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Monthly Archives: May 2012

The creeptastic Auto Hotel

Note: This is NOT a hostel review, it’s merely a story that some of you will probably find hilarious and some of you will probably find disgusting (those of you who need to relax). 

So it’s 6:45pm and we’ve just pulled into the bus terminal in Sonsonate (nicknamed “Cincinnati”).  It’s been a long, hard day of tons of different buses from Panajachel, Guatemala and the border crossing.  Finally, we’re only an hour away from our destination San Salvador, and the free hotel that awaits us there.  We can make it!

Except…no.  Very unexpectedly, we are told that the last bus to San Salvador left 15 minutes ago.  What?  Usually buses run frequently until at least 10pm, especially for such a short trip.  But everyone confirms that there are no more buses ’til morning.  After checking the price for a taxi all the way to the capital, we give up and decide to just stay in Sonsonate for the night.  We ask the taxi driver if he knows of a “hostal muy economico” and he says yes, he can take us to one that only costs $10 per night.

Off we go, strangely, away from town.  Soon we pull up to the Auto Hotel Canada, a large complex that looks like a casino from the outside.  Once inside the front gate though, the taxi driver pulls right into one of many adjacent open garages.  “What is this?  Where is reception?” I was thinking, my sketch radar on high alert and my eyes checking to make sure the garage door was not going down.  Sensing that we were confused, the taxi driver told us to open the door inside the garage and pay through some “Spanish Spanish” that I didn’t get.  “Oh, AUTO HOTEL,” I thought, “It must mean you pay through an automatic machine or something!”  Not quite, it turned out, but we figured out what was going on eventually.

Nasty garage

See the brown box on the left wall?

You open up the box and it connects to a staff member across the wall.  You communicate and pass things between each other without ever seeing each other!  We put our $10 in the box, someone took it, and then gave us towels, change, and two free orange juices in return.  Finally we grasped what was going on…this is totally just a sex hotel!!!!!!!!!  Complete anonymity: you pull into a garage, put the door down, enter your room, pay and conduct all your business withoutever being seen.  What a genius yet quite terrifying concept…perfect place to have an affair, meet a hooker, or kill someone, you know?  Realizing where we were, we were definitely super creeped out at first.  We’d seen “Auto Hotels” everywhere, but never stayed in one or realized what they were.  But there was nothing we could do about the situation, and it was cheap and seemed clean enough, so we just had to laugh about the hilariousness of this place.

Other features of the “Auto Hotel”:

The price was $10 but for only 12 hours exactly.  We got there at 7pm and were told (through the box) that we had until 7am.  Okay, I guess we’ll get up early!  Guess they gotta wash the sheets and get ready for the day shift!

Huge mirror on the wall

TV with only one “special interest” channel

Lock on the toilet paper

The bottom sign says: “Esteemed Guest: Pick up the phone to ask for your frequent client card.” Ha!!!!!

Apparently auto hotels are an institution around Central America, and we can see why.  The culture is very socially conservative, very Catholic, and most young people live at home until they marry.  Also, prostitution is legal.  Places like this are the only place to go for some people seeking to engage in certain activities.  I’m not passing judgement one way or the other; I just thought staying in an auto hotel was a very interesting (and funny) cultural experience.

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Lago de Atitlán and shopping ’til we drop!

The second half of our too-brief stint in Guatemala took place in Panajachel, the biggest town on the shores of the Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala’s largest crater lake.  The enormous blue expanse, ringed by cloud-topped volcanoes on every side, was impressive.

View from our hostel

There’s no end to boat trips, hikes, kayaking trips, and bike rides you can take from Panajachel (locals call it “Pana”).  There is also an endless street of craft stalls with (allegedly) the cheapest prices in Guatemala.  We took advantage and shopped a lot!

Love all that color!

We definitely didn’t have enough time at Lago de Atitlán!  Next time we’ll have to explore the smaller villages surrounding the lake.  It was a great short visit though!

