I’ve been back from my trip to El Salvador for a week and I am only starting to feel better. I had a great time there but I have felt awful for the last few days. It was worth it though…
Las Flores Surf Club, El Salvador
My friends and I spent 7 days at Las Flores Surf Club, a 4 star surf resort located in El Cuco, a tiny village on the East side (note they call it East but if you look at a map, it’s actually South…). Las Flores is a pretty expensive place. $1,700/week per person, including gourmet meals, and boat rides to waves. They call themselves a “four-star resort” but although the service and the amenities were great, to me it was only 3-star. Oh well, we’re not gonna complain. The hotel only takes 16 people at a time. People staying with us were mainly older guys on vacation with their son, 2 couples and a few single guys. This place is definitely a perfect spot for lovers.
The hotel is located right on Las Flores, a world-class right point. The water is really dirty though. I got 1 ear infection from it… For a few days, Dane Reynolds and a few of his friends were staying in the hotel. It was pretty impressive to paddle right next to him. He’s fucking amazing. His board sticks to his feet like glue. I was stoked as we both paddled for the same wave and I got it before him. Or did he just pull out? haha. Out of the water, well, he’s just a surfer who talks a lot about surfing…
My cousin and I befriended with Edwin, the bartender. This one night, the bar was closed and it was the 3 of us talking about the country, the civil war and foreign policy. We learned that night that the average Salvadorian makes $150-$200 per month while basic goods and products are pretty much the same as in the US. Gas for example is $5/gallon in San Salvador. Shampoo, razorblades are $7. Edwin was telling us he was pissed at Americans going over to El Salvador and telling him what a great life he has and how lucky he is to live in such a beautiful place. We definitely learned a lot on this humbling night. Edwin also showed us pictures of his daughter. We pretended she was cute because we knew that was making him proud. After telling him about our desire to stay in the country for a few more days to experience the real local life (not in a 4-star hotel), Edwin offered us to stay in his house, with his family. We thought it was very nice and would be perfect for Jeremy and I, who wanted to see how it really is to live the Salvadorian life. As we were drinking more beers, Edwin also invited us to his niece’s 15th birthday. The 15th birthday is a BIG thing for latina girls. We were very flattered to be invited to such an event with 200 of his family… It was late and it was raining a lot. We decided to go to bed. The next day when I went downstairs to have breakfast, the waitress informed me that Edwin was dead. He had a bicycle accident going back home during the night. A mud slide may have caused the accident. Edwin was found by another employee early in the morning. That was a very sad event. Jeremy and I probably were the last people he talked to. We raised some money in the hotel for his wife and daughter.
Outside the hotel
Right outside the hotel is a a piece of land owned by Jose, a fisherman that also rents spots to campers and sells beers and cigarettes to the few people who know. Jose doesn’t speak a word of English and he really put my Spanish to the test. That was good. Then it’s another Jose who rents out a few “cabins” right on the beach for $15/night. That’s about it. We met a few Americans there. One of them actually lives a few blocks from me, in Encinitas. Small world, as they say. We also befriended with 2 Dutch girls, Kuna and Maud. They were 19 year olds that were traveling through central America to have fun and learn how to surf. We had some good times with them. We told them we were leaving town soon. They said they would go to La Libertad (3 hour drive from here) on Saturday for a reggae festival. We told them we would probably meet them there then.
Jeremy and I took a few walks to El Cuco, the village nearby. The village was very poor. There is nothing to do. This is not a place for tourists. We wandered around and we started hearing what seemed to be the commentator of a football game. We followed the sound and realized it was actually a gathering in someone’s backyard. People were here as if they were at a church. They were chanting and clapping. We entered the property and sat on the ground. Two men stood up from their chair, gave them to us and invited us to seat comfortably, which I thought was a very nice attention. We chanted and clapped our hands with them for about an hour and left. It was an interesting experience.
