Guardian Angels

Guardian angels in El Salvador.

A south swell was on its way, and there was nothing I wanted more than to score Las Flores. One of the most difficult things about surfing is that consistently finding good waves demands complete dedication and spontaneity. If you plan to surf a specific place a month out, chances are slim that the waves will be spectacular. You have to watch, wait, and pounce, with catlike grace and timing. There’s nothing worse than hearing that age old taunt, “You should have been here yesterday.”

I left Aserradores at 7am, on a mission. Unable to confirm a boat across the Gulf of Fonseca, I was unwilling to risk the possibility of getting stuck in Portoci. It would take me all day to bus through Honduras, but at least I could be reasonably sure of making it to Las Flores by nightfall.

From the main highway at Aserradores, I squeezed onto a bus to Chinandega as my board bag and backpack ascended to the roof. I wedged myself into the aisle, packed like a sardine between dozens of other hot, sweating bodies. The bus was packed to the gills. And still, at every stop, more people crammed on. Bodies pressed against the windows and hung from the open doors. It was an authentic experience, I’ll say that much.

In Chinandega, I boarded another bus for Guasaule, where I crossed the border from Nicaragua into Honduras. I hired a bicycle taxi to carry me and my bags the two kilometers or so through the various customs requisites to the transit station. As I got my passport stamped in Honduras, the clerk questioned me about my travel plans, and I replied that I was going to El Salvador.

A man behind me in line said he was driving a semi-truck to Guatemala and would be happy to give me a ride to El Salvador, for free. It was a tempting offer, but my inner voice protested. Sure, I might get a free, fast ride. But I might also get robbed, raped, even killed. And no one would know where I had disappeared to. I could vanish without a trace. I opted to stick with the bus.

Rather than dropping me at the bus station, the bicycle taxi took me to a shuttle, which he said would take me directly through Honduras to El Salvador for only $12. The two hour trip compared to a six hour bus ride was a no brainer. I handed my bags to the shuttle driver and he loaded them onto the roof. But – something was missing – a rope, a tie down? You can’t just put the bags on the roof. Well, you can, but they will fly off.

I asked the driver if he planned on strapping the bags down. He looked at me blankly, and then, almost as an afterthought, produced a flimsy piece of twine. Shaking my head and wagging my finger at him, I asked if I could secure the bags myself. “Claro,” he said, “Of course.” I climbed on top of the roof and dug my straps out of my bag, then cinched down everyone’s luggage, jerking the straps until the shuttle rocked on its shocks. “Listo,” I said, “Ready!” as I climbed down and got in the car. Silvia and Eliezer, two other passengers, told me that they had been waiting for over an hour for the shuttle to fill up before it could leave. Oh hell no.

Harassing the shuttle driver incessantly, I insisted that we leave immediately, threatening to take the bus if we didn’t depart in 5 minutes. The driver said we could leave as soon as I paid. I countered that I would be happy to, as soon as the shuttle was on its way. Miraculously, the engine started and we were off in less than 10 minutes.

Silvia and Eliezer got a kick out of my bossy antics. We talked and joked the whole way through Honduras. They were from San Miguel, El Salvador, on their way back from Nicaragua. Among other things, they had picked up two young roosters which they planned to use for cock fighting. The chickens sat passively in Silvia’s lap while the rest of us roared with laughter.

I asked the passengers what they thought about the canal that the government plans to build through Lake Nicaragua to allow freighter ships to pass from the Pacific to the Atlantic. One man expressed concern about the effect of a high traffic port on the turtle populations of the pacific coast, and on the agua dulce of Lake Nicaragua that the people depend on for sustenance, as the salinity would surely increase with the lake opened up to the ocean. He added that the government had commissioned a study, but only after the project had been approved.

We had an excellent, meaningful conversation. And the fact that Silvia and Eliezer laughed at all my jokes was proof that my Spanish was improving. The time passed quickly, and as we approached El Salvador, Silvia told me that I could catch a ride with her and Eliezer to San Miguel, which would get me that much closer to Las Flores.

After we passed through customs in El Salvador and took a bus to Santa Rosa, we were picked up in a truck filled with Silvia and Eliezer’s extended family. I even got to meet their kids, Manuelito and Maria.

I had been travelling all day, and since I hadn’t had anything to eat, Silvia invited me to come back to her home in San Miguel, where she prepared me a big plate of meat, gallo pinto, and tortillas. I was touched by her generosity.

It was getting late, and Silvia said the last bus to Las Flores had already left, but her family would be willing to drive me the 1.5 hours to Las Flores if I gave them enough money for gas. Of course, I agreed. We all piled back into the truck and huddled under a sheet of plastic as it started to rain.

Watching Silvia and Eliezer getting drenched together in the back of the truck, I couldn’t help but admire their shared spirit of adventure. They have been together for 12 years, and have two beautiful children. They know how to laugh, and how to have fun together. And they are both game to befriend a crazy gringa with a gargantuan board bag and drive her to Las Flores in the middle of a rainstorm. That is a good flavor of love.

As we drove through the rolling green hills and dropped down toward Las Flores, the weather cleared, and I could see long lines of waves marching from the horizon towards the bay. I lost it; I actually think I started screaming. Silvia and Eliezer, of course, laughed.

It had been three years since I had set foot in this place. As I stepped from the back of the truck onto the sand, love and happiness and nostalgia washed over me. I had made it. It was just as beautiful as I remembered.

I’m not convinced of the existence of god. But my mother prays for me, and I believe in the power of her prayer. The people who have guided me throughout my life, who have sheltered me on this trip, give me faith in humankind. The celestial beauty of this land is heaven enough for me.

I thanked my new friends, my family of guardian angels, for delivering me safely to this hallowed ground. And it was just in time for the ultimate blessing, epic surf!

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