Barillas Club Marina, Bahia Jiquilisco, El Salvador
May 22 - June 14, 2000
Wow! How do I even start to tell you about our 23 day adventure here? I know, I know, we also thought this would just
be a nice stop to be able to rest on our way down but found anything BUT this! The marina is a pet project of one of the
14 wealthiest men in El Salvador, Juan Wright. His father owned thousands of acres in this bay years ago. The Wright
Hacienda (ranch) was one of the biggest in the country until the agrarian reform in which the government decreed that
no one person could own more than a small amount of land. The land was taken from Juan Wright's father and given to
the people who formed a cooperativo. Only recently has Juan been able to buy the land that he lived on as a child back
from the cooperativo. The first chunk he bought was where the marina is today. He tells of how he used to fish the
waters as a child and played on the beaches of this land. The marina just opened in February and is impeccably thought
out and executed.
He's also passionate about preserving the environment and is trying to encourage the fishermen to change their ways.
He is opposed to gil net fishing as well as grenade fishing. Yes, the fishermen make hand made bombs and throw them
in the water and then pick up the stunned fish. Many fishermen have lost fingers and hands in the process but are
unwilling to consider changing their ways. Juan speaks with the fishermen that he sees personally and encourages them
to change their methods.
He has placed lava rock around the dock area as he was told that fish are drawn to them and has told the fisherman
that they may fish as much as they want off the docks but only with lines, no nets. He also puts scrap metal in the
bottom of the river to make it impossible for the fishermen to use gill nets. But all of this is done in a caring
communication by himself. Juan's passion is to try and change everyone's impression of the country he loves. He and
his wife, Carolina, are very successful! Nicer people they couldn't be! The moorings are FREE, and you set up an account
on shore at the restaurant and Tienda with your boat name. FREE transportation to the village with a driver, guide and
guard is provided whenever you desire. The guard takes a bit getting used to; but that's just the custom around here.
There's a Texaco fuel dock, super showers and bathrooms, water readily available, wonderful palapas with tables under
them (all with electrical power to them) on the huge grass lawn infront of the water's edge. They have laundry (they do
it for you now) but shortly will have more machines and you can do it yourself, he's getting phone lines installed and
running lines out to the covered tables on the lawn infront of the marina so people can sit at the tables and have an
internet connection. As all the tables have electrical power run underground, you can bring your sewing machine or
whatever you'd like and work in the cool shade. Their menu at the clubhouse is small, but fine.
Breakfast and lunches are their busiest meals except when Carolina is there for the weekend and makes a special
event. Then she prepares special menus for the evening. Can you tell we were thrilled to be there? Even in May/June at
the end of the cruising season, there were 11 boats in the marina. Juan Wright is involved in real estate, sugar and rice
(in El Salvador and in Ecuador). I think the success of his marina has even taken him by surprise. But then, from a
cruisers point of view, why in heavens name wouldn't it be with all that he offers at the marina?
There are people that you meet in your life that you like immediately and are just genuinely good people. Juan and
Carolina Wright (the owners of this marina) are just those kind of people. It's hard to look at them and think that they
are such wealthy people. They're just good, kind, caring people. They live in the capital of San Salvador and fly (20
minutes) in on one of their four (4) planes to the grass landing strip next to the marina daily. Juan has his pilot's license
as well as a full time pilot on staff. Juan decided the best promotion would be not to charge for the moorings at his
facility to the first 100 boats. Incredibly enough we were number 42 at the end of May and I think they're up into the
50's now. Everyone that arrives is given a coffee table book of El Salvador as his gift. Juan and his wife Carolina are
passionate about spreading the word about their country. The war, which ended in 1992 set their country back 20 years.
The day we arrived we met a couple who were leaving in the next few days (Jeff & Ann on "High Drama") who'd been
there for a month. They passed on some great information of what they'd seen and done. They were very enthusiastic
about the country and what they'd experienced. Excited about seeing the country after having spoken with them, we
immediately set to planning. We arrived on a Monday and by the end of the week we were anxious to head into the
capital of San Salvador and explore. We were on a mooring so energy draw from our batteries (to keep our reefer
going) was our concern.
The marina allows you to use their massive freezer and refrigerators to store your food so you can shut your boat down
while going ashore. (One more well thought out idea to make it easy for cruisers to leave their boats and see their
country.) Great opportunity for me to really defrost and clean the reefer as it hadn't been totally shut down in 7
months--ah, the demons that lie at 30 degrees covered in frost. Chuck & Jeanette were a little more challenged, as they
usually run their generator daily to support all their power needs and had only left the boat in the past if it was hooked
up to power onshore. When we chatted with Carolina indicating that the four of us wanted to go to the capital for the
weekend thinking it would be a little less busy than a weekday, Carolina immediately said that she had a friend at the
Princess hotel in the zona Rosa which was around the corner from their house and would call for rates for us. Regularly
it's $140/night but on the weekend it was $85/night INCLUDING a massive buffet breakfast. Book it Carolina, we cried!
