Staying in a Rancho for week in Atami, Tamanique in El Salvador

Atami is a gated community with quiet, private beaches between El Tunco and El Zonte. One of the beaches is very small and pebbly, with quiet a few houses in front of it. The other, Playa El Parmacito features restaurants by the beach, a surfing schools, hostels/bungalows by or near the beach, a large resort (which has some seawater pools by the beach!) and even a restaurant overlooking the entire beach featuring a large quirky dinosaur.

Booking a Rancho in Atami…

….is actually pretty easy. There are many choices on the popular booking platforms, on large social media sites, as well as options that you can see all advertised on the billboards. Many of the places here are Ranchos which are like large beach houses featuring many rooms, pools, seating areas, outdoor kitchens, multiple hammocks etc. It is generally catered for families or large groups of friends, and is very busy on the weekends when the local El Salvadorans want a quick getaway from the city. Atami is a popular and fairly developed choice as it is situated between well-known areas of El Tunco and El Zonte, with restaurants and even a brewery (Cadejo) dotted along the highway. It is also an easy reach either from San Salvador or from the international airport.

You can choose to book online, or you can walk or drive around to see what is available as there are signs for apartments to rent. However the entrance to Atami has a manned gate, they generally request your name and where you are staying/going.

Our Rancho in Atami!

The balcony area featured a hammock, a long table and an outdoor wet kitchen. As I was working early morning at 5am (to begin work in German time!) I would usually catch the amazing sunrise. Sunrise is usually coupled with many of the birds waking up, including a couple of nests besides the house and not long it become too sunny to work outside (7.30am-8am usually).

Choose a Rancho with a pool

Nothing better than a dip or swim at the pool after a long walk, especially in the hot humid weather or when ending your work day to the timezone in the other side of the world.

Long bench to work on your own or with other people

Watching the sunsets are also amazing too both on the Rancho, by the beachside or at the resort restaurant.

Atami Beach Resort Seaside Seawater Pool

The Atami Beach Resort is nearby, if there are no nearby Ranchos available or if you are travelling on your own or with a small group of even a couple. We did quiet a few dinners and sundowner drinks because the Peliconos restaurant has some amazing views.

Technically it is a private beach, but you can walk down to the beach area to the right of Peliconos.. there is actually another entrance for the public, but since we generally pass by the restaurant to or from the beach we usually go up and down the nicer Atami walkway.

Playa El Parmacito

This beach is amazing to go to for sundowner drinks, mainly local beers.

The kitchen was closed but you can walk along Calle al Parmacito off the beach for some evening pupusas made by the nicest women, “Mi casa, su casa”.

Travelling to and from the Rancho in Atami

You need to either hire a car to be able to easily travel to and from Atami, since 1. it is nowhere near a place to catch an Uber, 2. you may end up walking along the highway pitch black in the night at 8pm or 9pm which is not only not that safe, but stray dogs barking at you is never nice to encounter (as we did once…).

Public transport is a complete no-go since there are more buses to and from the work times during the work day, with buses being more scarce in-between. This was the case waiting on the highway for a good 30-40 minutes, where we thought about flagging down a ride on the backside of a ute but decided against it.

Without a car, you need at least two numbers of local taxi drivers to drive you around. I mention two numbers, as was the case when we had to wait for more than an hour for a taxi driver getting back to Atami from El Zonte one evening since the usual driver was not available.

What about small items?

Atami is really mainly built up as a beach house place, not really a neighbourhood. This means that amenities are fairly scarce. There is only a small tienda near us which closes at around 4pm or earlier and with only snacks, drinks, and some basics like milk and eggs. The bigger supermarkets like Super Selecto, even a pharmacy, are at Puerto de a La Libertad is better accessed either via a dependable taxi driver or your own car.

