Madrugadas Salvadoreñas part 1/2

Emma Fraser-Bell

Landshots by Clare James Photography

water/surf shots by Rudy Ortiz and Piolo Flores.

“Fuck! It’s freezing! So, where are you off to then?”

“Umm. I’m going to El Salvador!!!”

The question buzzed in my ear, I couldn’t stop myself blurting out my answer with as much excitement as I did. I felt bad. My good friend Nuno had agreed to look after my dog Meli for a few weeks whilst I went away. Unbeknownst to him, I was leaving for a surf trip round El Salvador. Leaving behind one of the bleakest, coldest, stormiest winters in Cornwall I’d ever witnessed. I felt sad leaving my beloved fluffy dog behind, but knew she was in great company. I also knew I was in for the adventure of a lifetime.

I wanted to break up the monotony of the long, cold, dark nights that come with a Northern Hemisphere winter. Finishing work in the dark, walking the dog in the dark, going to the gym in the dark and waking up in the dark. All the while wishing I was within the ocean, sunshine bursting through cloudless skies, not a single icy windscreen in sight.

I laid out my plans to escape and return to Central America; specifically El Salvador. Point breaks, long peeling waves, spending hours in only a bikini and no fatigue from the excessive weight that a winter 5mm wetsuit brings. The novelty of the thought failed to wear off. I craved 5am starts, boiling the water for a fresh coffee at dawn. I yearned for that feeling of warmth so early in the morning. I was done with the ice laden wetsuits stiff on the washing line, the thermos flask of hot coffee mixed with cacao to thaw out frozen insides after a chilly dawny.

I yearned for the heat, for the Central American people, the vibrant colours that seem so foreign to these grey lands. The mint greens and candy pinks of houses lining the streets. I craved the abundance of fresh fruit. The music; salsa and reggaeton oozing from doorways. A taste of a different world. A culture so distant from the bleakness of another long winter.

I had researched El Salvador before leaving, scouring the internet for article upon article. Yet there wasn’t much on offer. As the time to leave grew ever closer, warnings from friends and family brought worry and scepticism. Was I making the right choice? Should I really be travelling to this country, so deep within the confines of gang warfare? I tried to find El Salvadoran literature, but I only found reports and articles from online newspapers. All of it filled with violence and warnings.

The more I researched, the more hesitant I became. I found a few people who had visited El Salvador; the country with supposedly the highest crime rate in Latin America. They said the surf was great, but to be careful. I was cautious, a little anxious. I still had to try it, I wanted to meet the people of El Salvador in person, see this country for myself and experience its beauty. I knew El Salvador boasted a tropical climate, warm waters, an abundance of marine life and a land riddled with the dreamiest right hand point breaks that littered its Pacific coastline!

The overwhelming excitement of a surf trip with my best mate seemed to override these hesitations, selfishly I suppose. Tickets were booked for February, slap bang in the middle of the bleakest of winters I’ve yet to endure. Grey days, ice cold surfs and pulsing winter swells. Albeit, not altogether bad, but I was ready for change.

I shut the doors at work behind me for a few weeks of freedom and adventure ahead. The journey had begun. The board bags were filled to the brim ready for a 24+ hour journey to the other side of the world. Cornwall to London. London to Madrid. Madrid to Guatemala and finally, Guatemala to San Salvador; El Salvador’s capital. We landed in El Salvador around 8pm. Dirty, sweaty, sleep deprived, aching and incredibly excited. We loaded boardbags into a pick-up truck and off we left for our first stop; El Tunco.

We conversed in my broken Spanish from the back of the pick-up, enquiring about the previous week’s surf and the forecast for the morning. Miguel, our taxi man smiled back at us, teeth pearly white in the rear view mirror “Surfistas si?”, “Si!!” (“ You’re surfers yeah?” “Yes!”) we blurted in response.

The surf had been small the past week but swells were picking up. 3-4ft waves in the morning, but busy, according to Miguel. “Es Domingo, habrá mucha gente por la mañana.” San Salvadorans would be visiting the coast for the weekend and head back to the city for the week. Hitting the water at sunrise was the best idea. We smiled at each other, already both of us safe in the knowledge we would be waking early. The excitement palpable. Our first taste of an El Salvadoran 5am wake up; coffee, sunrise and a surf! Neither of us could wait much longer.

We pulled into the town of El Tunco on a Saturday; the busiest night of the week. Bollards and firearm clad security guards stopping us as we tried to enter. A quick nonchalant check and we were allowed through. Reggaeton blasted out from wrought iron bar windows, into the street. Drinks flowed. Beautiful people everywhere lining the road. Travellers, locals, San Salvadorans, street vendors selling pupusas and tacos; all out enjoying the sights and sounds Saturday night had to offer.