So one slightly unusual piece of advice I got before coming away was from Andrew at work telling me I´d be bored sometimes, and it came... the last week I´ve been stuck in El Salvador´s version of Hotel California, dodgy-grubby-sagging-bed-Ximenia´s (one plus... spongebob squarepants pink blanket!) ... couldn´t leave for being sick sick sick with traveller´s stomach.. urgh! Watching endless rubbish american tv, making up for all those smug months of not living with a tv eh? Very little to do in the capital since everything was shut down for Semana Santa (easter) and everyone in their right mind was partying at the beaches (all I saw of the festival was a re-enactment of the stages of the cross by a local church group on the Friday morning and lots of coloured salt or sand ? religious pictures on the streets all over the place)... ach weel. At least there was another trapped person to share the crap tv with and teach desmoche (Nicaraguan version of rummy my hostdad Marcelo taught to me and Catharine back in Lagartillo) Canadian Cathy who was waiting for her awol baggage to turn up from its around-the-americas journey.
To be fair there were a couple of days in San Salvador before the sickness struck, got there on Thursday morning after one really long day, 100km plus getting from San Miguel to Cohutapeque, then a shorter but still tiring stint into the busy capital, where I got my first close encounter with traffic when a bus bumped my back pannier nudging me along the gutter... not even close to serious but gave me a shock. Even the Thursday was pretty much shut down, although I managed to visit the Museo de la Palabra y Imagen. There were three main subjects on exhibit, the first the famous Salvadoranean painter and writer Salvador Salazar Arrué, or Salarrué, born in 1899 , who was the first writer to address the 1932 massacre of thousands of Salvadoranean campesinos. I smiled at reading his prefered working set up ...writing through the night in a hammock, biro and paper resting on a big book, smoking... change the writing to drawing and I´m there.
Also really interesting was the information on the civil war in El Salvador, which started on 10th January 1981, and lasted 11 years until the peace treaty between the government and the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional) was signed on 16th January 1982, an agreement which put an end to 60 years of authoritarianism, and was the start of democracy for El Salvador. At the back of the museum was a room dedicated to Radio Venceremos, the clandestine guerrilla radio station that was the official voice of the FMLN throughout the civil war, broacasting opposition propoganda and information from ´the Cave of the Passions` in the rural mountains of Morazán. Radio Venceremos played an important role by speaking out against the violations of human rights that were rife in San Salvador, such as the thousands of murders and disappearances of civilians. The radio´s continuing existance over the years demonstrated the territorial control and popular support of the insurgent forces and was important for the moral of the FMLN.
One of the events that contributed to the start of the Civil War was the assassination on the 24th March 1980 of the popular Salvadoranean Archbishop, Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero. There was a large display dedicated to him in the museum and another day Cathy and I visited a gallery with a 30 year anniversary exhibition of paintings dedicated to his memory. He was seriously dedicated to helping the poor of his country, passing a lot of time amongst the people and in an beautifully humane gesture, diverted the funds for the reconstruction of the capital´s Cathedral Metropolitana to feed the poor in 1977. More shocking even than his assassination was to read about how during his funeral government armed forces shot at and killed many mourners following his coffin into the Cathedral. Perhaps unsurprising of a government that murdered thousands of it´s population thoughout the years of the war, a fact memorialised in the Monument to the Memory and Truth in Parque Cusuctlan. It is a disturbing thing to stand infront of such a physically large list of names, 29,134 names, it has a much larger impact than any written number, especially when you read the same surname time and again, and imagine the relationships between these people, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, nieces, uncles, cousins, thousands who were assassinated or ´disappeared´never to be heard from again. There was also a list of 300 odd masacres throughout the country, including college groups and whole villages. It made me incredibly thankful for my freedom of speech which we take for granted as a right, but it seems too often it is a luxury.
San Salvador in general was an odd place, the part around the hostel and even when I ventured further afield was very rich and North America, big air conditioned shopping malls as expensive as at home, huge billboards everywhere and chain fast food place after chain fast food place including the ubiquitous Mister Donut, which I have to admit I rinsed for its stomach settling chicken soup! For some reason the city reminded me of the Vienna of the 90´s film version of Romero and Juliet, perhaps the juxtaposition of allthe US-like advertising juxtasupposed with all the religious iconography? In the Western-esque environment I ended up going to the cinema twice in as many days, saw Alice in Wonderland (thought at first I´d make it an even more surreal experience by going to the 3D Spanish showing but changed my mind... Tim Burton does well enough on the surreal front as it is) the other film was Shutter Island, not bad...) It also rained mad-heavily for a couple of afternoons, oddly enough coinciding with both times that the lovely Salvadoranean Rodrigo (who spoke perfect English and turned out to be a web designer and motion graphics animator leading to lots of geeky conversations) took Cathy and I to mirador points above the city, though the first one we did get to look out across the nighlights before the downpour.
For all my moaning (come on, I´m British, it had to come sometime, and I´m a rubbish patient!) there was another really good point to being stuck in the city. One of the early unsick nights Rodrigo had taken us out to a few bars (including Irish... but no cider or pints!) and at one I met Maro, a really talented jeweller working with metal who ended up piercing all my seeds I´d collected in Nicaragua, so now I can finally start to make things with them, wicked!
I finally left the capital yesterday, a bit premature as it turned out because I then got so violently sick on the road after about 40km that I had to ask for a lift from a police pick-up for the last 3km to the nearest hostel in El Congo. It turned out to be a ´couples´motel...where they give you a complimentary condom along with the towel, soap and toilet paper when you check in and charge you by the day and night so ironically its turned out to be the most expensive place I´ve stayed yet. I was so zonked I slept all through the day and night, didn´t see or hear any other guests and felt better enough this morning to leave for the very short distance left to Santa Ana where I checked into the Casa Verde which is pretty much a building site apart from the one room I´m sharing with Austrian Andrea.
Oh and another good thing that came of my time in San Salvador was a resolution to my plastic bag guilt issues of the trip. After years of being an annoyingly persistent anti plastic bag person back home am finding it hard not to use them here, everything is sold in them, including water (since Honduras all the water is treated or mineral so you often buy it in bags which is admittedtly better than plastic bottles) And after seeing the rubbish burners in Honduras have been extremely aware of the rubbish I´m producing as an individual, I don´ñt want my plastioc fumes killing anyone...so when Cathy told me about a place in Guatemala where they use plastic bottles stuffed with plastic bags as building ´bricks´ I was well chuffed, and have started stuffing my own bottle to drop off on the way past Lake Atilan... good solution for the time being.