to hit La Libertad by the afternoon. At the time, we were using offline maps on Billy’s smart camera. The maps came off an app he had downloaded that you had to pre-load maps of ahead of time. It moved incredibly slow and it was hard to find your place again if you lost it. Navigation was my job so I should say that I was the one who really got us off track this time!

Somehow instead of heading east towards the beach, we ended up taking a wrong turn and heading west. Thicker clusters of buildings started to pop up around us, and just as Billy asked me to attempt to check the map for the thousanth time, we looked up into the sky and saw the “Bienviendos San Salvador” sign! We had absolutely not been planning on visiting San Salvador, or any big city at that! Without decent maps, we headed into the city, just following the road we were on, past derelict buildings pasted with bad graffitti. It was getting later and Billy was incredibly agitated by my poor navigation skills that led us to be stuck in traffic in an unknown major city. We had our 2009 Central American guidebook along so I was able to look up potential area hostels, the problem would just be getting to them.

There seemed to be quite a few options for hostels, if not hotels, just off of Blvd. de Los Heroes, a main shopping drag. Not knowing what else to do, we stopped at a petrol station to try and ask someone for directions. Billy asked a man who pulled up next to us on a motorcycle in the parking lot if he knew how we could manage to get over there. It was our lucky fucking day, or moment, because the man insisted we just follow him through traffic to get to the right street. I have no idea how else we would have made it, but he so kindly guided us to Blvd. de los Heroes! We were able to find a hostel, Ximena’s Guest House ($20 for a room to ourselves), easily enough from the map in our book after that!

The hostel itself was a bit worn down. We ventured out hoping to grab some beers and food and found ourselves at our first pupusa stand. It was a Friday night and many people were coming in to put in orders for family dinners. The ladies working were pretty busy so we sat around and had some beers while we waited. After such a day the beers were going down great and the pupusas ended up being amazing. We bought some bigger bottles of beer and took them back to the hostel, paying a deposit towards to the bottles with a promise to bring them back.

On the roof at Ximena’s Guest House.


In the hostel communal space, the few other backpackers that were there started to gather. Everyone loves a small world story so here it is- there was a British couple staying there who looked a bit famliar, turns out just a few months back they were living in Melbourne and were regulars at the pub I had worked at! As it sunk in we both began to recognize each other a bit more and I even was able to remember the dudes drink order- pink of Little Creatures Bright Ale!