Now we just had to get to the capital....a 2 hour ride by car. Not to worry, Juan would fly us. His pilot, Francisco, flew
us in after Juan had spent a few hours at the marina working. (see photo L-R: Francisco, us, Juan on right upon arrival
in San Salvador) Juan took us to the hotel and made sure we were checked in "OK". (How, we thought, could we not be
"OK" as we stood in this posh marble tiled lobby?) He then said he had an appointment but would like to join us for
drinks that evening at 7:30p. What a treat to be in a big plush hotel room complete with a massive marble tiled bath
and TV. He apologized that he wouldn't be able to join us for dinner as he had a graduation they had to attend later that
evening. 7:30p and Juan arrives all dressed up in a suit and has a drink with us and says "come on let's go, I'm taking
you to dinner". He is a "member" of the hotel, so he picked up the drinks at the bar and swept us off to Los Rancheros
Speechless by now, we simply followed. We arrived at the restaurant where he seemed to know everyone there. There
was a large party having dinner near our table that appeared to be the "who's who in El Salvador". He proudly brought
us over and introduced us to everyone at the table as his guests at the marina. He was so proud of the fact that there
were 11 boats at the marina at this time of year and everyone at the table was thrilled for his success. One of them
was the person that guided the first boat in through the boca to the marina, another was the owner of the largest
grocery store chain in E.S., another was an executive for the local beer, another was CEO of TACA airlines. We talked
about many sensitive issues of El Salvador that night at dinner. Juan and Carolina were more than wiling to be honest
about the effects of the war and the philosophies of the people of El Salvador. Yummy steaks were savored by us all,
mine had a jalepeno cream sauce (Carolina shared the recipe for this with me and even bought the canned jalepenos to
me later in the week!), Chuck had a brochette, Joe had yet another version but they were all yummy! After an exquisite
dinner and 2 hours of fascinating conversation, we were returned to our hotel for the night, exhausted and astounded by
our hosts genuine warmth and hospitality. What a memorable, enjoyable evening.
We had made an appointment with a tour guide to discuss what we wanted to see and possible itineraries for the next
morning at breakfast at our hotel, and of course, Juan insisted on being there -- "to make sure that we were treated
properly". Jeanette & I had done research on what we wanted to see and put a list together. While talking with the
guide, we deleted some places and added others and came up with the plan of coming into San Salvador on Tuesday
afternoon and doing a two day / two night tour (staying in San Salvador each night).
Saturday we toured the city on our own. Many people were quite shocked as it's a country where you are escorted by
armed guards wherever you go. It's just their custom, and Juan was very insistent upon adequately protecting his guests
at his marina. He didn't want to risk the safety of any of his guests and hence has armed guards (and I mean armed
with shotguns and rifles) at the marina property and in the van that takes the guests to town daily for shopping in the
grocery store or the open air market.
While in San Salvador that weekend we did all the city sites, the famous San Salvador Cathedral which is painted by the
famous inspired (religiously) national artist Ferdinand Llort, the national theatre, the huge shopping center (which could
have been anywhere in the U.S.), Ferdinand Llort's gallery -- Los Arboles de Dios (a must) and indulged in eating dinner
out without having to worry about the dinghy ride home in the dark. Ah, what a treat. We were going to return to the
marina on Sunday when Juan was going to the marina for the day as we'd hop a ride in the plane with him, but found
that it would be an extra trip for him so we decided to stay Sunday night and travel over with him on Monday morning.
Gee, too bad, another night at the posh hotel.
As it turned out, Juan had a meeting and couldn't go with us so he sent his pilot, Francisco, to take us back to the
marina. We had booked the two day/2 night tour with Chuck & Jeanette and were really looking forward to our inland
trip. We've seen so many of the cruisers on such a tight budgets that they can't afford to take trips inland. I think that
they miss out terribly by not taking advantage of having a very safe place to leave your boat and explore the country
that they're visiting. We returned to the marina for just one night to prepare for our inland tour and check the boats to
make sure they did OK for the time that we were away and to reassure us that we could continue to go inland and tour.
Juan insisted that Francisco, his pilot, fly us back to the city the next day and drop us at the hotel. Is this guy unreal or
what? Anyway, this time we stayed at the Marriott--ahhhh, more luxury to indulge in being in something larger than the
size of your closet :-). It was perfectly timed to do these trips as the hotels had wonderful business centers with
internet connections allowing me to do my contract work that was due at this time. Jeanette had told Amerita at the
marina before we arrived that I needed to get an internet connection to do my work and sure enough, the van was
waiting for me the first morning we arrived so I could get my files I needed from my customer. Then, when I was in the
hotels, I used the business centers to finish up the job and send the proofs. I'd just get up really early or stay up late
(as they're open from 7am-11pm) and it worked out perfectly. Then when the file was done, Carolina took the Zip disk
and DHL'd it for me to my printer from her house.
