A sobering walk through history

Trip Start Sep 10, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Flag of El Salvador  ,
Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Another long, multi-bus travel day brought us to Perquin, close to the El Salvador-Honduras border. The main attraction of this place is the rich history of El Salvador´s war that raged through the 80s, but of course the landscape is just as beautiful as the rest of the country too. We checked in to a shabby hotel with a rusty 50 gal container of water in the shared bathroom from which we scooped water to take a shower, as well as flush the toilet. When we left to explore the village, our first stop was the icecream parlor to appease our hunger while we watched a concert and dance performance in the central park. Oddly, an Andean musical group came on first who was not terribly talented, but what caught our attention more was a woman rolling around on the stage in front of them, back and forth, like a little kid might roll down a hill. Soon the band was replaced by an engaging group of traditional Morazan (the region of the country we were in) dancers. They began a complicated fast-paced partner dance and soon the "crazy" woman was dancing right along with them, which drew hearty laughter from the crowd. Feeding off the attention, she stepped it up a notch and started kicking at the dancers and trying to break up partners. They did a great job of not getting thrown off and finished the dance gracefully. During an impromptu intermission while they called in the military to make the crazy lady behave, she chucked a can of Pepsi across the dance arena which exploded and she angrily retrieved. Soon a soldier in full camo and his automatic machine gun sauntered up to the park. I was worried that something horrible was going to happen to her, but just his presence there subdued her into pouting against the back of the stage with her hair pulled over her face. Another few dances into it and the whole town lost power which luckily came on again after 15 minutes or so. After that, the dancers were able to finish without further interruption, but typical to the culture here none of it seemed an inconvenience to the dancers nor the audience. Afterwards, we had a pupusa dinner and chatted with some college students from Kentucky who informed us that we were on a "nature trek," while they were on a "political trek" through Central America. Exhausted from the long bus rides, we headed to bed early that night. The next morning, we strolled out of town a ways to a fancy restaurant and had a leisurely delicious breakfast as a consolation prize for staying in the lousy hotel. Its one redeeming asset was a pila for washing clothes and we spent a couple of hours doing overdue laundry. Matt and I make a great team; he soaps, I scrub, I rinse, he wrings and hangs to dry. Then we went to the Salvadorean Revolutionary Museum which commemorates the war from the revolutionary forces point of view, as the name suggests. Perquin, and the Morazan area in general, was a revolutionary stronghold and still today we saw many FMLN flags and murals around, and to be fair just as many right-wing ARENA ones next to them. The museum had a great selection of photographs showing assinated politcal leaders, guerillas graduating from training ceremonies, people protesting, refugee camps, and posters calling for an end to US Military aid to the government forces. We skimmed the weapons with little interest, except the homemade weapons that the guerrillas began fighting with were fascinating, such as a fist-sized bomb held together with a skin of masking tape. After the museum, we climbed a hill that had remains of trenches, 500 lb bomb craters (the guerrillas forces weren´t the ones dropping those!), foxholes where they hid out, oh and great views of the surrounding town and mountains. We finished up the day with hiking to an allegedly nice swimming hole on a river, but between the low flow and the garbage floating in it, we changed our minds. We ate tomales filled with chicken for dinner. Matt found the head of the chicken in his, yum. Everything in town was closing up extra-early since it was New Year´s Eve, so we chilled in the hotel until it was late enough to call our parents from a public phone on the street. Kids were lighting off fireworks just a few feet from us, so we had to reassure them that all of the warfare-like noises in the not so distant background were indeed only celebratory. We were sleeping well before midnight, since we had an early morning tour to start off the new year with. The next morning, we met our guide Matilde in the central park. He called himself an ex-combatant on the FMLN side, but it wasn´t clear if he actually fought or just supplied rations and equipment to the troops. We had also invited the Kentucky political-trekkers, Ethan and Carrie, and a lone traveller from Boulder of all places, so we all piled in to a pickup that dropped us part way toward our desired destination. Only then did Matilde remember that buses weren´t running since it was a holiday. We ended up doing a lot more walking than planned, and it took quite a while because as we asked Matilde questions about the war, he would start walking slower and slower. Eventually we arrived at El Mozote, the beautiful memorial site for a massacre of thousands of innocent people by the government´s counter-insurgency forces as part of a "scorched earth" strategy proposed by the US. Matilde told us that there were only two people who survived in the entire village. Most were executed in their homes, but hundreds of children were gathered into the church and shot there. There is a flower garden and brightly colored mural on the side of the church now, with their names and ages on plaques below. From that sobering site, we caught a ride in a pickup to a more lighthearted stop at Rio Sapo, El Salvador´s most protected and cleanest river. Being a holiday, it was especially mobbed with locals and national tourists, but it is fun to see them enjoying it too, that is until they lit off deafening fireworks right next to us while we were eating lunch. Some of the sparks landed on the Boulder guy´s synthetic shirt and melted several holes in it. We swam in the deep chilly pools and enjoyed the sun, then started on the long walk back to the highway where public transportation could still be relied on. We thanked Matilde for sharing his experiences with us and enlightening us as to what the war was really like, definitely one of the most emotionally intense tours we have been on with the contrast of then and the compartively better situation people are living in now, able to enjoy an afternoon swimming and BBQing in a park that had burned 20 years ago from a forest fire started the explosion of bombs. We again treated ourselves to good food at the fancy restaurant on the outskirts of town, enjoying a pastel sunset over the distant hills, braved the icy bucket shower, then packed our bags in preparation for another early morning start of a long travel day back into Honduras the next day.
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