Last year, before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped such things, Patricia Trigueros and her friend took a quick trip to El Salvador from Guatemala. Here’s hoping she and we can all do things like this again very soon. Sometimes we all need to scratch the itch of homesickness.
Last year, a lot was happening. Weeks were always heavy with to-do’s and little room to breathe, except for when you vent over the phone with a friend.
I was reeling from the emotional stress of juggling jobs and countries. Adapting to being new and foreign in Guatemala exhausted me. Monica was also overworked, and had moved out of an old relationship and into a new apartment.
“You know what you need? You need to come with me to El Salvador,” I said.
I swear by road trips. A drive to the country of our births was just what any doctor would order.
And I was a bit homesick, too. Haven’t you noticed how homesickness works? It activates sleeplessness, hunger, and a thirst for old memories.
Monica was the same. “Look at these pictures of El Tunco”, she said.
It would be a quick trip, one night from Saturday to Sunday, and we’d go straight to the beach. No one would find about about our flying visit: It would be between me, Monica, the immigration authorities, and the desires that chased us.
Monica hadn’t been to El Tunco in so long … but to make it happen we needed to leave at 6:00 AM latest to do it right. I would make the breakfast sandwiches, and when I picked her up, she had two thermoses of coffee ready for us.
Coffee for the road is important, but it doesn’t last forever.
No need to worry about it, if you know where to stop for refills. After the easy-peasy border crossing, I knew the exact place.
“How about we stop and see my friends?” I said.
Tayua is a convenient restaurant about thirty minutes from the Chinamas Valle Nuevo border between Guatemala and El Salvador.
It sits in a small forest, under the shade of pine trees. Tayua shares a space with Lechuza Coffee Roasters.
“What do you have, Luis?” I asked.
We sipped on Pacamara at an outdoor two=person table beneath the trees.
When you go to Tayua, check out their menu. It’s full of local flavors and cultural twists. Order whatever you feel like, and look up the bark and branches and trees. But not today, not for us. We left way before lunch. We had a beach to go to.
“How about we skip the San Salvador traffic, and go from the mountains of Ahuachapán straight through Sonsonate and on to the Carretera al Litoral, and follow the coastline down?”
I sound like I knew what I was talking about, but I had never done any of that before. But I had Waze on my phone and a very good hunch. I also has a reason to take the route through Sonsonate.
It was November 2, 2019. The Day of the Dead. Small town cementaries flashed multiplying colors and ornaments as we passed them. Nostalgia exists in a memory, in an absence, but its shapes or forms come alive in everyday scenes like this.
My grandmother is buried in Sonsonate. The first time I visited her tombstone, amid the other turquoise graves, was on an early family road trip. It felt good to be on another road trip now. It felt like coming home.
Home for me is transience. It’s changing addresses and buying travel-sized everything, never committing fully unless we agree to disagree, and if there’s room for flexibility.
While I applaud distance and freedom, I carry everything close to my heart. And road trips like these make me super sentimental.
But back to the trip.
To get to El Tunco, La Libertad, from Apaneca, Ahuachapán, after seeing passing through Sonsonate, we had to get to Acajutla.
I was a little lost, but found the exit and got us onto the right road.
The coast is extensive and diverse, for such a small country. The closer you get to La Libertad, the rockier the landscape gets. The curves and tunnels of the Carretera Litoral break the view of the blue Pacific Ocean, looking peaceful from the clifftops.
We were getting closer, but we stopped at Balsamar for unplanned beers, ceviche and calamari. Swimsuits on and the ocean in front of us, we sat and talked there for three hours before the sun set and the temperature became the right amount of warm. Time to push on again for the final stretch.
90s tunes set the soundtrack to the last stretch of coastal highway until we made it to El Tunco…
… The new El Tunco.
Anyone who spent their formative years escaping norms and patterns knows what El Tunco used to be like. Nowadays they can recognize only some of that old version in the midst of what it turned into.
After checking into a hostel, we tested the margaritas at some place, and hit up an old favorite, La Guitarra, with its beachfront cold drinks and live music.
We concluded El Tunco still has the vibe that we like. It’s still a place we can sway in improvisation and excess. But some sleep is also necessary. We had to drive back the next day.
All Salvadoran food is a must, especially if you’re there for a short visit.
You’ll want to feed the hankerings you’ve had, treasure the flavors in your homesick palate. How many pleasures can fit inside a Sunday?
After a breakfast that boosted us, we headed to San Salvador, aiming for the San Salvador Volcano. I didn’t see a problem with it. Heading from the coast to the peak would take about an hour.
Everything takes about an hour in El Salvador. All you need is the energy and stamina.
At Café del Volcan, our beach clothes clashed with the flower beds, and with El Picachu, the volcanic-like hill on the ridge of the San Salvador Volcano in the background. We had a nice dose of small talk, ordered pupusas to go, and took the road to El Boquerón down to Quetzaltepec, in the opposite direction to the city.
I wanted to drive past the coffee farms along the slopes, and arrive at the old burned lava flows. Plains of black volcanic rocks, on the other side of the volcano, remind passers by of the last eruption. The charred, burned land always reminds me of the land and history we come from and belong to.
From there, we’d go to Santa Ana for afternoon enchiladas and tamales, before heading back into Guatemala.
We crossed back across the border and it was already dark by the time I dropped her off and made it home.
As I sit here today, like most people in a pandemic world, where road trips like this are out of the question, I realize how I miss my nomadic life. But for me, a nomadic life is as much about going back as finding new places. I always say pleasure is in variety, but the truth is love is in repetition. I like to honor what I like, go back to it, and not lose touch. I like to share what I’ve tried, tasted, and revisit my growing list of checkpoints.
Sooner or later, I’ll find myself moving again between these two countries, El Salvador and Guatemala. I find room for freedom and home in both.
But every now and then, I remember that little escape at the beginning of November, when the world was different. And when I do, I write to Monica, and ask “Remember our trip to El Salvador?”
Patricia Trigueros is a free spirit, writer, and translator from El Salvador. She has the habit of drinking too much coffee and writing in English, French, and Spanish. Check out her blog, Paty Stuff, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.