El Salvador: Despite steering clear of the gangs, I still find fear and loathing…

Google El Salvador and it won’t be long before you find an image of heavily tattooed men staring out from behind bars. I guess that is why gang warfare is the first thing many people think about when they hear of the country. But there must be far more to a country of 7,000,000 than gangs, bitcoins and a President not ashamed to wear a backwards baseball cap, so I decided that other than this intro… I would ignore gangs and look for the happier side of Salvador. I reasoned that the country that invented chocobananos — frozen bananas on sticks dipped in chocolate and covered in 100s and 1000s — can’t be all bad.

Well according to this week’s book Revulsion, there is nothing to like about El Salvador at all! I had been sad not to be able to find a bottle of their national beer Pilsener until I read his description “it’s not beer, Moya, nowhere in the world would this seriously be considered beer, it’s a revolting liquid.” Looks like I didn’t miss out then! And so it continues, for 88 pages the author outlines all of the reasons why he hates the country. He is so thorough in his loathing that the book led to death threats. People were particularly pissed at his description of their national food Pupusas, for example: “The fact that Pupusas are the national dish of El Salvador shows that these people have dull palates, Moya, only someone with a totally dull palate would consider those repugnant fatty tortillas stuffed with chicharron somehow edible.” Perhaps that explains why the guests we had invited round for Pupusas declined at the last minute…

Having managed to ruin Colombian arepas by buying the wrong mesa flour, I was determined to get the right ingredients for Pupusas, and ended up spending a small fortune buying Salvadorian and Mexican food online. There are many, many recipes for these fat little tortillas on the internet but I went for this one. As we had special guests joining us for the meal, I wanted to get it right so I did a practice run with vegan cheese, they weren’t bad but I decided for guests we would get some cow cheese so as to give them the chewy texture people spoke about. Sadly the guests didn’t arrive, so they may, for all I know, die without ever trying Pupusas! Luckily we were able to share the bounty with our neighbours who all thought the food was delicious and the book Revulsion a little harsh.

When guests do bother to turn up, we like to push the boat out and so we had bought El Salvadorian coffee and planned breakfast of eggs and beans, delicious, we all agreed as we sat alone and scared at the table. I wonder what the guests would have thought of it? I guess we’ll never know. But I would recommend adding chillies and tomatoes to scrambled eggs and eating it with refried beans and tortilla.

Having been slightly traumatised by the book, I thought I would try to find a happier film, but it seems they simply don’t exist! I therefore watched Oliver Stone’s thoroughly depressing Salvador. It is the semi-true story of photo-journalist Richard Boyle’s trip to El Salvador, and his increasingly desperate attempts to get his partner out of the country. It has a gonzo journalism/fear and loathing in Las Vegas feel to it, but it’s far darker. In the Salvador that is portrayed here, life is cheap, and justice is impossible to find. The army is evil, the guerrillas “become just like them”, and nuns are raped and murdered. What makes it all the more difficult to watch is that it is based on a truth and the deaths of the photographer John Cassady and Archbishop Romero are historical fact.

And so with both literature and film failing to show me the positive side of life I was hoping for and our El Salvadorian dinner party being boycotted by former friends, I turn to music to hopefully find a glimmer of joy. First thing I find is that Peter, Paul and Mary have written a song about it! Perfect, I think, they are one of the happiest bands out there…. But sadly not. Lyrics include couplets such as “If you took the little lady for a moonlight drive, Odds are still good you’d come back alive!” And so I will leave you with this playlist and the last lines of that song: “Don’t you think it’s time to leave
El Salvador?”

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Armchair traveller

Armchair traveller

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Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.