El Salvador: Vultures, Street Art & Guns

El Sav plate

The boatman reached into the Pacific Ocean and scooped out two bedraggled vultures, laying them on the huge pile of rucksacks. Now this tiny narrow rowing boat not only had 10 sweaty backpackers but two enormous soggy birds of prey, making their way from Nicaragua to El Salvador. This border crossing was pretty surreal.

We had our passports checked in a field next to a lively game of football. The kits told me it was Real Madrid Vs Atletico Madrid but I’m pretty sure these two teams aren’t made up solely of Nicaraguan teenagers. There was talk of bag searching but then I think lethargy took over as even the locals in their official looking uniforms dripped with sweat. We waded up to the rowing boat, bags unsearched, through the warm murky water with black volcanic sand between our toes and sat melting in the sun. Two hours later we made it to El Salvador, having released the waterlogged vultures onto rocks en route to dry out their enormous wings.

Weirdly you moor up next to a restaurant, where you can wait, eat and drink whilst your passports and visas are checked. It was all unbelievably civilised and simple, sadly it was here that I could tell I was poisoning my body with Tacos Mixtos. You know that feeling when you start a meal but you’re pretty sure you’re going to regret it? I batted off swarms of flies from the little cubes of meat and force fed myself two tacos. I fed the rest to stray dog, I’m sorry dog. I should have known a night of vomiting lay ahead.

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America but it’s also the most populated. A friend back home had filled me with horror stories about the gangs in this Spanish speaking country so I was wary but kind of excited.

As the bus rolled through the beautiful green countryside a tyre blew and we lay by the side of the road in the scorching sun.

Guns are everywhere. It was a shocker the first time the bus stopped for petrol and I hopped out to replenish my supply of water to be greeted with a man with a gun the length of my leg. He barred my way with it and ushered me back, then he opened the door for me and gave me a big toothy smile and then I exhaled. Even our bloody police don’t carry guns in the UK so just seeing randoms walking around with machine guns is eye opening.

El Sav Street art

Am I making El Salvador sound bad? That’s not my intention. In fact I love it here. Concepcion de Ataco for its wonderful bold street art proudly covering every wall. This town with cobbled streets wouldn’t be complete without the vibrant murals that you just know tell a story. The huge cross tucked up in the lush green hills, the happy vibe and the relaxed locals make this town special.

El Sav shop

I also spent a few days in Suchitoto, sampling the local Pupusas. Eating in restaurants with wonderful mood lighting. Lights are important here, all ornate and unique. Decorations hang from every wall and nearly every building and pavement has intricately painted tiles dotted around. No building is the same but similar stand-out features are common. It’s completely fine to paint your house lime green, neon pink, or a pastel shade – whatever you feel is right and the bolder the better. Suchitoto played an important part in the revolution and the locals are full of pride, regularly writing and reciting poetry about this historic landmark. I will be back!

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