Crossing into the most dangerous country of our entire trip was a daunting prospect. After all this smallest of the Central American countries has recently been given the title of”Murder Capital of the World”. There is no denying it, with record breaking murder rates, government warnings and its violent gangs, a lot of backpackers choose to side-step this battered and bruised Nation.
El Salvador’s Crime and Safety Report alongside world news headlines makes for some terrifying reading. Murder, rape, kidnapping, car-jackings, muggings, beatings, extortion, drug-trafficking and it’s gun culture. It’s amazing that we decided to take anytime off the bike.
More than 3,830 people have been murdered in El Salvador this year. With one killing on average every hour. El Salvador has a murder rate of 92.0 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, and this is expected to rise. To give you a comparison the Uk’s murder rate per 100,000 is 1.0. Making El Salvador 90 times deadlier than the UK!
Fortunately we were with Karen and Dieter. Karen (from Ireland) and Dieter (from Germany) have both lived in Spain for over 20 years and were on hand to not only help us with the language but also to get themselves across the border too! Nervously we rode down the line, still in Guatemala to export ourselves and then our bike. 25minutes and we were rolling through no man’s land towards El Salvador. What greeted us was beyond our imagination!
A friendly customs official who helped us through the process.. Listened to our pigeon Spanish and stamped our documents without charge.. Less than 1 hour passed and we had been welcomed into our 6th country with no guns being fired and our belongings still with us! It just goes to show that it is important to listen to the news but not to take it as the gospel truth.. Experiencing these things for ourselves is the only way to ultimately be able to have an opinion. Once into El Salvador, the road continued in the same way as it had finished in Guatemala. We ride 55miles to a town called Juayaya. We opted against the 80 dollar hotel and chose a cute hostel owned by a British guy. That’s right folks.. A British owned hostel in El Salvador.. We really do get everywhere! Tom relaxed by cooking a superb Spag bol.-even if it could have fed an entire football team.
We woke and excitedly headed to truly wonderful spot, El Cuco, to stay at Tortuga Verde. A beautiful tropical hideout on over a mile of seemingly deserted coastline. We spent 4 nights in paradise. By day, we relaxed in hammocks, walked or rode along the beach, caught some surf and took part in the complementary yoga lessons on the beach. This secret paradise also happens to be a sea turtle sanctuary and every evening we were able to release baby turtles back into the sea. The nature enthusiast owner Tom, happily shared his story about how he helping to protect sea turtles from extinction. By night we could see flashlights scanning the beach in search for turtle eggs to be sold to local restaurants. The owner explained how he uses his money to buy the turtle eggs, and when they hatch he frees them back to the ocean. Whists chatting to the owner, we could’t resist asking him about the gang culture, was its really that bad? He revealed that he was paying protection money to the gangs, as were all the other restaurants in the local town. He was quite clear about what would happen if he missed a payment.
Our unexpected relaxing was brought to an abrupt halt by a trip to an El Salvador clinic for Tom to receive stitches in his arm. Tom had a short surfing career as a large wave wiped the board away from him whilst leaving a deep cut in his tricep. Immediately it became clear that stitches would be necessary but the staff advised us the hospital would deem the injury not serious enough so they recommended a local clinic. Karen kindly offered to join us as translator, when we arrived we noticed there was just as many animals as humans in the waiting room. A family of chickens were happily wandering around as we waited for Tom’s name to be called. With an ineffective anaesthetic Tom painfully felt every-one of the 4 stitches pierce through his skin.
So what did we think of El Salvador? The truth is we loved it. We both felt completely safe exploring this country and we were greeted by smiling El Salvadorians at every turn. However, we are in no doubt that if we went looking for trouble we would have easily found it.