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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