Thursday, 24 September 2015

El Salvador - Part 1

Most overlanders race through El Salvador and Hondures, and quite honestly, who can blame them. 

El Salvador is tiny. It's about the size of Wales and yet it has more than twice the population - currently at 6.3 million. This year (2015), it earned the ignoble status of highest murder rate in the world (not including current war zones like Syria). Compared to the UK as a whole (with a population of 64 million), you are 40% more likely to be murdered in El Salvador, 3 times more likely to have aids and chances are you would earn 80% less income. 

The 12 year civil war ended here in 1992. Sadly though, that was not the end of this little country's troubles. It is estimated that there are around 25,000 gang members at large with a  further 9,000 in prison. Criminal youth gang members are estimated at a further 60,000. That doesn't bode well for the future. 

I decided to take up an offer to stay with a fellow biker in the capital - San Salvador - for a few days and see if I could find some beauty within the reported 'beast'.

My home for a few days
My ride from the border to the capital took just a few hours along fairly decent roads. Certainly compared to Honduras, which had craters just waiting to swallow you up on every corner. You really had to look where you were going! Once through the busy, complicated border, I rode for perhaps 30 miles before I stopped to grab an ice cream. It was hot but seemed to be getting cooler. I was VERY glad of that. I chose my ice cream from the gas station and sat next to Rhonda, happily watching the world go by. Just then  5 army looking guys came around the corner, furnished with AK47s. They smiled and began asking me where I was from and checking out the bike. They then stood around me as if guarding me, while I ate my ice cream. I wondered if this level of security was necessary but was grateful in any case. 10 minutes later I was off again, waving goodbye and wondering what I was in for during my short stay. 

The view from the window
Gabriel Escobar (no relation to Pablo!) is a 20 year old dreamer who lives in the heart of San Salvador, down another rambling and busy back street. His story is one of triumph over adversity. His father died when he was just 16 years old and, due to his long illness and some rather complicated circumstances before that, his family were left with nothing but the building that once housed the family business of grape import/export. They had no choice but to turn it into their home. Now the large industrial refrigerators in the heart of their home are rented out and Gabriel, his mother, his Grandmother,  and 2 brothers live in what was once the office and storage space above. Gabriel's triumph comes from the strength he has found within. Going from a private education and living the life of luxury to a more basic lifestyle that saw him selling mobile phone accessories on the streets at 15 and living in a warehouse, has turned him into the philanthropist that sits before me today. All smiles, well spoken and full of hopes and dreams. 

My room is in the old lockup downstairs. A bed and a desk and the regular drone of the fridges next door. Rhonda parked next to me. It is comfortable and it has Wifi! That is all I need. 

Sharing some Pupasas with Gab
The first evening we spent chatting and trying out some local food (Pupusas). Gabriel tells me about the troubles in his country and how he hopes to make a difference. He had considered leaving for a better life somewhere else, but after considering all the options, his heart tells him to stay and try to make a difference. Listening to this charismatic, ambitious young man with so many ideas forming, his whole life ahead of him, I tried to imagine where he would be in 10 years time. With his attitude and dreams all focused on helping others, I have high hopes for him and I look forward to following his progress. It takes just one man to start to make that difference. 

My cosy room 
That night did not allow much sleep for some reason so I got up late. Gab and his mum had already gone to work, but Naome, the lady who helps to look after their 98 year old Grandmother, showed me around the kitchen so I could cook up some much needed eggs and coffee. Over breakfast we chatted via google translate. Naomi told me how she hopes to join a convent one day, how she is learning the violin and how she used to have her own sowing business until, like in so many cases, the gangs began to pay her regular visits and take all her money. Gab's mum took her in as part of the family. It was very funny chatting via google translate. Sometimes it would translate incorrectly and she would end up inadvertently saying some VERY rude things! She would have been mortified had she known so I didn't embarrass her by explaining! 

Me and Naomi
Naomi was concerned for me that I had no religion and pretty shocked that my 22 year old son had a girlfriend already! I explained that attitudes were very different in the UK and it really wasn't anything out of the ordinary over there. I didn't go as far as explaining that I was already a grandmother. I wasn't sure she was ready for that!  Regardless of our differences, we spent a good hour, sharing lives and giggling over coffee. An hour I will look back on with fondness for a long time to come. It rained all day that day and so I spent most of it writing.

Rhonda outside my room
Gab is keen for me to learn about his country, but not just the bad side. He wants to share with me the beautiful El Salvador, and so has wangled the day off tomorrow to take me and Rhonda for a ride to see the sights. I am keen to learn more about this troubled country and looking forward to seeing the good bits. Gabriel will be the perfect person to show me around, being passionate and informed! 

If the weather is good to us we are going to check out the crater lake and some trails up a volcano not far from here. We may even do some camping. This will be Gab's first time camping. Something he will need to get used to if he is to fulfil one of his dreams of becoming an overlander.

Let's hope it stops raining!


  1. The way you travel is humbling to all (including me) who travel in luxury from one first world metropolis to the next, or to resorts in the world's sun and sea belt. You and your blog make a difference.