December 22, 2006

Tremors in El Salvador

On Wednesday I bolted for the hostel garden at 2am, certain the sky was caving, or the beams shifting.

There have been over 800 seismic tremors since last Sunday in Northern El Salvador, one that was 4.8, the rest negligible, if sober bedspins and squaking barn animals don´t phase you. Most of these have been between 11pm and 5am, leaving me a zombie wreck, sending me to sleep with my room door wide open (they jam in quakes) that night. In San Lorenzo people just said the hell with it, threw their mattresses in the street and slept in jeans and sneakers. Over a thousand homes are damaged, mostly improvisory or old quarters inhabited by the poor.

Add this to the soup of everything else that disconcerts about El Salvador: Raw war images in the museum, precise folk art scenes tucked into a miniature carving like a strawberry or egg (sorpresas), retired school buses from Cranston and Cooperstown turned public transport--recast in psychadelic tones, gleaming clean, tossing passengers to the pavement without hitting one full stop. Men hissing and clicking appreciation, topped by an old woman who stopped me on the street to say, ¨Me alegro por tus ojos.¨ (it helps when they´re blue). It took me a week to meet other tourists. I was beginning to believe I was the only one. A suspicious feeling that is.

But---it´s mostly been lovely. I have had El Salvador to myself, which first meant holding hands with paranoia, then precaution. It has ebbed into drifting conversations with the streetside sandwich girl (wondering about dad--seven years gone in the US) when the bus never comes to the elderly neighbor who uses the skinny apartment entrance as his patio (¨Marco Polo, now that´s a story¨) and the deadicated surfers, radical sons of old money, and people--hands split, heaving hundred pound sacks--who bring us Starbucks.

There is no reconciling--the homicide statistics and the not-distant war with such, well, friendliness. As a traveller it is too tempting to make an explanation. Folks are willing to talk (best when they´re not the ones clicking or hissing), to walk you five blocks instead of giving the directions, to respond in a way that´s frank. It makes for something of a trip.

1 comment:

Nia said...

Yet another example--by our brave tourista--that we can never boil populations down to an uncomplicated "them."There is war, and tremors, and people giving directions and hauling coffee bean bags.

Was it liberating--once you got past the trepidation--to be in a place where the other tourists aren't?

And what's with these tremors? Is El Salvador on a fault line?

Merry Christmas, besos, and all wishes of good things!