Apr/May 2010 Travel

El Salvador: Intoxicatingly Dangerous

by Jennifer Lawson Zepeda

We live in El Salvador, where people wake in the cool darkness to birds singing songs of "buenos dias, dias, dias," and "ki, ki, ki, ki, kiiiii." Around five in many colonias, roosters sing as the pungent coffee brews mixing with the scent of limestone and damp jungle air, beginning a new day.

The mornings are fresh, sheltered by waxy green leaves of Almendra and Mango trees snaked with strangler vines. The sun backlights these leaves in scattered patterns as the sun rises.

Midday, the heat leaves sweet sticky milk on your skin. Around two or three, a nice breeze fans the moisture, cooling you off again. It feels lovely, like a nice warm bath—a quick burst of air after a hot shower. You are drenched in it and absorbed in this country filled with life.

At night, thunder explodes in the green volcanic hills sounding through the city like a round of mortar. The rains drench the streets, leaving them shining like a rough wet nickel. Timeworn walls in courtyards, stories high, once whitewashed, are etched in mildew, remnants from tropical growth cut back and unforgiving rains, like a dreary portrait of the civil wars.

Death lies around the corner of many streets here. Maras, extortionists, corrupt politicians—they all hold the mystery of death in clenched fists like the emotional outbursts that bring a man's legs to collapse beneath him. The bodies are everywhere: in the colonias, the mountains, hidden beneath overgrown vines in jungles in places like Mozotle. Places where coffee grows and life ends, where an aging woman's face tells the story of poverty and the tattooed lower lip reveals her son's lack of hope.

Places where colorful birds like the Torogoz, with it's blue tail feathers flit from wall to tree to power line like acrobats. Hidden in huge green leaves the size of plates. At night, the flora is as dark and mysterious as this country. Strangler figs shoot up the trunks of palm trees, with shoots of vines wrapping around trees breaking into a million roots before they touch ground. They are as hidden as the smiles of the people who walk the late night streets.

We are a country of candlelit marches for Monsignor Romero, remembering his passing and the bloodstains on our cement during the civil war. We are a country of guanacos, guanabana, cocote, arrayan, cocos, pina and palm trees. We are people with passion, bursts of anger, loud demonstrative conversations, and deep love.

This is El Salvador, and we love it here.


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