Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Savior Saint is a Gritty Capital City

I've been to a few traffic-choked, chaotic and suffocatingly hot, polluted big cities in my time (Bangkok immediately comes to mind), but San Salvador comes close to taking the cake for its ability to exhaust the visitor after only an hour or so out & about the grimy central district. Like Mexico City the altitude here is already high while the city itself is surrounded by higher mountains. This tends to keep stagnant the noxious smoke & fumes from hundreds of belching buses that ply these city streets on a constant basis.

If the pollution wasn't so bad, the heat & humidity would knock anyone out by itself, but taken all together it makes for a health hazardous triple whammy. Every time I make an errand run I catch myself heading back to my aircon cool, cozy room after 60-90 minutes tops. But I've seen the usual sights: the one or two big cathedrals, the plazas, the parks, the markets, and the big colonial government buildings. This city makes you feel that if you've seen one Central American capital then you've seen them all.

So it's onward and outward again tomorrow, probably to the eastern El Salvador hub of San Miguel where I can catch a Tica bus to Managua. I went looking for the Tica terminal today but lost hope & gave up after an hour. I know I was close and maybe getting closer, but the locals I asked for directions from kept sending me in circles!

What more can I write about El Salvador and its capital? This country is the smallest in Central America--about the size of Massachusetts--and it has one of the smallest populations at around 7 million. It's the only country in the world named after Jesus Christ (The Savior), with its capital also named for "Saint" Savior. Salvadoreans suffered a brutal civil war in the 1980s, but now the country has been more or less at peace, at least politically, for almost two decades. Despite the fact that El Salvador has a somewhat dodgy reputation for crime & violence, I've noticed that the friendly people really seem to work hard to counteract that, welcoming the foreign visitor with goodwill & helpful advice.

It's definitely it a bit off the tourist's beaten path. You don't see very many Westerners here, American or European. But I feel it's worth a visit (it's my second in two years) to see how a remarkably tough, resiliant, vibrant people can climb their way back from such past horror & adversity--and with a generally cheerful & optimistic outlook for the future.

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