The first city we hit in El Salvador was Santa Ana.
To start things off, we had quite the experience getting into town. We had taken a bus from Guatemala City that was destined for San Salvador and they kicked us off the bus at a highway intersection and told us that we could catch a local chicken bus into Santa Ana. The only problem was that the currency had changed from Quetzals to the US Dollar (for some reason El Salvador has adopted their currency). We didn’t exchange any of our currency at the border (too dodgy with the money exchange guys trying to rip you off) and there was nary a bank machine to be seen. We went to the one and only gas station within sight and asked for an ATM and they told us that we needed to go into Santa Ana which we couldn’t do because we had no local currency for the bus! We were stuck. Finally, I asked if we could buy something at the gas station on our card and get some change back for the bus. Luckily, the lady was able to help us out and we managed to make our way into town.
We thought it would be a pretty colonial town but instead we found ourselves in a very ugly, dirty place. The biggest claim to fame there was their church.
The things that made Santa Ana memorable were the last things we expected to find there. Firstly, the people were amazingly friendly. We had quite a few people stop in the middle of the street (while driving past us) to wave and say hello. Many commented on our light hair and blue eyes.
There was every big brand name under the sun in the tiniest little shops and in the market. I imagine that like Guatemala, there are quite a few boxes that “fall off the back of the truck” from the local factories and make their way to the street. You could buy yourself a new wardrobe for pennies.
We discovered that the city had quite a seedy side to it. There were a ton of hotels renting rooms by the hour and we saw several prostitutes milling around (two of which were transvestites). Throw in a few crazy bums and voila, we had a surreal experience in a town that we thought would be lovely and quaint.
We spent less than 24 hours in Santa Ana before we fled to the next town with our fingers crossed that it would be better than this horrible place.