Black Smoke City Surf

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Crossing the El Salvador Border

Crossing the El Salvador border. Source.

Amado did not notice our conversation, he was glued to the noticias on the small television screen, and we sat behind him at an old wooden table that, stationary all it’s life, probably had more stories than a novelized encyclopedia. There were other people too, who are now gone. There was Evan, a quiet hippy from Guanajuato Mexico, and Selene from Spain, whose accent was like Sean Connery with a lisp, and the proper Brazilian, Ramon. The sandwiches Ramon made were perfect, like wax toys made to teach children what safe food looks like.

“Asi, se cobran doce dolares la entrada y dos la salida?” I asked, “So they charge 12 on entering and two when you leave?”

“Yeah, they want your money, its a poor country,” Francisco said.

“Yeah but there are other ways to enter I’m sure.”

The past year has pushed me in many cases past frugality, into the world of sneaking and suggesting. There’s nothing to be said about it. It is what it is, and what it is is an alternative to spending money. In this particular case I was already scheming a design to get into that country freely.

That conversation was had yesterday. Also yesterday I took a rainbow colored bus that belowed thick clouds of dusty black smoke into the center of San Salvador. On the windshield it read “Jesus es Amor.” Most all of the buses in Latin America, it seems, are Jesus propaganda. That’s fine by me. Evan says that the bus drivers do that to avoid getting mugged by bus-robbers. That’s also fine by me.

Arriving in a truck to a San Salvador market.

Arriving in a truck to a San Salvador market. Source.


San Salvador is loud, louder than most places I’ve been. The streets are crowded with people and buses. The powerlines hang low and travel in packs, many of the poles supporting them looking like they’re ready to fall down. I walked around for a spell, smelling the smells, tasting the dirty air, and blinking sights, hoping that maybe I was taking photos with my brain. One interesting thing is that almost all of the storefronts are blocked by stalls selling cheap things: shoes, popusas (a tortilla filled with cheese and beans), clothes, cellphones, etc. It’s like the market outstretched it’s boundaries, found no protestation and just took over all of downtown. Many old colonial facades are collapsing their plaster exteriors, revealing the ancient brick skeletons.

Travel drawing from San Salvador, El Salvador

For 5 days I stayed in San Salvador, a city of black smoke and market sprawl. I made this travel drawing, blasted regularly by tailpipe exhuast.


News stands are everywhere, I take a passing glance to see pictures of potholes filled in with coconuts. The people at the stall give me a dead stare. I can’t imagine what some of the Salvadorans I’m walking by have been through. Their civil war ended in the early ninties, but the scars run deep. I don’t know, for example, if the hardness of the women here, their pride worn on their sleeves, is a result of that war or a natural aspct derived from the progression of their culture.

Travel story from El Salvador

Results of the rain in El Salvador

I walked into a bookstore when I was downtown yesterday. It wasnt much, a closet more than a room, with mountains of books, deceiving the old crumbling walls and humid crown molding 10 feet above my head. The two men inside were ecstatic to have a foreigner in the shop.

Their accents were hard for me to follow, sounding as if they were chewing rubber while telling me about Irish stones and kings or something complicated like that. A book caught my eye. It was “The Adventure of Tom Sawyer”, except that it was in Spanish. I purchased the book for a dollar, figuring it would be a good way to help with my Spanish, since I already know the story.

Now I sit here typing this, Amado downstairs, perhaps snoozing or reading in the dark like he does. Sometimes I think he’s a vampire, with Parkinson’s. But unlikely. I haven’t begun to read Tom Sawyer. On the contraty, I found an English copy of Kurt’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” in Amado’s own mountain range of paperbacks, so I read it in about 6 hours. Oh Billy Pilgrim, you are a sad character.

I will leave tomorrow, because as ever, the road is calling my name, and

I reproach myself when I suckle too long at the tit of others’ hospitality. The things that happen on the road are strange, fascinating, frightening, exciting, dumb, and good. Somehow, waiting like I do for rides seems to calm me, like a meditation of sorts. I do not feel like Im wasting time when time goes by like knife through butter.

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