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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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