Hotel Tazumal House in San Salvador, El Salvador

Hotel Tazumal House is a professional and cozy place to stay in the safe and quieter neighborhood of Boulevard de los Héroes in San Salvador, El Salvador.  The hotel is spotless with soft white sheets and pillow-top beds.  The rooms are also equipped with air-conditioning, WiFi internet, TV with cable, hot water, and personal mini-fridges.

The staff at Hotel Tazuamal House are ready to help, with large detailed maps of the city and lots of information on local tours and activities.  Included in the price is a choice of several breakfast options ranging from delicious pancakes to a local “desayuno tipico.”

Hotel Tazumal House is a great choice if you’re looking for a place to retreat from the noise and crowds of the capital city.  Only a bus ride away from the center, the hotel is a tranquil and comfortable option!

Services:

Mini-fridge

Included breakfast

Free drinking water

A/C

WiFi

TV with cable

Hot water

Computers with internet

Car rental available

Maps and tour information

Address: 35 Av Norte #3, Reparto Santa Fe, San Salvador

Phone: +503 2235-2506

Website:  www.hoteltazumalhouse.com

Email:  info@hoteltazumalhouse.com

Prices:

Single: $33

Double: $43

Triple: $53

This post was sponsored by Hotel Tazumal House.

Jungle rash and the trip’s first visit to the doctor

The morning after hiking in Parque Nacional El Imposible in El Salvador, I woke with a strange burning sensation all over my fingertips.  As the day progressed, my hands got redder and redder and I started having trouble unscrewing water bottle tops and unzipping backpacks.  It started to get so that my hands really hurt every time that I touched anything.  As soon as we got to Antigua, I went and bought some Benadryl and hoped that the antihistamines would knock the problem right out.

In the morning I found my hands to be slightly worse and when I stood, I noticed that my feet hurt horribly.  What was worse, when I walked to the mirror I noticed that the rash had moved to my nose and I looked like a zit-faced teenager.  But, being stubborn, I refused to go to the doctor and just hoped that the medicine I was taking would start to work.  After all, I hadn’t been to see the doctor in about six years!  I probably bragged about it and didn’t knock wood!

By afternoon I was having trouble walking and my hands and face had grown worse.  We went to the pharmacy to get something stronger and the pharmacist suggested we go see the doctor.  So we walked a block to where he recommended we go, to the best English-speaking doctor in Antiqua, Dr. Marco Bocaletti (Address: 3 Avenida Norte, No. 1 Appt. 3).  It was about 6pm on a Friday night, yet the doctor was surprisingly IN.  I waited about 15 minutes and then I was shown into his office.  He looked me over and agreed that my rash was probably from some kind of plant that I touched.  I was prescribed some stronger antihistamines and an antihistamine skin cream.  The doctor spent a lot of time with me and answered all of my questions.  He was way friendlier than my usual doctors in the USA!  The visit cost about $32, payed in cash to the doctor.

My jungle rash. Doesn’t look as bad as it was in photos.

The skin cream felt MAGICAL and by the next morning all the redness was gone.  However, I could tell that the rash had done a lot of damage.  My hand was pretty much senseless, with the most numbness at the finger tips.

After a few days almost all the dots have faded.  All of the callouses on my finger tips are falling off and there is a lot of dead skin in general.  My face is looking almost perfect, but my feet still have some sore spots.  At least once I peel off the dead skin I can feel again!  Note to self: don’t touch anything and just get home!

Hotel Jere in Panajachel, Guatemala

Hotel Jere, located just a few blocks from the shores of the Lago de Atitlán, offers comfortable rooms at economical prices in Panajachel, Guatemala.  The rooms are large with colorful local wall decorations and clean floors.  Each room has a clean, private bathroom and WiFi internet.  From the roof there is a great view of the lake and nearby volcanoes.

One great thing about Hotel Jere is its location.  The lake is only a short walk away and there are good restaurants right out the front door.  Also, Panajachel is a great place to shop, with hundreds of local vendors setting up everyday.  Around Lake Atitlán there are huge amounts of outdoor activities for everyone.  The staff at reception can help set up your tours around the lake or can arrange shuttles to take you to other major tourist attractions in the region.

