This morning I went for a run in a park about a 15-minute walk from my house. I was happy to find out we had a park close by where people run and walk in the morning. In most parts of the city you don’t see people out running. People walk, run and bike to get from point A to point B. Also let me tell you like somebody told me; here cars get priority, not pedestrians. Sometimes I felt like that in D.C., but this is on another level. I mean they will run you over in the cross walk without even noticing. There are no crossing signals and at some intersections, when it seems like it’s your turn, there is an onslaught of cars making a turn with no sign of stopping. Another thing, the general rule of thumb here is that if you hit a pedestrian, you flee the scene. It is a “law” to have car insurance, but most people do not. Most people also do not have the money to the family of a victim.
Needles to say, this was a nice retreat from the craziness of the streets and I am happy to know it’s here.
I was stretching in the shade and noticed an ant, carrying a little yellow flower. I assume to decorate the dinner table. I recalled the many conversations I’ve had with my dad about stopping to notice the simple beauties of life. Seeing this ant made me smile. I thought of the line from an Atmosphere song: “Take a look around/quit complainin’/ build something on that ground/plant something on that ground/dance and sleep on that ground/get on your hands and knees and watch the ants walk around that ground.”
The last couple days I have been feeling a little homesick. Yesterday I went to the Volcán de San Salvador. There are eight different volcanoes in El Salvador. This one is not active, but there are caves with smoke rising out of them around the perimeter of the crater.
I went to volcano with a few ladies I met from Norway. That, in of itself, was random, I meet these women traveling from Norway, two days after the bombing and shooting in Oslo. I spent some time reading the news online with them.
I was really tired that day and it was hot as hell. It’s hot everyday, but it feels more intense when you’re tired. Everything does right? We took a taxi to Santa Tecla where we then got on a bus to go to the town at the base of the volcano. People got on the bus selling water, soda, fried plantains, chicharron…we got off the bus in a small town where immediately we were getting uncomfortable attention. Three women, two very white, there on a Monday when there are clearly no other tourists around. I had been told that it was not very safe in that area. So we were looking for the tourism police to escort us to the volcano, but they were nowhere I sight. We got a few numbers to try and call them, but we did not get an answer. A group of local men were calling out at us when we crossed the street. I could understand some, but not all of what they were saying. I really wanted to turn around and tell them to show some respect. However, I am in a different world and I know to keep my mouth shut.
Not wanting to hang around this group of men, we got on a bus. One of the Norwegian women, Siri, said two of the young men had followed us onto the bus. We were both wondering if we were being too paranoid, but we were the only outsiders and it is well-known that tourists are frequently robbed in the area. I was thinking I wished I hadn’t brought my camera.
Finally we see police and we get off the bus. The police were very polite and accommodating. They gave us a ride further up the hill to the entrance of the volcano. Two of them escorted us up. Siri remarked to me, “well this is different, going on a hike with a police escort.” It was definitely strange. But one of them policemen was so kind and was talking to us about the geography and history of the volcano. He said they go up to the volcano several times a day, escorting visitors.
On the way driving back down into the town, we had to make a stop. The police had to get out to talk to a local woman about testifying in a case.
Back in town, waiting for the bus again, we were debating riding back into San Salvador in the back of a truck. Then the bus arrived. $0.50 a person on the way there and this time the driver only charged un $0.35 for the three of us. Yet another example of how rules just don’t apply here.
I enjoyed our trip on Sunday to Los Planes and La Puerta del Diablo much more. Again we took a cab to one point, to the town of Los Planes, and then two buses to the vista point. The first bus we were on didn’t go all the way I guess. I was little confused by Siri’s conversation with the bus attendant. There are guys who hang out of the doors of the buses, calling out destinations and then walk through the crowded aisles collecting money. Anyway we finally made it to the “devil’s door.” They call it that because when pictures have been taken of it from an airplane, the two peaks look like horns.
