First Stop: San Salvador
It is only by chance I had the opportunity to go to San Salvador. It was not a planned trip. It was accidental. I was flying to Managua and the only flight I could find was one with a stopover in San Salvador. Five hours outbound and seven hours on the return. That’s a lot of hours to kill in an airport. So I thought I’d take a taxi into San Salvador and have a look around at this city nobody I know has ever visited.
I knew nothing about San Salvador or El Salvador for that matter, so after I booked my flight, I googled “San Salvador.” Results showed it’s got the highest homicide rate in the world. Great. No wonder the flight was cheaper and still available. With the highest homicide rate in the world, it sort of puts a damper on my plans to check out another country. I also discovered, there’s one resort there called the Royal Decameron Salinitas Hotel. Seems the Royal Decameron Salinitas Resort Hotel gets some visitors in spite of the homicide rate. The travel forum opinions seem to vary, yes, it’s dangerous: stay on the resort and, no, you can venture out into the city, there’s nothing to worry about.
I checked out the government websites on travel to El Salvador and, as usual, they report every other country besides themselves is dangerous. I’ve often wondered if they ever update their websites. I mean, in Toronto Canada, there’s almost a murder every weekend. Parents, mostly men, kill their wives and children in self-styled “honor killings” almost too frequently. In the U.S., innocent people go to a movie theatre in Colorado and end up slaughtered by some nut case. I could go on and on, but how safe is anywhere really?
I searched in Google for photos of San Salvador. Good photos of San Salvador. There aren’t many on the internet. Obviously, I conclude, San Salvador is not a popular tourist destination.
On the plane I met a husband and wife who were originally from El Salvador, now living in Canada. I struck up a conversation with them and they seem to agree that San Salvador is dangerous, not to be visited alone or even in a taxi. I asked them what makes San Salvador so dangerous. I mean, what is the reason besides the international drug trade for El Salvador being labelled as dangerous.
Well, they told me, the U.S. deports gang members there. Oh, I see, San Salvador is a dumping ground for some of America’s human “garbage?” Hmmm. Interesting that El Salvador also uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. Must be some kind of special arrangement that nobody talks about. I meet another man on the plane, one of those rustic old men who has adopted Central America as their favorite home away from home. He scoffs at the idea that El Salvador is dangerous. But then, again, he’s an old man and I am not. But I’m still not sure if I want to wait for five hours in the airport killing time until my next flight.
Upon my arrival in the city I grab a taxi, pay the driver $50 to take me to and from the airport and around the historical part of San Salvador. Besides checking out so-called “dangerous” places in the world, I like to photograph: buildings, landscapes,scenery and most especially people.
The airport is 45 minutes away from downtown San Salvador, so I have to watch my time and not miss my next flight.
The weather is gorgeous, offering up heat and a brilliant blue sky. I’m from Canada and haven’t seen a blue sky without clouds for what seems like months and months. Personally, I’m not a fan of cold weather, winter, spring or fall so this brilliant blue sky is a welcome site for eyes which have seen too many bare trees, freezing winds and gray skies.
I arranged with the taxi driver the exact time I need to return to the airport and that he stay with me and be my tourist guide. He can’t speak English but I speak a little Spanish, just enough.
We took the main highway to San Salvador. The country I see does not look as poor as others I have seen in Central America. It’s the typical Central American countryside I see. San Salvador is a typical Central American city. My taxi driver parks the van in the parking lot of the big cathedral of San Salvador, Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador) a beautiful church on the town square, the Plaza Barrios in the city center. We entered inside the lovely Cathedral and I took some more photographs. We then went down the stairs to the Tomb of Archbishop Óscar Romero who was assassinated by government forces in 1980. His tomb is now a place of pilgrimage for believers.
On the other side of the Plaza Barrios is the National Palace. We crossed the street and my taxi driver asked me if I wanted to go inside for a quick visit. The entrance fee for the National Palace is a couple of American dollars. It’s a beautiful government colonial building built around a traditional Colonial garden with rooms which have been or are being renovated. Tiled floors, furniture from times past, arched windows, ornately carved trim decorate the building, all lovely to behold.
We walk around the city. I feel like an oddity. People seem to stare with a curiousity, like I’m the only tourist they’ve seen in a long time. I’m the only tourist I saw until I see one man I know is not from here. He’s a man with that sun-dried look one gets when they’ve been in Central American for a long, long time. He gives me that look that says, “What the hell are you doing here?”
What else do I see? There’s a National Theatre in the city. Lots of Salvadoreans going about their daily lives. Busy streets with colorful buildings, no skyscrapers in sight. Yes, there is poverty too. I’m not killed or kidnapped, nothing is stolen. No gangsters, but maybe they are sleeping. Who knows?
And then it’s time to go. Back to the airport of San Salvador, 45 minutes away from the city.
The taxi driver told me there are beautiful beaches and many surfers come surfing here. El Salvador is probably another one of those “undiscovered tourists destinations” discovered first by a cult of surfers. Maybe the world of the 21st century is being “discovered” by surfers. They always seem to be the people who “find” the “new” tourist destinations first. Later their parents will come and the tourist industry will begin to flourish in this very unvisited place, bringing the people of this country a new source of income.
My taxi driver also told me that many Americans own houses here. Interesting. All the government websites are saying El Salvador is dangerous. If the country is an unsafe travel destination, why have some Americans left their comfort zone and are living here in houses they have purchased? Exploring the world we live in brings many new questions to mind. It can’t be avoided when you travel. You see and experience things you otherwise wouldn’t have if you had stayed home glued to your TV screen.
When I return to El Salvador I’ll have seven hours between flights to burn. I might just check out the beaches to find out what the surfers of the world have already discovered long before the rest of the world gets here. Something tells me that surfers don’t heed government travel warning websites. They’re more interested in the waves, in that never-ending search for the perfect crest on the perfect beach.
I’ve got a feeling El Salvador is another place we might be missing out on - all because of the propaganda of out-of-date government travel warning websites. Another factor contributing to this is our own lack of knowledge of these places where civil wars occurred (El Salvador had its own civil war between 1979–1992). These wars in Central America ended some 20 to 30 years ago. Is it time now to pack our suitcases, broaden our horizons and get a vision of the world that is wider than our 42 inch plasma screens?