El Salvador

Friday, December 12, 2003
The Border from Guatemala into El Salvador was monotonous. It took a good four hours to cross. The official border office for both countries is in the same building which makes some things easier because its all in one spot, but also crowds everyone there in that same building and this adds to the confusion. The amount of paperwork that has to be done is absurd. El Salvador wants a customs declaration describing everything that we have in the car and what its worth. It has to be typed by an agency outside the official border so we had to find someone to do that. Just as we finished with all the paperwork and the vehicle inspection their computer went down and this added an hour and a half or so of waiting. It was hot and dirty and I am glad that it is over. Once again we arrived into a new country at night.

Immediately after entering El Salvador we headed straight to the Pupuseria. A Pupuseria is where they make Pupusas, Salvadorユs culinary claim to fame and in my opinion the best food in Central America. A Pupusa is a corn patty, kind of like a thick tortilla, filled with Cheese, or Beans, or Chicharron (pork), or Loroco (a green vegetable grown in El Salvador), or any combination of those fillings. The Pupusas are packed full and then patted flat between the womanユs hands who is making them (I have never seen a man make a Pupusa) and then fried on a thick, flat, hot, steel grill, in lots of oil heated with a fire from underneath. There are served burning hot, and a cold slaw of pickled cabbage and beats with a particular red saucy salsa that is spread on top. You eat them with your hands and they are so good I cant canユt help burning my finger tips and tongue every time because I canユt wait for them to cool down. Theyユre cheap, about 25「 each and three or four fills me up. Pupusas are a night time thing, and every night Pupuserias pop up all over the country in would be abandoned looking covered areas along the side of the road and along trails in back yards of rural homes. Central America comes alive at night and in El Salvador that nightlife centers around the Pupuseria. They fill with people from that area and serve as somewhat of a communal dining area for the locals who eat, play cards and socialize in and around them.

You canユt go wrong with Pupusas. We must eat them every night.

Monday, December 15, 2003

El Salvador is a unique place itユs a lot like the US in many ways. It has an emerging car culture and a lot of cell phones. People dress like they do in the states too: lots of tee shirts, baseball caps and board shorts. The beach is accessible, and surfing is very popular. There is a pacific costal highway, and people from the city flock to the coast on the weekends. I was delighted surprised to see a lot of young people surfing and lots of girls surfing. This is common in the states but you donユt usually see women from Central America surfing in Central America. El Salvador is also very different from the states and there are obvious differences coming from Guatemala as well. There are a lot of people with guns and thievery at gun point is common, so you have to be careful and donユt want to walk around with a camera or even leave your flip flops on the beach while you surf because they will get stolen. The cops were nice. We got pulled over and they just wanted to chat and see where we were from and where Alaska was. They even suggested if we see them again to stop and say hi, and then honked and waved enthusiastically as they drove away. The climate is much hotter and dryer than in Guatemala. The jungle is less dense. There is more western influence and virtually no Mayan cultural influence. Lots of signs in English for hotels, stores and restaurants but not tourist stores, convenience stores like メQuick Martモ. And of course Salvadorユs gift to the world, Pupusas. I canユt mention those enough.

The last two nights we have been staying at a point called Sunzal, at the Hotel Mart馬. Its not really called that, but Mart馬 is the son of the owners and he is constantly in our presence. He is young and fired up to surf and surfs well for a 13 year old. He is obsessed with surfing as its all he talks about. He has good energy but it is a little much at times, and I feel like we are camped out at the Zunzal boys and girls club. The second we arrive from any where Mart馬 and random various friends fill our room wanting to watch surf video, talk about surfing, fix their surf boards or just hang out and listen to music and play silly jokes like pull my finger. The benefit to staying at Mart馬ユs is the Pupuseria on the street out front. Every night we chow down on the little fiery hot slabs of corn, pork and cheese. The kids around here only surf at this one spot and the last couple of days we have been shuttling Mart馬 and a girl named Maria up the coast to another spot called Zonte so they can surf some where else. Maria surfs well too and has plans to work for an airline some day so she can travel and surf the world. Her little brother Manuel also surfs and goes with us. Zack gave him a spare board he brought and the kid is fearless, taking off on waves well over his head, getting pounded and coming back strong. Tonight is our last night with the メTeenモ and company because tomorrow we are moving up to Zonte to change the scene up. But I am sure we will see them again as we plan to pick them up and shuttle them to Zonte a few more times to Surf.

