El Salvador - San Salvador

Published: September 24th 2010
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San Salvador

A Friendly Welcome and some Goodbyes

The guide books aren’t too kind to San Salvador. The country of El Salvador doesn't get too many tourists. It was a dangerous place to visit during the civil war but the war came to an end nearly twenty years ago.

El Salvador has come as a pleasant surprise to our group. In the small towns we have been to everybody has been really friendly and welcoming to us. San Salvador, though, has a reputation for it's crime rate and it's gangs.

We arrive at our hotel, the Villa Real, in the mid-afternoon and decide to go and have a look around the city. The receptionist at the hotel looks horrified when we ask her to book a couple of taxis to take us to the “historical centre” of the city and starts warning us to be on our guard and to be careful in the city centre. When we are in the taxi our taxi driver tries to tell us something in Spanish which none of us understand. He then goes to the trouble of phoning his friend who speaks English - his friend warns us to be on our guard and be careful in the city centre. We’re really not getting too much encouragement here!

In the city centre we visit the cathedral, which has only recently been completed, and the main square. Nearby there is also the National Palace and Theatre, both of which are closed to us. There isn’t really too much to see in the city centre and we are on our way back to the hotel within half an hour. Our taxi driver taking us back to the hotel also warns us that we should have been on our guard and careful in the city centre. We get the message!!

That evening we decide to sample the night life of San Salvador. Half of our group are leaving in San Salvador and we are expecting some new arrivals so it's time for some farewells. René is still with us, having brought our bags and some of the group up from Suchitoto. He is originally from San Salvador so we rely on him to show us the sights and he doesn't disappoint us. We start off in a bar {somebody help me out with the names, please!} where a free snack is served with each drink - the aim seems to be to drink so much that you don't have to pay for any food. We are entertained by a combination of some average live music and a DVD of a musical/comedy act - perhaps a Salvadorian, younger Bruce Forsyth?? - on a big screen. Again my lack of Spanish lets me down here.

From here we finish off in another bar {help!} with quite a good live band and draught beer.

San Salvador

The next day we go to see more of San Salvador. Having been discouraged so much the previous day from going into the city {although nothing terrible happened to us} we continue to make use of René's services and he acts as our guide. Our first stop is the market. It's quite difficult to drive into and park so once we are there we spend quite a bit of time wandering around and taking in the colours and the smells.

The only thing I'm actually looking for is a local football shirt and, despite the usual claims that anything can be bought in this market, there doesn't seem to be one to be found. The closest I get is a "geezer" who reckons he can find one for me but at a ridiculously high price. We stop to eat some fresh fish at one of the stalls {I pass on the fresh fish!} and then it's another look at the Historic Centre including the crypt at the Cathedral where the tomb of Archbishop Romero still attracts regular visitors.

In the afternoon we head to Zona Rosa where most of the museums and galleries are. Our plan was to visit the Museo de Arte MARTE, a collection of international art. Unfortunately I can't give my impressions of the museum because we didn't get in. The admission price for four of us should have been $6 but the receptionist couldn't give us change for a $10 note. A request for change at the museum shop didn't work {the receptionist at the entrance desk was also serving in the shop} and we were also refused change at the museum restaurant {where we had just eaten lunch!}. Having been made completely unwelcome at the Museo de Arte MARTE we try out the nearby Museo David J Guzman, an anthropolgical museum, instead. This has a large display of Mayan and older artefacts and, importantly, is much more welcoming than the art museum. The signs are only in Spanish and I found it quite hard work going round - I really ought to learn some Spanish!

Coming out of the museum we find ourselves outside a park where a "festival of youth" seems to be taking place. It seems to be a weekend event with coachloads of young people being bused in for the event. We decide to risk the vuvuzelas and pretend to be young and go for a look round. We don't stop too long because the afternoon downpours we've been experiencing for the past couple of weeks are going to start at any moment. It seems to be quite a major event with lots of displays and exhibitors. On our brief tour we watch a break-dancing competition, a kick-boxing tournament, some very oily body builders and a chess tournament in a quiet corner of the park. But with the rains about to start we make it a very quick tour and head back to the shelter of our hotel.

The Hospital of Divine Providence and Archbishop

Oscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero had been the Archbishop of San Salvador when he was assassinated in 1980 as the country's social conflicts were escalating into civil war. He had been seen as a conservative figure when he was appointed archbishop but he came to speak out against the social injustices, assassinations and torture taking place in El Salvador at the time. In a country where the military government had complete control of the media Oscar Romero used his sermons to highlight the human rights abuses in the country being carried out by the paramilitaries and the death squads. A day after he used a sermon to call on Salvadorian soldiers to stop killing their fellow citizens he was assassinated. He was shot by a death squad while celebrating mass at a small chapel in the grounds of the Hospital of Divine Providence. I think it was this event, the sniper attacks on mourners at his funeral a few days later, and the rape and murder of four American nuns by a government death squad shortly after that brought events in El Salvador to the World's attention and probably made it very difficult for the American government to go on supporting and funding El Salvador's military government. But the civil war still lasted another 13 years.

Oscar Romero is an iconic figure in El Salvador now. Everywhere that somebody paints a mural on a wall he will be in there somewhere and I think that in the eyes of many Salvadorians he is well on the way to becoming a saint. We make a visit to the Hospital of Divine Providence. The chapel where he was murdered is closed when we get there but his house in the same compound has been turned into a museum to his memory.

Much in the house has been left as it was on the day he was murdered. His car is still parked outside and his toothbrush and towels are still in the bathroom. A young nun explains about the exhibits to us {in Spanish unfortunately, but we have René with us to translate} Finally she plays a tape recording of the mass he was delivering and the moment he was shot. At the time he was shot his surmons were attracting a lot of attention. There was a large crowd of people at the mass
Archbishop Romero's CarArchbishop Romero's CarArchbishop Romero's Car

Still parked outside his house
and one of the journalists was taping the mass - that didn't seem to bother the death squad that came to kill him though.

The singer, Vin Garbutt, sang a song about El Salvador and the events of 1980. By coincidence, whilst in the middle of writing up this chapter of the blog, I went to see Vin sing. By even bigger coincidence he sang his El Salvador song that evening. That seems to be a good enough reason to link the song here. This link will hopefully go to Vin's Myspace page where El Salvador will be the first song played.

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