Other than a brutal civil war (in which the US was intimately involved) and a variety of natural disasters (which the US had nothing to do with, we think), most Americans don’t know much about the recent history of El Salvador. In fact, when Meg’s contact with a rural clinic brought us to the country, we didn’t real know what to expect. We found a fun, beautiful, friendly, and modern country. Despite its small size (about that of Massachusetts), El Salvador has great geographical diversity. From the mountains and the beach to the cosmopolitan capital and cute colonial towns, El Salvador really has it all and all within a few hours drive. As we heard on multiple occasions, for Salvadorians a drive of over two hours is “a long drive”.
We started our time in the country with several days of meetings in San Salvador; from people at the US embassy, US AID, NGOs, and more we met with many types of people. And almost universally we found them to friendly and forthcoming. As capital cities in Central America go, San Salvador is among the best (perhaps only Panama City might eclipse it). To those who know Central American capitals this might seem like faint praise, but found the city to be a pleasant, even if not particularly full of tourist sites (which may account for nearly complete absence of tourists).
After San Salvador, the medical clinic we visited in the province of Morazan was a sudden change. The Morazan province is among the most rural in the country and although only a few hours from the capital, it feels very removed. The town where the clinic is has no electricity (though it is scheduled to receive power later this year) and limited running water. As such, the work that is performed at the La Estancia clinic is both impressive and much needed. After learning about the clinic from American volunteers and the local staff, we spent the night and soaked in the local culture in the town of 200 people.
Morazan was also a rebel stronghold during El Salvador’s long civil war. Many of the families in the area escaped across the mountainous border to Honduras during the war while the men resisted the government forces. There are many reminders throughout the province of the war. Among them is the Revolutionary Museum in the town of Perquin. While it isn’t the world’s most interactive museum, the chance to see many remnants of the war firsthand with a former guerilla as a guide is worth the trip.
After the mountains of Morazan, we headed down to the coast (with a short stop at the airport to change our flights- lopping our planned trip to Bolivia and Peru off our itinerary and replacing it with a return to Guatemala to investigate some more job leads). A night in the little beach town of El Zonte was a very pleasant experience. El Zonte is a small cluster of houses on lovely beach with a great surf break- all under an hour from San Salvador. While we probably won’t end up living in El Salvador (as we found better professional opportunities in Guatemala), we would highly recommend it for your next vacation.