Lives in: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Destination: San Marcos, El Salvador
Trip Date: May 2014
El Salvador is the smallest and most-densely populated country in Central America. Although crime and violence are serious problems in El Salvador, after taking proper precautions, foreigners safely travel to El Salvador each year for study, tourism, business and volunteer work, enjoying the culture and many sights that El Salvador has to offer. Steven recently visited El Salvador and shares his own experience below.
Passport Health: What parts of El Salvador did you visit and what was the purpose of your trip?
Steven: My main destination was San Marcos, El Salvador, but I visited and worked in the following cities: San Salvador, San Miguelito, Soyapango, Comasagua and the Volcano of San Salvador. I traveled as the Director of Evangelium & Apologia Ministries, a Christian para-church organization, and our purpose for the trip was for missions, the propagation of the Christian faith, while strategically, in effect, re-orienting youth’s lives towards peace and progress instead of commonplace violence and crime.
Passport Health: Did you travel alone, with family/friends, or with a group?
Steven: I traveled with my wife, Cindy, and two colleagues, Filipe of Edmonton, Alberta, and Ciby of Atlanta, Georgia.
Passport Health: Do you have any previous experience with travel abroad?
Steven: This was my first time leaving North America.
Passport Health: How did the daily life of the locals differ from the life you live back home?
Steven: The daily life of the locals is very different in comparison to Canada. Where in North America it’s common to have a closed home, in El Salvador it’s a luxury. For example, many parts of the homes are uncovered by roofs, such as the main hall, bathrooms, and corridors. It’s open air which allows wildlife to enter the house on a consistent basis.
Security and safety is another concern, no one is safe in their neighborhoods. Police and military soldiers often patrol the streets with machine guns, shot guns, and grenades. The violence and crime has spilled into every street due to the on-going wars between the national crime gangs (“The Maras” and the “MS-13”), and the federal government. Foreigners are targeted and killed for their money on a regular basis, even locals must mind their own business and seek the safest route in groups. Approximately 10 cars are stolen each day, which has led to increased poverty and debt.
Another difference is the quality of life regarding hygiene, where bathrooms are always un-attached to homes, no water is clean and drinkable unless it’s bottled and from the supermarket, and when the water supply runs out in the homes, showers often then involve buckets of filthy water.
Passport Health: Did you eat any local delicacies or interesting foods during your trip?
Steven: I had the opportunity of eating the national delicacy of Pupusas, soft tortillas filled with chicharon (pork), cheese, beans, and other combinations. Even local fruits such as Nances which are not commonly found to be imported into Canada are extremely sweet exotic fruits.
Passport Health: Was the weather any different than in your hometown, and if so, was it challenging to acclimate?
Steven: There was a difference, where Toronto is often colder during the spring season, but El Salvador nation-wide often hangs around the 35 degree Celsius mark, but drastically drops to 16 degrees overnight. The fast changing climate from day to night is challenging because you don’t know how to dress, whether to bring a sweater or to go sleeveless.
Passport Health: What was the most memorable experience during your trip?
Steven: My most memorable experience was speaking to schools in the cities of San Jacinto and San Miguelito, where over 200 students attended a lecture where I spoke on the temptations of youth to leave the school system and incorporate with the national crime gangs. I encouraged them to continue investing in their futures, to follow their dreams in their pursuit of professions, and to get them connected with a church where they can live virtuous lives building up and improving their communities under biblical teachings and local leaders. Their response was overwhelmingly positive, and having brought 50 New Testament Bibles for distribution, students were desperate for a copy, but our supply could not meet the vast demand.
Passport Health: Did you find any cultural similarities between El Salvador and Toronto?
Steven: I grew up in a Latino background. My mother is Ecuadorian and my father is Portuguese, so culturally everything is the way I was raised. It is for this reason that I did not experience a culture shock.
Passport Health: What was most surprising about your trip?
Steven: The most surprising aspect of my trip was seeing how tense busy streets were, and how scary desolate streets are. No matter where you are, there are always heavily armed men guarding properties and public streets. Even military soldiers patrolling highways with armored vehicles can be intimidating.
Passport Health: What places of interest or activities do you recommend in El Salvador?
Steven: I recommend visiting the beaches of El Salvador. The volcanic sand throughout the beaches makes it a black beach, a very unique scenery. What I would also recommend is visiting the Mayan ruins for educational and touristic purposes. But above all, I would recommend visiting local churches and volunteering to help with meeting the needs of their communities.
Passport Health: How did your trip impact the way you view life abroad?
Steven: It opened my eyes. We take life, security, clean water, and our citizenship for granted. In fact, we worry about acquiring our wants, when there are countless of families worried about whether they can afford their next meal.
Are you planning a trip to El Salvador or another country? Be sure you are healthy and prepared for your adventure by scheduling a visit with a travel health specialist before you go.