Home of the MS-13. And pupusas (stuffed tortillas)!
Crossing the Border
El Salvador is certainly one of the, how do I say this without frightening my parents, more murder-y, err, less safe, countries we’re traveling through. And border towns are typically less safe than other towns. We were determined to van through. Rápido. Then we saw a three-mile long line of semi-trucks….
We paid a fixer, a local that works for tips and speeds you through the crossing. Other overlanders seem defiantly against using fixers, as if it insults their travel expertise. We’ve loved the service. Saves mucho tiempo. Plus you get a new buddy for an hour or two.
We would not have made it through the border that day without our fixer. He told us exactly what copies to deposit in what rooms. Where to flash our passports. He weaved us in and out of traffic. Hustled. Bribed a few truck drivers. He even at one point held up traffic on a bridge, thus allowing us to pass a dozen semis. Earned his tip in other words.
The roads were instantaneously better upon crossing the border. Smooth. Relatively trash-free. Canopied by flamboyantly red Árbol De Fuego trees (brachychiton acerifolius). Lined by an ocean on one side and quaint tiendas on the other. Gorgeous. I suppose, given my preconceived notions of El Salvador, I was expecting worse. Less developed. Bodies hanging from telephone poles. To be robbed at least twice — we even prepped both our fake wallets. But we’ve only had one attempted robbery on this trip….
That One Time in San Felipe
Our third night in Mexico.
Andrea was, as per usual, tossing and turning. Or so I thought. Then I heard her whisper-yell: “Someone is stealing our bikes!” I busted out of the van doors, launched toward the thief with my arms up in what only can be described as the “attacking gorilla” position, and released a guttural, primordial scream that, at least in my mind, sounded like a grizzly — it could’ve been a chirp, however. Whatever it was, it worked. The thief, who had successfully picked our bike lock and removed three of the four bikes, dropped his stolen bag of goodies and ran off. It was probably the manliest thing I’ve ever done — though I may have wept silently for the remainder of that night.
Pronounced Care-o-lee-na, as we were quickly corrected.
We stayed here our first two nights. A black sand beach around the corner from one of El Salvador’s most famous tourist and surf destinations, El Tunco. Probably a great spot for surfers. Not for swimmers. The current was intense. Fortunately, the campground had a clean, cool pool.
Andrea spotted a brewery around the corner from the campground. I almost didn’t believe her. I didn’t want to believe her. I couldn’t be let down by another water-flavored beer. I have too many other first-world problems to deal with.
Taking all things into consideration — food and beverage quality, atmosphere, service, etc. — it was the best meal we’ve had in Central America. Awesome tacos. Amazing burgers. And great beers. All with incredible views and service to boot. Oh, and the sweet sculpture below.
At one point, in the middle of our bliss and as if on cue, the state bird of El Salvador, the Turquoise-browned Motmot, landed on a post below our table. Andrea, disbelieving, asked: “Is that a real bird?” I quickly quipped: “No, the brewery invested in flying mechanical birds.” It was surreal, however.
The Turquoise-browned Motmot has a turquoise brow and wings, a grassy-colored back, and an orange belly. It also has a crazy, long, turquoise and black tail that splits at the end; each end looks like a broom. See video below.
Playa De Esteron
We’ve spent the last three nights, and tonight, at Adela’s Hostel, Campground, and Restaurant. It’s an awesome locale. The beach is wide and flat and has some of the softest latte-colored sand we’ve ever encountered. If the sand were whiter — as mentioned before, I’m a beach color racist — it’d make my top ten list. And the water temperature, unlike most the Pacific coast beaches we’ve visited thus far, is perfect. For Andrea at least. It’s almost too warm for me.
And Adela is a wonderful host. Perhaps the nicest human we’ve met on this trip. She even went out of her to get medicine and electrolytes for Everett, who spent two nights ago upchucking everything in his belly.
Ya Feel Bad
Every El Salvadoran we’ve met has been innately and refreshingly friendly. It’s too bad a few gangs in a concentrated area in San Salvador have converted their beautiful country into the murder capital of the world.
I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting. I’m guessing, based on the prevalence of dying resorts near the beach, El Salvador could use the tourism. And bang for buck: you’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach vacation. Just fly into San Salvador during the day, and then get out as soon as you can. The rest of the country is, somewhat literally, waiting for you with open arms.