2022 New Year’s Eve and a Week Staying in San Salvador, El Salvador

Well New Year’s Eve is upon us once again. And once again, I decided that I’ve had enough of the cold weather, rain, snow and restrictions in Germany – not to mention also that constant rent-free space it has on my mind. This time around, we chose El Salvador, being one of the very few countries out there with a good mix of fairly open rules, good weather, good prices, and the Bitcoin adoption was also a point of interest. It seems that many people that are tech inclined are flocking over to El Salvador, so why not?

Flight to El Salvador

For our flight to El Salvador, we chose Madrid and Mexico City as the stopover, flying with Aeromexico. The Ciudad Juárez International Airport in Madrid was super-packed at that time. Getting used to the different rules was something – where we went from 2G only in Germany (G stands for Geimpft or Geniesen) to … basically nothing. Boarding was chaotic but we boarded early. A couple in front of us was really annoyed because the Aeromexico employees checking in IDs and boarding passes could not allocate them in the same seat (which is.. maddening since you would do that upon ticket purchase and check-in). But we boarded and survived a 12 hour flight with the extra seating space to Mexico City!

Since the layover was nearly 5 hours, we spent most of the time in the Aeromexico Premier lounge. The lounge had a simple “breakfast buffet” and a couple of hot options that was snack size, but otherwise kitchen service was not available. Most of the interesting restaurants were situated outside the security lanes anyway.

Arriving in San Salvador

Arrival was fairly smooth, but you have to pay $12 for a visa to get in. You can choose to pay via cash, card or even Bitcoin. We asked to pay in Bitcoin at first but the officer said that she would need to get someone else to help, which could indicate that she was not used to it. Anyway, before immigration/customs, I spotted a Chivo ATM which you can use to withdraw cash via your Bitcoin wallet or buy Bitcoin.

Uber service is available in San Salvador, but one thing to note is that there is no big place as a pick up point when you arrive. We ended up spending a good 10 or so minutes walking around to try to find where the Uber driver was parked.

With the trip to San Salvador, you go through some poorer neighbourhoods. A lot of people on the side or middle of the roads selling food and perhaps other items. I spotted a group of police with guns monitoring entryway of a neighbourhood place. One thing that strikes out to you from Europe – one is the heat/sun, the other is all the armed policemen!

Staying in Barceló, San Salvador

I mean, San Benito is hands down the better, and safer, places to stay in San Salvador and a good initial choice to get bearings. There are various options for restaurants, shops, cafes, breweries, hotels, clubs, bars, a couple of malls there.

Regarding COVID19 rules, it is masked indoors (surgical generally), hand sanitizer (usually attached to some device which takes your temperature). Enforcing the same types of rules in Europe (in terms of being vaccinated/recovered/boostered) in a country like El Salvador would be bad for the businesses there, and it would be hard to enforce country wide.

We asked one of the locals as to what the place is to be for New Year’s Eve, which turned out to be along the beach. Not really having a penchant for big crowds, plus we would be spending most of the time at the coast, we decided to opt to stay in San Salvador. Not only that, but having to fight off jetlag for the first few days, we decided to do it in style in a comfy place, which in this case was at a hotel in San Benito, one of the more prestigious areas in San Salvador, at the Barceló hotel.

Things that I like about Barceló hotel:

  • Fairly decent price for a 4 star hotel compared to others in the same region and hotel series.
  • Breakfast is quiet thorough and include the El Salvadoran usuals of refried beans, plantain, eggs with salsa, tamales, frijoles, local bread and cheeses, plus the usual hotel stuff of sausages, hashbrowns, French toast, yogurt, cereal etc.
  • Has a bar and café with decent coffee.
  • Opposite the Bambu mall, within the San Benito area
  • Nicely kitted out gym including treadmill with HIIT workouts that I made use of each day
  • Laundrette ($1 coin operated)
  • Pool to dip into
  • Good view over the mountains and city centre – great sunrise/sunsets and also see fireworks from the room

Things that I don’t like about Barceló hotel

  • Pool was quiet small, you can do multiple laps but it is mainly to dip around
  • Difficult to just ask to put services (ie meals, drinks at the bar, etc) in your room
  • They ran out of clean towels! And failed to tell us…
  • Fitness centre was just a closed in space, not making use of the fact that it is up high so no windows overlooking city centre.
  • No rooftop terrace bar/restaurant at all, so not utilising the space that they could have…

An alternative is the La Zona Rosa Hostel, which we stayed in since Barceló was occupied beyond the date extension.

