El Salvador, The Savior

I hadn’t planned on making a sojourn to El Salvador at all, but there I was. I’d started an eight month travail in Mexico where I worked in two hostels for two months each. Then the opportunity arose where I had four months, no more plans and had zero interest in working in hostels again. I saved enough (more here) to travel in some backpacking-friendly region, so I decided to tackle as much of Central America as I could without rushing. Belize and Honduras didn’t make the cut, maybe next time guys. From Mexico to El Sal, it was:

  • Puerto Escondido, Mexico

  • San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico

  • Tikal, Guatemala

  • Semuc Champey, Guatemala

  • Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

  • San Salvador, El Salvador

  • Playa Sunzal y Tunco, El Salvador

All along the Gringo Trail, Anne (pictured above, the travel amiga I met in Mexico, where we decided to travel together for a minute) & I had heard how unimpressive El Salvador was.  We shouldn’t waste our time there, it’s crime addled, we’ll die, get shot, etc. Regardless, I put out the feelers on Couchsurfing and got several hits back. Anne & I decided to couchsurf with an awesome woman in her apartment right outside the center of San Salvador. Me and Anne said to each other we would spend at least four days recuperating from the backpacking hustle; vacation from our vacation, if you will.

 Our CouchSurfing host, and Anne.

Our CouchSurfing host, and Anne.

Just another preface before I continue –when I travel, especially to industrializing nations, I can’t help but find myself back in the studious, observational mode. The halcyon days of studying international development at the U of Maryland. I primarily look at infrastructure development, social program advertisements, waste management, educational institutions and ALL of that goodness. I expected to find little to none of these westernizations in Central America with the exceptions of Costa Rica, Panama, Belize and major Mexican cities (however only the Mexican state of Chiapas is considered Central America, the rest is North America). I was pleasantly surprised to find the state of modernity & progression in El Sal.

El Salvador was crippled by war during the thirteen-year period of 1979 to 1992; death squads, child soldiers, and human rights violations were some daily activities that plagued the lives of Salvadorans (and resultant gang violence that continues today).

SO on the beauteous five-hour bus ride from Guatemala City to San Salvador, I anticipated seeing little shacks that housed full families + extended, traditional garb, oppressive poverty, dirt roads, etc. This is what I had been seeing since Mexico, as well as lingual fluency in Nahuatl (indigenous Mayan) and oftentimes not even Spanish. Outside the windows of my Pullmantur bus to San Sal, I was seeing gated communities with earth-hued condos nestled inside. Two cars to every home and security guards at any entrance and every exit. I was a little baffled, as we weren’t passing any visible signs of a major city to conclude these were simply suburbs. However, we ended up couchsurfing in a suburb of San Salvador within a gated community that offered 24/7 security, air conditioning, a playground for kids and exercising housewives. Huh?

A conversation with our couchsurfing host led me to believe that due to a previous President that prohibited Afro-Caribbeans into El Salvador, the prevalence of dark skin was at 0%. I had never gotten so seriously gawked at, pointed at, laughed at, called monkey as much (with the singular exception of inland China, as ya’ll know by now). Strange, considering El Salvador is a country surrounded by dark brown on all sides. The school kids were wearing crisp uniforms to school and carried name brand purses and satchels like you’d see of American school girls. Hair was stylistically dyed, nice jewelry with manis & pedis. The boys wore Levis, Vans or leather loafers. HUH?! I thought this was such an impoverished nation, yet the visible signs were pointing to a large, Westernizing, middle class society.

 At one of the coffee fincas in San Salvador.

At one of the coffee fincas in San Salvador.

Anne and I even spent an entire day in the mall because it reminded us so much of home (Germany is home for Anne)! We were informed by our Spanish-speaking tour guide at a mountainous coffee finca, that tourism in The Savior was only truly five years old (in 2015). Wow. I might still be mistaken, but I think this country needs to be more spoken about in development courses and tourism brochures. #butWhatDoiKnow?

Ever had your expectations of a destination completely flipped upon arriving? Share your experience with us in the comments below!