Safe Travel in El Salvador, is this possible?
Should I go to El Salvador or would it be too dangerous? Most of the opinions I witnessed were rather sceptical of the county’s safety.
Some travellers from Guatemala reckoned to skip Salvador to catch a night bus straight from Antigua to Leon in Nicaragua. The duration was 16 hours on a minibus? Really? I opted for an overnight stay in Salvador. I granted my body some priority and decided not to expose it to extra hardships. On top of that my stomach was still getting used to the Central American germs.
I was lucky to get the passenger seat, a clear view on the road for the 5 hours ride. Even though my Spanish was still not going through major overnight improvements, I managed to engage in a bit of small talk (or should I say small gestures) with the driver: Emanuel. There were several nationalities in our powerful cohort. Two Dutch girls had quit their jobs to enjoy the freedom to travel for a few months. An Israeli guy who also holds an Italian passport but complained that it wasn’t possible for him to travel to any Muslim county. A hipster guy from Hakney was bubbling of joy (that cool area in London with a particular taste on music).
El Salvador means "The Saviour".
The murder rate has declined by 50% against 2015.
Families are protesting for better prisoner conditions for imprisoned gang members.
6 Million inhabitants. 70,000 gang members.
Coffee and cane.
As the van was hitting the bigger roads (please don’t picture major autobahn or highways), the guys in the back started their chatter. I was thinking: “Huh, where am I? Am I really trapped in the touristy part of my travels?” I travel for the sake of learning different cultures and I’d rather not be involved in the commercial aspects of tourism. Obviously transportation is the place where travellers come together. My local travel experience seemed to be a bit interrupted. Not sure what the average age in the back of the van was, not sure why but it felt a bit pretentious.
Do you know this feeling when there’s this certain group dynamic at play? You have the strong machos who talk and claim a certain position? I kind of got that feeling and was happy to be up front with the driver. No need to chit chat and define my spot within the group. It felt like such a classical example of my natal Saturn placement, the so-called 11th house. Part of me is well aware of the security of being in a travel group, no doubt about it. I always feel grateful particularly as we reach the border crossing.
It was freaking burning hot outside at the immigration. The Israeli helped me out with his Spanish and we got some photocopies of our passports. On some deeper level I realised (again) how in groups so many different skill sets come together. The awareness of the group is so much greater than the awareness on the individual level. Maybe true group integration means to recognise each single one possesses unique gifts which he brings towards the table. It seems like you are only able to see others as they really are when you stop projecting yourself onto them, keyword detachment. We continued to journey, no stamp in the passport though.
After a while Emanuel pointed the coast out. It was so marvellous to catch the first glimpse of the Pacific!! An ocean which is so distant from where I came. Initially, only a bit of the water and waves were visible. As we drove through the serpentines, through some small tunnels and up the hills, an astonishing view of the panorama unfolded! Part of me wanted to scream: Stop, we have to capture the moment and take a break for pictures! However, that wasn’t part of the deal with Emanuel. Not even sure the rest of the crew was actually caring as much for the seaside as I was. Those gigantic waves, maybe the biggest ones I’ve seen in my entire life. I heard the coast was known for its surf spot and now I realised why.
I got dropped off right in the centre of El Tunco in front of Papaya Hostel where a big pool was awaiting me. Quick check-in, payment in US Dollars, surprisingly the official currency. How can a country give their monetary authority away? I headed for the beach but could barely walk because of the crazy heat. Even Emanuel had said that he wouldn’t want to live in Salvador due to the heat and who would have expected that Guatemala’s climate is much different. Maybe the mountains in Guate were cooling things a bit down.
Wow! Here I was at Playa El Tunco! My eyes wondered across the black sand and small rocks from one side of the bay to the other. The waves started off hundreds of metres away and when they reached the shore, they smashed with such height upon the sand. The entire bay was covered in white steam rising towards the sky.
I took a seat on a rock in the shade of a beach bar. There weren’t many bars and only one street in the small village. It seemed off the beaten track. There were maybe only one or two surfer in the sea. Yes, at the time I arrived the waves were so high that only the really advanced guys were brave enough to go out there. A man on a horse was riding along the beach. Classical Latin American saddle. The man was wearing a cowboy hat. Spotting the symbols of Sagittarius, it felt like I was slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
At night, I had securely bought my 35$ bus ticket to Leon in Nicaragua, then went back to the beach for some fruit salad. A local guy stopped by my table and asked if he could sit with me. His English was pretty good, so hell yes, let’s have a chat. Turned out he’s living in Miami now but was originally from El Tunco. His biggest dream is to be a DJ at a festival called Ultra. I asked him if he had a Soundcloud but not yet. Still a man with a dream this is what the world need. I loved our conversation! He told me a bit about the El Salvador culture and confirmed that El Salvador may still be dangerous in certain areas and that businesses have their own security guards in some places. However, El Tunco would be safe due to the tourist police patrolling. He was so proud of his country though and said all his friends from El Salvador carry such a special place in his heart.
I spend the morning with the famous pig, an outline of some rocks in the water. Afterwards I bought some bread rolls from a local distribution guy on his bike for a dollar. Then I hopped on the next mini van at 7:30am.