New Year’s Eve in Barceló

Since we opted for the more “quiet” we ended up just having a dinner at the restaurant in the hotel.

Unexpectedly, the dinner ended up being an actual New Year’s Eve buffet! We were pretty surprised about it, but it ended up being nice actually. The food was … unexpected for me, like sweet potato with burnt marshmallows on top or the sliced turkey breast with cranberry sauce. There was also a party there and a lot of very well dressed people in high heels, sequins, suits etc. Spotted outside was what seemed like a party for someone.

The party went on until after midnight, we stopped sometime before that to have a nightcap at the bar, then jetlag took over a bit and watched the fireworks from the hotel room instead.

Bambu Mall, San Benito

Opposite the Barceló hotel was the Bambu mall. It had some dining options, mainly in the lower and upper levels. In between levels were some shops, a salon (for hair, nails and spa), pharmacy. The unfortunate thing about the mall is that it did not have a supermarket and we ended up going to some fancy “bio” place to get some overpriced toothpaste when the “pharmacy” was closed at the time.

I ended up getting my hair and nails done at the V salon, all speaking in Spanish so had to wrangle some way to set up a couple of appointments…

Other places to check out in San Benito

Here are the other places to check out in San Benito that we enjoyed…

  • Roots Food Artisans on Calle La Forma which has a bakery for sourdough etc bread, an amazing selection for brunch or lunch, can pick up a bottle of wine to go, or even some coffee beans.
  • Cadejo Brewing Company on Calle La Forma for beers on tap and finger food to go with the beers
  • The Greenhouse on Calle Circunvalacion for a big selection of smoothies and various food options for lunch, including what looked like keto-friendly options like cauliflower rice.
  • Café La Casona on Avenida la Capilla for their iced/frozen coffees, in particular check out the horchata and cebada drinks for something local.
  • Puerto Marisco on Bulevar Del Hipodromo for the seafood.
  • The area where Shaw’s is on Avenida Las Magnolias has various food options from burgers to vegan/plant-based food!
  • If you want to stay in, Super Selecto’s on Av. Las Magnolias is a good-sized supermarket to check out and there is also a small, 24-hour grocery store Road market (even on New Year’s Eve!) on Blvr. del Hippódromo.
  • As I was poorly packed for the weather and needed to get a local SIM, I went to the Multiplaza Mall which had a lot of clothing shops and options to choose from.

Travel Update 2021: Gozo-Valletta-St Julians (Malta), Palma de Mallorca (Spain), Bavaria (Germany), Szcecin (Poland), Berlin (Germany) and Sicily

It has been a really long time since my last travel update!

So far this year, went to these places and countries.

I haven’t had much time to update the blog at all this year, while in the middle of new contract work, certifications, moving apartments, travel and just enjoying additional time but will do soon!

Travel 2020: Flight from Germany (Munich) to Malta in December

Note: Travel during the restrictions imposed across various countries at this time mean that far more steps need to be taken in order to have a successful trip. In this case, do not use this post as a guide for travel at this or for any other destinations. The restrictions constantly change and it is up to you to know them yourself. This post also in no way encourages travel, do it at your own risk.

This is my second flight to Malta this year, the first being in mid-September and some things have certainly changed since then. The first one was the travel suspension for flights from the UK unless it’s a repatriation flight of Maltese citizens, residents, and any other pressing reason. The second was that a negative PCR test for SARS-CoV-2 must be presented before being able to enter the country. These rules are presented both by the airline (Air Malta) and the airport (Malta International Airport). There are also other requirements and Malta has had various other travel bans and the requirement that you have to be in what’s called a “safe corridor country” for 14 days before arriving, in which Germany was one of them.

