Central America Blog #16: San Salvador, El Salvador

Having recovered some energy during the 4-day chill-out by the Pacific in El Tunco, I set about heading to the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador, which doesn’t have one of the cleanest reputations around. However, I’d seen all the other capital cities of Central America on the trip and hadn’t been frightened for my life, and had actually had some interesting experiences.

Thus after devouring a papaya in order to clean out my insides after overdosing on pupusas over the previous days, I left El Tunco at about 8.30 in the morning and embarked on what was a relatively simple journey. I boarded the 102 to La Libertad, jumped off by the marina and boarded a bus to the capital, all of which cost around a dollar. I asked a kind gentleman where I should get off the bus on the way into San Salvador, which happened to be near a burger joint on the main dual-carriageway leading towards the centre, and then used my hand-drawn map copied from Google to navigate my way to the hostel.

Joan’s, the name of the establishment, is actually unmarked, so as not to make it so obvious where tourists might be staying, and can be found instead by looking for the property number. I found it without many problems, and checked in for 12 USD a night, and paid a 5 USD key deposit which I wouldn’t be able to reclaim due to leaving at 5am the following morning.

While I was visiting, there happened to be a kind of street fair occurring close to the hostel, so I checked that out, once again indulging in pupusas and then some churros. Added to that I got a coffee along the way and bought another bracelet to add to my collection and found that all along the locals charged me an honest price and were very helpful and cheerful in general whenever I engaged them. An observation in San Salvador was that on the surface it appeared a lot more religious than its neighbours, and I saw quite a number of nuns roaming the streets.

Church in religious El Salvador

Not wanting to waste the little time I was going to spend in the capital, I took a short bus journey to the Botanical Garden, which was pretty if not spectacular, but located in something of a deserted area. On the way back, there were just two people on the bus, a very long one at that; a young woman and I. we were both seated near the rear of the vehicle, when at the next stop a couple of dodgy-looking youths boarded and sat next to and behind the girl, who looked a little alarmed. They looked a little shifty, had a backpack and their decision to enclose the girl was quite suspicious. Sensing the potential danger, and only being a couple of seats away , I got up and stood near the door, so they couldn’t sit next me, and then decided to jump off as soon as we turned onto the main street where there were more people around.

Botanical Garden

I felt guilty at leaving the girl on the bus, though at that point some other people had got on, but were nearer the front. After getting off, I considered approaching a police officer or security guard to inform them of what was going on, but didn’t find any and wondered if what I would have said to them would have been in vain. It was the first moment I’d felt any sense of danger during my 5-week trip in the region, and can see how San Salvador has a problem with petty crime, often involving armed assailants.

National Theatre

Soon after I met Cristina, a friend of a Salvadorian flatmate of mine who I lived with in Buenos Aires six years previously, and she took me on a tour of the city in her car. In all honesty, there isn’t an abundance of pretty sights to see in the city, though we did look at the national theatre as well as a few monuments and statues dotted around the city. The traffic was quite horrendous at the time, but I must admit the busier roads in El Salvador are actually in a decent state and afford more lanes than, say, in Managua. Bored by the traffic we stopped off to eat some Thai food, which I rather enjoyed, as well as downing quite a quantity of soya milk.

Following that, we went to Santa Tecla, one of the many areas of the city where there is a plethora of clubs, and I could understand how San Salvador holds a reputation of being a good night out. We had a few beers with another friend of Cristina’s who met up with us, and by sitting outside the bar and doing a bit of people-watching, I’d say that Salvadorians have their own kind of distinct look that sets them apart from their neighbours, asthey appear to have more Spanish roots than indigenous. What’s more, their fashion also seems to be a bit more Americanised, which also accounts for the handful of shopping centre and neon lights and shopping malls seen around the city. Added to that, I’d put the Salvadorians up there as the best looking girls in Central America, slightly shading it from the Hondurans, and the way they dressed reminded me more of women from Colombia and Venezuela.

