Happy Birthday, El Salvador! I SAID… HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EL SALVADOR!!!

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I have mixed feelings about border crossings. On one hand, they represent progress, milestones to be passed and checked off the list. On the other hand, they are hurdles, bureaucratic mazes of forms, road taxes, and officials. I’m convinced that in this region the only business more profitable than narcotics trafficking is owning the company that makes rubber stamps and inkpads for government officials.

At each crossing I’m required to get my passport stamped out from the country of departure and into the country of arrival. This is generally easy and takes only a few minutes. Travelling with a vehicle, however, complicates things immensely. At each crossing I’m forced to hire an agent to help navigate the sea of paperwork. I must first close out my permit from the previous country, which generally requires visits to three or four different windows and officials, as well as a bank to pay the inevitable fee. This is interspersed with multiple trips to the photocopy store and occasionally a guy in a gas mask and a bug sprayer will appear and spray my tires. Then the process is repeated for opening a permit in the next country. Crossing the border into El Salvador took three and a half hours and without Angela, the paperwork agent, I would probably still be standing there with a fist full of documents and a blank look on my face.


Luckily, the ride down the El Salvador coast was worth the hassle. A majority of the road runs directly along the mountainous coast, much of it within sight of the Pacific Ocean, through a mixture of Salvadoran towns and funky surf enclaves. I stopped the first night in Playa Mizata, just such one of those enclaves. There I met up with Bob, an expat and writer who also volunteers to teach English to the locals. Bob is friend of Eric in Guatemala, who had told him I’d be passing through. Bob graciously offered to put me up on his property directly across from the beach, among the coconut palms and fruit trees in one of his cozy, circular cabana-like structures. I was looking forward to a peaceful night’s rest when Bob made a curious comment.

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“I hope you have earplugs or some kind of earphones,” he said. “You’re going to hear some of the loudest and most awful music you’ve ever heard.”

He explained that it was Independence Day in El Salvador and, as is tradition, this is celebrated by blasting music from banks of enormous speakers the size of refrigerators, making roofs vibrate and rattling the windows out of their frames in the surrounding homes.

The manager of the hotel across the street, whose terrace we were sitting on, chimed in. He explaining that his daughter was in town and he had moved her into a house farther out from town.

I retired early, as I was exhausted from my border crossing, and wondered if it could possibly be as bad as I’d been warned. I could hear some music up the hillside, but it wasn’t too offensive, certainly not bad enough to require the evacuation of family members. I was just drifting off to sleep at about nine o’clock, thinking that the description was overblown. That’s when the first drum beat hit, rattling the corrugated metal roof and shaking the mattress.

“My God! What the…” I sat upright on the edge of the bed.

The assault of bass and drums pounded on at a throbbing 120 beats per minute. Occasionally, there would be this long sliding bass note, arriving at some sort of harmonic and sending the metal roof into a sustained buzzing. Within the round building with the vibrating roof, it was like living in a giant timpani. I buried my head under the pillow, which muffled the sound somewhat, but could still hear and feel the music coming through the walls and floor, through the bed frame and into the mattress. I slept in fits and starts until 1:30 am when the music went off like a light switch and it was silent except for the soothing sound of surf across the street.

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The following morning I rose early and followed the coast to another beautiful spot on the beach called Tuco. It’s in the extreme southeast corner of El Salvador so I can get an early start on riding across Honduras tomorrow. That’s two border crossings in one day, so I’m going to need my rest.

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