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3rd February, 2017

Acajutla, El Salvador

Acajutla is probably unknown to the majority of tourists, but the local folk want that to change. Four huge speakers were set up on the dock and folk dancers emerged from a school bus as we arrived. It was a noisy, colourful, exuberant welcome. As passengers disembarked they all received a hand painted pendant made from the seed of Copinol tree. A charming gesture I thought.

Our tour took us into the foothills of distant mountain country, along surprisingly adequate roads towards the Mayan ruins at Tazumal. The ‘pyramid’ we saw was not quite as anticipated as it seems that, many years ago sometime after it was ‘re-discovered’, those attempting to preserve what was left decided to ‘tidy it up’ then give it a coat of cement. I would suggest that what is visible today is not quite what that ancient civilization would have wanted as their legacy. Day to day life, however, was rather more to my interest, as the local constabulary obviously felt we needed a watchful eye. I counted at least two police pickup trucks cruising by, and then another one slightly more sinister as the two occupants perched on the back were in full black ‘riot squad’ gear, including sinister balaclavas and menacing fire power. They disappeared at a great rate of knots when I lifted my camera.

We travelled on in order to take a look at the art of indigo cloth dyeing, some of which was on display. One framed piece in particular, a Jaguar (cat not car) was quite excellent. Fortunately, perhaps, it was not for sale.

The tour continued to the second city of Santa Ana where we were met at the busy main square by two security guards standing next to the national flag of El Salvador and our very own Union Jack. The gates of the classically designed, but now slightly ‘tired’ Town Hall, were opened so that our folks could sit in the shade of the inner quadrangle and take their lunch.

Directly across the square the elegant cathedral, brilliantly painted in white, was closed during lunchtime. This didn’t prevent the pigeon food sellers from plying their trade, or the pigeons from flying in formation at low level and descending to their next meal. Once the break was complete we took a quick tour inside, as did the pigeons. Looking up was not advised.

The highlight of the city part of the excursion was the National Theatre which has, for the past forty years, been slowly renovated to how it must have looked when completed around 1910. It had an elegance that somehow defied its location, but was indeed the jewel in the eye of the city governors. I was particularly taken by a bust of Shakespeare, centrally located in a frieze on one wall in the large first floor anti-room. Written above the head of the Bard were the words ‘All is well that ends well’. Let’s hope so for this previously troubled, but still struggling country. Before we left, local dancers staged a short folkloric performance on the grand stage.

The coach brought us back to the port, but not before we had travelled high along the upper reaches of an extinct volcano and stopped for a short while to take in stunning views down to a very large lake within its crater. I questioned who might the obviously ‘superior’ homes with their own piers reaching out into the waters belong to. ‘Probably the coffee plantation owners’ was the knowing reply.

And at the port there was another surprise in store before we sailed. A youth orchestra, smartly dressed in black and with an exuberant conductor, set up at the foot of the gangway and played a variety of music, including some from ‘Queen’ and the ‘Beatles’, to a delighted audience of Saganauts looking down from above. This was truly a sterling effort to promote their country by a tourist organisation determined to show off to the very best what they have to offer. A great call.

Captain Philip Rentell

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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