Jeremy hanging out with gangs
One day Jeremy decided to take the bus to San Miguel to explore the city. He told me he would call the hotel around 2pm and leave a message for me to let me know everything was doing ok. We decided to do this because we had heard so many horror stories about El Salvador. When I came back from the surf around 4pm, I asked if I had received a message. Nothing. 5pm, still nothing. I started to worry, especially because I know my cousin and he’s the type of guy who gets into trouble pretty easily. An employee told me the last bus from San Miguel was at 4.30pm and it takes about 1.5 hours to drive back to El Cuco. 6pm nothing. 6.30pm, still nothing. I try to call his cell but I get an error message. I’m freaking out! 7pm, dinner call. I am so fucking worried. All the sudden, here he comes, stumbling in, all drunk and happy. I wanted to slap him but also to hug him. So I just bought him a beer and asked him to tell me what he did of his day. Turn out he met a Savadorian kid who showed him the city (or the ghetto). They hanged out and drank all day and Jeremy simply “didn’t think” about calling me. Then on his way back to the hotel, he hitch hiked and some locals picked him up and took him to the forest for a ride. He said they were cool kids trying to impress him and he confided that they could have easily killed him and left him in the forest. Obviously they didn’t… I was glad to see him in one piece…
The surf at Las Flores
I only surfed this one wave called Las Flores which is a perfect right point, breaking in front of the hotel. The paddle is a little hard but once you’re on the line up, you’re gold. Surfing that much totally killed me. I got a couple massages to help me feel better, which was really nice. The take off can be a little tricky if you take it at the peak since you’re pretty much taking off on rocks. You don’t want to fuck up that one. I usually stayed slightly on the inside and would catch the leftovers of the most advanced surfers. I had without a doubt the best right rides of my life, and for sure the longest waves too.
The water is so warm but it is really dirty though. You regret it so bad when you accidentally drink it! Being a gooffie footer, I really wanted to go left but there was no way. One day, I took the boat to Punta Mango. When I got there, I knew right away this place was not for me. It was a super fast and steep wave. Way overhead. It looked like a mini version of Teahupoo, except it was going right. I tried to paddle to catch some of the shoulder waves but it was still too much for me. Some of the other guys who were on the boat with me were just like me: overwhelmed and somewhat scared. We decided to go back to the hotel and surf Las Flores. I never returned to Punta Mango.
After a week at Las Flores, Guy, Casey and Michael left. Jeremy and I left the hotel but stayed in the country for a few more days. We went to San Salvador for a day and a night. We stayed at a hotel called Grecia Real. A $30/night hotel. Not comfortable at all but somewhat clean. We went out that night. After asking advice to the hotel clerk about where to go, we ended up at a mall. It was quite a shock to see a mall in El Salvador. All we had seen so far was poverty and all the sudden, we’re entering an all-American world. Pizza and food franchises all over the place. A Ferrari dealership, $50 steaks… It was in total rupture with what we had seen before. That’s the only place in the country where we saw beautiful people. It’s sad to say but it seems money attracts beauty in El Salvador. We had a good meal, went back to the hotel, went to a dive bar nearby and went to sleep around 3am. That was a fun night!
The next day, we packed our stuff and took a bus to “downtown”, which happens to be one of the most dangerous parts of San Salvador. We entered little markets where I’m sure no Europeans had stepped before. We were in the DEEP San Salvador, a place for locals, certainly not for tourists. We learned later that their is 1 murder a day in those markets. San Salvador has the second highest homicide rate in the world with 8 homicides per day. We tried to try local food but it was so fucking disgusting that we just drank and left. It was hot and humid. We were sweating like pigs. It was time for us to leave to La Libertad for the reggae festival we had heard of.
