After exiting the bus from Santa Tecla, where I am staying, to San Salvador, we walk up a narrow street lined with vendors. We can see the dome of the Catedral Metropolina de San Salvador in the distance. There is a sharp contrast between the beauty of the white dome and the grime of the calle. As we enter, Joaquin cautions me to be careful with my backpack and camera. Besides my backpack, I have with me just my small Lumix camera, a copy of my passport photo page, and a few dollars cash. This has become my usual routine.
The big Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid game is today and many of the vendors are selling team jerseys. At one point along the calle, we are inside where it is dark and cool, though the wares are mostly the same. People yell to us to buy their things. A man runs up to us holding three pair of athletic shoes he is trying to sell me. I wave him off politely; if nothing else, none are in my size. Does anyone in El Salvador sell a size 13 shoe?
We come out into the light and Joaquin is pointing at something on the ground and saying “This is the center of El Salvador!” There is a large circle in the middle of the street marked with an “X”, the points of the compass and “Km. 0”. Joaquin explains “This is the center of the country. Everything is measured from this point.” I want a photo but it is an active road. Joaquin helps me to time jumping into the road and getting the photo. I get it and we cross. There is another block of merchants. These are now in front of genuine brick and mortar shops.
Later, walking back to the bus, Joaquin needs to buy a computer keyboard for a student. We walk into a couple of stores. Finally, he finds what the girl needs, he pays and I stow it in my back pack. It turns out that he also needs flip-flops. We go into a zapateria and look around. They have many pairs of flip-flops but I can’t find any big enough. I ask the sales clerk “Tienen los chanklas en talla trece, por favor?” She smirks and shakes her head no. As we exit, a guy sitting on the curbs says something about “gringos” and “zapatos”. Nope, nada en talla 13.
A woman walks by with a goat on a rope. Is this her pet? Is it for sale? Is it for dinner? None of the above. She also carries some Styrofoam cups. Joaquin tells me “She will sell you a glass of very fresh milk.”
“No thanks, I prefer mine ice cold with a few Oreos.”
Note: Joaquin runs the local program in El Salvador. He has been my mentor and guide the past week; teaching me so much. I must introduce you all to him soon.