The mean streets of San Salvador

So this is hard to write for many reasons, not just because it was two weeks ago and so many things have happened since then. But here we are…

After the excesses of the festival and the beauty of Guatemala, we headed down to El Salvador, determined to stop in San Salvador city for a day to visit museums and experience some of the culture of the place. On arrival in Zona Rosa, we couldn’t believe how unlike other Central American cities it was - clean and quiet and safe. Indeed, as we didn’t have any accommodation booked, we wandered the streets with our backpacks looking lost and a kind El Salvadorian, Antonio, stopped and drove us to a nearby hostel.

The next morning, we headed into another hostel in the centre of town and the energy shifted. The quiet streets became crowded and dirty and edgy - more like the capital cities of the other nearby countries - and we were on our guard. But there was a grimey charm about the city and we visited one of the most beautiful churches I’d ever seen, Iglesia el Rosario, whose harsh concrete exterior belied a glorious - the most glorious - arched roof of twisted steel and coloured glass and concrete. It reminded me of something I would imagine Howard Roark to create. Possibly an alternate Roark who’d found the big man. And some kindness. But I digress.

We headed through the mercados and took photos of the gaudy americanised signs and deteriorating buildings and decided to walk up to where we’d been the night before, seeking a bit more of the safety and cleanliness we’d seen the night before. After walking for what seemed like an age, we found an icecream shop, stopped, and decided to head back. It was about 3.30pm and still light but we didn’t want to be on the streets when it was dark.

On making our way back, we were stopped by two young men, both armed with knives and one with a gun. The one with the large knife pulled Anita up against a wall demanding “everything”. The other, a few steps away from me, just asked for money and I was able to just throw him my purse - it only had $30 in it - and turn my attention back to my friend, who was understandably paralysed. She finally gave up her bag and her camera and, as they were running away, realised the bag contained her passport, so we screamed after them for it. They stopped, and the guy who had taken her things, dropped the bag, rifled through it to take her iphone and money, and threw back the bag with her passport in it. We then ran to the next block just 20 metres away where people were - watching the events unfold. And so the dispersion of responsibility continues - and, looking back, realised the guy who had approached me was running after us with his gun in his hand. We were just steps away from the bystanders by that stage, and when we reached security guards at a nearby hotel, he stopped approaching us. The guards called the police who drove us through where we’d been mugged, seemingly looking for the culprits - terrifying - and when they couldn’t be found, took us to the police station to file a report. Not being able to get through to contacts in London as it was late by that stage, we rang James - always awake, of course - to read through Anita’s insurance policy to find out what she needed to get from the police report and to seek comfort from speaking with my wonderful older brother.

After hours, the police drove us back to the hostel, where we stayed, both too scared to leave it again until the next morning. We plotted our exit from San Salvador and Anita’s return trip to London as she felt she had to go home then, understandably. While she wanted to leave for Costa Rica the next day and then fly out, there was no ready exit so we decided to go to El Tunco and for her to then leave from there the day after and I to continue on the journey as planned. That we didn’t leave el Tunco so soon is another story and for next time…