Last dispatch from El Salvador

Happy April Fool’s Day. I tried to pull the wool on Facebook by posting the outrageous claim that Morgan and I had purchased a piece of property on the beach down here and were relocating to El Sal permanently come summer. But I guess for anyone who’s even been remotely paying attention to the tone of my recent blogs, that would be a tough cookie to swallow. Or, how’s that go? A bitter pill? A crumbling cracker? At any rate …

What’s definitely, immutably true is this: It’s our last night here in El Salvador.

In anticipation of an early-ish flight, we’ve landed at a sweet little hotel in the center of big, nasty San Sal. It’s called Hotel Villa Florenzia Centro, and though it’s not much to look at from the outside, it’s got a courtyard with all kinds of great light and views and a surprisingly clean and pretty interior. Our room is up on the third floor, and aside from a broken window pane, I’d say we made out well. $15 bucks a night for clean, centrally located hotel digs with shower and television. How many capital cities can boast this? In Japan, $35 just barely got me a capsule pod in a high-rise building with a coin-operated mini-TV and a pair of rental slippers. Digression.

We spent the afternoon hopping buses from here to Metro Center, which is essentially a massive amalgam of high-priced shopping malls, colorful food courts and messy rows of market stalls. The trek from our hotel to Metro took us through some crazy rough areas of town. I am endlessly amazed by how massive and filthy and teeming with humanity the planet’s larger cities are. Of course, the cities of Central America have a unique kind of charm, what with the machine guns and the particularly colorful piles of garbage and the thumping reggaeton and the roving cows, goats and horses. OK, only goats in this particular city, but we were nonetheless taken aback by the sight of a man selling goat’s milk straight out of the creature’s teet, right on the side of a busy market street.

We passed the afternoon wandering through Salvadoran dollar stores, eating pizza and donuts, and playing arcade games, then we came back to the hotel to watch TV and rest.

The last time I visited San Salvador was pretty rough … I blogged about it then and don’t care to rehash, but suffice it to say, the misadventure ended with me wandering unbeknownst through the ghetto of central San Sal, dodging flying vegetables, and locking myself into my hotel room for like half a day with a bag of chips and some beer and a blessedly potent WiFi connection. This time around, hate to say it, having a man by my side emboldened me, and it also kept the would-be hecklers at bay.

Still. Post-colonial charm notwithstanding, this place gets mighty rough after dark, and we’re knee-deep in a purple-orange kind of twilight time as I write, so I doubt we’ll be venturing out again till the morning, when we head to Comalapa airport.

So we find ourselves at an end. I feel a bit sentimental, a bit exhausted, a bit road-weary, a bit wiser, a bit more aware of a few choice personal shortcomings that I’d do well to work on. This trip definitely kicked my ass in certain ways. It’s like this: if traveling during your 20s is all about learning to make bold beginnings, to question assumptions, to open yourself up to unpredictability, to accept adversity, to consider new perspectives, then if you get it right, traveling during your 30s comes to entail a new set of opportunities and challenges. Namely: hewing to principle, pursuing opportunities for deeper growth and learning, seeking authentic experience and asking bigger, better questions, both of yourself and of the places and people you encounter. It is a transition for me, but it feels like the right one to be working toward.

I have so much less to prove now. I know who I am and what I’m after. As we prepare to return home, I’ve got all kinds of new and better Spanish skills under my belt, a journal full of observations and quotes that I hope to turn into a finished, sellable article, and a deeper appreciation for the life I’m a creating for myself back in Oregon. This is the first time in awhile that I’ve had a home of my own to return to after a long backpacking trip. A beautiful home at that, with a big kitchen and a sweet little library/office that I’ve lately been daydreaming of . Morgan and I must be getting sentimental on account of our time away from that magical little beach house … last night we bonded with a beautiful, slightly stoopid boxer we found wandering around outside our hotel. He was sweet as pie and we let ourselves fantasize awhile about getting a dog of our own.

In the harsh light of morning, we semi-bagged the idea, and, in fact, I balked in terror at the idea of committing to something, anything, for (UGH!) 14-16 years, but you get the point. Life on the road is romantic and beautiful and painful and infinitely interesting. But life at home has its own kind of charm. Like, you know how amazing and life-affirming it feels to take in a massive breath of fresh air, just suck it down into your lungs and really relish for a moment the feeling of being a thumping, pumping, ever-evolving carbon-based life-form? That’s sort of what travel is for me. But, as author Terry McMillan so sagely pointed out back in the ’90s, you’ve also got to exhale. And that’s what home is for me. A long, luxurious breath out. The other shoe dropping after a deliciously protracted pause. The  ever-anticipated and completely natural second act, so sweet in its inevitability.

I keep circling back to that word. “Sweet.” Because it is, really. All of it.


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