04.11.2012 -28 °C
So I´m in San Salvador, El Savador. I got up really early on Monday to try and get here from Antigua in Guatemala in good time and not arrive in the dark, which makes me nervous, but ended up missing the direct coach and had to go via Guatemala City where I changed. I didn´t see much of Guatemala City except the coach station but my bat like, highly attenuated perception did notice that from herein in there are more guns in evidence.
The guard outside the ticket office in Guatemala City has a pump action shotgun and as we ride out of town we pass what looks like a small high street bank branch which has two men with shotguns outside and a man with a handgun inside. I was loooking forward to a few days in San Salvador to soak up some vibrant Latin City vibes. As my trusty South Amercian Handbook says "Ël Salvador´s capital city is a bustling cosmopolitan citywith a rich blend of architectural styles modern yet retaining the charm of the Spanish era with the privilege of being one of the first European cities in the New World". Again my advanced perception does note however that the Handbook also comments that "the city centre is considered by many to be dangerous after dark. Armed security personnel are commonplace. There is a heightened tension in some places". As we appraoch the coach terminal which is in the city centre, in the dark, several of the side roads are taped off with heavy police presence. A nervous looking security guard with pump action shotgun swings open the large metal doors just long enough to let the coach in. I had my eye on a guest house on the other side of town but I´m going off the idea of scouting about in the dark. There is a fairly desperate hotel as part of the coach terminal, which is really just a concrete yard. I spy 3 young Euro looking types smoking on a step in the coach yard, and say hello. They look slightly traumatised, 2 English and and an Austrailian. It becomes apparent that the charm of the city has escaped them and thay are leaving asap tomorrow to go back to Antigua, where I´ve just come from. They say that I´m the first gringo they´ve seen in 2 days and say the place is unpleasant and dangerous, succinctly summing it up as 'a shithole'.
I check into the hotel and dip into my deep well of Spanish and ask the security guard if this barrio is seguro for me to ir and get some comer. The guard is non comittal but seems to indicate by pointing his shotgun that if I go two doors down to the restaurant I may be ok. He can keep me covered. I go two doors down and a nice lady gives me some food and beers but won´t open the wrought iron metal security door and puts the food through a hatch, a la late night booze shop on Stockwell Road.
My $8 room is impressively bad. There is enough room for me and my bag and the bed if I put my bag on the bed. It is next to the toliet and there is a big gap between the door and the wall above so all the comings and goings filters in. to keep it call I have to have a really loud fan on all night. It overlooks the standing yard where buses leave throughout the night and are idling noisily. I see the disconsulate Austrailian a bit later and we each cheer each other up. He asks with a smirk how my room is. I tell him that it´s terrible, and he seems to enjoy this a lot, especially when I tell him about the noisy coaches. He cheers me up by telling me that he has really bad diarrheia, which I enjoy a lot. I try to turn my smile into a frown of concern (not really succeeding) and say that I hope he´ll be better soon (though obviously hopefully not before that really long, uncomfortable coach journey tomorrow). What is it about seeing an Austrailian in obvious discomfort that always seems to raise the spirits?
So the next day after a terrible nights sleep, during which I was woken up twice by some bastard from the hotel banging on the door being asking if I was getting the 3 am and then the 5 am coach, I got a cab across town and checked into a guest house from the Handbook which was nice, felt lie a time capsule from 30 years ago. It was in a nice part of town but even there the houses would generally have a brick wall in front of the house with an iron gate and on top of the 6 foot wall a fence of say 3 or 4 feet and then quite often barbed wire or razor wire on top of the fence. Inside the wall there would be a another solid metal door and bars on all the windows. I asked the cab driver how San Salvador was and he gave a hand gesture as if to say so, so and said ´mas pelligroso´ too dangerous. I asked if just certain parts and he said no, all over, and he wouldn´t work after 8 pm. All the public transport shuts down at 9. I had a wander about and the city felt half like an Amercian city with lots of new cars, dual carriagways, huge US fast food stores everywhere and endless armed guards. The other half is a crumbling Latin- Spanish city with what was nice housing but lots of it boarded up, derelict, covered in grafitii. I didn´t spend too long downtown as I didn´t know where I was and where was safe and felt rather exposed wlking from a busy street sudeenly into an empty street with derelict houses and a couple of people rolling around on the pavement. Uptown which is where the money and hotels etc are is all built around cars and has none of the street life of most of the other cities I´ve been to. I went to the Modern Art Museum of El Salvador which was interesting but empty, they turned the lights on for me but the v expensive looking museum restaurant was v busy. I went for a drink near where I was staying and a small low key bar had a big wall between it and the street and a nice bouncer chap with a pump action shotgun by the entrance.
I got the bus from San Salvador to the coast on Wednesday. It was either Suchitoto, a quaint colonial town up north or the beach. Although generally on a hot summer´s day in the tropics I can usually be found in the dusty basement of a library or museum, I am also a slut for the beach and its been 3 weeks or so since I saw a palm tree. I know! Feel my pain! I had head good things about El Zonte which is an hour or so south of San Salvador. The good thing about El Salvador being so small, it is tiny, perhaps 100 miles across, is that no where is far away. El Zonte was a v nice relaxed mainly surf place and I stayed at a nice friendly place on the beach, all hammocks and drfitwood and shell decorations, open air bar overlooking the sea and palmtrees. Whereas in Mexico they actually had a beach here they have built on the beach so the waves come right up to the wall of the buildings fronting the beach. Its balck volcanic sand here. I love the Pacific. Its v powerful with big waves and swells but feels green and clean and fresh and v warm. I had 3 days lounging about swimming and reading and eating, so its been a grind. Some spectacular sunsets over the sea. There were some proper waves, green curling pounders with some handy surfers running around on them, hanging ten and radding out dude, or whatever it is they do with their penis extensions (Note, no bitterness towards bronzed young hunky guys with all the girls from the pasty old UK guy). I woke up at 5.30 am, when it was already just light, and ran out for a long swim down the bay and to see the sun come up over the Pacific. Apparently they have whales coming in close to the beach in January which would be fantastic to see. The owner of the place I was staying gave me a lift back to San Salvador this morning and I´m back in the coach terminal Hotel Del Shi'it with 15 hours to wait for the coach to Managua tomorrow morning at 5 am.