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Strolling Down the Highway

Once you get in the habit of walking, it can quickly become your preferred mode of transportation. It almost rose to the level of a self-destructive addiction for my friend and I.

We arrive in San Salvador with a layover just shy of 24 hours. The plan is to just sleep in the airport and await our flight the next day. To our dismay, the airport begins closing around us. We soon learn this is not a 24-hour airport and a left outside amidst the numerous street vendors with their children running about, closing down their shop for the night.

Not really wanting the risk of a cab ride, and in love with our pedestrian ways, we hatch a brilliant plan. With the city a mere forty kilometers from the airport, we could kill some time by just walking to town and then catch a bus back in the morning. By this time, the airport has become a ghost town, but we can see a uniformed guard in a parking lot. Experience has taught me, if you are looking for trustworthy advice in a foreign country, ask someone in uniform. The guard apprehensively held onto his Uzi at our approach, as a fellow patrolmen moved in. We are among the very few remaining souls out there, so they are understandably nervous.

Once we start talking with them and ask them to point us toward town, they relax a bit. Though now they look at us as if we are either crazy or don't know Spanish very well. They continue trying to give us directions on getting a cab before we finally convince of our love for walking. After that, we just headed out, packs on our backs, about a kilometer down one road, veered left, and we were on our way to the city.

It is now a little after 10pm and we made it past the guard house at the airport entrance. Only one or two cars have driven past exiting the airport. Luckily it is a clear night with ample moonlight shining down. Our headlamps filled in the gaps. 3km down, 37km to go. The kilometer markers are encouraging signs of progress along this long dark highway border by thick forest on either side. Not much to see apart from the stars in the sky. That, and a couple of men with large rifles ducking into the forest from the roadside as neared their position.

We did all we could by crossing to the far side of the highway, doused our lamps, and prayed, pretending we didn't see them. Another kilometer later and we start breathing again. Now we hear a car from behind. It slows as it passes and stops in our path. We stop too. They move on. Another kilometer, another car. This time they pull alongside of us and warn us not to be walking as you never know who will come along. They seem to be the kind of people we hope don't come along. We politely decline the offer and they leave.

Eight kilometers down. It is now past midnight. We start to have mixed feelings about making it. Confident we can cover the distance, but fearful of what lies on the road ahead, or hidden in the dense forest around us. A couple more kilometers and the only sign of civilization we see is a hotel billboard.

We keep walking, one foot after another, constantly scanning for any signs of danger. Another truck from behind. They start pacing our progress. We wave them on, but they do not go. Instead, they pull over to block our path. The driver opens his door and walks towards us, while the people in the back of the truck just stare.

He begins with a warning, the highway is "muy peligroso." We should not be walking alone. We decline assistance, "No gracias. Nos gusta caminar." He comes closer, becomes more insistent. It is then that I recognize him, and the people in the truck. They are one of the families we saw selling drinks at the airport. As he came closer I saw his face as one we could trust. He also appeared very determined to not let our journey continue on foot.

We eventually agreed to a ride, and hopped in the back of the truck with his kids and headed to the hotel up the road. The ride ended quickly as we had made it within a kilometer or two of the hotel already. Seeing it, gave an indication of the dangers along the road.

It is a fortress. Enormous walls surrounded the compound. The only entrance blocked by a thick iron gate. Razor wire topped it all off, while a heavily armed guard stood at the ready inside the compound, er.. hotel?

Our chauffeur jumped out and approached the guard. We climbed out of the truck and held back at a distance, still unsure of the whole situation. We listened while our driver explained to the guard how he found two lost gringos on the side of the road that don't speak any Spanish. Eventually, after retelling the story of the lost gringos over the radio, the gates opened. Our tour director returned, pointed at the gate and commanded we enter.

We thanked him and his family, then continued our stroll, walking through the gates that sealed shut behind us. Following the guards directions we made our way to the safety of the hotel. Still not content with our journey coming to an end, we began negotiating down the price of the room, fully prepared to head back out on the road. The receptionist looked at us in disbelief as we negotiated considering our situation, but perhaps out of pity gave a little and even included a return trip to the airport in the reduced price.

The business at hand settled, we found ourselves welcomed into a heavenly sanctuary free of roadside worries. We took advantage of the pool and hottub for some night swimming. They also had foosball and ping pong, not to mention actual beds for sleeping.

After some well earned rest, in the morning we set out, by local van/bus, for town. We got back to the walking once we reached town. For the most part, the people in San Salvador are friendly. The local currency is U.S. Dollars making shopping convenient. The locals happily directed us to a rustic family owned shop where we purchased some much needed tent stakes.

We continued our exploration and soon became disenchanted with the city, and hurrying back to the airport. Walking through town exposes you to every neighborhood along the way. Most are visibly poor and run down. Shouts and slurs against foreigners greeted us in a few of those neighborhoods. We almost felt safer on the highway in the middle of the night.

in the tropical region of El Salvador, we definitely experienced polar extremes. From danger to safety. From the kindness of strangers to their cruelty. Over all, the good outweighed the bad. We came left shaken but unscathed. My friend has a deep knife wound to show for the journey, but that is his tale to tell.

- Tale Provided Courtesy of smallChaos Adventures™ -

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