Big City Trip — San Salvador

Barillas Marina, El Salvador

Yesterday I was up at 5:00 a.m. for a private car ride into San Salvador, hoping to get new visa pages and a printer, and see a bit of the countryside. For $100, a private car and driver was available for the day, and Francisco, my driver, was very accommodating and helpful.

He dropped me off at the US Embassy, a beautiful property on the edge of the city, and after just an hour and a half, picked me up again for a visit to Las Cascadas, a huge, modern shopping mall with an Office Depot! Found a great new Epson all-in-one wireless printer, some replacement business card blanks, extra ink cartridges, helped along with Francisco acting as my “business manager,” not uncommon in Central America. Once we finished with my business, Francisco had to stop at Barillas’ city offices, so I enjoyed the drive through the city and a pleasant wait with the security guard.

San Salvador is a beautiful old city, sitting on the shoulders of a volcano, with clean streets, fairly uniform sidewalks, and a look of prosperity about it. After the 13-year civil war that finally ended in the 90s, the country is united, prosperous, and proud of its democracy. And clearly, the US interests prevailed, rightly or wrongly, evidenced by the Burger Kings, Office Depots, shopping malls, and English signage. The city seems clean, tidy, well-organized and fairly safe, and like any other Latin American city, full of armed security guards everywhere.

Making Pupusas

I told Francisco I’d treat him to lunch if he found us a good local place to eat, so on the way out of the city, along the freeway, we stopped at a rest-stop equivalent lined with Pupuserías – little entrepreneurial shops specializing in the local comfort food pupusas. These are like empanadas, though made with rice flour, stuffed with everything from cheese to beans to flowers and herbs, made to order, and accompanied by a relish made of cabbage, carrots, citrus and jalapeno, all eaten by hand. Francisco and I each ate three, topped off with iced hibiscus tea, and the total bill was about $5. What a country. He explained to me that this place is known locally as the “pueblo de pupusas” or “pupusa town” because there are over 200 separate vendors in this one little stretch of freeway rest stop. Delicious!

The other task while here was to find a cheap Salvadoran cell phone so Ole could communicate with Independence of the Seas more cheaply than with our US cell phones (at $3 per minute for incoming calls, a 30-minute conversation costs a fortune!). No luck in San Salvador finding any phone less than $45, so we stopped in Usulutan on the way back to the marina and found a $20 phone, a $20 card, and back in bidness. There are now regulations all over Latin America, though, that require any cell phone to be purchased and/or licensed by a legal resident of the country, ostensibly to keep track of illegal transactions of one sort or another. So part of Francisco’s service was registering the phone in his name and handling the finances. It didn’t seem too far outside the bounds of custom for this type of transaction to take place.

The local philosophy seems to be “when the door is closed by some legal restriction, use the window.”


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