Acc: VIP apartment in the harbor area
Dist: 58,7 km
Start: 06:30 End: 18:10
I am expecting another half day paddling only, as the forecast sounds even worse than yesterday. I have already my share of offshore headwind in the morning, when the direction turns to onshore as the other days, around eleven o’clock. But this time, it is not that strong, and the angle of the wind is just about not a headwind anymore! A fine, but crucial difference for me being able to make reasonable progress. Still, the sea becomes lumpy as on the other days between noon and three, but that is no problem. I would rather not enjoy another risky landing on the open beach, as the big stuff in between the low sets are house-high and really intimidating. I have once been trashed by one of those, and that is enough.
There are times and sections which look easier than others to time a safe landing, but those areas are usually coming way too early in the day. I was crawling along yesterday with a useless effort of less than four kilometers per hour, today I stay over five kilometers per hour and feel not like I am punching against a wall. So glad!
The last few kilometers in Guatemala, I am sorry to see people are fighting hard to protect their houses getting eaten by the sea. Long lines of heavy large sandbags try to block the worst waves on stormy flooding. Some have lost the game and there is only a ruin left, some looks till sturdy for at least a few more months.
When I am nearing the border of El Salvador, the offshore headwind and sea calms down, and I try to call my German embassy contact Claudia Plehn to let her know I will be able make it to Acajutla today. The connection is bad, and we have to move to voice mail. If anyone can imagine how tricky it is to operate a cell phone in a kayak, wrapped in an Aquapac which mostly refuses to let the touchscreen work properly so I have to take it carefully out to try to make it switch on and work with wet fingers in the glaring sun, it is a wonder we can communicate at all somehow.
I am not up for long discussions or calls in this situation and am a bit amazed when Claudia advises strictly me not to reach the port of Acajutla today, as she cannot make it down from San Salvador to Acajutla tonight. That is fine with me, what is the problem, I do not expect her to change plans another time after I announced I will need another day due to the unexpected strong headwinds the last two days. I can wait for her on the next day, but sure I will take the best protected landing tonight and will not land somewhere on some unsheltered beach for no reason. I am simply happy to be able to avoid another dangerous surf landing and launching, but she tells me in another voice mail the local authorities insist that a member of the German embassy is present on the arrival and I cannot just land safely there without her? So sorry if that would be the case, but safety comes first.
Well, I will be nice and see if I can land in the small fishing and yacht harbor before the safe beach close to the big port. A landing on the open beach before is out of question for me if I can land sheltered. On Google Earth, I see a launching ramp inside the ancient “artesenal” port (which says everything), but when I approach, I have my doubts as I only see for me useless steep harbor walls with ladders. Also, on the now low tide the breakers are rolling diagonal across the small port entrance, and timing would be crucial again, and a rolling breaker could trash me anytime to the cliffs. This place is not a safe landing option, having a ramp or not.
I quickly see my last option in the fading daylight is paddle to the sheltered beaches inside the big port, turn out to sea and successfully avoid some more lines of rolling breakers until I reach the sheltered waters of the long port wall. I know there is a line of small unbroken easy to land sandy beaches, perfect for my needs. I sense it is right under the port authorities area and likely private harbor property as staircases are leading upstairs, but if someone spots me here and sends down a guard, thigs will develop easy as always in Latin America. If I stay unnoticed, I will see Claudia tomorrow after a night on this beach.
But when I land and start unloading, four people with fishing equipment come down which turn out to be members of the harbor police. Perfect! I explain my situation, they are excited to meet me and have no problem with me camping on the beach until tomorrow. But as it goes, they call to inform the harbor master. Slowly but surely an entourage of all kinds of port authorities spill down to my beach to serve all my needs. Latin American people are so nice and flexible, no difference here in El Salvador on my one day premature arrival! I have not seen it anywhere different the last years on all my paddles. We take endless pictures, and everyone is happy and excited to meet me.
I am about to set up my tent when the “Big Boss”, harbor master Roberto Mendoza arrives, greets me enthusiastically and invites me to spend the night in a comfortable room on the harbor area. Sure, very much appreciated, thank you! Sorry I am a day earlier than expected, and sorry Claudia from my German embassy cannot be present tonight to enjoy the big buzz, but things fall into place as they come, as always in Latin America and on a sea kayaking trip where nature and safety rules.
My passport gets stamped right on the beach, I show my vaccination and two doctors cannot help by measure quickly temperature and blood pressure, just to reassure I am completely healthy. Customs is waived down, and we start loading my gear bags on a truck. They contemplate to also load the kayak diagonal, but see reason on the steep bumpy climb with the car up the cliffs, it is better two strong men carry it in their hands. Uphill, we wait for a while for two old mattresses to pad the truck roof as the truck bed is too short for my long kayak. In the usual Latin American manner, I stand with another man on the back of the pickup truck and hold my softly bedded but untied kayak with our hands on the last kilometer through easy harbor roads to my accommodation. We are meanwhile a convoy of five cars and more than a dozen people to assist me. All goes perfect! Claudia is now on the phone and announces her arrival for tomorrow. Sorry you missed the welcome! I am sorry the sea is not listening to German office plans and hours.
I get a whole luxurious family apartment to myself, likely the best they have. So thankful to be treated once more like a VIP! They even send me a large bag of freshly squeezed orange juice and fresh water, as I am not hungry for dinner and just like to get dry and warm again after the longish arrival procedure in wet paddling clothes. All is so nice, thanks to all people involved in my premature arrival!
I take a long while to settle down and to finally fall asleep, as always after a long paddle and arrival in a house with people. Tomorrow, Claudia invited the press, TV station, tourism officials and herself early, and things will be busy!. Thanks for all the support of the German embassy and local authorities!