We got a little to comfortable hanging out in Erica’ s complajio for the week, sleeping in late, having Game of Thrones marathons (we just started!), making dinners in a real kitchen and even baking cookies! Everyone spoke English and were so kind in helping us find a local mechanics to get our windows tinted, call every person available and get the embassy ready when we thought we had lost Frederik. As well as just great tips and facts about El Salvador, teaching and life abroad. Although we did love this little bubble of a world you start to feel sluggish when you don’t do as much on a daily basis after spending months on the go. So we were very excited to push ourselves out of their amazing “teacherville” for our next and last adventure with this amazing crew of teachers from the American School in El Salvador.
Volunteer Trip to San Miguel
The school had organized a volunteer service trip to San Miguel and kindly invited us along on the journey. Friday night we had a slumber party with Erica in our hotel room before we all gathered in the morning (730am…..to be expected with a group of teachers), about 25 of us, and headed out to the countryside in a long convoy.
We arrived about 30 minutes later at a tiny rural school out in the middle of seemingly nowhere but it was vibrant with colour and life. Their principal was there to meet us, many children who went to the school were there, excited and ready to help and play. It naturally turned out to be more play than help as a few teachers left with little-painted handprints all over their legs. Other locals grabbed brushes and went to work alongside us while women from the community started up their fire for the big operation of making lunch for everyone. It was a blistering hot day, which I am considering might as well have been called my detox day because I cannot remember the last time I sweat so much. However, with our big team and everyone working hard we were able to go through all the paint we brought, refurbishing the whole exterior of their blue and white school, just like the colours of the El Salvador flag.
While we worked hard on the walls the women were doing the same in their indoor/outdoor kitchen for us. It was quite an amazing process to catch glimpses at how they prepared such a good meal for so many people. When break time came we were escorted into a school room with desks situated in a big circle. On each table sat a coke and a plate filled with grilled chicken (amazing seasoning!), rice, salad, lime and tortillas. We got the job done surprisingly early, around 2pm. We said our goodbyes to some kids and staff at the school and they left us with moving and thankful speeches. Although painting might not seem like the biggest aide for a school it really can make a difference. Come Monday the kids will see it looking cleaner and newer which can instill more excitement and pride for their school. The upkeep alone can be expensive, so to have the support of paint brushes and workers allows for them to focus their expenditures more directly towards the kids, which is always a win-win situation.
Reliving a Tragic Past
Our weekend excursion didn’t end there. The following day the school gave back to all of us who were volunteering by providing a bit of education and history on things us foreigners really might not know much about with regards to El Salvador. We headed east, towards the Honduras border, to the town of Perquin. Unlike North America, El Salvador had their civil war recently, starting back in the 70s. It was devastating, as is any war of any kind. The government did as they pleased, the army killed many innocent people, including the targeting of natives. In these particular places, we visited we saw at the museum photographs of the war, first-hand accounts, the places the guerillas hid out and many other artefacts.
Our last stop was particularly moving. There was a monument which stood tall to remind everyone of the brutal past where 1000 innocent men, women and children were killed. The army, suspecting this town to have been infiltrated by the guerillas, marched in and pulled around 1000 people from their homes, killing nearly all of them in 1 single day. The lady who stood at the sight, who was in Honduran refugee camps, told us of the awful event that took place. The detail was horrendous but needed in order to really comprehend just how much this country suffered. She narrated the tale of 1 of the 3 people who escaped that day, who now has just recently past, but came back to make it known what was happening, to get national and international attention and help. Unfortunately this story ties in facts that shame not only the past of El Salvador but America too. This particular group of soldiers were trained by Americans in America and after being sent back here this ended up being their first war effort, so we were informed. Although they were ordered to do this by the American government, it is hard to hear that the side they chose to support did so much damage to innocent civilians. There are always mistakes that have been made in the past, but what’s done cannot be undone.
Despite everything the people have been through in recent years here lives great, kind, helpful and wholehearted people. In western culture, we are warned about visiting countries like El Salvador because of the danger. However, our experiences have been quite the contrary. We may get lots of looks while walking in the streets, as Frederik is blond and a foot taller than anyone; a bit of an unusual sight. However following those looks comes smiles, waves, questions from locals asking if you’re ok if you’re lost, do you want help, where you are from, them proudly telling you where they learned to speak English. People here in El Salvador have been nothing but kind and helpful to us. We, as I am sure most travellers that have come through here and the locals, want to share what a great little country it is.
After we said our goodbyes to Erica and the staff from the American School we fixed up our car in San Miguel. Frederik found a land cruiser graveyard and just about passed out with excitement. We were looking forward to getting on the road again, planning just one more nights stay in El Salvador on the coast before heading to Honduras, but that didn’t happen.
The Liberation of Baby Turtles
We are now here on Cuco beach, staying in our car in the parking lot of La Tortuga Verde (Their social media links are below). We originally were planning one night stay here, however, we missed what originally brought us here by one day (classic for us this trip). The previous night there was the liberation of baby turtles back to the sea. The next wouldn’t be for 3 days. So we have taken to helping make bracelets with the other volunteers to raise money for the cause while we wait for the little turtles to hatch. Where does the money go? What efforts are they making here? Why?
We, l the turtles come on the beach at night to lay there eggs. In El Salvador it is a delicacy to eat turtle eggs. This encourages poachers to take the eggs after the mother has laid them, selling them to local restaurants. What this eco hotel does is buy the eggs for a higher price than the restaurants because the 4 species in this area are endangered. In fact the women in charge of the operation hadn’t seen 3 of the 4 species that supposedly live and breed in this area for the last 2 years.
After buying hundreds of eggs off the poachers (a single turtle nest can have from 40-150 eggs laid by a single mother!), she is able to house 10 nests. They have created a home for the eggs, digging them into the sand, burying them, letting them incubate in a caged area for 45 days so no predators can get to them, before watching them hatch and releasing them to the ocean.
It might go against nature to nurture the turtle eggs and make sure their survival and release goes flawlessly. But nature didn’t account for human damage and interactions. Even with efforts like this these turtle are still endangered. On average 1 in 100 eggs laid will survive and thrive into adulthood. Here their goal is to get that average to 2 in 100. Their hatching success is phenomenal at this center but the life for a baby turtle is hard. What they are doing here is great and they need support. If you are traveling through El Salvador make sure to stop by, check it out, tell everyone about it. They can always use hands for helping and donations for buying the eggs.