Before you leave Germany

Since I’ve already been aware of all the rules and potential issues, I was already prepared with the following:

  • Having enough food in my apartment for the impending quarantine (10 days, or 5 days if you have a negative SARS-CoV-2 PCR result).
  • Making sure the apartment is actually clean (nothing worse than coming back with a surprise that you forgot to throw away rotting bread).
  • A printed copy of my Anmeldung with me (the German residence registration certificate). The rules have changed or will change that you’ll need to show proof that you actually live in Germany if you are not a German citizen. I bring it with me in case that I lose my residence card, for example.
  • An up to date passport with more than 6 months validity.
  • Enough cash and a couple of cards, in case one is lost.
  • A packet of spare surgical masks (ie 10), hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes.
  • A couple of pens (extremely important with all the forms to be filled in…including surprise paperwork…

Pre departure

The airline (Air Malta) had passengers to fill out two forms – one is a printed, signed statement that you’re not sick and that you are not “actively positive”, not in contact with an active case, etc. This form is handed to the departure staff. It seems like even now a few passengers fail this part and they get taken to the side to fill in the paperwork. Mine was already filled in.

The other one is an electronic form, again attestation that you are in good health.

You will also need to be wearing a surgical mask, N95, FFP2 mask throughout the whole flight. In an earlier flight a couple of months back, cloth masks were used and even had people wearing bandanas that they later wear around the neck.

Another thing is to get a printed copy of the negative SARS-CoV-2 result. The airline staff don’t check this, instead it’s the Maltese airport upon arrival that checks for the test. Note: Actual rules may change, depending on the airline and destination.

Actual flight

I think the flight from Munich to Malta had about 20-30 people, each person taking up one row so it was very spacious. Airlines have filters for circulating air. Everyone is masked up, a dining cart service is provided still where you can buy coffee, tea, even beer or wine. You can also order a small meal. No cash is accepted, only cards.

We then start saying goodbye to Germany, meeting the Alps way above. It has actually been a long time since I last saw this scene, possibly on a flight to Italy mid 2018. I really enjoy peeking out and seeing which of the areas are villages.

The flight was pretty unremarkable. I took a laptop out to work, after wiping the desk with a sanitizing wipe.

Then we slowly made our way to Malta, being greeted and followed by this rainbow.

Arrival in Malta

On my first trip, we there was people in PPE collecting passenger locator forms before you can leave the airport, since at the time Germany was in a list of countries that did not require the negative PCR result. This time around the result is required and this was all done in an enclosed area of the departure lounge.

First they obtain a temperature check.

Then following that are two people with clipboards who’s task is to determine and check for paperwork. It seems that some passengers there had a rapid antigen test of some sort, which was no accepted. Without the test, you had to wait until all passengers left (that had the result) and then go to another area to do the test at the airport. In the testing area, your name and details are obtained and you provide your passenger locator form. No one leaves the area until you are let go by the staff who call out your name, then you are asked to immediately proceed out.

Berlin Christmas 2020

Massive Christmas tree at Tiergarten

Unfortunately, the new restrictions in place (then) had unfortunately wiped out nearly all forms of public life, except for worship (which even then, some services took place in the open air).

These photos were taken before new restrictions in place on December 16 which closed down non essential shops.

In the outdoor stall, you can buy Advent wreaths set in fir, acorns, ribbons, etc. The peak for sales is usually late November, before the first Sunday which is when the first candle is lighted.
A shop laid out in Christmas decorations over a long dining table. This was a pop up concept type of shop at the Bikini Berlin mall, where restauranters (which, had to be closed for dine in service since early November) could sell packaged food.
A fancy flower shop near where the embassies are at the Märkisches Musuem near Jannowitzbrücke.

I would have preferred to have seen open air markets or businesses like flower shops still open. Not only that, but biergartens and restaurants with open seating should have the opportunity to be able to set up winter outdoor seating.