There was a big festival going on. Families and couples were strolling the street, stopping to buy jewelry, fabric and food from the vendors lining the road. All along the hike up one of the “horns” or peaks, there were people with blankets and tables, selling incense and beautiful hand-made jewelry. At the top there was a women selling “minutas.” Minutas are frozen ice with different flavors, standard is lime and chili. She was saying “Minutas por cincuenta centavos!”
We rode in the back of truck all the way back into San Salvador with a nice family. I loved riding in the back of the truck. I enjoyed the breeze and the great view of everything. When we got back into the city and were on the freeway I was reminded that this was probably not the safest mode of transportation. But I am in a place where so much is upside down from what I have always known. For this reason, I am trying not to think, “Well that’s not right,” not too much at least.
I wake up this morning to the news that the death toll in Oslo, Norway is up to 94 after a bombing and shooting spree. I was reading about it yesterday in the news when only “several people” had been injured from the bombing and they weren’t sure about the numbers from the shooting.
I am thinking about violence in the world. I am in a violent country right now where I cannot go where I want, whenever I want to. I mean honestly, so far, I have not felt unsafe in El Salvador. A little uncomfortable at times, but not unsafe. Although I have also not taken a bus yet or gone into some of the more dangerous “municipios” or cities in San Salvador. Just to clarify, San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador and it is a departamento or state in El Salvador. It’s a little confusing.
My friend, who know lives in Washington, D.C., grew up in one of the most dangerous areas of San Salvador, the city of Soyapango. He told me the San Salvador he grew up in is very different from the San Salvador I have seen so far. I am not in the nicest or wealthiest area, but it’s safe more or less.
In areas like Soyapango the gangs, or Maras, have made it a very scary place to live. People are not out after dark, shopkeepers have to pay off the gangs to stay in business and the “security” of being in a gang is a constant temptation for youth living in extreme poverty, without any other opportunities on the horizon. Another friend of mine from Soyapango, also now in the U.S., does not speak highly of her country. Her mother put her on a plane to the U.S. when gang members were threatening her mother’s business. Another friend’s mother, from El Salvador, looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted to come live here. She is from another dangerous area called Apopa.
Last night I was exposed to, not a rougher San Salvador, but an americanized San Salvador. I was in two different neighborhoods with nice restaurants, clubs and American and European brands like Nine West, Northface (winter gear in E.S.?), ZARA, Steve Madden, etc.
The first neighborhood we went to was Centro Comercial or Gran Via. To my surprise our friend Hugo wanted to go to Bennigan’s because he likes their mojitos. You know, the chain restaurant you see around the U.S. “American fare, Irish hospitality.” I almost died. I thought it was funny, bizarre and disturbing all at once. So I was in Bennigan’s having buffalo wings and a mojito, in a room where everyone is speaking Spanish and Latin music is booming through the speakers. I was thinking to the people I spent time with in the country this week, coming into this restaurant would seem as out-of-place to them as it did to me. Lesson: never underestimate the influence of power and money. Also, don’t forget how small the world is. I am only a 4 ½ hour plane ride from D.C. Capitalism has reached much further.
Then it was off to a gay dance club in the area of La Zona Rosa. This area has lots of nice restaurants and bars. When I met Irene’s friend Hugo, a tall, handsome Guatemalan, I was intrigued by what it must be like to be gay in El Salvador, or Guatemala for that reason. He told me he doesn’t like living here all that much, the social scene for gays is definitely lacking. But he has a good job and a nice house. Seeing this club made me happy in a weird way. I guess I felt relieved or something that gay people here have an outlet. El Salvador, like the rest of Central America, does not take kindly to homosexuality. But as much as people want to deny it or abhor it, people are going to find a way to live their lives, be who they want to be and love who they want to love. It’s just the way it is.
Violence and hate is everywhere. You can let fear paralyze you or you can live your life. There are people who have to push that fear away everyday and carry on. The people in Oslo are doing that right now and there people in San Salvador right now doing the same.
P.S. Of course, I forgot my damn camera last night so there are no pictures. I promise I’m going to be better about this.