old house in Santa Ana
my arrival in El Salvador, one of the most dangerous countries in the world - probably the best hostel of my journey and houses that resemble prisons
El Salvador - a country name like a painting. As a child, I loved to spend my free time browsing through my country encyclopedia. I imagined how paradisiacal it might be there. The country covers only 21,000 km², making it the smallest country in Central America, but it still has everything that characterises the other surrounding countries: Volcanoes, sea, jungle, and cities with colonial buildings
However, the country is currently facing the bitter reality of being one of the most dangerous countries on earth. What irony of fate that the very country named after Jesus Christ has been in violence for years. First a bloody civil war lasting for years and today the murdering youth gangs, the Maras, who terrorize the country and who are also a late consequence of this civil war.
What would the Saviour (in Spanish El Salvador) say?
Many tourists therefore avoid the country completely, and drive from Guatemala directly to Honduras or even further east to Nicaragua.
Santa Ana was the first stop of my stay in El Salvador. "To get in the mood" I had read before, how the record player of the Salvadorian national football team, Alfredo Pacheco, was shot here a few months earlier by gangsters in the open street.
All this only increased my curiosity to explore the country on my own. Is the country really as barbaric as it is presented in the media?
Travel to El Salvador
I drove there from Guatemala City by direct bus. The border crossing was smooth. On the other side of the border, the bus was waiting for me.
I exchanged a few Guatemalan quetzales at the border for American dollars, which has been the official currency since 2001. The Salvadoran government had hoped for an economic upswing through the change - in vain.
The first impressions of the country inspired me. Wherever I looked, I saw this beautiful lush green of nature that I was missing in Guatemala.
Final stop in the middle of a suburb
After just over 4 hours I reached Santa Ana. However, all passengers remained seated, they apparently drove on to San Salvador, the capital. I was the only one who got out.
On my mobile phone I saw that my hostel - the only one in the whole city - was still quite far away. The bus driver had let me out somewhere in the suburbs.
If you believe the media or the fears of other travellers it wouldn't have taken long and some evil gangster would have attacked me.
What I found, however, was the most innocent thing one can imagine, and thus the exact opposite of the descriptions of the media: I saw playing children everywhere, running around cheerfully in their white school uniforms. The parents were already waiting for them to take their children home.
I asked one of the mothers how best to get to my hostel. With my miserable Spanish I could ask her something, but even at the umpteenth time I did not yet understand what she had replied to me. She brought a man who spoke a little English and helped me choose the right city bus.
The bus took me quite close to the address of my hostel. I walked the last few meters. It was already obvious to me how hermetically sealed off every building was. Glass windows or wooden doors do not exist here. Heavy steel doors, bars or even barbed wire make it difficult for criminals to enter even ordinary houses.
Probably the best hostel of my entire trip
The access to my hostel, the Hostel Casa Verde, resembled a high security building. A heavy metal door opened after the hostel manager saw me through the camera.
The hostel was like a paradisiacal oasis in this city. I still miss it today. This is exactly how a hostel has to be! It was on the verge of perfection. Hostel boss Carlos is an absolutely cool guy and he really thought of everything. In the hostel there is a courtyard with 2 swimming pools, some hammocks, a terrace with a beautiful view of the city, a TV where you can watch DVDs, lockers with integrated plugs for charging and above each bed hung a personal (!) fan. How cool is that!
The two kitchens were in perfect condition and had lots of kitchen utensils and even a huge, well-filled fridge from which one could take a beer or a soda at any time and at a relatively good price.
The tourist information he had provided was also comprehensive and accurate. For example the location of a tasty small stand with local delicacies, the so-called Pupusa. I liked them so much that I took my food every one of the 4 evenings there and Carlos gave me the nickname Pupusa Man.
Pupusas are made of cornmeal, the filling consists of bean puree, cheese, carrots or meat - depending on your taste. They are usually served with curtido, a pickled cabbage salad with chilli, and a tomato sauce and typically eaten with the fingers.
Discovering the city
The next morning the doorbell rang at the hostel. A face I knew entered. It was the Bulgarian I met in Belize and with whom I travelled in Guatemala. Afterwards we explored the city together. I especially liked the weather in Santa Ana. The thermometer showed finally again more than 30° C, exactly the right thing to finally shake off my cold, which I had caught in the too cool south of Guatemala.
Together we strolled over the city market, ate some sweet fruits and looked at, well strengthened, all the many churches and colonial buildings that the city offers. The city is framed by a magnificent panorama of green mountains and the volcano of the same name, Santa Ana.
Houses like prisons
I noticed that El Salvador is a "different caliber" than the other countries of Central America. Without exception, every building was equipped with metal lattice bars. Even the local university, with all its security measures, looks more like a prison. Even the smallest shopkeeper hides behind metal rods.
All in all I had a wonderful time in Santa Ana, especially bceause of my my trip to the volcano of the same name and my tour through the Ruta de las Flores in the surrounding area.