We didn’t initially plan on going to El Salvador. To be honest I forgot the Country even existed, its never really talked about. If your about to look at a map, it’s the tiny Country bordered by the Pacific Ocean, east to Guatemala, and south west to Honduras. Though it is its tiniest, it also happens to be the most densely populated Country in Central America. But don’t let its forgotten space and repetitive characteristics steer you away, its certainly worth a few days and I’ll explain why.
Since we took a slowed pace through Belize and Guatemala, we realized it would be best to choose between Scuba Diving or Surfing. El Salvador, or Honduras. By doing both we would also be limiting our experience of either. They are both time consuming and money-eating pastimes, and your better off diving headfirst into one, then skimming them both. Plus it leaves you excited for a follow up trip to try the latter.
Anyways, we happily agreed on surfing, since we had a little taste of the coral life during our snorkelling trip. (I know scuba divers are screaming at me that its not the same) But as a lover of wake-boarding, and a jealous friend of those I left behind in Whistler happily posting opening day photos of its beloved mountains, we decided to fill our longing to snowboard with surfing instead.
So we headed for El Tunco, a tiny beachside village next to El Sunzal in the department of La Libertad. It reminded me of Bali in a way, but instead of morning doorway offerings and beautiful hindu statues, it offered me rice and beans for breakfast and a couple of picturesque rock formations. It’s also a tenth of the size of the famous Indonesian surf spot. El Tunco’s single sand strip is bordered by surf shops, standard eateries and board rentals along the way.
Now I know I’m not talking the landscape up that much, but the spot is actually illustrious in the backpacker world. Besides, the pictures speak for themselves. And though your probably by this point sick of rice and beans, El Tunco’s unique appeal, and captivating black sand beaches will grapple your heart and keep you for longer than you expect.
We were thoroughly exhausted after San Pedro. So we rented a house through Air BnB for the first 4 days. We got a sweet house in a gated community, with an infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean for 30 dollars a night each. Actually quite expensive, when the hostels in town are around 10 dollars, but we picked up groceries instead of dining out and opted to chill instead of party. We each had our own room and bathroom. For a girl travelling 5 weeks by this point with only boys – I was thrilled. I even had a 1970s sex industry famous water bed – mind you, without the shag carpet. Though I didn’t make like Kim Kardasian and recreate my own claim to fame, I did have fun pretending I was on a boat for the next four days. Those who got my snap-chats, understand what I’m talking about. I’m not sure how I feel about the vintage waterbed trend, but as a side sleeper I did enjoy how it provided me with the ability to keep the blood rushing through my arm in the night. I didn’t however enjoy how impractical it was to stand on to try and kill a spider. Picture me trying to float my stance higher with the waves of the bed to smack a massive spider off my roof. It obviously ended with the spider in my bed, followed by the panics of the 5 year old version of myself.
Also, speaking of spiders, on the first day we killed a tarantula in the kitchen. So ya, for the 4 days I was there I slept with the lights on and hoped to god I wasn’t the laughing joke of all the insects crawling all over my sleeping body.
But as nice as it was to escape the party, and have my own room, I decided it wasn’t practical. Not only did we spend 3 times as much on accommodation, it was inevitable that one night we would want to go down to the town and have a couple of beers, or a lunch out anyway, you just can’t plan anything when you are on the road. I put my stubborn foot down, staying in since we had paid the extra funds to relax, and found myself elbow deep in some buttery popcorn and a rom-com instead. Then to my familiar misfortune, the power went out. On the one night I decided to hang out with me, I was left alone in complete darkness with a computer battery of 10% as my only form of light. I was scared shit-less, and impatiently waited for the lights to return on, but they never did. Since there was no way I was going to wait to get bitten by a spider, or killed by a stranger in the dark whispering evening, I decided the only logical (ok, not so logical) thing to do was find my friends.
With only my cellphone flashlight illuminating my way I set out on the 15 minute walk, through the gate to the main road. I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me, let alone have the guts to turn and look behind me. I made, very fast-paced, for the main road, and then down a sketchy dirt path. Which happened to be the only way I knew to go, except I had only ever been in a group, and in day light. Guard dogs were thankfully behind their gates, but harassing me with their alarming teeth, untrusting to my actual intentions of finding my friends. I was sweating, breathing heavily, more scared than I had been the night in Caye Caulker when max knocked on the door at 2 am drunkenly, saying nothing and then leaving.
I thought about turning around, but I had came so far, and knew I was so close. The lights were back on, but the area I was in was still poorly irradiated. There was one more sketchy road to take and I was planning on making a run for the beach when I saw a dog outside its gate blocking the way between me and my friends. That was when I was grabbed by the arm and urged not to take the road. The man seemed very concerned, though spoke no English. Made a casual gun to the head indication with his left hand and shook his head side to side in a “no” motion pointing the only route I was familiar with. My stomach sank and I started crying a little bit.
“Tu Puedes ayudarme a encontrar a mis amigos?”
Thank god for my spanish lessons because I was able to ask him for help.
Though people will tell you El Salvador is dangerous and unpredictable, which it was, that night, you can expect to find the same accustomed kindness in any Country, any race, any language. Travelling has taught me that human nature is universal. He walked me all the way where I was going, and though we conversed in a broken language, I trusted him. I tried to give him some money to thank him, but he wouldn’t take it. Instead he hugged me. I think he was glad I was safe.
The next day we moved to the Hostel.
Papaya’s Lodge is a backpacker’s favourite, with dorms for 9 dollars, and air-conditioned doubles for 15 each. The rooms are clean and spacious. The action is centred around a pool, which you’ll find in El Salvador, is a necessity to have. It also has 3 lounge areas. One is strictly for hammock swinging and reading, another has a television, a mixture of couches nd hammocks, and is a good spot to watch a group movie at night. The third is an area for sunbathing. It’s crawling with interesting people, and has such a good vibe – at least it did when we were there.
I met an amazing group of equally interesting vagabonds. We surfed during the day, and socialized at night. The crowd consisted of two Americans riding south from California to the bottom of South America on BMW bikes, and another two doing the trek from Alaska all the way to Argentina on freaking paddle bikes! I familiarized with the two Canadians living in Whistler, and became brother-sister close with the most interesting 19 year old I have ever met in my life- the loveable Stu. I had never expected to meet someone doing a year long travel straight out of high school, but he was. I’m not sure if it was just the people, or it had something to do with the inviting social atmosphere, and well thought out layout of Papaya’s. People I had only met for a week, left me feeling like I had known them for life.
That is the charm that El Tunco holds. Surfing is its draw, a combined lesson and all-day board rental is a mere twenty dollars. The town itself makes you feel like home. That feeling I often write of, when your mind is at ease. Days are relaxed and the company is wonderful. The locals cheer on your surf in the water, and the restaurants always remember your name. Everyone is always smiling and totally carefree, it’s not possible to have a bad day there.
Quickly the picturesque rock becomes your sunset spot, and you find yourself every day sitting on the beach with a store bought beer for a dollar, saying goodbye to yet another wonderful day, awaiting the evenings allure.