Riding through El Salvador has been such a pleasure that eventhough I enjoyed Guatemala, Guatemala seemed poor in comparison. The roads in El Salvador are wonderfully graded and well paved with consistent wide shoulders. The food is amazing with great flavours from the slightly sour bite of the local sourkraut homemade in every restaurant serving pupusas just off the grill so they’re too hot to hold at first to the salty, creamy hard duro cheese, the decadent thick crema served with fried plantains so breakfast comes with a desert and even the rice and beans dish is full of garlic and other herbs. I suspect that the food here is full of lard and fat just seems to make food more delicious (if you don’t think so, think of soft chocolate chip cookies or creamy ice cream…) Fresh fruit was everywhere, hanging off trees as we rode by and served blended with ice in delicious drinks. There are beautiful beaches full of beautiful, laid back, friendly people.
Though the quality roads, the great food and wonderfully level landscape with easy to access beaches all contribue to my opinion of El Salvador as a cyclist paradise, what really makes the place is the people. Coming out of a brutal civil war that lasted over two decades and only ended in 1992, the people seem so friendly and welcoming inspite of a harsh history of colonial repression and civil war. Along the coastal highway and up into San Miguel and then to the border with Hondruas, colourful red flags decorated the road and huge banners with a professional looking politican in buttoned up collared shirts or black suits write “thanks for your vote” in Spanish from the FMLN party. The FMLN party are a global model of an ex-guerilla organization sucessfully crossing over to national poltics and becoming the formal opposition party. People are proud of their politics as one man walked into the restaurant we were eating at in Jiquilisco just to talk to us with FMLN written in red felt pen on all sides of his white cowboy hat. People, from the little old ladies in rural villages, to men carrying machetes and a huge log over their shoulder to bring home for firewood, to children in crisp school uniforms riding to and from school on their bikes, to farm workers squeezed onto the back of a pick-up truck so there is barely only room to stand, to the staff working behind the counter at Chinese fast food restaurant in big city San Miguel, people just seem so genuinely happy to meet and talk to you. We got to meet Michael, a man who worked with chicken bus route in San Miguel, who helped us out when we had some problems with Bryan’s bike. There is such a cyclist culture here in El Salvador and many people bike including Michael so he seemed to appear with exactly what we needed from a little bucket of water to find the puncture in the tube to good directions to a nearby bike shop and even buying fruit for us after we struggled with the bike in the afternoon heat for awhile. Michael just seemed genuinely happy to be able to help us, which is amazing and so inspiring.
In the modern world today where ruthless business tactics are praised and survival of the fittest in a dog-eat-dog world is accepted as the norm and when the news broadcasts the atrocities people have committed against other people and against the natural world into our living rooms on a daily basis, the genuine smiles and friendliness of the people we have met in El Salvador have been so refreshing. There is that joy in meeting people who genuinely just want to talk and share a moment together, fumbling through barriers of language as we try to speak Spanish as they attempt English. There is that spark in a greeting however brief as we ride by when we see their faces light up as we say hello. I think that is something worthy to bring home at the end of our journey – say hi to other people on the street when we would usually just rush on by…and a smile. A smile is like a breaking dawn, bringing such warmth and just makes a person’s day. I know it makes mine when a little kid smiles and waves at us when we ride by from the bars of the fence around their house.