My sister Adriana once said that I am a specialist in uncommon places. She picked up on a pattern that I hadn’t realized myself and she was so right. When choosing a destination, I do prefer the more out of the ordinary. Certainly this was a large part of my motivation to go see the Gulf of Fonseca. The intrigue of its history and its natural environments were also a draw. Once the object of bitter dispute between El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – the three countries along its coastline – the Gulf of Fonseca is home to well preserved islands, mangrove forests, beaches and rock cliffs, all silently watched from a distance by the striking mountains and arrogant volcanoes that surround it.
Discovered in 1522, the Gulf is part of the Pacific Ocean. My plan was to access it from La Union, on the eastern border of El Salvador, and explore La Meanguera del Golfo, its furthest out island. From San Salvador it would be a three hour drive to Porto de Coquitos, in La Union, from where I would take a 45 minute boat ride to the island.
The drive from San Salvador was eventful. Here’s one of my favorite events that occurred during that drive:
Volcano San Vicente, in Central El Salvador, is also known as Chichontepec, the “mountain of the two breasts”. About one hour from San Salvador, its first sight is certainly an occasion, particularly on a clear day like this. I was sorry I wouldn’t have time to walk to its summit during this trip. The views from the top are supposed to be incredible.
The next event was a realization. I should have stopped in San Miguel, about 30 minutes from La Union, for food and a bathroom break. The infrastructure at Porto Los Coquitos is still severely lacking. The port is, nevertheless, an interesting window into the way of life in the Gulf. Small boats called “lanchas” serve the eventual visitor but mostly islanders who have come to La Union for supplies. Los Coquitos is particularly busy in the mornings when the winds in the Gulf are usually more forgiving. Locals wisely avoid afternoon boat rides that can be risky – and very harsh on your backside.
I feared for the safety and health of these young girls selling food and water to the passengers awaiting for departure from La Union. They wade barefeet in the polluted shallow waters of the port for hours and hang around the boats waiting patiently until passengers start to feel hungry or thirsty, which they do. You can’t avoid noticing the weariness in their eyes.
One hour from departure and we had made it to La Meanguera. The boat makes two stops at the island. I wanted the second one, from where I would arrange some kind of transportation to my hotel. A beautiful thing about the island is that cars are rare. So here’s what I came up with:
Residents of the island are very proud of how safe the place is. Crime rate is extremely low and according to the ladies riding on my boat, if someone is caught stealing the solution is easy – the community simply makes them leave the island. I did feel quite comfortable to walk around on my own and explore the beach and the pueblo.
Playa Las Cuevitas is just a 10 minute boat ride from La Joya. I have absolutely no patience for seating on beaches tanning but I simply love beach walks. The empty black sands of Las Cuevitas brought me some interesting little surprises…
When I thought I had come to a completely desert corner of the beach, here’s what I saw:
I saw this little guy from the distance as it came out of the water. It was walking very slowly and looked extremely tired. It became completely still as I approached but it went back to moving as soon as I walked away. At La Joya they tell me that iguanas do that, sometimes. They cross underwater from one island to another and need some time to recover when they get to the beach. As soon as they warm back up, they are good to go again.
Manoel de Barros, a poet from Cuiaba, Brazil, says if you walk slowly, the afternoon lasts longer. Well, I believe the people of La Meanguera have mastered the ability to slow down time. Walk through the pueblo towards the cell phone tower on the highest part of the island, and it will hit you: time is in no rush here.
These guys got all giggly when I asked for a photo:
And this lovely girl just looks shy. She in fact was the one to take the initiative to start the conversation which led to this picture:
Last but not least, a resident of the island that is becoming a celebrity:
Gordito, as he is lovingly referred to by the staff at La Joya, adores limes, oranges and other citrics. In the photo above he slowly chews on a lime, as he spreads himself onto the cool tiles to escape the heat of the day. Wise dog.
How to get there: From San Salvador, either hire a car with driver (100 US$ each way) to take you to La Union or take the bus from the Terminal Oriente to La Union. The non-stop service costs US$3 and the trip takes four hours. The bus leaves every 30 minutes from 4:30 AM to 4:00 PM (Please double check this information before you travel in case there are changes in the service). A “special” service takes three hours and costs US$5, leaving daily at 1:00 PM. At La Union, go to Porto de Coquitos and catch the “lancha” that leaves for the island at 10:30 AM. To return to Los Coquitos from La Meanguera you can take the daily boat service departing at 10:30 in the morning (3.5 US$). La Joya offers a private boat pick up and return service from Los Coquitos that will save you a good amount of time and give your schedule more flexibility (60.00 US$). It is possible to share the ride sometimes to reduce the cost but it is not something you can rely on.
Where to stay: I stayed at La Joya del Golfo, a small hotel owned by an American-Salvadoran family. It was perfect. Here’s their contact information just in case you happen to be in the area:
Hotel La Joya del Golfo