The morning of my big RTW departure I woke in a panic. There was some legitimate stress. The place I’d lined up to stay – my first Couchsurfing experience – fell through hours before I was to leave. But I was also just a hot hot mess. It is not easy to divulge because lets be real here, I’m leaving behind the cubicle to experience the world, which puts me somewhere around incredibly lucky and incredibly privileged. But all the emotions of leaving my family and creature comforts to walk towards the unknown caught up with me. I pulled it together in time to find a new place to stay and then to take the longest hot shower to date; only to walk out of the bathroom to my sister delivering the news that I’d get to enjoy one more hot shower yet because my flights were jacked up. The next opportunity to fly out…TWO DAYS LATER! Oddly it worked out for the best. I had this practice run to get out my emotions, come to terms with taking the next step, and enjoy my family for a little while longer.
Two days later, I arrived in San Salvador’s airport at the convenient hour of 2:30am. I’d read enough online about safety to make walking out of the airport unnerving as my anxiety escalated. In general being on the roads this late is not advisable and even more so as a solo female.
My options were to wait 2 hours for buses to start running or take a $30 taxi. I grabbed 1 of the 3 taxis that stuck around for our late flight and opted for immediate sleep. The driver quelled my fears by attempting to converse. It quickly became apparent how little of the Spanish language I remember and how much of that little was stored incorrectly. But I tried and I’ll continue to try.
My first couchsurfing experience was a complete success. A lovely lady, close to me in age, answered the door at 3:30am to host me…A.M.! I merely expected a bed to crash on for a few hours before I headed up to this organic farmhouse volunteering deal, but when I woke Krissia suggested we take a tour of central San Salvador and try some of El Salvador’s famous pupusas (thick, hand-made corn or rice tortilla that is filled with a blend of goodness). I couldn’t pass up such hospitality! I tried a carrot pupusa made with rice and half a bean & cheese and half a baby-pumpkin both made with corn. Yum! Very filling and only 50 cents each!
After lunch we walked around downtown, peering into historic churches and learning about the area. I wish I had gotten some photos, but I was told that if I pulled out my camera in the plaza (even my cheaper pt-and-shoot) we would be followed. The only way to take a picture was if you were standing right next to an armed police officer (which there were none of a the time). Hmm. Pass. That opened the discussion on safety here in El Salvador as Krissia casually mentioned that she has been robbed at least 15 times and recently had a gun held to her head for her cell phone. She did reassure me that I would likely be fine, as the gangs tend to avoid tourists so as not to draw attention from the FBI. I hesitate drawing any conclusions from this limited conversation and exposure given for instance we have gang violence and drug trafficking in the States too. I’ll still employ the standard travel precautions regardless.
I accepted the offer to stay another night, allowing me to learn more about my host and the history of this area. It was such a positive experience overall. From learning about their complicated past from a local to eating her homemade veggie sushi to having her accompany me on the buses (so nice), it was more generosity and hospitality than I could have hoped for.
Today I head towards Santa Ana to an organic farm house where I’ll be volunteering for a few weeks. I found this opportunity on helpx.net and found a great review on this travel blog I’ve been following. It should be another great chance to meet new people and learn more about El Salvador. I’ll be sure to share my experience and some pictures here soon!