Friday, December 19

We have been staying in Zonte at El Teco owned and run by Christian (Tecolote) a Salvadorian beach local born and raised in Zonte. We brought the kiddies up for a visit the first day but havenユt seen them since. There is a good group of people staying here and itユs kind of become like a little family, while we have been here, with papa Teco leading the way. Teco is only 26 but his calm demeanor makes him seem older and he is definitely the lead figure around El Teco. He had two kids, one adoptee, and if he isnユt playing with them he is either out surfing or fishing or making jewelry. He is non-stop action always busy doing something. The others in the family group are, Sarah, a girl from Massachusetts who is finishing up a three month solo journey through central America by learning to surf. She is kind of like the den mother. There is Charlie from Alaska who works in the summer and travels in the winter. He goes by Rambo and the name suits him well. Then there is Mart馬, the crazy Brit. And Manuel the mariposa from Switzerland who is fending off the advances of Tecoユs 16year old sister solo sessioning until after dark after we have all gotten out of the water. Hanging out with this crew at Teco's has been kind of like summer camp. The surf is always the same (chest to waist high and fun. Every day we all get up, go surf, have breakfast, lounge around, surf again and then all dine together for din-din. Itユs so cute.

Yesterday I spent the entire day asleep. I ate something funky and got the worst stomach flu I have ever had. Of course when youユre living it, itユs always the worst you have ever had. But this was really bad coming out both ends and then cold chills and paralyzing waves of pain in my gut followed by a day muscle aches a head ache and fever that knocked me out until this evening when I felt good enough to return to the club house and have some hot atole made with corn and a gallon of water. All in all camp Teco was rather Idyllic with the exception of the chicken or pasta or something I ate somewhere that tore me up.


Ahhhノ The smell of burning trash. Itユs a comforting smell, something that I associate very much with Central America. I swear to you that each country has a specific メburning trashモ odor, and El Salvador is my favorite. Maybe its because I have spent more time in this country than anywhere else in the world that I have traveled, but I swear to Scott as we cross the border I can smell the difference of El Salvy garbage to that of Guatemala. Today we crossed our 4th border from Guatemala into El Salvador, which was as to be expected, a nightmare. Itユs really not that bad, itユs just the waiting around, and getting told a different story from every border official you talk to, and having to run around and deal with people who are not nearly as polite as you would like them to be. We showed up at the Guatemalan side by 4pm and are in El Salvador by 8:30 or so, tired and ready to not have to ask anymore questions about why we needed to pay this particular fee or why we had to get three copies of that particular document and why we have to go use the copy machine 6 blocks away and why we canユt just use the copy machine right here. Borders in Central America are just a hellish nightmare of disorganization, and that about sums it up. Oh well, tomorrow we will be surfing if there are any waves, and right now we are about to eat real Salvadorian Pupusas, drenched in grease and salsa, and exactly what I feel like eating. I fall asleep in our hotel in Acajutla with all my clothes on, beat tired, but content.

The coast of Western El Salvador up by the border of Guatemala is new to me. Scott and I drove this stretch four years ago, but it was at night and we were nervous to be driving in Salvador after dark, therefore had the pedal to the metal. We wake up to a beautiful morning that is clear and windless, and there is swell! We drive by a number of fun looking waves, empty and glassy, but push on as my mind is set on a particular set up that I have a special fondness for. We arrive to find some clean waves that have us out there. It feels really good to be back in the water after a week or so of being landlocked. The sun is strong, and the water is roughly the same temperature as the air. Scott gets a bunch of good waves, and I am visited by a tiny fish that I interpret to be Jesus. As I am sitting waiting for a wave, I notice that I am accompanied by a tiny little fish about an inch long with black and white stripes, looking like a black and white version of Nemo. The fish is literally right in my lap, and when I shush him away with my hand, he returns, as if drawn to the colors of my board. This goes on for four or five minutes, and then I catch a wave, saying goodbye to my new friend. As I paddle back out to the lineup and pick my spot, I notice the same fish is right there, in my lap, totally alone and not at all scared of my movement. With all this talk of the coming of Christ, I feel as though this was my interaction with Jesus, a one-inch fish in El Salvador. チCristo Vino! (Christ came!)