Whether staying a day or a week, Hotel Jere is a great place base your adventure.  The rooms are especially great for budget travelers, as you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Services:

WiFi

Private bathrooms

Hot water

Parking

Tourist information and booking

Bike rental

Address: Calle Rancho Grande, 150 meters from the public beach

Website:  www.hoteljere.com

Email: info@hoteljere.com

Prices (low season/high season):

Single – $9/$11

Double – $14/$16

Triple – $20/$22

This post was sponsored by Hotel Jere.

The sicko’s tour of Antigua

As you may recall from Zach’s last entry, he was feeling pretty sickish during our time in Parque Nacional El Imposible.  Unfortunately, the day after our epic hike, I woke up with the same bug, and he woke up with the beginnings of a mysterious rash on his hands and feet.  So we were definitely in fine form upon arrival in Antigua, the beginning of our brief stint in Guatemala.

The afternoon we pulled in, I did nothing but lie in bed and feel miserable.  What a lame-o.  The next morning I pulled myself together enough to walk around a tiny bit and take some uninspired picture of the old city.

I think the Spanish really liked the color yellow.

The Cathedral

Every time we went into a church we had to sit down inside to rest.  This picture characterizes how we were feeling:

Blech.

Fortunately by the end of the day I was starting to feel much better.  Not so much for Zach.  His rash had spread to his face and was getting worse.  Stay tuned for his story of how we ended our Antigua visit…

El Salvador’s El Imposible: Snakes, rain, and lots of jungle.

The only way into El Salvador‘s Parque Nacional El Imposible on the south side is a up a rough cobblestone road that winds its way up 14km from the coastal highway into the mountains.  There are several buses per day that make the trip but unless you are right on time, you will probably have better luck just hitching a ride in the back of a pickup.  After waiting about an hour, we were picked up by a nice couple that was also staying at our hostel, so we got super lucky.  The views riding from the back of the truck were amazing with the green hills covered in thick jungle and the ocean far in the distance.  The first night we took it easy and planned to get up at dawn to do a 10km round-trip hike before the midday rains came in.

That night I had a fever and felt all lightheaded and in the morning I was still not feeling 100% but decided to hike anyhow.  However, upon arriving at the park and learning that we were required to hired a guide for $10 on top of our $6 each to enter, we got angry with the system and decided to just rest up instead.  While walking back to the hostel I got all lightheaded again and my fever chills came back.  “Good thing we aren’t hiking!”  I went back to bed planning to sleep all day and hopefully be ready to move on by the next day.

I woke to someone yelling “Buenas dias!”  It was the couple that gave us a ride and they wanted to know if we wanted to go hike with them and share a guide.  After sleeping for a few hours I was feeling much better, so we told them we would come along.  They filled our water bottles with “agua de coco” from freshly cracked coconuts  and pretty soon we were back in the park and ready to hike!  The guide was there and turned out to be as pointless as we thought, as the trail was easy to follow.  By this time the sky was the normal hazy mess it is almost every day recently.  Ahh, the rainy season!

Nearing the midpoint of our hike to the top of Cerro León, we heard a yell in front of us and saw a three-foot-long brown snake slither off into the brush.  The guide said that the coffee-colored snakes are very dangerous.   A little farther ahead we heard another yell as the same guy almost stepped on a tiny stripped snake.  The guide said that this little guy was even more deadly.  Carrie and I were in our Chacos so we were pretty scared of stepping on one at this point!

At the top we were in the clouds so there wasn’t a view.  We had a few snacks then just as we were starting down the sky opened up and rain fell so hard that we were soaked in under a minute.  The trail turned to muddle puddles and waterfalls were forming everywhere.  We had to almost run down because there was a river that we needed to cross and the guide was worried about it swelling too much before we got there.  Thankfully we were able to cross but the water did go up to my knees.  The rain never really gave us a break and once finally back at the starting point we weren’t sure if we had a good time or not.  However, it was a crazy adventure and we both had goofy smiles on our faces for some reason.

Check back later for the story of the jungle rash some plant gave me!