Return to Central America - Winter 2011

Juayua Food Festival – Chicken Buses, Food, and Rock N’ Roll

Before arriving in El Salvador I knew that each weekend there were a couple of towns on the Ruta de Las Flores (the part of the country I’m in right now) who had food festivals on the weekends and that people from all over the country attended them What I didn’t know, was that the city of Juayua was not only having their weekly food festival, but also their annual celebration of the Black Christ, and, that this was by far, their biggest celebration of the year. Of course, this intrigued my quite a bit so this El Salvador rookie made plans to make it to Juayua for the celebration.

click photos to enlargeFood Booth at Juayua Food Festival

The day started with a chicken bus ride from Ataco (another town on the Ruta de Las Flores where I’m staying) to Juayua. Not surprisingly, this bus was packed. Not packed like one person in each seat, packed like two people where one should be and then another 30ish in the row. I’m no stranger to really full chicken buses, but this one would prove to be quite a test for this gringo.

The ride started with me hopping on the back of the bus to climb in through the handicapped door (keep in mind these are old U.S. school buses). The main door couldn’t really open so this was the only way in. An older man and myself were the last ones in and the guy collecting money had to literally push us in far enough that he could shut the door. I ended up partially in a poor women’s lap who I was easily twice the size of and her boyfriend/husband thought it was absolutely hilarious. A few of the other passengers urged me to move up into the aisle (out of, what I would call, the trunk) but I said I was fine, I didn’t mind being squeezed in, and, in my best Spanish, to let the women move there. They shrugged and left it at that.

Man I should have listened to them. Not everyone was going all the way to Juayua, meaning people had to get off and on this death trap of a bus. As I began to realize that 15 to 20 women and children were about to go to second base on me just to get out of the bus the other guys in the back started smiling. Before I knew it, they went into monkey action and were hoisting themselves up into the air for people to go underneath them and out of the bus. I on the other hand was just pushed aside by the crowd, further crushing the poor women beside me. I don’t think you can say “lo siento” enough to make up for what I was doing to her.

As the women and children squeezed by many of the kids had to actually hold onto my legs just to keep balance and in order get a little leverage. This was all fine with me, until this one little girl who obviously lacked coordination came along for her turn to squeeze out. Lets just say, she missed my right leg, and didn’t quite make it to my left leg… Her location, however, didn’t stop her from grabbing on with all her might. Are you getting the picture here? Ok, she was a little girl, it didn’t hurt that bad! But all guys know what I’m talking about here, when someone or something gets close to the precious jewels you go into ninja mode to try and block the attacker and you start making the most ridiculous faces in your attempt to dodge tragedy. Everyone who saw started dying laughing. This little girl had just accidentally grabbed the gringo’s crotch (I actually don’t think she noticed what had happened which doesn’t say much for me) and the gringo had about freaked out. After I recovered I laughed quite a bit as well and a few of the monkey guys patted me on the back in approval (or sympathy?).

Phew, all of that, and I hadn’t even made it to the festival yet!

Upon arrival I joined the masses (literally thousands of people) and began exploring Juayua and all it’s festival had to offer. After a few minutes of walking around though, I realized something. There were no other gringo’s here… Ok, I know there must have been some. But I seriously spent the next 20 to 30 minutes searching around to see if I could find any, and I saw about 4 (out of thousands of people!). This reality actually made for quite an enjoyable day though, as I stuck out like a sore thumb and everyone was interested in hearing my story.

Food Booth at Juayua Food Festival

One of the first attractions I caught was a live band. They were doing some originals and a lot of U.S. rock covers. It was awesome, and I was snapping photos, as the crowd grew larger and larger. About the time when there were a few hundred people watching, and I had put away the camera so it didn’t get crushed, the singer said something with the word “gringo” in it. People started looking around as if searching for something and I just stood there with, what I assume, was the dumbest look on my face. A man leaned over and said, “he just dedicated this song to the gringo.” I laughed, raised my hands in triumph, and people laughed and cheered. The band then busted out a great rendition of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer,” all for me!

