Salve Salve El Salvador

Many times in our travels we faced indecisions. Some big but mostly small. Who has never blocked with a menu in your hands facing fifty different choices for lunch while the waiter waits pen and paper in hand ready to take your order just to be sent away and come back in two more minutes? It's a trivial thing but too many choices and options can overwhelm us. Too many choices can even be a paradox! And this is actually one of most tiresome things about traveling long term. Well, we were facing another of those decision blockages and the topic was going to El Salvador. We wanted to go but were not sure. There were many options for us to get there, a long bus ride from Guatemala City, an expensive flight from Cancun. Where to stay so that the transport connections were easy. What to do once we were there. It usually takes us a couple of hours of research, looking for the details and trying out several scenarios to come up with a satisfying decision. Some times we have to set it aside and sleep over it, to let our subconscious think over it while we rest our conscious minds. We were in Cancun's Airport after coming back from Cuba and did a big price research for tickets to our possible destinations. In the end it was more economic to fly from Cancun to Guatemala City, spend a night there and take an early bus to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.

El Salvador is the home country of a couple very good friends of ours so they gave us great tips on what to do and some contacts of friends to meet there. The country has famous beaches for surfing and Di and I wanted really badly to try some surf lessons. But the central american country is also famous for its violence and insecurity. If you do a quick Google search online on the country a torrent of nasty news and statistics can flood and wash off anyone's enthusiasm. Things get real while traveling around Central America and in El Salvador it was going to get as real as it could get. Can you feel the adrenaline rising?

First stop, San Salvador! Big messy capital city like many others. Nothing special about the city itself. There were only a few scratched gems to be savored: the most chaotic and messy city center that I've seen in Central America, comparable to South-East Asian countries. It was so terrible that it deserves this special mention because it set the bar a little lower so that is that. I also bought a stolen BlackBerry Z10 from the street market so I could do some app development. Hey, I didn't know it was stolen! There are tons of stands selling old used phones, I was genuinely fooled. On the positive side, still on the hell-center, Iglesia El Rosario an exquisite church, disappointingly ugly from the outset but with one the coolest interpretations of the Passion of Christ I've ever seen and colorful windows. Also great was the hostel we stayed in with a great kitchen so we took advantage of it and cooked our own dinner most nights. Seriously … this was a big highlight! Nothing like cooking your own simple meal after months of just eating in restaurants and cafés. It was a quite relaxing stay. And to top it all, we met with the sister of our good friend! She and her boyfriend took us to see the big volcano close to the city and to some awesome restaurants. We finished the night with a nice dinner in a small typical neighborhood. Having local company is great for going to the sweet special spots in a city, what to eat, the local stories and their personal thoughts on their environment. They even took us to eat Pupusas, a typical dish from Central America, which was delicious. Thanks a lot Celina, Paulina and Eugenio. Next, we headed to the beach.

Doing my thing at the El Salvador Monument

Swarms of pigeons on old City Center Square!

At the crater of the Boquerón volcano crater with our local friends

The genuine church El Rosario

The city's coat of arms

Plaza Futura, a modern complex of offices, square and entertainment
After a three hour long trip on chicken buses full of people and other miscellaneous cargo we arrived at El Tunco, a beautiful beach and surfer's village, very touristic and specially popular with Israelis. Tiny and unapologetically quiet. I could feel time passing by lazily, the breeze gently blowing and the sun slowly warming up everything. Just the waves seemed out of sync with the vibe of the place since they were vigorous and frequent. The beach in El Tunco was unique to me because it had many many loose rocks, rounded and smooth by the constant grinding. You could hear the grumbling sound of hundreds of rocks rolling around whenever a wave hit the sand. Uber relaxing sound the harmony between rock, water and sand.
The big volcanic rock formation at El Tunco beach
The rocks and waves forming sound in perfect harmony

One really early morning we started our first surfing class. Our excitement fueled our motivation but we were not really prepared for the intensity of the sport. In theory basic surfing is really simple. It takes only 5 minutes on the sand to learn all the basics of it! Now just do it on the water at the right time. I think I've never felt so out of shape in my whole life. Just paddling to the good spot was exhausting. Finding your balance on the board, and mind you it was a huge board for beginners, requires a lot of energy and some leather skin on the knees is a good bonus. After 45 minutes of intense exercise, a few glasses of salt water drunken, some rock bumping and half a wave surfed we were done. Completely done! So yeah … mission accomplished! It was hard but a lot of fun too. We headed to Playa San Blas, an even smaller surfer town close by, to continue with our training and some hardcore chilling. All my muscles were aching after surfing.

Surf class about to start. Quite easy and simple... on the sand

Exhausted smiles after the surf class :)

Out of the few places to stay in San Blas one really struck a chord in our hearts: Surf Strong. A nonprofit full surf school and hostel. It provides with free surfing classes for local kids. A personal project of Sarah, an inspiring young woman from US, and Jerson, a local surfer and entrepreneur. We stayed there a couple of days, mingled with other travelers and helped the staff with some shores, we joined the local kids surfing class and even appeared on the local TV News as they were filming a short feature of the school. These days we learned so much with Sarah and the school. How simple things are so hard to accomplish even when you're trying to do good for free, not seeking any profit. How people with a dream and a strong will can overcome any barrier, personal one or bureaucratic. Most of all, how the most beautiful happiness are the few ones found in the middle of a battle to fulfill ones dreams. Specially when it's about giving other happiness. 

But not everything were perfumed roses. The hostel was pretty basic, recommended for the hardened traveler. For instance, during the six months of the dry season all they have is brackish water. So taking a shower is salty also brushing your teeth. They do buy gallons of filtered water used exclusively for cooking and drinking. No private rooms yet and bathrooms were just usable. Like I said, for the hardened traveler. But I guarantee you, the experience you'll get is extremely rewarding. Make sure to make the most of it and volunteer for a few days or weeks. Sarah regularly needs an extra hand so don't be shy.

More surf practice. This time it was much easier!

Local community kids getting ready for class

Local TV crew filming the action

Sarah, the founder, loves what she does and she's awesome!

We only stayed a week in El Salvador and we got more than what we wanted. Definitely it had many more wonderful things to offer but we couldn't enjoy them. And all that danger that the news covered? Well, we definitely saw a lot of dodgy places and people. We took a lot of precaution and thankfully nothing bad happened to us. So if you want to visit the country just be careful and keep your eyes open, specially in the old city center of San Salvador, that most probably nothing will bad happen to you. 

We gathered our memories, pictures and feelings – all the good and the bad – and waved good bye. Digesting all these intense experience reminded us of how worthy it is to be living our dream. To that I invite to you to raise your glass and cheers!