Writing this in February 2021: I’ve been out of Berlin since mid December but based on what I’ve read in the groups, people still need to have that social connection so playgrounds have been full, people still going out for walks, also private gatherings but less. I still keep in touch with a group for the occasional virtual “Friday night drinks”. One person left for the UK and got affected by the travel suspensions, another went to western Germany to see their German family, another somewhere in the north of Germany, another went skiing somewhere in Switzerland over Christmas. For people that could, they left Berlin during the holidays period.

My First Bavarian Christmas in 2020 from Berlin to Munich

I spent about one week in Bavaria (near Munich) over Christmas. It was my first time in this region.

Bavaria by then had come into an outdoor mask mandate (must wear masks outside), a curfew from 9pm until 6am and shops only doing ‘click and collect’. The restaurants that are open are doing take-away. That is also in addition to other restrictions that has been going on in this region and in Germany. As a side note, the restrictions in place will depend on which Bundesland you live in, for example, the city-state of Berlin has different restrictions to Bavaria. However, overall by December, most of it seems uniform.

Train ride from Berlin to Munich – what is it like?

The booking for the train was fairly unremarkable. The seats were completely social distanced and very little bookings going on.

The train departed from Berlin Hauptbahnof. You can buy food and water, and you probably should since the dining cart availability is pretty minimal. They didn’t serve hot water, so no coffee or tea. A basic sandwich was on offer, so I had a chicken sandwhich. And a Twix, since I needed sugar in me.

Arriving in Munich Hauptbahnof, you can get your top up of fresh coffee.

Photos around the village

A coffee place where you can buy coffee beans and have it ground up, chocolates and more. There is also a café at the back doing takeaway coffee. The business owner opened the door, making a “Servus!” greeting.
This is a krippe, or a nativity crib. However the unique thing about this setting is that it is set in a traditional Italian-Napoli style crib called a “Prespi”
The Christmas Eve setting. One of the main differences with Australian Christmas is that the Eve is the most imporant event. Ingredients are also different – for example, a boar ragu sauce and schnappes after. Decorations are also different with the traditional Advent candle setting.
An actual dirndl shop. There were many dotted around the village. I didn’t actually realize the variety available out there. This one had a more wintry/festive look to it.
Not really a Christmas breakfast, but just showing a breakfast of liverwurst, salami, pretzel.

Living in Berlin, October 2020 – Open Air Flea Market (Flöhmarkt) at Mauerpark and Berlin view from Jannowitzbrücke

One of the best things to do on a Sunday is to go to an open air flea market, and the market at Mauerpark is one of the biggest. It’s actually more like a half-flea market and half crafts market. In addition, you can have a snack from one of the many food trucks there, or grab a beer or pizza from the outside biergarten (beer garden).

A licorice stand with a LOT of different types of licorice – sweet, sour, salty, even spicy.
Outside in the sun, with people heading out to a cafe or going for a stroll
The actual part of the flea market. Vinyls were on sale on the foreground. In the background is a long table set with numerous knick knacks, all strangely grouped together as well.
A DDR sign amongst a background of tea sets, random silver containers, plates and various others.
The market itself

Out with friends – Summer and Autumn in Berlin 2020

From around June, about a week or two after I moved apartments to Friedrichshain, the restaurants, pubs, biergartens, cafés re-opened and with some rules. Here’s a collection of photos out and about…

There were some swans in Kreuzberg.
Delicious coffee at a local
Definitely not proud ordering that green colored drink – which is German Weissbier (white beer) flavored with Waldmeister.

Berlin Bakers Against Racism – Photos

I decided to buy some baked goods and sweets. 100% of the proceeds donated to Equal Justice Initiative and KOP-Berlin.

I ordered some homemade salted caramel sauce, brownies, and these Portuguese sweet muffin typical of the Azores Islands called Bolo Levedo. They ran out of Zucchini cake which was vegan and replaced it with some Oreos.

