Bienvenidos al Salvador

I’ve traveled enough that I’m no longer scared by travel warnings, and the flurry of apprehensive “Be careful…” from fellow colleagues and “Have you read about what they do to single females who aren’t careful?!?” from my parents just annoyed me. Perhaps these warnings are valid, and I’m not accusing the State Department of exaggerating any dangers abroad, but I like to think of myself as indestructible. OK, maybe not indestructible, but just smart enough not to flaunt an iPad when traveling and stubborn enough not to cater my itinerary strictly to “safe countries”.
So when I planned my trip from El Salvador to Guatemala, I simply ignored the comment from a co-worker that “San Salvador is dangerous. I didn’t even leave the hotel” or probing suggestions from my parents that “can’t you find someone to travel with you?”
And I’m happy to say that El Salvador is beautiful. The people here are friendly and open to my rusty Spanish, surprisingly patient as I fumble to find the correct translations. The lady who made me my first pupusas, traditional Salvadoran snacks, recommended queso con loroco (cheese with a spice that I’m still trying to determine) and revueltas (pork with cheese). After I devoured my pupusas, she eagerly fried up bunuelos con miel, wonderful fried balls of dough that are lathered with honey made from real cane sugar.

The landscape here reminds me how happy green makes me. The volcanoes that surround San Salvador and Guatemala have obviously caused massive destruction when they erupt, but they’ve also provided thousands of acres of some of the most fertile soil. Sugar cane fields, mango and coconut trees, and coffee plantations are plentiful in this small country.

Judging by the size and taste of the avocados here, the soil is all about umph. The coffee born here is better than any Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts bean back home. I've had at least 2 cups a day because I just can't get enough!

The neighborhood bank and business guardsmen, lazily sitting in booths with machine guns on their shoulders for show and deterrence, smiled and waved as I went for my morning run. They asked if I was lost when I ran past them for the fourth time, and I lied, shaking my head no. They believed me.

The kids who linger in the streets laugh at me, but it’s a lot more welcoming than the boys who threw rocks at me when I lived in Jordan. San Salvadorans, despite the huge socioeconomic gap between the very rich and very poor, seem happy and content – and curious to meet foreigners. This lady even offered to make a scarf for me after I told her I loved the colors of Guatemala!

El Salvador is a wonderful and welcoming country. I’ve felt more safe and trusting here than I ever felt in Cairo or in Manila. The market is vibrant with mangoes and “cactus apples”, and stalls selling bras and socks are within inches of a woman selling chicken gizzards and pork lard. The people are anxious to practice their English, even though I’m just as anxious to resurrect my Spanish. It’s strange that I missed that all-too-loud techno music blaring from public buses, a trademark in any foreign country, along with the morning fruit and vegetable markets that make me wish I could bring a whole mango tree back to Arlington.
I still see remnants of the war, such as gated residential streets or guards who man street corners and banks 24-7. But so far, I’m loving El Salvador. I love digging up my Spanish and I love the green landscape. I’m even embracing the humidity, although put me here in June and I certainly won’t feel the same way. Oh, and just to harp on the virtues of El Salvador even more, I don’t even have to change currency or use a charge converter – El Salvador uses US dollars and our same electrical outlet. Easily a country worth exploring.

More to come as I explore and eat my way to Guatemala!

Click here to view photos from my trip to El Salvador and Guatemala!
And here to read other stories from my adventures in Central America!

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