Saturday, December 13, 2008


The last week or so has afforded me with the most time I´ve had thus far in my travels to think and reflect and write. Ironically, I feel as though this last week has been the least productive for me. I´ve been living in a little shack on a beautiful and relatively remote beach, away from the bustle and stench of the city, close to the energy of the Pacific. I made my way over the border into El Salvador without a problem and was dropped off at a quiet beach called El Zonte, where life is simple and the locals are warm, where the waves break hard and perfectly. I ventured around clumsily for awhile, carrying my pack, guitar, and surfboard, trying to find the place I would settle for awhile. Eventually, as I was crossing over the point, which separates the beach and village by a little stream, I came across Raul and his tranquil abode. I told him I was looking for a room and he said he had only one. It was a simple room, with nothing but a bed, there was a toilet outside, but it rarely flushed, and the shower was a good old barrel and bowl - but this was all I needed. The real selling point was that this shack was right on the ocean, directly on the point where the waves break best, and I had it all to myself, or so I thought. My first day there I went for a walk on the beach with my guitar, and when I returned I was greeted by five fully equipped police officers standing outside my door, in camouflage, toting sub-machine guns. Their conversation seized as I came into view and every one of them locked their eyes on me. I was a little surprised to say the least but I played it off as if it were no big deal and I greeted them and made my way to my room. As I walked, trying to be as casual as possible, they all followed me with their stern looking eyes. I put my guitar down in my room and stood there awkwardly, unsure what to do at that point as they were all still staring at me. So with no other options I walked back out and attempted to start a conversation. They told me immediately to go get my guitar, so I did. Then they wanted to hear a song, so I played. As I started playing, I thought I might as well go all out for these guys and I started bellowing lyrics - smiles began to form on their faces. The song finished and they were all really happy by that point, and so I spent the next couple hours just conversing with them about El Salvador. I never really figured out why they were there, they told me that there were problems at this beach but I don´t think that was the case, I think they were just getting some R and R in the shade next to the cool ocean breeze.

The place I stayed was perfect, it was beautiful, there were hardly any foreigners, and there were lots of waves. When I was stuck in the city it was exactly where I envisioned myself being, where I thought I would be most happy. However, such beauty it seems, is better shared, and I quickly realized that I wanted others there to share it with me. I can only share so much through my lonesome writing. Thus, despite the perfect setting, the last week has been all but perfect, and the only times I really felt completely comfortable and at peace was when I was in the ocean surfing, which was certainly quite often. That being said, I´ve been surfing some incredible waves every day, and the last week has afforded me with some of the best rides I´ve ever had. Unfortunately, my board has taken a turn for the worse. It was an old board to begin with, but the last month of traveling without a board bag surely didn´t help, and after only a few sessions it began to leak and developed what the locals here call "el cancer". At that point, alone and a little lost in my head, I decided to cut my losses short, sell the board, and head back inland for awhile to figure things out. So off I went on a chicken bus ride with another lone traveler who I met in El Zonte to the heart of the country, San Salvador.

Quickly I realized that San Salvador was not a place I wanted to stay for long. I read in a guide book that San Salvador is not as dangerous as people make it out to be - as long as you don´t walk anywhere after dark. I thought that there were lots of guns in Guatemala, but here they are even more prevalent. At least in Guatemala the guys with guns had uniforms, in San Salvador there are guys standing outside of stores in flip flops and Nike t-shirts toting shotguns, with hand guns stuffed in their jeans. Of course, as expected, the pollution here was shocking as well, but I came to notice something about El Salvador while driving into the city. It seems that there is an extreme polarization between the opulent and the destitute, not only economically like the rest of Latin America, but visually. You will be driving through slums where garbage is burning and half dead dogs are limping around and then separted by a fence, and of course armed men, you will be in a pleasant palmtree-lined neighborhood where the grass is green and luxury stores and American restaurants abound. And of course, these are the neighborhoods that the guidebook recommends to stay. Personally, a mere glimpse of the "good" life that probably 5% of the country lives is enough for me, I´ll wait until I´m back in North America to experience that again.
There were several things I needed to get done in San Salvador, and this meant making my way around the city. One of the most daunting things for a traveler in a big city where you don´t speak the language I think, is to try and take public transportation. The temptation to just hop in a taxi and be taken directly to your destination is strong, but it is cetainly not very thrilling. I chose to try and take some buses instead. The first time I just walked to the street that I needed to be on and then got on the first bus heading in my desired direction - this is not advisable. I ended up in the suburbs somewhere in some neighborhood that I probaby shouldn´t have been in. After, when I began to feel a little more confident with my Spanish I began to simply ask people what bus I needed to take. Occasionally they would send me the wrong way, but it all worked out in the end.
Since I´ve begun travelling, time and time again my negative expectations have been shot down. I´ve found that positive reviews from fellow travellers tend to usually be true, and that warnings and negative reviews tend to be unfounded. It seems that the more warnings I get about places being dangerous, the more the people in those places tend to be warmer and kinder. The people that I´ve met here in El Salvador have been so helpful and kind, so much so that it is the first place that I´ve felt comfortable hitchiking, which seems to be quite easy here.
My plan was to take a bus to Honduras to do some scuba diving for awhile, but then I got an unexpected email from a friend I met in Guatemala saying she wanted to come and surf in El Salvador. And so it was that I made my way back to the coast.
Now I am here in a village called El Sunzal surfing again and feeling much better about things.
Tommorow I´m going to pick up a board from a local in El Zonte, and I think I will be staying here in El Salvador for sometime. Hopefully, I will get to know more intimately both the ocean that I surf and the kind hearted people that make this country so inviting.


Tristan said...

epic thanks
super post
winter's here

Anthony P. said...

Thanks. Winter? I don´t envy you...