The coast of El Salvador is popular with surfers and El Tunco is one of the most developed surfing towns. My gosh, was it hot. It was so unbearably hot that when we rolled into town and checked out the first hotel, we took it right away because it had AC and we just couldn’t bear walking around town anymore even though it was $80 a night! We later found out that there are plenty of AC rooms and cabins all over town for less than half of what we paid. We also made the mistake of paying for two nights up front, something we almost never did but we were delirious from the heat.
But it’s okay. Because a normally non-eventful beach stop turned out to be something memorable. On our first night in town we met a friendly El Salvadorean girl named Betsy. Actually it was Ty who started chatting with her and her friend Keri at the beachfront bar.
After a few mojitos, Betsy invited us to join her and a couple other travelers the next day to a nearby beach. So the following morning, we packed up, took the bus, and visited the beautiful beach of San Blas. It was one of the most relaxing days of our travels. Ty had good company playing with the three girls. The surf was gentle, the black sand soft. For once we didn’t have to plan, look for directions, talk like a toddler in Spanish, and look over our shoulders. We just relaxed and followed.
Not only did we have a fun day on the beach local style, we also learned interesting tidbits about life in El Salvador. For instance, we were surprised to hear that Betsy works alongside some ex-doctors and lawyers as customer service representatives in a call center, a job that is considered well paid and sought after. For doctors in El Salvador, for example, it can be very difficult to get jobs at a big hospital unless they have the right connections. For those who end up being small town doctors, many are stuck with lots of travel, long hours, and days away from home, for a pay that is actually not much more than a call center job! It’s very hard to imagine and very interesting to listen to.
In El Salvador we had originally wanted to visit the northwest corner (Juayua and Atasco) that is known for coffee plantations and hot springs. But at the last minute we took the border from Guatemala that put us on the Pacific coast, and now it would be a long detour to head back to the mountains. Considering we are on a timeline now, after two days in the sweltering heat, we left for the border city of San Miguel to get ready for entering Honduras the next day.
El Salvador is going through a plight of gang wars right now. From the little that I read online, something close to 20 people die every day in a country the size of Massachusetts. There are many travel warnings mostly against traveling in the bigger cities. In San Miguel, we drove by a prison that was built right in the middle of town and spans a square block. On the four corners of the prison, masked soldiers armed with machine guns stand guard behind walls of sand bags right there on the street corners. This is right in the middle of the city, with people and kids going about their daily business. Directly opposite one of the corners of said sandbagged combat zone, is a storefront called “Celebration”, a rental space for special events like weddings and birthdays. It’s kind of surreal. We found a safe and actually pretty nice hotel called Hotel Villas San Miguel for the night and were glad to be out of there the next day.