Learning German B1.3 with Lingoda, still with them since January 2019! (+ promo code at the end)

I have been with Lingoda for a while now, and originally I was planning to finish the B1 level by the end of last year but I have had to take a some weeks off here and there, depending on other circumstances. At the moment, I am still making some good progress with B1.3! The important thing is that I am still making some progress, and still learning German at my own pace that suits me..

I decided to actually take some time off one evening and do all my notes in advance. This means, going through the PDF, copying and pasting the materials there so that when it is time to go through the assignments, in-class notes and more, it is all ready for me. Below is how busy I was doing some of the B1.3 classes!

On another note, I was surprised to find out that this month it looks like a couple of people have used the promotional code which means they get 50 euros off and I get 5 free group classes. This has been really great, as I thought about pausing June completely for a small break. Thank you for using the promo code!

Promo code is FYUVJH

While the online classes is not for everyone, we all have to be online. I still have to adjust my learning style to practice free speaking German because I find that my reading and perhaps writing skills are a bit better. But for me personally, I really need the classes in order to be accountable, quiet a few times where I feel a bit discouraged and don’t want to learn anymore. But, just keep on pushing!


Late post: Belgrade, Serbia, January 2020

Definitely a city that I’d like to come back to, I only manage to spend just half a day here after a long trip/stopover in Abu Dhabi when I came back to Germany from Australia.

I’d love to come back to the designer and creative industries districts here, as well as sights and museums.

A city of contrasts between multiple opposing perspectives, you can feel the tension…

And with it, a youthful and creative spirit…

Late Post: Around Oslo 2019 – Viking Ship Museum, Norsk Folkemuseum and walking around the City…

Late last year, I went around Oslo. It was my first time in the small but beautiful city. Unfortunately, I was only there for about 24 hours as it was a stop on the way to Lillehammer but I did manage to capture a few photos.

I would definitely come back to take a trip around the fjords, the sauna and more.

Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy 

There were also other artifacts, like this ancient Viking sleigh.

Norsk Folkemuseum – Norsk Folkemuseum (Oslo open air museum)

In this open air museum, you can walk around and inside what could have been buildings from the past, dated back to a certain period. I don’t have all the details with me but I highly recommend this. It was also a short walk from the Viking Ship Museum.

Walking around Oslo city…

This post was part of a trip that took me around Lillehammer:

Around Friedrichshain, Boxhagener Platz, Berlin, with COVID-19 lockdowns easing a bit…

May 30

Walk around Friedrichshain, Berlin. There was also a market set up for the weekend, where I bought a spinach/feta type of wrap and some sort of sweet cake with apple and meringue.

  • Bronze (?) plates they place in front of homes of Jews that were deported to Auschwitz by the #Nazi
  • A spinach and feta type wrap from a stall (in front is the very busy park)
  • Friedricshain street
  • A store selling face masks
  • A collection of water cans at a cemetery

May 28:

I recently moved apartments to Mitte and decided to spend an hour or two walking around Boxhagener Platz. I don’t usually come here, and I might have only been through Boxhagener Platz properly once during the day, a couple of times at night. Boxhagener Platz etched into my mind as to what Berlin is like for my first time moving here early 2017 and I am a bit disappointed that it took a few years and a move to do the stroll around.

You can see from the photos some remnants – limitations of a few people only inside the store and one must wear mouth/nose coverings inside. I grabbed a macaron and an ice cream, the ice cream place like the other places during the restrictions had a small table outside for you to order.

The business owners look relaxed and relieved, not stressed, people cautiously outside. Not completely normal but getting close to it.

The restaurants are also open now, at least a majority of it, some seating arrangements being made to make sure that there are less crowds. I am not sure how things are going to be like when the travel borders open between the EU countries. Right now, we’re at a wait and see moment but I have a lot of trust that the right things will be done by everyone.

Brisbane, January 2020

I was in Brisbane twice, both in January 2020, mainly to catch up with a couple of friends.

Much of the city has been largely the same, but with some new developments. It has been since early 2012 that I last lived there, but I would say it was more like 2011 since I was largely out of Brisbane by that year.

I was not sure as to when I would be back again though.