Fernweh and El Salvador

Sometimes, bad days happen. After bad days happen, fernweh kicks in. I’m known to start browsing travel websites to begin planning my next escape after a rough day.  There is something about the thought of getting away and being somewhere totally different that is calming, and within minutes I’ve forgotten anything bad has happened at all.

I had the type of day at work today that pushed me to plan. Boyfriend and I are planning on going to Europe in April, but we haven’t exactly nailed down exactly where we are going and for how long. Within the matter of a half an hour I had more or less planned a rough itinerary. What is almost as good as traveling is sharing your travel experiences, and I’ll be delighted to share them on the blog when I do.

Thinking about our future trip made me realize I never shared my last big trip to El Salvador.  To be honest, if my sister hadn’t decided to teach there, I might have never gone there. I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about El Salvador, but I’m so glad I did.

El Salvador is small, poor, lacks an advanced infrastructure you’d see in more developed countries, and suffers from a lot of gang violence as a result of a brutal civil war they went through in the 90’s. There are a small number of wealthy, however, and you can find them hiding themselves away behind 10 foot cement walls in San Salvador neighborhoods that include a second layer of cement walling and private security.

But what El Salvador lacks in development, is more than made up for in beauty — both in landscape and in the people.  I had heard before I visited El Salvador that the people were kind. I learned immediately that to simply use the word “kind” is an understatement. Before I even lifted off US Soil, I witnessed the kindness they are known for.

I was in LAX, waiting at my gate, when an older gentlemen started to get a nose bleed. A few women who did not know him, hurried up to grab tissue and towels to bring to him. They motioned to him how to pinch his nose and keep his head up. His nosebleed, unfortunately, was not ceasing. Soon enough, half the people waiting at the terminal were by his side. He had the attention of most of the people around him long before any medics arrived.  Throughout the flight and even in the customs line when we arrived in San Salvador, people were checking up on him.

The only way coffee should be had in the morning.
The only way coffee should be had in the morning.

When I first arrived, my sister and I immediately drove out to a private home in Barra de Santiago. It’s an oceanside town, but much smaller than some of the other oceanside towns in El Salvador. It was quiet, peaceful, and more relaxing than I could have ever imagined. Coconuts littered the property, and every morning the groundskeepers would cut a fresh coconut open for us so that we could feast on fresh coconut and coconut juice all day.  Every morning when they would bring coconuts to us, there was always humor to be found when my dad would try to communicate with the groundskeeper who knew no English, while dad knew no Spanish. My sister and I spent at least an hour a day  translating back and forth between the two when my dad wanted to know what every single plant and flower was called.

I was waking up at 6am (4am Seattle time!) and actually enjoying it. Drinking smooth coffee and munching on fried plantains while watching the waves crash in every morning, while simple, was a highlight of my time in Barra de Santiago.  I felt like I had found my own personal piece of paradise for a few days.

The Beautiful Jardin de Celeste. Also the scene of my poor mother's accident.
The Beautiful Jardin de Celeste. Also the scene of my poor mother’s accident.

On our way out of Barra de Santiago, we spent one day in Ataco, a beautiful little town chock-full of my favorite thing: COFFEE! We toured a plantation, tried espresso in several adorable shops, and did some shopping for original trinkets to take home. At the end of the day, we stopped at this beautiful garden restaurant at a resort on the ruta de las flores: jardin de celeste. After we finished one of the best meals we had during the whole trip, we all split off to admire the gardens.  Ruta de las flores gets it’s name from, you guessed it, the abundance of flowers. Unfortunately, we arrived right after their budding period had ended, but nevertheless it was still beautiful and green. After I had spent some time taking in this quaint place, I found my sister who had alerted me that our mom had fallen and hurt her ankle.

We walked to the front of the restaurant where my mom was standing outside our car, full of tears.  A taxi driver who was waiting for a group to come out passed by her on the way into the restaurant. When he returned, he came bearing tissues and a bottle of water for her.  In the United States, and especially in Seattle, hordes of people could have passed her and not thought twice. But small gestures like this seem to be plenty normal for El Salvadoreans, and it made a big impact on us. As for my mom, she ended up with a tear in her foot that needed to be treated with physical therapy for weeks after our return. She maintains that her injury had no effect on her truly enjoying the trip! vacation.

I also encountered my own misfortune when I contracted an extreme case of travelers sickness on our last afternoon. It was bad enough that the doctors who tended to me thought I could miss my flight the next morning. But, the two shots to the bum, antibiotics, and long list of medications seemed to do the trick enough to get me home. Like my mother, our great experiences with the people and the beauty of everything else far overshadowed our miniature emergencies.

Once in a while, I’ll miss El Salvador and want to return. Someday, I will. But for now there are too many other parts of the world to explore.

A cabana restaurant in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. On the other side of the
On the other side of the “barra”, opposite the ocean, was a large estuary. This little seafood spot was planted far away from most of the homes on the bar, at the very tip where the estuary and ocean met. There were supposedly alligators in these waters!
The tour guide at the El Carmen Estate coffee plantation, pouring a cup of their most popular bean at the end of the tour.
The tour guide at the El Carmen Estate coffee plantation, pouring a cup of their most popular bean at the end of the tour.
on the street in El Tunco, a popular destination for surfers all around the world. Very colorful and diverse, but very touristy!
On the street in El Tunco, a popular destination for surfers all around the world. Very colorful and diverse, but touristy and relatively expensive!
Inside Iglesia el Rosario. If you've spent time in Latin America, you will find that most churches and cathedrals are designed similarly. This was very controversial because the designer went against traditional cathedral style and created a church out of cement and glass. From the outside, it looks nothing like a legitimate place of worship. A heap of gray concrete. But on the inside you see it's much more beautiful than that.
Inside Iglesia el Rosario in downtown San Salvador. If you’ve spent time in Latin America, you will find that most churches and cathedrals are designed similarly. This iglesia was very controversial because the designer went against traditional cathedral style and created a church out of cement and glass. From the outside, it looks nothing like a legitimate place of worship. It just looks like a forgotten heap of concrete. Once inside, you’ll see it’s much more beautiful than that.

Have you been anywhere recently? Are you planning or dreaming your next trip? Where is it?

Let me know.

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