Jenna Longoria

Jenna Longoria

World Traveler. Writer. Teacher.

El Salvador. Despite being just a hop, skip and a jump from Honduras, the differences immediately bombard you once crossing the imaginary line which divides the two Latin American countries. Although in the same blood line, I guess you could say El Salvador is the better looking sister. But don’t get your feelings hurt Honduras, you’ve got a great personality.

On the surface, it is evident. The majority of the roads are paved, the cities cleaner, and the people differ a bit in appearance. But these are just the obvious ones. After meeting the many gregarious El Salvadorans along your journey, one can’t help but notice the inherent and genuine desire they possess to help guide the weary traveler. A few times I found myself lost, and before I could find someone to ask for help, someone had already found me. Most likely, this eagerness to help is also due to their curious disposition. Everyone I met was eager to know my story, and with their eyes wide open and smiles perma-glued to their faces, they nodded their heads eagerly while trying to understand my broken Spanish.

Street art in San Salvador, El Salvador
Street art in San Salvador

As for the ones that speak some English, they are extremely proud to start a conversation with you, and love the opportunity to practice. I actually met quite a few who could speak English due to spending time in the States working odd jobs. One guy even hawked fake (excuse me, real) Casio watches along the streets of L.A., and consequently, had brought the trade back with him to San Salvador.

After crossing the border, I boarded an old school bus, turned electric blue party bus. The driver was blasting Reggeaton music, and surprisingly, the sound system was pretty decent. I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance to the party buses back home that we pay hundreds of dollars to rent for the night. However, this journey only cost me $1.30, stunning view included. While we made our way through the countryside, bus rocking from the beats, and plantain chips in hand, bright and fanciful murals commenced to pop up everywhere. There were depictions of families, farmers, abstract shapes and electric colors. I even saw a mural that said “Somos Parte de la Solucion” (We are part of the solution), with scenes depicting Mother Earth. This was particularly refreshing, as in other Central American countries, recycling and conservation is not a topic widely discussed around the trashfire.

Street art in La Palma, El Salvador
One of the many street art murals in La Palma

In La Palma, no wall space is left unmarked, transforming the streets into a playground for the eyes. As soon as I stepped off the bus into La Palma, I felt as if I had been teleported into a Pixar film. Thanks to the efforts of Fernando Llort, a Honduran artist who moved to La Palma from the capital of San Salvador, the town is covered in art from head to toe. After moving to La Palma, Llort founded the Center for Integral Development, a school for anyone wanting to learn art. With this new trade, the majority of the people in La Palma make a decent living selling their arts and crafts.

Street art in La Palma, El Salvador

Another gem I happened to visit was the town of Juayua. (Pronounced Why-You-Ah) I highly recommend this town to anyone traveling in El Salvador. It truly is one of the most unique towns I have come across. Juayua is located along the Ruta de Los Flores, nestled in between hills of coffee plantations as far as the eye can see. The people are charming, the markets bustling, and the food phenomenal. Every weekend the town hosts a Feria Gastronomica (food festival) where people from all over El Salvador bring traditional dishes to sell, resulting in an eclectic menu to delight the taste buds. It is here you can find anything from grilled iguana, rabbit tacos, stewed frogs, to coffee flavored snow cones.

So, if you are looking for a relaxing and cultural place to visit, make a stop in Juayua, where the term “picturesque” must have been coined. In this living canvas, the people are charming, the town tranquillo, and the cobblestone streets are virtually motor free.

Lady peering out her window in Juayua, El Salvador
Lady peering out her window in Juayua

As for the rest of El Salvador, I am not delusional in thinking that every square inch is all peaches and cream. I am aware of the fact that there exists an immense deal of poverty and violence. This was quite evident while passing though the capital of San Salvador. Sadly, I witnessed the technicolored murals evolve into graffiti, accompanied by gang signs plastered over the numerous Coca-Cola and Pepsi advertisements. But a big city in Latin America is just that. A big city.

As for Honduras, I still love the place, and am content to be living here for now. But Honduras needs to step up its game, and what better way then to spread some paintbrush lovin all over the country?

Street art in Juayua, El Salvador
Street art in Juayua

Places To Visit / Foods To Try

  • La Palma   2 hours north of San Salvador. Don't forget to conquer the 7 Waterfall Hike and then eat your heart out at the Feria Gastronomica.
  • Juayua   2 hours west of San Salvador. Don't forget to try taking an art class. There are plenty of people eager to teach you their trade in exchange for a little dinero.
  • Pupusas   The typical food of El Salvador. Consists of a thick, hand made corn tortilla filled with either beans, cheese, or chicken.
  • Zapote Licuado   Zapote is a type of fruit that must be derived from the nectar of the Gods. Blended with ice and milk it tastes like a pumpkin spice milkshake.

Ever been to El Salvador?

  San Salvador street art photo via flickr // joebackward

Honduras. The country of good intentions and genuine smiles. However marred by a bad reputation of drug wars, crime, and corrupt politicians, my one on one experiences with the people here is what I base my opinion on. And it looks good, because the people here are some of the nicest I have ever met. Everyone says hello when passing, and a warm smile is usually always exchanged.

I smile because it is the universal language of love.

Carlos giving us the 101 on coffee production at the La Finca de Cisne in Honduras
Carlos giving us the 101 on coffee production at the La Finca de Cisne

My Spanish is not the best, however it is not the worst, and I am practicing everyday. And, whenever I find myself at a loss for words I simply smile. Because everyone understands a smile. No matter what language you speak, a smile is a sign of good intention and kindness. With one motion, it melts barriers and taps into the innate bond that we as humans share. Because we are all here together, and are all striving and looking for the same things. Whether it be love, happiness, stability, or simply a hot meal. So next time your verbal communication skills fail you, simply tap into your nonverbal reserve. Smile.

A Little Bit About Gracias, Honduras...

Nestled in the mountains, shadowed by Mt. Celeque, surrounded by coffee plantations, and laced with streams that lead to the river...Gracias is truly a hidden gem. And a great off the beaten path destination. This town is one where the markets don’t sell fruits or veggies that are out of season, no ATM exists, and the futbol posts are fashioned from wooden branches. And even though Lonely Planet says it is a place that you can skip, I don’t think that one can get the full experience of Honduras without visiting this rustic, colonial town which resides in the poorest region of the country.

13 year old Luis David Pinto Zuniga. Kind soul and future restaurant owner.
13 year old Luis David Pinto Zuniga. Kind soul and future restaurant owner.

However, if all you want is a week beach vacation in a resort on Roatan, to be able to “tell” your neighbors that you experienced and roughed it in Honduras (I’m sure there was no television in your hotel room), then no, this place is not for you. But if your intention is to immerse yourself in the culture, and you have the genuine desire to get to know the people, then Gracias is indeed the perfect place for you.

I feel safe, at home, and at ease here. The air is fresh, the fruit plentiful, and the mountains are a perfect background for this new chapter. This time around, I will be teaching kindergarten at the Minerva Bilingual School for the next ten months, and in turn I am also looking forward to what this country and my students have in store to teach me.

  Featured photo via flickr // nanpalmero

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