I spent the rest of the day feeling like a celebrity as people continually took time out of their day to talk to me and ask me where I was from, how I was enjoying Juayua, and to tell me to make sure I stay safe around all the drunks. Hardly any of these people had actually seen the band earlier, this is just how nice the Salvadorian people are. They wanted to make sure that I, their guest, was loving every minute of being in their town. I ate dinner with a young man and his wife and son, and he repeated the message I had heard from a few others that day, to make sure that I caught the bus back to Ataco before nightfall, because it just wasn’t as safe. It was so great to feel like all of these people were looking out for me and cared about my well being.

Food Booth at Juayua Food Festival

I took their advice and began to make my move towards leaving early, which meant, I was, unfortunately, going to miss the 7pm parade. I snapped some shots of the floats as they were being decorated and made my way back towards the bus area. I passed by one of the stages and the same band was still playing. They were finishing up and the crowd started chanting, what I am assuming was, “one more song! one more song!” as the band walked off stage. The band obliged and started up with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” The crowd, which had doubled in size since I had last been there, went absolutely nuts. I’m talking hands in the air, babies in the air (no kidding), people dancing everywhere, nuts. It was quite a site to see, and a great end to my first full day in El Salvador.

  1. Jeremy B

    Festival aside, you have to love the crotch grabbing story! And yes, all guys can relate to your pain! I guess your lesson was learned and you will sit closer to the front next time! 🙂

    1. Matt

      Haha, next time I’ll just listen when the locals suggest I move somewhere! Whether it is the front, the back, or just getting off the bus all together!

  2. inka

    I’m glad to hear that you are still intact. Apart from that, what a nice gesture to dedicate a song to the gringo.You have such a lively way of telling your stories, it’s a joy to read.

    1. Matt

      still intact, haha! I don’t even want to think about the alternative to that! Thanks for the kind words.

    1. Matt

      haha, that is the only way I could describe it, ninja mode.

  3. Adam

    Awesome story, and what a cool experience to have. I love all manner of festivals, and when they revolve around food and music, all the better. And to have Livin on a Prayer dedicated to you, hell yeah, what a great day it must have been. Sounds like a great time. It’s always great when the locals are so nice and always looking out for you as a tourist. El Salvador sounds like an amazing place.

    1. Matt

      I had heard how nice everyone was, but I’ve been truly blown away by the receptiveness I’ve had here. Just a few minutes ago I walked to the bakery and on the way back I was stopped by a guy who just wanted to hear where I was from and how I liked El Salvador. It is really a great thing! And yea, Livin’ on a Prayer was awesome 🙂

  4. jade

    “Ninja mode”- hilarious! We try to go to festivals where ever we are in the world and this one sounds really fun and interesting! We really want to go to El Salvador this year!

    1. Matt

      well, from my short stay so far, I can truly recommend it. With all of the things still left on my to-do list I can tell I’m in for a pretty exciting few weeks!

  5. John in France

    Brilliant story! I have many images in my head!! You weren’t tempted to take the microphone yourself and make your own dedication!??

    1. Matt

      Haha, doubt anyone would have understood me and I was too far from the stage. Next time a song is dedicated to me I’ll do it, haha.

  6. Caz Makepeace

    What a cool festival to stumble upon! I love it when you have experiences like these. I hope the family jewels are safe once again!

  7. ayngelina

    So cool, the one country I didn’t make it to and all that good food.

    If I went I’d eat my weight in pupusas, I love them so much.

    1. Matt

      working on that accomplishment 🙂

  8. Cam

    You paint a great picture here. I’m not good with overcrowded tight spaces so I’d probably loose it! Never been to El Salvador, we’re thinking of hitting Central America in the spring… only for 3 weeks, what are your thoughts on where to go?

    1. Matt

      I’d say you could easily spend the 3 weeks in Guatemala. Visit Antigua, Montericco, Lake Atitlan (San Pedro is nice), Flores/Tikal, Semec Champey?Lanquin, and maybe the Rio Dulce if you have time. That is a very busy three weeks, so feel free to look through my past posts (mainly my trip from last summer) and check out what you think you might be most interested in.

  9. pinaytraveljunkie

    It’s my first time here, and this is such fun read 🙂 Will definitely come back for more.

  10. Andrea

    A festival sounds like a great first day for any place. Really enjoyed your story!

  11. robin

    That is some serious looking food in that photo.

Comments are closed.