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Published: November 15th 2013
I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to El Salvador, for I had never met another backpacker who had been here. All I knew was that it is a small country with waves pummelling the west coast night and day, which is what drew me to its shores.
Picture this conversation being repeated thousands of times over all my years of travelling:
Friendly person I’ve just met: “Where are you from?”
Inquisitive person I’ve just met: “Oh, do you surf?”
Me: “Ah, not really.”
Very confused and uncertain person I’ve just met: “But you’re Australian!?!?”
In Nicaragua, at the absolutely stunning beach of ‘Playa Hermosa’, I decided it was high time that I made a concerted effort to finally fit the stereotype of all those who call Australia home. After taking my first ever lesson (from a Canadian!), I was able to stand up in the whitewash and was determined to continue improving. Hence, having now recovered from bronchitis (see my previous blog on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua), Caroline and I took a bus from Managua to San Salvador, en route to the coast. Home for the next few
days would be ‘Playa El Zonte’, henceforth known to me as Central America’s Best Kept Secret.
San Salvador is like any modern North American city, replete with enormous shopping malls, fast-food chains smothering each other with their largesse on every block and university students drinking fruit smoothies and eating cheap. To get from there to the coastal town of La Libertad, one can either take an overpriced taxi, or pay 60 cents for a local ‘chicken’ bus. This is easily the more entertaining option. At one point, we stopped and on jumped people selling everything from food to watches to mystery pills that cure all manner of ailments. Once they finished their hawking, a painted clown appeared and attempted to entertain the passengers for the next half an hour. There’s nothing quite like a local bus in this part of the world.
From La Libertad, we had been instructed to jump aboard bus 80. However, once we had already begun moving, we were informed that this particular bus wasn’t going to Playa El Zonte and that we needed to be on bus 192. So, we were deposited on the coastal road and awaited our rumbling saviour. At the
precise moment that Caroline took off her backpack, having got fed up with waiting, around the corner it came. We waved it down and then what happened is a blur of chaos. We were ushered around to the very back of the bus, where a door was opened for what I assumed would be the place to deposit our luggage. No, this was the entrance to a jam-packed vehicle. Caroline fought her way up through pillars of blue jeans, before I was pushed and shoved through the small door, somehow managing to squeeze my pack through. Whilst this was happening, the bus had already started moving. We were on our way. Around us were locals, holding onto anything they could in order to stay upright as the bus careened around corners. After an indiscernible amount of time amidst bodies, bags, packages, armpits and stolen glances, someone told us we were at El Zonte. The back door was opened and I more or less fell out. As Caroline went to follow me, the bus started to move, so people yelled, whistled and banged on the roof until it slowed (the driver’s version of stopping). Caroline jumped out of the moving bus
and the kind locals passed her bags down to her and before we knew it, we were standing alone in the afternoon sun, catching our breath and bewildered.
A local pointed us down a road, so we ambled along until we heard the sounds of the waves and sighted the hostel we had booked, Esencia Nativa. We were greeted with views of the waves, a swimming pool and the owner sleeping in a hammock. It had been a hectic journey, but here life would be nothing if not tranquil.
With a fortnight having passed since my surfing lesson in Nicaragua, I thought it best to have another lesson before tackling these heavier waves alone. El Salvador is famed amongst surfers for its waves; however, I wouldn’t yet call myself a surfer and need all the help and advice I can get. I was hopeless in this lesson, occasionally standing up, but otherwise failing spectacularly. Determined not to be dispirited, I took a board out the following two days and by the end of it I was definitely surfing with more ease and confidence than ever before, only taking in a mouthful of sand from the ocean floor once!
Still, I’m only surfing in the whitewash and I’m sure there’s more fun to be had out on the unbroken waves…one day.
Playa El Zonte is not only a good spot for surfing, but it’s also a beautiful beach in its own right. I’ve become so accustomed to black sand beaches in Central America that I don’t even notice the colour any more. The sand here is soft and expansive, with sunsets being spectacular in their play of colour across the skies. The locals congregate every day at dusk to play soccer on the beach, creating silhouettes against the ever changing hues cast out by the sun as it languidly illuminates the clouds, sky and the ocean below. Every night I soaked up this scene with a cold beer in my hand and I was completely happy and content in these moments. El Salvador is definitely a place I’d consider coming back to, but not just for the beaches. The people are friendly, the coffee is fantastic and there are national parks to be explored, dramatically sculpted by the violence of volcanos.
At the moment, the only foreigners here seem to be North American surfers escaping the onset of their winter. One day soon though, I’m sure the secret will get out and El Salvador will find itself on the ‘Gringo Trail’. For us though, our time in Latin America is sadly coming towards an end, so we must keep moving if we are to explore more destinations. Next stop: Honduras.
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