When you say ‘El Salvador ‘ most people think of violence and crime, civil war and murder, but what if I told you that I’ve met the friendliest people in all of Central America right here in El Salvador? That’s a broad generalization, but in the two months I’ve been traveling through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, the locals have never been more helpful than in these poor city streets.
Arriving in the city of Santa Ana, we immediately were lost. We stepped off of the yellow chicken bus, and two men greeted us with massive rifles across their chests. That’s one thing you’ll have to get used to – guns, lots of them. Armed men stand in front of banks, bakeries, pharmacies, anywhere really. Most buildings are also surrounded by large metal gates, concrete walls with shards of glass on top, a huge dose of barbed wire, or all of the above.
On our way to find Casa Frolaz (a hostel and restaurant owned and operated by Salvadorians), locals generously guided us to our desired destination. In so many other countries I’ve visited, most people expect tips or commissions for any sort of ‘help,’ or even try to lure you into some sort of business deal. I know that sad fact has much to do with the tourism industry, so it was refreshing to find otherwise. People also seemed very open to starting conversations with foreigners. Maybe the fact that we are from California gave us a natural ice breaker. Almost everyone we talked to on the bus had either been to the United States or knew someone who had. A large part of El Salvador’s economy is based on family members sending money home while working in the States. Many of the men work hard in the States, and then return to El Salvador to support their families.
In the five days that I explored El Salvador (Santa Ana, Lake Coatepeque, Tamukal Ruins, Juayua village), we must have only ran into two other tourists. That´s an immense difference from every other country we’ve traveled through. Two Salvadorian brothers, Bruno and Francisco, gave us such insight into the culture. From our first taste of pupusas to the psychology of the local coffee industry to their futbol obsession to the clash between the old generation and the new generation of El Salvadorians… I’ve had an interesting glimpse into their culture. If you’re ever in Santa Ana, check out their restaurant, Quattro Estaciones where you can get a strong cup of coffee grown in the mountains near Santa Ana. Strike up a conversation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised here.