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The Mareros

5 Aug

While I was at the beach in El Salvador I heard stories about the Mareros from almost everyone. The `Mara´ are the Salvadorean gangs, made up of young guys who have no qualms about killing people. They originated in the Latino neighbourhoods of LA, formed by newly arrived immigrants from El Salvador who were being persecuted by groups of Mexicans, but since the 1990s the gangs have spread down to El Salvador. The USA implemented a policy of sending offenders home, rather than keeping them in American prisons.

There are many different gangs, and they mostly fight between each other, but due to the public nature of their fights they often catch innocent bystanders.

The people that I spoke to will not take public transport after nightfall, which is about 6pm, and will not walk around after dark. The Maras often set up fake `retenes` (police stop and searches) to stop people in their cars and steal whatever they find.  The scariest part is the Mara initiation – the kids joining the gangs cannot become members until they kill someone themselves.

A French man made a documentary, `La Vida Loca´ about the Mareros´ life, and was killed shortly after it was released.

It is such a shame that the behaviour of just a few people can affect the lives of a whole country. With the gangs disbanded El Salvador would start to lose its bad reputation and would undoubtably receive more visitors, therefore boosting the economy, and getting rid of the poverty which causes kids to join the gangs in the first place.  The question is, can anyone take them on?

The adventure continues…

5 Aug

Walking down the main road in the pouring rain my roommate and I  meet up with this German-Syrian guy, Nidal, and his Salvadorean students who are all at the beach for the day. They are heading to the supermarket to buy drinks for a party so we join them. Riding along in the back of a pickup in the rain, while trying to talk Spanish and translate into English, and still wearing beach clothes, is going to stick in my mind forever.

When we get back to the place where they are staying I discover that it is next door to the hostel I originally went to, about 1 km down the beach. I cannot believe how small the world is! We meet all of Nidal´s students and play a game called Reyes, or Kings in English, which involves a pack of cards and a lot of rum. It is such a good night, and the students are so welcoming and chatty. At one point there are conversations going on in Arabic, German, Spanish and English all at once.

Later on, after the drinking games, we all get talking about our lives. One of the girls has just won a Fulbright Scholarship to interview the survivors of the women´s Guerilla groups from the civil war and will be living in a rural department called Chilaltenango, and one of the guys tells me how he has been studying sculpture for 9 years – he only takes the number of courses per year that he can afford and works fulltime in an advertising agency as a graphic designer, as well as looking after his 4 year old son. Pretty impressive!

As always happens in Latin America, I feel like an impatient English girl when it is time to go home. When I discovered that it was too dangerous to walk on the beach at night and I needed to get a lift I asked one of the students to drive me back. At 11.30pm. By the time we actually left it was nearly 1am, and I still felt really demanding when I insisted on leaving before the driver of the car drank too much!

We eventually got back to the hostel – and I had a really fitfull night´s sleep full of odd dreams – I think it must´ve been the rum!

Take one Saudi Arabian, one German and 15 Salvadoreans…

5 Aug

The next few posts go back a few days. Despite my promise to myself of one post per day I haven´t had the time or a computer for a few days.

So, after a night at the hostel by the mangroves I took some advice from one of my roommates, a Saudi-American student, and changed hostels. The new place, Tunco Lodge, cost $7 per night, but had the added extras of a swimming pool and super clean rooms. You´d think a pool was just excessive when you are next to the beach, but this beach is made for surfing, not sunbathing and there is not an inch of sand in sight!

At the new hostel I met some interesting characters (one of the best and worst things about travelling alone are the people you meet). The award for best name has to go to Onyx, a Salvadorean-Canadian man who has just moved back to El Salvador to set up a hairdressers. Covered in tattoos, with blue hair extensions, he told me his life story while we sat in the pool, then introduced me to his daughter Trinity and his Chihuahua, Tequila!

We got talking to some other Americans who were all Peace Corps volunteers. Just hearing about their work in communities in rural El Salvador made me want to join them there and then, but no fear, I love London a little too much to run away any time soon.

In the afternoon I wandered down to the beach to take some photos and was acosted by a group of Salvadoreans who were on holidays at the beach. This week, 1-8th August, is the Fiesta of San Salvador, literally Jesus Christ, and so everyone in the capital city has 4 days off. They decided that no one should be alone on their holidays so they would look after me, which basically involved talking photos of me with each member of their family and buying me drinks. It was very funny! And left me with the impression that the best thing about El Salvador is the people.

After making my excuses I went back to the hostel and bumped into one of my roommates, who was just about to go and meet his couchsurfing host for the next few days, a Syrian-German student who was on a year out in El Salvador teaching Arabic and German at the University….TBC

Playa el Tunco, El Salvador

2 Aug

After about 4 hours in San Salvador this morning I had had enough of mini-America. Went to the mall, bought a bikini, and caught the first bus to the beach. I had heard so much about these beaches – huge surf (not that I know how to…yet), black sand, and hammocks all around.

I got dropped off at a random point on the coast road, and some little kids ran up to me shouting, in perfect American English, ´You looking for a room?´ After convincing them that I knew where I was going, I started down the track to Papaya´s hostel. The owner is a famous Salvadorean surfer, but I´m guessing he was probably in the water as there was no sign of him when I arrived.

My roommates are a group of Irish students who have been building a classroom in Nicaragua for the last 4 weeks. Pretty similar to the English students I met in my hostel in San Salvador who´d been constructing toilets in the highlands. They are full of stories of bandits, drunken foremen and have mosquito bites to equal mine – one girl counted 182!

Going to check out the beach, and maybe try some surfing!

Tikal.. or the massive Mayan ruins

1 Aug

This is the second day in a row that I´ve been up at 4am. That is, getting up at 4am, not going to bed. Yesterday Anna and I visited Tikal Guatemala´s biggest Mayan ruins. They were so impressive. It is really hard to explain their scale, but to try and express it you just need to imagine entering a national park then driving for nearly 30 mins before you actually reach the ruins. There the tour begins and it takes 6 hours to walk around all of the temples, and to climb them.

The guide was fantastic, pointing out howler monkeys, toucans and sharing his knowledge about the plants found in the park.

When we got back from the ruins we had a wander around Flores, a gorgeous island in the middle of a lake, about an hour away from Tikal. Then it was time to pack up and say goodbye 😦

This morning we woke up at 4am again, Anna set off back to Mexico and I caught a bus to El Salvador. After 12 hours on the bus, travelling through the most beautiful countryside, passing volcanoes and lakes, I reached the capital, San Salvador. What can I say? Well I knew it was going to be quite Americanised, but I wasn´t prepared for the onslaught of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Wendy´s! I´m going to go and explore properly tomorrow, and hopefully find the old San Salvador, as well as going to the mall!