Exploring the cultural differences of El Salvador

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Nothing is more entrancing than the Latin American culture. Enriched with tradition, lyrical language, vibrant colors and beautiful beaches, I made my way to El Salvador, a world of its own and like no other.

El Salvador is located in Central America, bordering the Pacific Ocean between Guatemala and Honduras. It is the smallest country in continental America and is often called “Pulgarcito de America,” the Tom Thumb of the Americas.

The destination in El Salvador that I headed for was La Libertad, a small town where my father had been raised and most of my family members reside. This was my first time visiting and as the plane began to land, my heart began to race with excitement and fear – my Español was a bit rusty.

La Libertad is a small town located 20 minutes away from the capital, San Salvador. San Salvador is similar to Los Angeles. Modernized buildings and hotels tower over fast-food joints like Burger King and surprisingly, a Wendy’s. There is a shopping mall located near the center, containing top name brands and department stores like Sears.

I must admit that it was somewhat weird to see how much influence the U.S. had on San Salvador and how, when exiting the capital, buildings start to become less and less Americanized. In addition, forget about traffic and crazy drivers in California. I have never been on the edge of my seat for an entire car ride until I sat in a van with my uncle, zooming in and out of lanes at 80 mph, without the use of blinkers.

The road out of the city winds and bends around mountains covered in a sea of green. Houses made of adobe belonging to natives are scattered in the mountains and the only way you can spot them is when smoke rises from their roofs, embedded with the smell of traditional Salvadorean foods such as “pupusas” and “platanos fritos.”

The sun is constantly radiating and kisses your skin with warmth as cool winds brush past your face with a hint of salt carried from the nearing ocean. Exotic birds sing from the canopies as if greeting and welcoming you to their paradise.

Within minutes of closing my eyes and embracing the wind brushing through my hair, I had arrived. The air was intoxicating and fresh, immediately putting me into a state of relaxation. The oceanfront was so close I could hear the waves crashing and taste the salt in the air.

School buses decorated with murals and vibrant colors dominated the streets, serving as transportation for the locals. Buildings, from markets to schools, were painted in bright blues, oranges and yellows, attracting the eye instantly.

I stayed in a ranch belonging to my uncle, located less than a block away from his restaurant, which was positioned right in front of the beach. Every morning I woke up at 6 a.m. to go to the shore. Unlike the beaches here in California where you have to inch yourself into the waters until your body adjusts to the icy temperature, the water was perfect. From the crack of dawn until the hour of midnight, the ocean water maintained a soothing temperature of 70 degrees.

After a good swim and a hearty Salvadorean breakfast, I went to a part of town known as El Muey. It is a section by the beach that surrounds a pier. Here locals come to swim in the warm waters, enjoy cocktails, cool down with traditional shaved ice known as “minutas” and buy fresh fish of all varieties at the fish market located on the pier.

At the end of the pier, local fishermen are lowered into the waters in their boats, ready to set sail and fish for their daily catch.

In recent years, the “Alcade” (mayor), Carlos Molina, who just so happens to be my uncle, has begun to rebuild the area after recognizing the potential tourism that La Libertad can bring. Pavements and buildings have been remolded, giving the small town a hint of modernization.

Already, tourism is growing due to the beaches and the high tide waves that attract surfers from all over the world. In La Libertad, most of the youths know how to surf. In fact, my cousin, the daughter of my uncle, happens to be considered a pro surfer.

Every weekend all the youths go to a part of town called El Tunco, a small area dedicated to surfing. During the day the restaurants are filled with locals and tourists enjoying colorful plates of seafood like shrimp, lobster, crab and fish. If not enjoying a cocktail, others are in the water catching waves for hours.

At night El Tunco lights up and eating areas are turned into dance floors. Everything from the Black Eyed Peas to Latin music such as cumbia is played and everyone enjoys themselves. I would say nothing is better than dancing at night, with the ocean in the background providing cool breezes to cool you down.

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