I stayed in a very remote part of El Salvador, 30-minutes walking distance from the nearby small town of Yoloaiquin.
I went camping once in my life, but it rained so we called it quits and went home. I then camped for two weeks during my African safari in 2005. But this experience here in El Salvador has truly deepened my connection with nature and living out in the wilderness.
Life here starts early. Really early. I get up around 6am since the roosters are crowing and people in the surrounding neighborhood all come here at 6am to mill their corn into masa to make tortillas.
But I’ve heard that the men who work in the fields often start work at 5am. They get up at 4am and their wives then get up even earlier since they cook breakfast. They often work until 1pm so they are not outside in the strongest heat of the day. It’s intense here.
Since El Salvador is relatively close to the equator, the length of the day doesn’t change much throughout the year. Now in November the sun rises around 5:30am and sets around 5:30pm.
Where I am staying, the grandma does a lot of cooking, helps take care of the kids, washes clothes by hand, makes tortillas from scratch, cleans, etc. She’s not the only one who does these things, of course. But it’s incredible how much work she does on a daily basis and I can only imagine how much work housewives here do if they have big families.
Speaking of making tortillas from scratch, enjoy this video I made of the grandma here doing exactly that!
It also put into perspective how much our machines save us time. A washing machine, for example, would save a ton of time here. Imagine if a couple has five kids, plus grandma and grandpa under one roof. That’s 9 people and enough clothes to wash daily or every other day. Washing by hand takes a long time. Drying is done outside in the sun, as it should be.
Working in the fields in the heat here is hard work. Tending to the animals – everyone here has animals – is a lot of work. Pretty much every house has dogs “attached”. That is, these dogs are not permitted in the house, but the family inside the house kind of adopt them and give them leftover food/tortillas and the dogs offer protection in exchange.
There are cows all around, one family has a pig that eats grass in the front yard, and roosters can be seen literally everywhere. The families keep close guard of their hens as they lay eggs. But the roosters roam wild, sometimes returning home at night, sometimes not. There’s probably an allegory in there somewhere with the culture here, but I’m not going to make it..
Since this place is warm, it is full of life – especially the kind I don’t particularly like. Bugs. They are everywhere. Bugs, spiders, all kinds of things. My first few nights here there was something I didn’t particularly care for in my room as I turned off the light to sleep. The first night it was a giant spider. The next night it was a moth at least 6in/15cm long that sounded like a helicopter when it flew. The next night it was a flying cockroach. One night I walked outside to go to the bathroom and there was a frog just outside my door – not gross, just not something I see every day. Another night there was a lightning bug, but it flew way, way faster than the lightning bugs I’m used to. I saw this cool iguana walking to town one day. And ants are unavoidable and literally everywhere.
I told my mom that Central America might finally turn me into a man. I’m joking of course, but yes, at home she was in charge of taking care of what I called “wildlife”. Here my perspective has changed. As much as I don’t like spiders, mosquitoes are worse. They carry malaria and dengue fever, so the more that end up in a spider web, the better. Now, kind of, spiders are my friends – as long as they’re not giant ones.
Hens, on the other hand, have almost scared me to death!
But with all this nature at work, it really is survival of the fittest. You can see it at work and it’s both humbling and amazing.
I get the impression that the rural diet isn’t very varied. Lots of fried plantains, beans, tortilla, and eggs. I’ve realized that corn can be used to seemingly make almost anything, but still.
One cool thing they eat here are the Indian/Indigenous eggs. They are the eggs laid by hens here. They are more yellow and have a more powerful flavor than I’m used to. They are really good!
I am staying a good 30 minute walk from the town of Yoloaiquin. Pickup trucks go back and forth picking up customers to transport them up/down the mountain for a fee. It is normal to see the bed of a pickup truck full of people. I have ridden in the back of one, though I don’t feel comfortable at all and feel like I put way more effort into not falling out than everyone else does!
