Trouble in El Salvador – La Libertad, El Salvador

I was sorry to hear about the two American surfer brothers who were victimized by the bandito shotgun assault in 2000 (Biting the Bullet), so I thought I would contribute my vacation travel nightmare story about El Salvador. I have traveled to many countries all over the world in search of good surf and different cultures, but my experience in El Salvador was life changing and I wanted to advise other potential travelers to El Salvador to carefully consider going there.

I booked my surf trip with the same outfit as the brothers did for a week in June 1999. I was met at the airport by Rodrigo the owner of Punta Mango and I went to my hotel in La Libertad right away. He advised me not to leave the hotel grounds at night and also told me that banditos were near the cemetery that was next to the path to go to the nearby premier surf point break La Roca. Evidently, the robbers accost people at gunpoint and they have stolen surfboards, etc. from unsuspecting people. At that point I was asking myself if I had made the right travel destination decision, but I was willing to heed his warnings and continue on with caution, yet open to new adventures.

Rodrigo took me to a popular surf spot named Sunzal and as was recounted in the William’s post,
the paddle-out to where you catch the waves is a considerable work-out. There were two young guys in the water who were obviously novice surfers, which was surprising, since the waves were large. A set (group of waves) came in and as I paddled to get over a wave that was close to breaking, one of the native guys intentionally aimed his board at me and I barely had enough time to flip my board over for protection when he ran over me. He was laughing and seemed happy about what he had done and I noticed that one of my fins had broken-off in the collision, so it was impossible for me to surf in. I had to paddle a mile or so back into the beach. In addition to my board being damaged, my neck was injured in the collision. Rodrigo could not believe that someone would do that to a tourist. I was not pleased to say the least. I am a lifelong surfer and nothing like that has ever happened to me anywhere in the world during my travels.

The next day I took it easy due to my neck pain and hung around the hotel area. Early in the morning I woke-up with extreme chills and then a fever and I had the worst headache in my life. I had continual diarrhea and felt like I was going to die. At daybreak I staggered out of my room and called Rodrigo and he took me to a local doctor who advised me I had a case of malaria and I was able to buy the anti-malarial medication needed to save my life. The health care was very third world in quality. I was so sick I could not fly back home, so I stayed in my hotel room alone for 2 more days and just drank water to survive. Rodrigo did not come around to check on me, which I thought was a strange way to treat his clients. If the tables were turned I would have done everything possible to make him as comfortable as possible. In any case I was too sick to get angry over his lack of professionalism.

The morning of my departure finally arrived and I was still very ill and weak. Rodrigo did not arrive at my hotel to transfer me to the airport and was not available by phone, so I went about locating a local shopowner to call a taxi for me. On the way to the airport the taxi driver intentionally ran over a chicken in the road and I thought to myself that is par for the course here. By that time I was so disgusted with the hostile vibe I could not wait for my plane to leave. Rodrigo arrived at the airport while I was in line and made some lame excuses why he had not arrived to pick me up. I just told him to leave.

When I arrived back home in San Diego, my doctor said I had lost 25 pounds and was dehydrated. He gave me additional medications and I was off work for a month recuperating from the malaria and injury to my neck. I have traveled to Costa Rica over 20 times and have never experienced anything like the treatment I received in El Salvador and I have never been sick from water, food, or insect bites while in Costa Rica.. El Salvador is a dangerous place in many respects and most of the people I came in contact with seemed angry. I would warn people to rethink any surfing travel plans there.

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Older comments on Trouble in El Salvador – La Libertad, El Salvador

25 October 2009

Sorry about your bad experience. I can tell you though, as someone who has traveled extensively in Central America, it’s a good idea to check with a travel medicine specialist before you head out to these places.
Since you’re from San Diego, I know that LEI is close by. They’re not the only game in town, but I used them once before a four month Central American trip and recommend them.
Doctors will prescribe the proper preventative malaria meds and any vaccinations you might need (hep A,B, yellow fever, etc. depending on where you’re headed).
El Salvador ain’t Disneyland. We can’t expect the whole world to be coated in Nerf; that’s why we take precautions.

Yitzhak Shycaz
22 May 2010

Hey man, sorry about your experience in El Salvador, but i think you are so stupid because i see you write in you story that we have third world healt care let me tell you, why you did’t get a taxi to the san salvador an paid for a realy hospital, and you know what fine if you dont wanna come back we dont need you,your story is like a little child crying because his mommy is not with him. you are realy stupid.

07 July 2010

Hey yitzhak, your hostile post shows everyone how stupid you are. Learn to write English correctly idiota and stay in your sewer country tonto!

Carlos Cardoza
14 August 2010

El Salvador is a beautiful country scared by more then a decade of neglect on top of a war; a product of American foreign policy… his a little history lesson for you boys… It all started in the late 70s early 80s under the Carter administration the start of a bloody civil war that would last more than 10 years… fueled by fear of spreading Communism the US desides to back the corrupt government in there effort to crush the rebelion of students,peasants and labor unions. We the “US” sent millions of dollar in weaponds as well as “specialized” military personal… to supposedly only “train” Salvadorian armed forces.
The training they administered included torture and methods of assassination; spreading terror and forcing many to flee the country. This would ensure the cooperation of the ES in future conflicts… not to mention it would keep the in our pockets… forever in debt. bla bla.. so the war ended… the US established their government… which was less the adequate to say the least… and that lead to a decade of social and economic neglect forcing many more to leave the country in search of opportunities else where. Gangs… this is a new concern now… many imigrant who fled during the war settled in the neighborhoods in and around Los Angeles… conflict with Blacks forces them into groups who would later form gangs “many with military training and scare by the horrer of combat; compliment of the US” and establish the MS… so years later the gangs become a problem… and officials diside it’s best to simply deport these offenders, establashing MS gangs all over El Salvador. thanks!!! so now Present day… the country has come a long way from the shit whole the CIA made in the 80s… we have a new government, slowingly rebuilding and washing away the blood stains…things looking up… however there is still alot of deep rooted animosity towards Americans. We just don’t trust them… sorry… but not all of us feel that way… by nature Salvadorains are very warm, caring and friendly people…
and you can’t deny… it’s a beautiful country…

Some advise when visitting… Be respectfull… like Cappy puts it… this is not Disney… if you go in thinking you’re going in there and everyone is going kiss your ass… forget it, it’s not that type of party. it’s not Cancun, Miami, Puerto Vallarta, New Orleans on Mardi Gras… we don’t want it to be… go in with an open mind and heart, be homble and take in as many good vibes as you can. don’t be con·de·scend·ing and or judgemental… maybe some part do look like sewers but people still have to live there cause they have nowhere else to go… we have bums and slums everywhere in the states too so don’t think you’re the shit… don’t add to the problems but try to become part of the solution… if you do so the people will welcome you and your family back with open arms and a smile time and time again cause you will be part of their family…

hope this helps someone…

oh yeah if you can as cappy mentioned … take whatever preventative measures you can… better safe then sorry… ES has a very good medical system; saddly although medical care much less expensive than in the US it’s still out of reach for many both in distance and preventative economically.