Leaving the chaos behind

After two weeks in El Salvador, I left the country at 1am Sunday. While in San Salvador, I felt much safer than I did in past trips. I can't really say why. I walked from around the National University down to the Cathedral. I took the 44 bus which goes from the Comercial San Luis area out to the UCA and then to Santa Elena/Santa Tecla. Fortunately, for me, I seem to have just missed problems.

One person was killed on the 44 a few days ago. A hotel where I had an interview had a grenade thrown at it in the last few days. One of the young boys who was friends with the people I lived with while in San Salvador was beaten up by gang members while I was there because he was talking to a mechanic and they were not happy about that. He really couldn't say why they gave him a beating except that they were in a bad mood - which can actually be the best explanation there is.

At the airport, I listened in on a conversation by a bunch of surfers. They had the best time out at Playa El Tunco. For two of them, it was their first visit to El Salvador. They were blown away by how safe they felt in El Salvador and how friendly everyone was. The other two guys had been to El Salvador a handful of times. They are surfing veterans at ~30 years old. They were raving about how much better El Tunco is than Costa Rica - better surf, cheaper accommodations and entertainment, and easier currency to understand.

While the violence in El Salvador is surging, there's no indication that the participants are targeting tourists in any way. I've heard about foreigners being targeted in Honduras and Guatemala, but, fortunately, that does not seem to be the case in El Salvador. That doesn't mean anything won't happen to you but the risk is that you are going to be caught up in something going on around you that doesn't involve you directly. Dangerous, but different than if you were being targeted.

I know many people in the US and in ES are worried about the violence in ES and its impact on tourism. They need to be. The "world's most violent country" is not helping. I know my school and other schools are reconsidering sending university trips to El Salvador because of the bad press and because they are being pressured from legal counsel and insurers. That's too bad. So many people survive on the income provided by visitors, especially solidarity groups.

While the immediate effects of the transportation stoppage in San Salvador should clearly be on the people who are suffering - those murdered, missing work, missing school, walking hours - the impact on tourism is sure to be felt. They were talking about it at my university yesterday and I don't even think I was the motivation for the conversation.

See the LA Times and Tim for updates on the chaos in San Salvador.