We end up in Sunzal, staying with a family that some of our friends stayed with at back in 1999. The room is decent, 5 minutes from the ocean and right behind the best pupuseria I have ever eaten at in El Salvador. I think the proximity of the pupusas is why we are really here. The family has a son named Mart地 who is a surfer, and quite serious about it. He comes over to check us out, see if we too are legitimate surfers like himself. The third question he asks me is if I can do a 360. Scott really gets a kick out of Martin and the way he talks. He is your typical 13 year old kid who likes to burp and fart and talk about surfing. When asked if he likes going left when he surfs, he promptly replies, メNO!モ (El Salvadorユs wave selection is mostly rights) When asked if he likes boogie boarding, he says, メチNo me gusta el boogie! チEl boogie is una mierda!モ Itユs hard to describe the sounds of accents with writing, so I will just say Martin is very curt and to the point, and his Spanish is blitzkrieg fast and not easy to understand. Heユs a great kid who really grows on us and he also surfs pretty darn well.

The next few days are spent hanging with the surfer kids of Sunzal, filming them surfing and screwing around. They really get a kick out of seeing themselves surf on video, and each night the group of kids grows larger who come to visit us, begging to see the movies we shot that day. As we get bored of surfing Sunzal, which is a fun wave, but rather slow and mushy, we become the mobile grom mobile taking groups of kids each day to new spots to surf. We end up mostly surfing a spot just north of Sunzal called El Zonte. I have spent some time here in the past, and have a friend by the name of Tecolote who lives right on the point here. Teco is a ripping surfer and a really mellow guy. I first met him 7 years previous on my first trip to El Salvador, and although my name he can never recall, he always remembers my face and some of the good days we have had surfing in La Libertad. Tecoユs family has lived on the point at El Zonte forever, and they have a really cool surfcamp / restaurant right on the water. Teco is stoked that we are taking these kids to surf new spots, and expresses his appreciation for what we are doing. メチBuena onda!モ He says. One of the kids we are toting around is a 16 year old girl by the name of Maria Ursula who is the first Salvadorian girl I have ever seen surf. She surfs really well for her age, and is focused and motivated, surfing everyday before school and still getting the top grades in her class. Along with her is her 11 year old brother named Victor Manuel who although shows up with a boogie board, ends up taking out Scottユs surfboard and catching some bombs. I have an extra board that I have brought to give away, and he is the one. This kid is going to surf really well.

Three nights at Martinユs in Sunzal, and we are ready to ditch the groms and get some rest. We make the transfer up to Tecoloteユs place in Zonte and it feels nice to be so close to the water, just in full on relax mode. The surf is small, head high at the biggest, but maintains, and there are waves are everyday. We continue to go and pick up the groms in Sunzal and take them up to El Zonte, which is really fun. Kids just have such a good energy. It makes me want so badly to get some of the kids I worked with in Davenport to try surfing. If you read this guys, when I get back its time to start surfing! Especially you Jesus!!

El Zonte is truly tranquilo, and our company is shared by an interesting group of travelers from all over the map. Charlie is one of the extranjeros staying here who also came from Alaska. He lives and works there 7 months of the year crushing rock, and spends most of his free time traveling. The year before he made a trip from Venezuela to Argentina via motorbike, telling us tales of hitting chickens and dogs at full speed and driving through Colombia. Manuel is the Swiss connection who is being feverishly pursued by Tecoloteユs cute 16 year old sister. He is s snowboarder who has come to Central America to learn to surf, and is doing a pretty good job at it. The only woman of the group is a gal named Sarah, who like Manuel is a snowboarder and has come to learn how to surf as well. She charges pretty hard and by her third day or so of surfing sheユs getting some waves. The last of the extranjeros is a British lad named Martin who is touring Central America. Martin surfs as well, and speaks a really odd dialect of Spanish with an accent from Spain, and a bunch of invented Spanglish words that sound like they should work. メGraciasモ out his mouth sounds more like メGrathiathsモand he has some people thoroughly confused with his vocabulary, as well as myself. Really nice guy though.

All is going smooth in El Zonte until one night Scott eats some funky chicken, and his life takes a turn for the worse. In a matter of minutes he is confined to the toilet as his body has decided to rid itself of everything it has taken in. It sounds bad as I hear him moaning in pain confined to his bathroom cell. Two days he is out for the count as his body revamps for Honduras.

Itユs hard to say goodbye to El Salvador, and it always is. I have twinges of guilt as I failed to visit many friends of mine who live in other parts of the country, but am happy to have spent the time I did here. I will be back soon I tell myself, and once again find that I have that feeling of anxiety thinking about how much further we have to go on this journey. Tomorrow we head to Honduras and the Ruinas de Copan.