Jeff & Ann on "High Drama" who had told us about their inland trip had highly recommended a guide who they said
added such insight into the whole experience. He was very well informed on the history of the country. On the first day,
the four of us had a driver and Jorge Martinez (this particular guide) in a 22 passenger air conditioned van. Boy, was
that nice. We visited a ruin that was called the Pompeii of Central America (Joya de Ceren), the top of a volcano that
was in a circle of three (Cerro Verde--the lighthouse of the pacific), the lake at the bottom of the volcanos-- Choatepec
Lake and the colonial town of Santa Ana with it's theatre that is being carefully restored to it's original state. Reminded
us very much of the Paris Opera. Back to the capital for another night at the Marriott and then on to the eastern side of
El Salvador the next day.
As it was just the four of us, Jorge asked if we wanted to see anything special. We told him we wanted to see the
Hilasal towel factory & outlet. Hilasal towels are the colorful beach towels that you see everywhere. They manufacture
towels with Disney & Star wars figures woven into the towels and other colorful scenes particularly ones created by
Llort. They're exquisite, and Jeanette and I did our fair share of supporting the company during our stay. :-) Don't miss
the opportunity to stock up on these beauties if you're ever here! The morning of the second day the tour director asked
if we'd mind if another couple joined us. We said no but asked if they spoke english, (gee, no they were from Mexico) --
problem # 1. Problem #2--he had rented a vehicle for us and Jorge as the driver and guide today and didn't realize that
we wouldn't all fit. (Gee, you mean 7 people can't fit in a 6 passenger vehicle? Duh!). He spent an hour looking for
another vehicle that would fit us all and finally pulled up in what looked like a "reject from Rent a Wreck". Not wishing
to delay our departure further, we departed. Only to find that the air conditioner drain was dumping cold water on our
backs as we were sitting in the very back. Mr & Mrs. Macguyver (aka yours truly) swung into action tying plastic
grocery bags under the dripping hoses. Now we were dry but had to stop every hour or so to empty the bags as they
filled and started swinging madly like water balloons about to explode on the sides of the van if not emptied. Then Jorge
noticed the front left tire was low on air, and after filling it a couple of times realized there must be a slow leak. Of
course, no spare. You should have seen the tread on the tires and the roads we were traveling on; but onward with the
We visited the cities of Suchitoto (really nice), Illobasco (famous for hand made tiny clay sculptures ) -- would not do
that next time, and San Sebastian where they use the old foot looms to weave incredibly beautifully colorful cloth and
dye the yarn in the old fashioned way. Very interesting. We arrived back at the marina very tired at 9pm but having had
a wonderful time.
We returned home in time for the Saturday night talent show and Carolina's special lasagna dinner. Sunday we were all
taken to the beach with Juan and Carolina and their 3 children by pangas. (see photo of Juan, Carolina and kids in panga
above) Juan & Carolina had 3 of their pangas and drivers take anyone who wished out to the island at the boca. Of
course, Juan was at the helm of the panga that broke down and that added excitement to the excursion. What a day! as
we zoomed home, about 20 of us -- now in two pangas, were met at the marina by the owner of the haul out yard next
door who has the largest shrimp boat fleet in Central America. His family runs Valdacci's florist in S.F. What a small
world. Juan kids him about all these cruisers and doesn't he have something for us all at the marina. He disappears and
returns with 2 massive baskets. One held about 25 pounds of shrimp the size of lobster tails and the other with 3 of the
biggest red snappers we've ever seen in our lives. All marina residents sprang into action. The staff rolled out three
BBQs at the clubhouse as everyone dashed back to their boats for tools and complimentary goodies to top off the feast.
A meal never to be forgotten! Burp.
Tuesday, we went on a trip to Perquin. This city is in the northern most part of El Salvador near the border of Honduras.
Perquin was the headquarters for the guerrillas during the war. We had lunch at a lodge that was built and owned by an
american who married a guerrilla commander he met when he came down to do aide work in 1986. They have built
about 10 cabins and this wonderful restaurant and meeting area. Lunch was delicious. He went with us to the museum
and added incredible insight to our visit. This museum, he said, was put together for the school children of El Salvador
not only as a memorial to the guerrilla party but also in hopes that they would see the devastating effects of war. As it
was just a small group of us, we were able to take our time and discuss various aspects of the conflict and gain another
perspective of the result of the war. The stories that he told during the visit were fascinating. He told of how the
guerrillas created a communication system that boggled the El Salvadoran army because they managed to use the
barbed wire in the fences to clip in telephones and communicate without detection amongst each other.
After our visit to Perquin it was time for us to prepare for our departure to points south. It would have been easy to
stay longer, but we'd pretty much seen all there was to see. The only thing holding us further, was the company of Juan
and Carolina. The goodbyes--particularly to people such as these, is the most difficult thing about cruising. Our
goodbyes to them were full of tears and very sad. As this is rainy season now, the tropical waves -- which have the
potential of creating hurricanes and are most frequently surrounded by thunder and lightning squalls were important to
study and plan our departure south to Costa Rica. If at all possible, we wanted to make a straight shot 2 days/2 nights
and that would mean keeping informed as to the tropical wave patterns. We waited about 5 days and prepared the boat
for our departure, fueled, grocery shopped, charted our course y mas. Part VII South from El Salvador in our next