Going to La Libertad
The bus ride took forever. The bus in El Salvador stops whenever you need it to. Their is no designated bus stop. So the bus stops every 100 yards to drop off or pick someone up. So I think it took us about 3 hours to get to La Libertad. We didn’t even know exactly where to stop until 3 kids hopped on the bus with all their rasta apparel. I asked them if they were going to the concert. They were. So we followed them. We found the place where the concert was going to be. We needed a hotel room though. We were in El Tunco. That was the most touristic place I had seen so far in El Salvador. There were something like 10 campgrounds and hotels here. When I say it was the most touristic place, it doesn’t mean it was crowded. Not at all. It was a tiny place with about 100 foreigners spread out along the beach. This is something I really liked about El Salvador. There is no tourism. Impossible to find a post card. People don’t even care about you. They don’t beg for money or anything. There are just not used to tourists. Until last year the #1 source of revenue for the country was wire transfers from the US. Think about it: 6 millions Salvadorian in El Salvador; 3 millions of them in the US. Last year for the first time, tourism became the top source of revenue.
We needed a hotel and we started asking from the beach backward. We couldn’t find anything at all. After asking about 15 hotels/campgrounds, we entered a property and I recognized some of the American dudes we had met in El Cuco. They were staying here for a few days but they said that the place was full. I was pissed and expressed it to my cousin, in French. The owner of the place heard me and asked me if I was French. He was Belgian. We befriended and he told us he didn’t have anything for the night, due to the concert. He even had a couple of Swedish sleeping on his kitchen floor. He finally said he had 2 hammocks we could use for the night. That was a very nice offer we couldn’t refuse as their was clearly no room or anything available around here.
Hotel Mopelia, in El Tunco
We dropped our bags behind the bar, ordered a Regia (local beer) and watched the Euro cup with a few other guys. It was so heavy out. We drank many beers and went out to buy our tickets for the concert so we wouldn’t have to wait in line later. We got the ticket without any problem. We returned to Mopelia and had more beers with Gilles, the owner and some of the people there. We had some food and we started getting drunk. More people showed up. The concert started but we decided to wait a little more. We met 2 girls from Oregon. Brianna was really cool. The other, Mary (I think), was what I like to call an angry dike and an attention whore, although she could be really funny. We spent some time with them that night.
We tried to go to the concert but the line was gigantic. These stupids had one single line for everybody, whether you already had your ticket or not! We decided to go back to the hotel and wait a little bit. We had more drinks, tried to go to the concert again but the line hadn’t moved. Besides, the police showed up and started beating up some kids and throwing gas. Welcome to El Salvador… We then decided to sell our tickets. Screw the concert! The show was right next to Gilles’ place, so we could hear and see everything, and we had so much fun at the hotel with the rest of the group that it didn’t matter. So we sold our tickets to some kids who were waiting in line. The guy was suspicious but I told him I was not American and I was not gonna fuck him. He laughed and bought the ticket. I told the story to a new American friend we made and he laughed, telling me he always says he’s from Canada. Apparently, it helps not being American abroad… As we were walking, we ran into Kuna and Maud, the Dutch girls. We were drunk and didn’t give them much attention and we told them we would see them later. We partied at the hotel until 4 or 5am, maybe later. Of course, Jeremy and I closed the bar, and had a bill of 53 dollars (meaning 53 beers). Not too bad for our first night here….
Surfing in El Tunco
The first night was horrible for me. We had to sleep on hammocks, which killed my back. I slept about an hour that night, mainly spending my time talking with some local girls and smoking cigarettes. The next morning, I decided to surf. There was a beach break right in front of Mopelia. The wave was called La Bucadora. This would be MY spot for the next 3 days. Since it was a beach break, it was going right and left. Finally I got to go left. I surfed there for 3 days and most of the time, I had the wave for myself, everyone else surfing El Sunzal, which is the most famous wave in El Salvador, only a few hundred yards away from La Bucadora. I had so much fun going left on such a good wave. It was a very fast wave. The take off is, once again, critical and the ride itself is probably even more critical as you have to slalom between the rocks. I got caught on the inside once and this wave came in so I tried to duckdive. Turn out I duckdived right on a giant rock. I heard to board going “CRrrrrrrrr” and I thought it was broken (I rented this board). I jumped off the board because I thought I would be able to touch the bottom with my feet. Well, I didn’t. This rock was bigger than me, in the middle of the ocean. That’s when I realized this surf spot was a little dangerous. I had heard crazy things about it but it all made sense when I saw it for myself. That’s probably the reason why this spot was always empty? I’m usually not really courageous when it comes to surfing dangerous spots but I said “fuck it”. There was no one there and I loved the wave. I stayed and got some amazing rides. Now that I knew it was a rocky spot, I paid more attention and while I was riding waves, I could sometimes see big rocks, right under me. You don’t want to fall there, I’m telling you.
