El Salvador is the smallest and most-densely populated country in Central America; it uses US Dollars as currency and is one of the cheapest places to visit. It is a beautiful place with friendly people; but having some of the highest crime rate in the region has deterred many tourists to visit the country. For us, El Salvador was a blur of ten days where we saw a glimpse of its beauty, met some interesting and wonderful people, and were mostly hanging out(not by choice) in the isolated yet exclusive marina club where we spent too much money indulging in simple luxuries such as a real bed or daily orders of watermelon smoothies.
There was not much to say about the trip itself from Huatulco, Mexico to El Salvador. We had a wide weather window to cross the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec. For those of you unfamiliar with this gulf, it is a body of water bordered by the narrow isthmus of Mexico where there is a gap between two mountain ranges. The gulf is infamous for its gale-force wind known as the T-pec, formed when the wind blowing from the north in the Gulf of Mexico is funneled through the gap and unleashes its fury in the Pacific ocean. T-pec can blow up to 40-50 knots, creating steep waves and extending 500 miles offshore. They say even commercial freighters can sustain serious damage from T-pec, let alone a sailboat our size. Sailors crossing this gulf usually observe the weather system in the Gulf of Mexico to find a good window to leave. Feeling a bit squeamish and anxious, I made sure Jerrad found the perfect time to cross. He did; the gulf was dead calm and flat the whole entire crossing. As a matter of fact, the only rather exciting thing that happened on this trip was that one morning our boat was caught in a fishing line. While Jerrad was busy attempting to free our boat, a panga boat with two fishermen came over. They were most likely checking their lines, instead they found this silly little boat bobbing up and down, stuck. They kindly offered to cut the line to help us and in a matter of minutes we were free. Before we managed to fully thank them or take a photograph for this post, they already zoomed off into the distance – presumably to their next set of lines.
We moored our boat by the Barillas Marina Club, located 9 miles inland from the entrance to Bahia Jiquilisco, through the mangrove-lined tidal estuary channels. To enter, we had to hail through VHF for a free pilot service to guide us around shoals and breakers. While the panga pilot with its massive engine took only an hour to meet us at the starting point, it took us about two hours to complete the whole route as our brave 1 cylinder, 10HP Yanmar thumped away against the choppy waves heaved up by the shoals. It was a good thing the panguero had either his cellphone or music player with him; at one point we saw him waiting for us to catch up by sitting on the edge of his panga and playing with the waters with his feet. The pilot panguero guided us safely through the shoals and the channels, then brought all the necessary officials (Marina staff, Immigration, Port Captain and Customs) to our boat to complete the clearing-in process into El Salvador. The whole process took an hour; we were delighted and impressed.
Being on a journey on a sailboat for the last three months, all dates and times became quite unremarkable for us. It was pretty hard to remember what day of the week it was when we were sailing, let alone any holidays looming over us. Our plan to go and spend a few days in a surf lodge crumbled into pieces as Señora Emerita in the Marina office, bless her heart, called at least 20 hotels/lodges around popular surf beaches to make a reservation for us to no avail. I’d hate calling those many places to find a reservation for myself, let alone for somebody else. The cause? Semana Santa, or the Holy Week. Neither Jerrad nor I even remotely remembered the slightest about Easter, being isolated from the world aboard Vento Dea.
So it began. The Barillas Marina Club, built on what used to be a coconut plantation, is isolated from everything. The nearest town is a 40-minute drive through dirt roads lining miles of sugar cane plantation. Thus, we spent too many days in the club instead of around El Salvador. We visited San Salvador for a day, and were surprised by the multitude of American fast food chains found – even a 24-hour Denny’s was about to open. We went with the other cruisers in the Club for the weekly provisioning trip to the nearest town Usulutan, but our time was mainly focused in the large supermarkets and even larger outdoor markets. We took a dinghy trip to visit a nearby fishing village, Puerto Parada and went on a 1.5-hour drive to El Cuco beach for a day surfing trip and visited the monkeys roaming the trees near the Club. But most of the days we hung out at the palapas by the swimming pool, drinking the most delicious watermelon smoothie we’ve ever had. After sleeping for two nights on the boat and being eaten alive by no-see-ums resulting in at least 90 bitemarks and small welts all over me (Yes, I counted them – and yes, our mosquito nets and coils were not enough to deter these little buggers), I succumbed to the temptation of renting the small bungalows the Club offers. We were spoiled rotten with a nice real bed, cable TV, air conditioning and a beautiful shower. The bill we received at the end of our stay was hard to digest; no more big beds and AC for us for a while.
Then we met the two permanent residents at the Barillas Marina Club. One is a lung cancer and stroke survivor who lost much of his ability to read, yet sailed alone from California to El Salvador; a testament to the durability of the human body and mind power. The other a retired military man who has been to half the world while serving in the Navy for 25 years. And they both had no intention of leaving their paradise, El Salvador. It was an impressive (perhaps slightly concerning) sight to see the rate at which they emptied cans of the Salvadorean beer Pilsener. We enjoyed their company and learned a thing or two important lessons during our time together at the “palapa of knowledge”. At this point in our lives, we realized that there is always something we can learn from every person at every walk of life. One of them told us that he is perfectly happy in this place and he has done all he wanted, seen all he needed to see, met all the people he wanted to meet and has no fear of “checking out” for good from life, as long as he is in paradise. This struck a chord with us, being at stage where we are trying to figure out our path in life and turn our dream into reality. We all have our demons, and we try to live our life as best as we can, but how many of us seize that opportunity or live that dream life to be able to say that we are truly content with everything we’ve done, every place we’ve gone, everything we’ve seen and every contribution we’ve made to humanity that our life at this exact present moment is enough? How many of us are truly satisfied with our life that we have no regrets and no fear of death knocking too soon on our door? I can only hope someday I too can share that same feeling; it’s a damn good feeling to have.
See more pictures of El Salvador here
Get busy living or get busy dying, that’s goddamn right