LOVE AND STREETWEAR
Now most people, when I told them we were going to El Salvador, asked me if I had a death wish... So now that we made it back alive, I think it's time I write about what took me there and some common questions you may have if considering it. My best friend and maid of honor, Matina, got engaged a year ago at a castle in Germany like one of those "love at first sight" stories you read about in fairytales. She met Carlos through work and developed a long distance friendship with him throughout the years, until timing found a way to align their paths last winter and four short months later he proposed. Being from El Salvador, he arranged to have their civil union ceremony there a year to the date of the proposal (April 14) before having their true wedding day in September in Cleveland, where Matina is from and they both now live. I'm not going to lie, traveling to El Salvador took Jake and I out of our comfort zone a little bit... with the travel advisories from the U.S Department of State and ABC News calling it the Murder Capital of the World, we couldn't help but be a little nervous. However, what wouldn't you do to see your best friend say I do for the first time, am I right? In my mind, it wasn't optional and with that we were off!
We arrived at the airport and if being the only non-hispanic people on the plane didn't make us feel slightly out of place, the workers at the airport who responded "Hahahah Americano" when we asked for help with directions was definitely a warm welcome lol. However, we made it to and through customs where our resort, The Royal Decameron Salinitas, arranged for shuttle transportation to take us straight there. Being as we had our guard up, it was a little intimidating getting into an unmarked white van with a guy who didn't speak English for a two hour ride to the resort, but we trusted our arrangements and were on our way. Those bumpy dirt roads through the villages of El Salvador were eye-opening and humbling, as there was poverty everywhere we looked: the average "houses" were huts with two walls and a ceiling, no water or electricity, people doing laundry in the river, wild cows in the middle of the road, women carrying laundry baskets miles on their heads and gas stations guarded by military police officers with M-16's around their necks. It really made us appreciate what we've been given and the opportunities we sometimes overlook.
Once we got through the guarded gates of the resort, it was truly a little hidden gem compared to everything else we had seen on our two hour drive in. We were greeted nicely by the front desk and they held our bags to let us explore while we waited for our room to be ready. The resort had lots of beautiful pools, including an enclosed natural saltwater pool on the ocean, waterslides, a spa and ocean-front hot tub. There was lots to do, plenty of dining areas and best yet it was all-inclusive. We met up with the rest of our group and enjoyed what was left of the sunshine for the day before freshening up for dinner.
The next morning we woke up early, as we were off on a little excursion to hike the Santa Ana Volcano (or Ilamatepec). In leaving the resort, we were escorted by two military police officers who accompanied us on the bus, as well as throughout the entire hike. While this did have us feeling protected, it did make us wonder why this was necessary and what they were potentially protecting us from? Carlos explained to us that there are locals who will hide in the clouds and bushes of the hike to mug travelers, which had us looking over our shoulder quite a bit on the two hour hike up the hillside, since our "protection" stayed at the back of the group and we were all hiking at a different pace. Conversely, making it to the top of the volcano was a great feeling of accomplishment, as this was a strenuous, but worthwhile hike to reach the highest point in El Salvador. I think one of the most common questions I received was "where was the red hot lava?" This stratovolcano saw it's last major activity when it erupted in 2005. This eruption caused many calderas at the top where magma had spewed and compromised the structure of the crust, forming a sinkhole and leaving a green crater lake at the center with actively boiling sulfuric acid. AKA don't slip...
A little background on my relationship with Matina, fun fact her mom used to babysit my mom from time to time when they were younger. When my mom moved to California after high school, they briefly lost touch before running into each other a few years later at a Greek Orthodox church in Cleveland one Sunday. It was then that they realized they had both married Greek men. They soon had daughters (us) and the rest is history. How fun is that? So the time had come for my lifelong friend and other half to start preparing for her civil union. Essentially Matina's entire bridal party came to El Salvador for support on this special day, so us girls headed to her suite to start getting ready! Let me tell you, Matina has some talented friends. Danielle did Matina's hair, as well as took pictures/videography of the day, while her other friend Allyssa did her makeup, turning her into the most beautifully bronzed bohemian Greek goddess I've ever seen. Isabel was her legal witness and I also must mention Kylie because her role as party starter shouldn't go unnoticed, her ability to unite these two families of different heritages/languages/backgrounds on the dance floor was magical. So we walked our beautiful bride to the beach and it was Manos No Mas :)
As with all my videos, make sure to click the little settings wheel above to turn on 1080P Hd!
The scary truths and main things to note when traveling there:
While the media can give El Salvador a very uninviting reputation, it is important to understand what fuels the media in order to determine whether or not the fears you have in traveling there are justified or even apply to you, as a tourist. Unfortunately the harsh reality is that the country is very impoverished and the people struggle in every which way. Kindly meaning, blogs can make everything look and sound like a fairytale, but this isn't your next spring break destination or family vacation. While the tropical coastline is magnificent, it is one of the poorest countries in Central America and it's no vacation to see the lifestyle they live.
With this it is important to note my first tip: bring nothing valuable with you on your travels, as theft is common. Trust me, you're already going to stick out like a sore thumb no matter what, so what's the point in flashing your technology or wearing a nice watch, to me it's not worth it. Anything that you're not 100% willing to part with, no questions asked, leave at home. Point being, don't draw attention to yourself in a negative way or for my Wedding Crashers fans... "draw attention to yourself, but on your own terms".
The next hump I think you have to get past, aside from seeing all the poverty, is accepting that fear is noticeable and guns are everywhere. Every shop has body guards with a shotgun, rifle or machine gun due to the fact that almost all businesses have to pay taxes to the respected gang that owns their area (according to the local that toured us up the mountain). That being said it makes sense that most, if not all, of the deaths in El Salvador that make up that frightening statistic are gang-related or involve police brutality. Organized crime is huge in these areas and with that comes some safety issues. Therefore if you decide to visit, my second tip: it's important to STRONGLY research the areas in which you will be staying and visiting to make sure they are not in areas controlled or affected by gang violence. Also stick to highly populated areas and make sure when you are sightseeing you use guided tours when possible that will provide you with security to accompany you.
My third tip: I think is kind of a given when traveling anywhere tropic, but I'm going to stress this so you don't forget... BUG SPRAY AND SUN SCREEN. These bugs aren't your typical mosquitos, these babies are savages and they're all quite literally out for blood. Reapply, reapply, reapply. That goes for sunscreen too, the sun is a lot stronger here. I promise you, even with my skin tone I fried (WITH sunscreen).
Lastly, my fourth and final tip: a little Spanish goes a long way. I'm not saying you need to learn the language, but knowing some basics will definitely help you get by ...and not only that, the citizens respect and respond to it a lot more and you will be treated a lot nicer for doing so!
I thought this blog had a well rounded list of key phrases if you're looking, but technology is amazing there is an app for everything now.
PSA: Ultimately, we didn't get to see everything that El Salvador has to offer. The reality is that there are dangers everywhere you go, but for us the risk wasn't worth the reward to travel through the unfamiliar area. However, I know plenty of people more well-traveled who are comfortable in foreign places. When all is said and done that's for you to decide! Check out the video below for a short snippet of what we did see on our short exploration off the resort!
Writing is my outlet.