Pupusas at stall in San Salvador
El Salvador (Spanish: El Salvador) is a country often bypassed by tourists, definitely not lying on beaten itineraries going through Central America. So is the decision to deviate from the typical route and visit the mysterious el Salvador. The road leading from Honduras has numerous passes and green valleys with a view of distant volcanoes. The bus driver and his assistant constantly scream and whistle with great passion and commitment to get more people along the way to the capital. For many time I get the impression that the bus has no more capacity and not a single extra person would fit. I’m wrong, as with a specific arrangement of hands, legs and spines we mange to host more fellow passengers.
In San Salvador we stop at the hostel Ximena, located at Bulevar de los Heroes. During the whole journey through Central America it is until San Salvador where I see the first tangible sign of increasing globalization. This modern shopping center giant with luxury shops and a large food court does not fit the rest Salvadoran architecture.
Some time ago, while living in California, I promised my Salvadorian friend to visit his younger sister Maria, who lives on the outskirts of San Salvador. Being already there I decided to call her. We agreed to meet at the bus terminal oriente on the outskirts of the city. Long awaited Maria turned out to be a pretty, smiling Hispanic-skinned girl with a deep dark, glistening eyes. Nice feeling to succeed in meeting an indirectly acquainted person in the heart of Central America. So I’m able to pass fresh news straight from Tony, her brother living in Costa Mesa.
In the evening we celebrate Alex’s birthday, one of the German guys I travel with. We take a taxi to the center to find a big nightclub that looks promising. After a few minutes we’re already in. Small rooms with tables, a few easily-accessible bars, narrow passageways and spacious, already crowded dancefloor. Salvadorians lively and enthusiastically dance salsa.
I take a look around… something is different than usuall. I just realized that we are the only ones among a few hundred people to have a white complexion and blond hair. How does it work in fact? Hot Salvadorian girls ask us to take a picture with, eagerly show the basic steps of salsa, are willing to talk and offer their phone numbers. That is a perfect party!
Street bazaar in the capital
Walking through the city center during the day I see three completely different elements of culture: a buoyant American capitalism, a clear colonial influences from the time of Spanish domination and Afro-Caribbean tradition, the importance of which is becoming increasingly marginal. To support my thesis, near Metrocentro you can eat a hamburger for which you would pay in dollars. A few blocks away are historic Catholic churches, the cathedral, the parliament and other government buildings. All with a distinct style of Spanish architecture. Nearly any of the side streets in the center is a gateway to reach the markets and less accessible locations. Penetrating around these places I take a look at the thriving trade, also a barter exchange. Almost every street bar serves pupusas – a bit thicker, Salvadorian variety of tortillas. Pupusuas are usually stuffed with crushed red beans and served with sauerkraut on top. Once in California, Tony has prepared me some pupusas and served them exactly the way it should be, as he assured me. So as I expected, the ones I bought at stalls and stations in el Salvador tasted nearly the same.
El Salvador may sometimes be perceived as dangerous, especially late at night some streets seem to be unwelcoming. The danger, however, is primarily tied to the past. Nowadays during the day there is a soldier with Kalashnikov machinegun almost at every corner in the city center, for your safety. Not for no reason it is mentioned that the average person visiting el Salvador would see more machineguns in a single day than someone else would in his entire life.
Unfortunately the infamous past took its huge toll. Nearly everywhere you can see the effects of civil war. Injured people and traces of shootings on the facades of the buildings still recall the twelve years of violent clashes, which were ceased as late as in 1992.
Onward journey to the east of El Salvador passes quickly. It is raining, but once the sun comes out a beautiful rainbow cast itself on a blue sky with huge volcanoes in the background. The border with Honduras is a wide river delta, a picturesque view of water flowing quietly between distant hills covered with lush forests. Another bus takes us towards Nicaragua.
Trading at the bus station
A few interesting facts:
- el Salvador is a country rarely visited by white tourists. It is common even in the capital to meet people asking if they can take a picture with you
- if you are going to party in Salvador be prepared that as being the only white person in a club, you would become a focus of attention and an opposing sex locals immediately seize you to dance salsa
- two local brands of beer is a delicate Bahia and a more deep tasting Pilsener
- pupusa is el Salvador’s local food. It is a thick, hand-prepared tortilla stuffed with crushed red beans and topped with spicy sauerkraut. Typically costs just 25 cents. Yummy!