El Salvador: Learning to surf, San Salvador and exploring deserted islands


When Dax and I arrived from our adventurous excursión to the indigenous village Suche in the Northern Highlands of Guatemala it was already dark night. We quickly stopped at Dax’s home to take a shower and to collect the heavy parts of my equipment which I had left behind and then took off again to drop me at a bus which would take me directly to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.

What I had not known is that the only busses that leave Guatemala after 18pm are the stylish but expensive double deckers of a company called King Quality. No more explanation needed, the price was corresponding but in the end completely worth it: For around 20 Euros I spent the rive hour ride from one capital to the other on a huge, inclinable leather seat with Wifi, free drinks and snacks. I highly recommend using King Quality if you want to travel comfortably overnight and save the money on accommodation. Their seats are just as good as any bed! I arrived in San Salvador around 10pm and just in time to meet Lazaro, my cuban friend and tutor of my master’s thesis at his hotel. I spent the rest of the night in a couple of bars where Lazaro introduced me to a large number of friends of his who all work in the Development corporation. Had a fun night and learned to know heeps of interesting people that work for the spanish embassy, the UN or the PNUD (the UN’s development cooperation program) and even quickly found a place to spend the night in form of one of Lazaro’s friends, Rafael.

The next morning I met up with Lazaro and Sara, a charming 28 year old spanish friend of his that I had met met the night before) for breakfast and Sara proposed to spend the weekend together at one of the beaches close to La Libertad, San Salvador’s weekend getaway at the Pacific coast. After having made our way through the thick, stinking traffic of El Salvador’s capital we quickly arrived at Sara’s favorite place: A little beach north of La Libertad called El Tunco. Wow, I really don’t know where to start with this playa, it’s that good!

Located on the Costa del Bálsamo which gets its name from the valuable aromatic oil extracted here by burning the bark of live balsam trees, Playa El Tunco has it all: A beautiful location at a sandy, gray beach with spectacular rock formations, spectacular sunsets (pacific side!) a nice whole of 50km uninterrupted beaches around it, an extremely laid-back village town with an incredible vibe and- of course – beautiful, beautiful waves. Its consistent right-hander breaks are not only a true charm to look at but also gives beginners and pros thrills. The city itself is pretty much the most relaxed surf spot one could imagine and attracts year-around surfers and beach bums that all seem so stereotype surfers that it’s almost ridiculous. Muscular guys with six-packs and girls with perfectly shaped bums, carrying their boards barefoot around town, broken and painted surfboards on every corner, weed smoke and loooots of beer are present on literally every single corner of El Tunco. (Not that there are many corners, El Tunco basically consists of three, maybe four streets.)

I decided to stay at this marvelous place for this weekend, rented a cabaña at the marvelous hostel “La Guitarra” with Lazaro and Sara and yes: I did give surfing a try, of course!

I rented a surfboard for an entire day (costs 10 bucks at the one and only board rental in El Tunco but you can get it down to 5 with a little bargaining) and got myself a surf teacher for 1 hour (another well spent 10 dollars). My surf instructor, Baltazar, was a really cool guy and quickly had me going on the board after a couple of dry exercices on the beach.

So, what is it like? Well, in the beginning pretty exhausting because you spent 90% of your time paddling against the waves out into the ocean to find a good spot from where you can get a wave. You basically lay belly down on a styrofoam board which is covered in a plastic coating and has loads of wax on the upside. The wax is supposed to give your feet more grip once you stand on the board, but it also gives you rather unpleasant rashes on you upper abdomen because this is where your body would mostly have contact with the board while paddling

Once your out in the ocean the sport goes from back and shoulder braking paddling to just sitting there, upright on your board. Surrounded by dozens of other surfers and surfresses you would wait for a big and steady wave and then turn around to the beach, paddle hard to get going in the same direction as the wave and then jump on your feet once the impulse pushes you forward. I won’t go into any more details here but let me say that it’s the fricking BEST FEELING EVER to ride a wave to the shore, it’s better then anything in this world!!! Well, almost…

I stayed in El Tunco over the weekend, sat together with my tutor a little, discussed my thesis a little, partied a little, read a little and surfed a LOT. When Lazaro and Sara would take off Sunday afternoon I decided to stay a couple of days longer to work on my surfing skills. My upper belly had already gotten slightly bleeding rashes from all the scrubbing and I eventually had to take it more easy during the next few days. Luckily there was Debby, a elsalvadoreñian girl I had learned to know at the beach, to take care of me…

When I returned to San Salvador it was Wednesday night. I was lucky enough to be able to stay at yet another friend’s of Lazaro (thanks Marc!), and when going out with Marc and some of his friends for a beer I was surprised to meet Debby, the girl from the beach, right next to our table. I spent the rest of the evening with her and we decided to meet up the day after to climb the Volcano de San Salvador together.

What can I say about the Volcano… It’s nice. Nothing more, i just nice and offers great views but in fact I expected something more adventurous and difficult. Debby picked me up with her around midday, so we drove up all the way to a parking lot, had lunch in nice little restaurant with a beautiful garden and then stumbled up the missing 200 meters to the top of the Volcanoe. I say stumbled because Debby had come directly from work and had forgotten to take normal walking shoes with her. As a result the poor thing had to walk the well-prepared but nonetheless forest paths on 12cm high heels! The simple fact she actually succeeded in not braking neither an ankle nor her shoes shall be enough explanation of how well prepared the paths are there. The Volcano itself offers nice views both down to San Salvador and inside the crater where another, perfectly cone-shaped crater lies, result of small a 1994 eruption.

After our short excursion we had some pupusas (thick tortillas filled with refried beans, cheese and pork meat), the local afternoon snack consisting of Tortillas with cheese and meat and took off to make our way back through the late afternoon traffic jams to Rafa’s home where I would spend the night. Then, the small disaster came:

I received an email that my job in Bogotá had been cancelled due to bureaucratic difficulties. I don’t want to bore you and will not go too deep into detail with this story but up until now I had been traveling from one job to another. My traveling plan was to travel from Cuba, where I had just finished working in a cultural research centre, to Colombia, where I would be working in the German embassy in Bogotá.

But now, with my job cancelled there, I suddenly found myself without a goal, without a real destiny for my traveling. And even though there are worse things in life then having to travel through Central America without a definite destination (other people would give their right eye for that) or losing a job you’ve never really had, I still felt like heavens had collapsed upon me………


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