Pickup trucks are also used between cities. They are covered and passengers sit on either side with a standing section in the middle. It’s pretty amazing how many people can squeeze into the bed of a pickup truck.
But given the 30 minute walk down to the town, working in another town means further transport. So it takes a long time to get anywhere when living in these villages, even if you have a car. Similarly strange is that on Sunday there is a market. Many people in these villages are farmers and sell their goods at the market. But the market is not in Yoloaiquin. It is 15-minutes away by car/bus in San Francisco Gotera – the capital of Morazan. So it’s an extra burden and hassle to get their products to market. It’s not uncommon to see men carrying 50lb/23kg bags of corn on their backs down to the bus stop on Sundays.
It’s hard to say what the accommodation is like everywhere. I think my accommodation here has been great, but I imagine it to be worse in other houses.
Houses here are made of adobe. Adobe is a mix of sand, dirt, clay, water, and sticks. Bricks are created and then dry in the sun. Adobe is cheap to make, offers great thermal properties in this hot climate, and is quite commonly used around the world.
There is no running water, but every home has a big pila, or reservoir, that is filled daily with the water needed. In my case, this water comes from a well. It is used to wash hands, dishes, clothes, and your body. There is a separation wall above the pila which serves as one of the walls of the bathing area. To bathe you fill a bowl of water and dump it on yourself. There is no warm water, obviously.
The toilet is a concrete block located in a separate enclosure away from the house. No pleasure reading takes place here, only business. Again, no running water so it’s not the best smelling place in the world. As with all of Central America, the pipes are too small for toilet paper and you have to put used toilet paper in a bucket near the toilet.
The house is completely open and exposed to the elements. There is a roof, of course, but it’s not insulated or anything. Most of the time air is free to circulate. It is temperate here all year, so there is no problem with that at all. Everyone here describes climate as hot or “fresco” or fresh. It’s definitely fresh in Yoloaiquin compared to steamy San Miguel.
Hammocks are everywhere here. Every house has one or more. It’s pretty cool and it’s definitely deeply ingrained into the culture. Since it’s so hot here, it can often be most comfortable to sleep in a hammock. Also, instead of a rocking chair, parents often put their babies in a hammock and sway them to sleep.
These hammocks are made from the agave plant, which also is used in Mexico to make the drink Mezcal. Somehow this plant is dried and tough fibrous rope is made. Adding some dye results in a beautiful hammock.
In the end, the accommodations are basic but lovely. I feel much more connected to nature here than anywhere else I’ve stayed.
My impression has been that there isn’t much leisure in the rural life. People get their corn milled where I’m staying at 6am 7-days a week. The animals and crops require constant attention. The market day is Sunday, when others have a day for relaxation.
There is no bar, movie theater, or other “fun spot” you might think of in the town. There is one small, local restaurant/pupuseria, two internet cafes, a hardware store, and three small food stores. That’s it. I’ve heard people make moonshine from corn, so I guess people drink that to escape. I haven’t seen or tasted it, but someone told me it’s so concentrated with alcohol that if you toss a cup of it into the air, none of it will reach the ground.
Compared to the cities, I feel completely safe here. It was the same in San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala. The villages are safe, but the cities are dangerous.
Infrastructure is generally not the best in the rural parts of El Salvador. There are lots of potholes necessitating slow driving on the highways. Many roads into the villages are unpaved, which necessitates slow, uncomfortable driving and more wear and tear on the vehicle.
There is stable electricity though, which I was surprised about after the bad experience with water/electricity I had in Copan Ruinas, Honduras.
Garbage, as far as I know, isn’t picked up. Many people are resourceful with organic garbage, and burn the rest. But more on this in a future post..
I can’t comment too much in this regard as I’ve only seen the school located 3 minutes by foot from where I’m staying. Nevertheless, you can see the sad state of disarray that school is in here.
It’s been an awesome experience! Thanks, Rene! Any questions or comments? Leave it below!