We arrived in El Salvador after a surprisingly easy journey on what they call ‘chicken buses’ from Leon. The reason they are called ‘chicken buses’ is quite literal… You’re packed in like chickens and very often have live chickens being transported in the seat next to you!
We had arranged to stay with an old uni friend of Dre’s who has been living in El Salvador for the past 6 years having married a Salvadorian. In the interest of time as well as there not being many points of interest in Honduras, we simply drove right through the country to get to the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador….confusing I know!
San Salvador doesn’t really offer much for your average traveler, but we had a lovely time catching up with Lena and her new family, husband Gustavo and adorable 4 month old baby Matias.
The city itself feels very American with wide highways and large shopping malls filled with a growing middle class, striving to live the American dream of fast food and excessive consumption.
El Salvador has the largest proportion of it’s population falling with in the ‘middle class’ bracket in all of Central America. I think this is mainly down to the fact that many Salvadorians live and work outside of the country (usually illegally and in the U.S), sending 1st world wages to a second world economy.
This type of income accounts for a staggering 20% of GDP! With such a large number of the working population abroad, often leaving poor families behind, it is easy to understand why gangs are such an issue here; the kids are left with extended relatives, often substituting the security usually received from the parents by that of the gangs and their leaders.
The last painting of a map of San Salvador, really struck a chord with me, since it depicted the area we were staying in as Disney land…and I can see why. Home to the upper class society this place feels more like LA, with large mansions and apartment blocks employing thousands of ‘locals’ as cleaners, nannies, chefs and armies of security guards.
Although there is a large middle class by Central American standards, there is still a large disparity between the classes, with the ‘locals’ as they are referred to, earning a meagre $150 a month. To put this into perspective, an educated international working for one of the big 5 firms here can command a 6 figure salary; firmly putting them in the super wealthy bracket.
Before you all go looking for work here, security fears really do put ‘a bit of a downer’ on things. Gangs are clearly perceived to be a problem with most people living in fear of muggings and ‘express kidnapping’; often living within the confinements of their gated communities or secure shopping malls.
To be honest I didn’t really feel in danger at all here; with security clearly being a huge and lucrative sector, I am starting to think that it may all simply be scare tactics employed by, of course, the U.S security firms that dominate the market. Interestingly I learnt that a lot of the gangs were actually trained in the U.S by the C.I.A as ‘death squads’, illegally deployed in Mexico for the benefit of (as per usual) ‘U.S National security’.
To be honest I am getting a little board of repeating the same thing regarding the U.S foreign policy in this region, particularly during the Ronald Reagan era so I am not going to spend too much time going into the civil war here that ended in 1992 killing over 70.000 people…hopefully you all get the general idea…
…U.S squash any form of left wing ideas perceived to be in their ‘back yard’ by what ever means possible, playing their hand in any civil war, resulting in the death of hundreds of thousands with U.S interests being victorious, irrespective of the outcome!
The one thing I will mention is a unique series of events surrounding the murder of 6 Jesuit priests and the rape of 4 American nuns at a nearby university.
These murders, which were committed by the Salvadorian army (funded by the Regan administration) were an attempt to frame the guerrillas (or revolutionaries, depending on what way you look at it), to turn public opinion against them. Ironically it all back fired with the C.I.A involvement in the mission being exposed. Although there has been a huge cover up effort and many of the criminals in question still at large, it at least saw an end to the war and the beginning of the peace process here.
There is a really graphic museum in the grounds of the U.C.A university where the murders took place. Not for the faint hearted, it provides detailed forensic report of the murders with horrible photos of the crime scene!
On a more lighter note we did manage to get out of the city for a lovely afternoon driving along a beautiful mountain route known as the Routa del Flores. Unlike the name suggests, this route climbs through the key coffee producing region with not a single flower to be seen! It doesn’t however take in some delightful towns along the way…
The highlight of us was a charming little colonial town called Ataco which seemed to have murals depicting traditional indigenous life on every wall.
Its also the place where I found my new favourite breakfast…there version of eggs benedict!