Monday, 27 February 2012

El Salvador

Inside El Rosario church, San Salvador.
Many travellers avoid El Salvador due to suggestions that it’s dangerous, which is strange since it is apparently ‘The Saviour’. I can’t report that I was saved during my time there, but I certainly didn’t find it particularly perilous either.

We entered from the border at El Amatillo, where a series of buses were waiting to transport us to Santa Rosa, San Miguel and finally El Cuco, on the Pacific coast again. Although the buses were still basic, noisy, crowded systems, there was a noticeable difference in the infrastructure of the country. Suddenly, roads were wide and there are actual bus terminals with numbered routes and specified bays. It’s not that I miss these things, it’s just that life as a traveller is so much easier if one doesn’t have to ask twenty people for directions every day.

The bus station also provided us with our first taste of El Salvadoran hospitality, as good as if not better than that of Honduras, itself a stark contrast with other parts of Central America. On the bus, a lady bought us a thick, sweet slice of bread cooked in cheese. This tasty and unexpected present was another example of the wonderful hospitality of the people of this part of the continent. Furthermore, the bus driver struck up a conversation with us and took it upon himself to look after us to the point of recruiting a friend of his to show us around the town when we arrived in El Cuco. We spent the evening eating delicious prawns in a local family’s restaurant to the sound of waves in the darkness beside us.

It wasn’t the sound of waves we awoke to the next morning. It was loud, Latin American music, the same kind used to numb the minds of people all over Central and South America. The hotelier was bemused at my complaints. “I thought you’d like it,” he shouted above the racket. No, I wouldn’t.

The ringing having subsided, we made our way to the vast, flat beach. The area around the town was packed with El Salvadoran weekenders, but further along were wide expanses of beautiful sand flanked by large waves in the warm sea and simple wooden housing amongst the thick jungle. The government has built several roofed pavilions housing small eateries that all serve the same food, which is all exemplary. (At least, the fish is. I can’t bring myself to eat anything else when on a sunny coast.)

The beach at El Cuco.
We took another rattling bus back to San Miguel, and another on to the capital, San Salvador. We found our way to a hostel in one of the ‘safe’ neighbourhoods and dined in an arty restaurant where a local band performed eighties classics in a heavy Spanish accent. I’m not actually sure the lead singer really knew any English. We took a local bus into the old centre the next day, where we squeezed our way through the throngs of market goers all looking for a bargain amongst the stalls of everything. The rattling of kitchenware plied for attention next to the colourful fruit stands, where the concoctions of mango, apple and strawberry wafted over the soft avocados.

In the central plaza stands a strange-looking church called El Rosario. From the outside it’s an ugly, grey half-slice of a cylinder, like an old segment of lemon standing on its flat edge. The entrance is through one of the curved ends and leads into something totally unexpected. The inside of the arced ceiling is lined with coloured windows through which shone a rainbow of light illuminating the pews and opposing walls in a bright pattern. On the flat wall opposite the altar were abstract designs formed out of scrap metal, and at the far end, under the curve of the roof as it bent down to the floor, were half figures representing the struggle of a man bearing a cross. The priest, an incredibly tall German man, arose from his talk with a local couple and insisted on showing us around. He explained how the small holes in the main doors were those of bullets, fired by the army during a popular protest on October 29, 1979. It’s an annoyance to El Salvadorans that foreigners know little of their country except for the recent civil war, but things like this, where 21 people were mowed down in a single shooting, is a painful reminder of how utterly it affected and shaped the whole nation.

The outside of El Rosario church, San Salvador.
We left El Salvador the next day and took a series of rough local buses along the Ruta de las Flores, a road that winds through pretty villages hidden amongst the hills and green, volcanic countryside. Our final meal was of pupusas, mashed maize dough stuffed with delicious marinated pork meat and cheese. With a final squashed ride in a minibus we made our way across the border at Las Chinamas and into Guatemala.

Through the volcanic hills along the Ruta de las Flores.


  1. How can u expect to learn about El Salvador's culture, in 2 days? You did not even bother to find out what the capital's city name was...It's SAN SALVADOR, you moron...
    If you don't like the way we live here in our central america countries, and I include honduras, el salvador, guatemala, which I assumed are the places u visited, then, what the hell are you doing around them? You came only to criticize third world countries? What a waste of time and money, I hope you get diarrhea from eating salvadoran pupusas.

  2. @Your mother: I'm very sorry you misread the tone of my blog post. I was, I thought, rather complimentary about El Salvador, the reason for which is that I found it one of the best of the Central American countries. Yes I was only there for a short period of time, but I didn't think I had generalised from that experience. If anything, I said how wonderfully friendly I found the people there. My few tongue-in-cheek criticisms were about things such as excessively loud music, which I find annoying wherever I go. I do hope this isn't the sole centre of El Salvadoran culture - I hadn't thought so.

    As for your SAN SALVADOR comment, I'm not sure what mistake I've made. A careful re-reading has assured me that I have referred to the capital by name correctly in both instances. This bizarre, misplaced complaint on your part does, I feel, render all of your comments totally null and void. Good day!

  3. Salvador has some great attractions which can make a holiday perfect. Holidays in Salvador is alwayas a long time memory.