Good People and Pupusas in the Overlooked Country of El Salvador

24 02 2008
Posted by: Chris
In general, people are nice wherever you go. There is a false conception that people hate Americans due to our foreign policy, and while that can be true sometimes, it is actually pretty rare. In general people are capable of distinguishing an individual from a government and treat you as another human being. Some travellers find it shocking when–gasp–other countries actually like America and maybe don’t think we represent evil incarnate. The best is when the locals of a particular country know more about US policy than Americans. I don’t mean they read a magazine article or watch the Daily Show and regurgitate John Stewart, I mean they actually know the details of things, the history, and understand what’s really going on. Case in point: our hostel owner in Suchitoto, El Salvador enlightened us on the Democratic Primaries and gave more compelling arguments for the candidates than I’ve heard on CNN. This while working day and night physically building the hostel(we were the only guests) with his hammer and blowtorch, the latter he weilded a touch haphazardly.

The town of Suchitoto has been dubbed ”Antigua before all the tourists got there.” It’s quiet, pretty, and set alongside a lake with impressive hilltop views. We liked it, but like most of El Salvador, there isn’t a whole lot to do as a traveller. Really the highlight was the people, and while people are great most every Country we go, it really applies here. These are some of the friendliest, most helpful, go out of their way to make your day easier group of people we’ve ever met. Our host later walked us to a lunch spot where he said the food was cheaper and tastier than where we currently sat. ”5 dollars for 2 of you to eat, good food.” Well, when we got there the food was a bit more expensive(though still not expensive at all). Before we even could do the math, he walked over to the owner and paid for our meal then told us to just give him $5 when we returned to the hostel. He had promised us a price, and in good faith, did not want us paying more since he had led us there. We of course refused, told him it didn´t matter, we would gladly pay for our food in full. Knowing he only charged $6/person for a clean private room with bathroom, a few dollars to him seemed lot different than a few dollars to us. He insisted saying he was ”Rich in life” because of his wife and his happiness, and grinning widely he told us we must only give him the $5 . The money just wasn’t as important as his word. It’s a scene out of a cheesy feel-good movie, and it was totally genuine. Laura later managed to convince him to accept $6 since she also had gotten a banana liquado. Joy.

Other examples of people helping us out include one man walking 10 minutes out of his way to show us where a connecting bus would come to take us to a safer area of town, then hailing the bus for us and talking to the driver to make sure we got where we needed to go. Standing in another crowded bus, an elderly woman grabbed my guitar from me and held it for 3o minutes while another girl held my daybag so that I could free my hands. In San Salvador, one woman paid for the bus ride of a Nun without even speaking to her. Just because I guess. Someone at our hostel had some local drive her to the hostel because it was night and it was safer, and since she had a car it seemed easier then just giving her directions. There are more examples, but I think you get my point. There was a communal feeling, like the people were constantly aware of those around them and were willing to be slightly more uncomfortable to help others take some of the load off. I like to think that southern hospitality is like this too, but I’m not sure it is. At least not in the same way. It really was quite humbling.

San Salvador is a typical big capital, and we did little there but use it as a transit hub. The highlight of El Salvador was Playa Zonte, a black sand beach on the southern coast. A local surfer town, we comfortably lounged for a few days with almost totally private beaches and a really cool hostel called ”Essencia Nativa.” Food was good and cheap, the owner Alex was a typical laid back surfer guy from San Salvador with that genuine Salvadorian hospitality, hammocks abound. El Salvador is also home to pupusas, the tastiest street food in Central America, which made up half my diet while here. We got fresh oysters one night for $4 a dozen and even walked inside a bat cave on the beach. We would clap our hands and see the little guys fly all around us, which may or may not have been a smart idea, but how many times do you get to pretend your Batman? The black beaches are very different and as the strong tides come in the water looks like a thick mud. It sounds nasty, but it isn´t at all. And while we didn’t surf, we did swim out and let the giant waves crash down on us. At one point I tried to rocket launch Laura over an oncoming wave, miscalculated the breaking point, and instead threw her face first into a monster. About thirty meters farther downshore, Laura expressed her gratitude with clenched fists and a fiery vocabulary.

Our last stop was the Civil War town of Perquin, which paid ommage to their favorite American President Ronald Reagen. The museum was fascinating with artistic photographs of the FMLN and a detailed history of the horrible conflict that engulfed the region during the 80’s. Again, nothing else to do there. Hell, finding food was difficult. About 10am we couldn’t get any breakfast in town and asked the owner of our hostel(which doubled as a restaurant) if we could eat something. She sat there filing her nails and watching t.v. and said ”nothing is prepared.” Ok, so restaurants serve when the owner is done with her daily soaps, noted. For dinner we had one of the most idiotic conversations we’ve had all trip. Just because we can speak some Spanish now, doesn’t mean we say anything important. This is an exact transcription of one Spanish conersation translated in English:

Me -”Hello, what kind of food do you have?”

Owner – ”We have bread and chicken.”

Me – ”Oh, what is that?”

Owner – ”We have bread…and we have chicken.”

Me – ”Perfect, we will have two of those!”

We originally came here because several friends I played flag football with out in San Francisco were from El Salvador. ¨You’ve never heard about the El Salvadorean Civil War?¨ Their shock illustrated another example of the many things not gone over in Mississippi schools. You can go without seeing another traveller for days, and this is about as off the beaten path as you can get in Central America. But we felt completely secure travelling through the Country and while it has a bad rap, it’s really cleaned up and is 10 times safer than Guatemala with the highlight being the people, and black beaches off the Pacific.

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2 responses

25 02 2008
Claire Pate

I loved Suchitoto and the people of El Salvador as well…..believe it or not, I also loved San Salvador, staying in a small hostel there with lots of interesting folks. The owner was a bit of a revolutionary and was full of interesting stories and so, so helpful. Perquin was a curious place….as you said, hard to find food unless you are staying at the lovely, lovely casa de huespedes on the road leading up to Perquin…the food and accommodations were beautiful and tasty, but cost a bit more than we usually would pay. We at first stayed in a VERY small hostal, owned and occupied by a senora who served up good food, but only at the appropriate times……and found other ways to take advantage of you, such as arranging guided trips with people who weren’t especially well–versed in the history.

Would love to have the name of the hostel you stayed in, in Suchitoto…..I want to go back next year……
clairek@peak.org

20 09 2010
Robert Broz

I live in Suchitoto, own a small hostel, restaurant and tour company. If you look for advice when planning your trip, feel free to write. I have also been the president of our local tourism association for the last 2 years. I know all the places in town, prices and contact information. Feel free to pick my brain about Suchitoto and El Salvador. For more information about what I do here visit http://www.pafmelsalvadorprojects.org
Robert Broz “El Gringo”

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