Beers in San Salvador

We left shortly after midnight, and passed through the very centre of the city, which is full to the brim with street stalls and swathes of rubbish, and looked like a place where you wouldn’t like to wander around alone in at night. I went back to the hostel to get a few hours’ sleep before taking the bus to Antigua, Guatemala at 6.30am the following morning. I managed to get up on time, but decided not to shout loudly and wake up the hostel worker so early in the morning for the sake of 5 USD for returning my room key.

The previous day, I’d walked to TicaBus and acquired a ticket for travel, so knew the  route to where the buses set off from. Yet being where I was, in a capital city renowned for its dangerous element, I certainly felt a little unnerved by having to walk alone in the dead of night, particularly as I had to cross a dual carriageway, the overpasses of which are usually inhabited by vagrants and shady characters.

Therefore, as I came up to the main road and saw a bunch of taxis I decided to jump in one and told him to take me to TicaBus, which would cost me about 5 USD, I’d been told.

And this is where my hatred for taxi drivers became perfectly justified. Admittedly the street stalls from the festival blocking the exit towards where I had to go meant that we couldn’t cross the dual carriageway immediately and would have to find a place to U-turn further down it. So he drove along for quite a while, and I assumed there was no point at which to U-turn, even though the roads were deserted, but he just kept going and going. I figured he was taking a different route, but in touring around with Cristina earlier I’d kind of gotten a sense of direction, and became quite alarmed when he took a right which I felt was going in totally the wrong direction, confirmed when we went by one of the statues close to the centre of the city where I’d been the previous evening.

At this point, I started to worry a little, on the one hand because I feared missing my bus to Guatemala, and on the other because the taxi driver might have been taking me somewhere with illicit intentions. Thus I challenged him and asked him where he was going, and he claimed he was going to TicaBus, to which I said it was in the complete opposite direction, explaining what was near to it. Feigning that he wasn’t sure where it was, he said he was taking me to the TicaBus depot in the centre as that’s where the buses set off from. I told him that wasn’t the case; whether there was an alternative depot in the centre I don’t know, but I was getting rather irked by now and argued that it was obvious either way that I would want to go the nearest TicaBus from where I had caught the taxi.

By the time we eventually got there, having taken a diversion of about 20 minutes, he promptly wanted to charge me 20USD, which I laughed out loud at and daringly said that was unreasonable and that I’d only give him 15, though I could have said less and he’d have accepted. To be frank, I considered jumping the taxi such had been his cunning and argument that it was my fault for not specifying that I wanted to go the bus stop which was five times closer than where he had been taking me. I couldn’t find the right notes and coins and got out of the car so as to be able to see what I was paying him. He consequently became rather alarmed at this point and got worried that I might do a runner, which I was still contemplating, but I told him I wasn’t a scammer like him and that I’d give him 15 even though I should have paid less than half of that. As I departed I quite viciously told him that he was a disgrace and that he was letting down his countrymen, who had until that point given me a marvellous impression of El Salvador. He continued to protest his innocence, and I said something along the lines of I hope karma comes back and f***s you over, and then marched away. Perhaps not that wise, given where I was and the availability of weapons on the street, but thankfully this taxi driver was only armed with a ridiculous moustache and a pack of lies, so I made I to the TicaBus office without any further incident.

The episode left me seething for a while, but after calming down, I decided not to let him ruin my opinion of the locals, and instead place him in the category of idiot taxi driver, who exist all over the world.

That apart, I’d had a positive time in San Salvador, though I’m not going to go as far as to wholly recommend it as a tourist destination. I was lucky to ride around with a friend and see some sights, but if that weren’t the case, I’d go as far as saying there’s not much reason for being in the capital of El Salvador unless it’s merely to tick off as visited. Certainly, I could see how the nightlife could be really electric, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to sample it deep into the early hours.

There would be just one more destination on my trip; Antigua, Guatemala, so I sat back, relaxed and tried to get some rest on the bus-ride up there, something not helped by the person sitting next to me being a sprawler.



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