Partying with the stars
Would it be pretentious if I said that Jeremy and I got most of the attention in El Tunco? Well, we did! We were pretty much the center of the attention at all time. I guess we’re just that cool. Becoming good friends with Gilles, the owner of the place, helped too. Maybe we’re just that much fun to hang out with.
We went to the nearby town a couple times and finally got some machetes. Jeremy and I organized fake machete fights. It was pretty fun. I am amazed none of us lost at least a finger… We spent the next few days relaxing, drinking, and hanging out.
My last night was awful. I was sick all day and despite the fact it was our last night, I decided to go to bed around 8pm. Then Brianna came and woke me up telling me I had to come party because it was the last night. Kuna told me the same thing 20 minutes later. I took a lot on me and got out of bed to go hang out. I was feeling like shit but started drinking and felt better. We closed the bar again that night. Gilles told us he was really happy to have us and he admitted we were cool guys. What else is new? haha Gilles got all emotional about it. I think he terribly misses “hanging out in French”, as you could call it. We went to bed. Jeremy was the first one to be really sick. He puked and shit all over. In the morning of our last day, I didn’t feel really good but I wasn’t feeling really sick. Jeremy was miserable. Our flight was not before 7.40pm but we couldn’t take the heat anymore. We decided to go to the airport early so we can enjoy the air conditioning. A local kid gave us a ride. We got at the airport around 3pm. I looked for an earlier flight right away and saw that there was a flight to LA at 4.30. We asked if we could change flights but they said it would cost us $150 each. We said we couldn’t afford it.
Jeremy was feeling worse and worse. We started checking in way early and as we were filling out immigration papers, a TACA rep came over and told us he would change our flight for free. Why did he do that? Well, I have 2 possibilities. 1. He may have had mercy for Jeremy, seeing how sick he was, or 2. he may have appreciated the fact that I told him we were not Americans, that we were French. Believe it or not but this worked. When I told him we were French, I saw right away that it was working. He had a little sympathy smile on his face. The TACA rep took Jeremy to the airport doctor. He also took me to the very front of the first class line and told me to check in there. Wow, he surely made me feel special. So this guys checks us in right away AND gives us exit seats, which means more leg room. I was impressed with the quality of service. I had never been treated that well by an airline, even by Air France. Honestly, I felt like I was gonna cry for a minute. All we wanted was to be home. We were tired, sick, dehydrated, hot, and sweaty. The flight was taken care of but we still didn’t know how to get from LAX to Encinitas. There was no more trains at the time of our arrival. I called to rent a car but it was over $150. Then I called Tina and she said she would come pick us up. She’s so amazing. I love you, baby.
We landed in LAX around 9pm. We went through custom. Jeremy was feeling better. I was ok. Tina picked us up right away and I was SO happy to see her again after 10 long days. That was the last trip I took without her. We got to my house, got some food, showered and went to bed. I woke up around 4am and got the worst diarrhea, you know the one that makes you sweat like a pig. I returned to bed and got sick again as I woke up in the morning. Jeremy got sick all night too. I called my doctor who couldn’t see me. She told me to go to urgent care. We spent 5 hours over there. IV, blood test, X ray, shots and everything. Not fun. I’m feeling slightly better now but still not perfect. Jeremy is fine. I’m still taking drugs. My ear infection is doing much better.
All in all it was an amazing trip. It is so humbling to visit poor countries. It makes everything all relative. I make in a day what these people make in a month. Although El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, I didn’t feel unsafe at any time… or maybe I just didn’t realize it? I think as long as you respect the locals and show them you’re not here to take advantage of them but you’re here to share and learn from them, a mutual respect is building up. To me, that’s what travel are all about: learning and sharing.
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