Comments from Readers about El Salvador Trip
Hi Rick -
My wife and I enjoy your travel videos and guidebooks immensely. We relied upon them to plan our first (and so far only) trip to Europe (Frankfurt, Paris, Venice) two years ago. I enjoy your periodic emails about travel to "must see" vacation destinations.
But I must say, your article on El Salvador ("Resurrection in El Salvador, 2005") was the most moving and enlightening piece of writing I've seen from you. Thanks for sharing insights into this country and its suffering people (and the role the US has played in this) with an honesty and sensitivity that most journalism fails to capture. With a successful business keeping you busy, you didn't have to write this. I'm glad you did.
When a member of our Habitat for Humanity sent me the LINK to your trip in El Salvador, I hesitated, and waited before looking. I didn't want to find travel cliches and good restaurants. Our Habitat team worked on a house in Usulután, and we spent time with Bishop Medardo Gómez and the Lutheran Church. Visits were made to small Lutheran churches as well as refugee camps. We also spent time talking with a Sister of Providence in one of the camps. We asked questions of what we saw. We asked questions of each other.
Your report honors the serious traveler and the pilgrim. You take responsibility, you speak your truth. Last week Seattle honored Oscar Romero by commemorating a week of celebration and study for him.
Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian asks, and answers, writing: "Why are people with hope so dangerous? Poor people have dignity, have creativity, and tell the world it is possible to live in a different way."
You suggest the same thing. Now, when the people of El Salvador have been forgotten, they need your voice, along with Sobrino's and Seattle's, more than ever. We need them, too, that's the difference between aid and solidarity.
I too am a big fan of your PBS shows, books and look forward to taking a trip with you to Italy next year, but I think you really missed the beauty of El Salvador on your most recent trip in March.
Another writer to you, Ivette, shares my views. You missed the fantastic black sand beaches. You missed the fact, that while the US dollar is indeed the official currency, it makes doing business and traveling in El Salvador even easier. Did you visit the Princess Hotel in San Salvador? Wow, when I was there a few years ago, I got a beautiful room for about $75 a night. The hotel is beautiful, as are the neighborhoods that surround it.
Like any city, anywhere, there are people who are poor and must live in confined areas. In Central America you see the barrios. Corrugated roofs of tin, sheets of wood slapped together. What amazes me is these structures cling to steep hillsides all over the place. Many of these folks have a great view of the city but watch your step in the backyard! If you're going to highlight barrios in Central America, then you'd better start showing slums of Budapest, Rome and Florence, O.K.?
I only noticed one word or two about the twin earthquakes that rocked the country a few years ago. They had two major quakes within 30 days of each other. A lot of people were killed, since there were several landslides that took out the hill clinging barrios. Much of the infrastructure has since been rebuilt and as a result, getting around San Salvador is much more efficient.
Did they tell you that many rural salvadorans raise passion fruit, coffee and other alternative crops? Did you even get out into the country and see the beauty of green valleys? Did you see the rebuilding that has taken place in the country as a result of the earthquakes?
Did you take a ride on a famous, brightly-colored school buses that operate in town and up and down the Pan-American highway? Did you have a meal of Argentine beef in one of the local eateries? Yes, you can find an abundance of American franchise foods there but so what? You even said yourself that globalization has come to El Salvador. If you go into a Mr. Donut in San Salvador don't expect only glazed donuts. They've got hot meals, local favorites and Popusas. Heck, every street corner in the country has a woman, cooking Popusas, selling bags of chips and coke. They are not my favorite but Salvadorans eat them like Americans eat hamburgers!
Many Americans don't realize that the clothing they wear, that they purchased at their local department store was assembled in Central America. The textiles were grown around the world, sewn and assembled in El Salvador and Hondoras and then sent back to the US. Those who work in those factories are thankful for those opportunties. As you travel the Pan American highway outside of the city, you see many people walking and waiting for the bus. Many of these people live way out in the country and the job that they have sewing clothing is one part of their household income.
What amazes me about Salvadorans is that they do whatever it takes to make a living. They walk miles, ride buses and sell, even from their homes in the barrios, they have a little cateen. They've had political struggles, civil wars and unfortunately now, they a big problem with street gangs.
My point is Rick, that many people read your stuff to get ideas and be motivated about traveling. This piece on El Salvador didn't encourage me to visit this beautiful country. Your trip and what you saw was from one angle. I did learn alot from the article but its a small piece of El Salvador's history. I'd encourage you to create tour of all of Central America.
Central America is easy to get to. You can get a non stop flight out of Houston, Los Angeles or Miami. You don't have significant time changes to deal with, and the accomodations are not too expensive. You could highlight the rural, city and end up in Costa Rica, doing the eco-tourism thing!
Thank you for your time Rick. Like you, I'll keep traveling, and perhaps you'll travel back to El Salvador and see from another view.
Dear Rick: I found your article in the recent Travel News concerning San Salvador one of the best pieces I have read about a subject that has been my passion for years. The fact that it was written by you, a travel writer, and not a professional theologian was one of the most powerful ways to promote understanding of the situation that is still ongoing in Central America. The United States Government has much to answer for in its compliancy in this "Dictated Peace."
In this morning's San Francisco Chronicle is a small article on one of the back pages promoting a documentary film, The Ambassador, which is a critical documentary on human rights abuses linked to former Honduran Ambassador John Negroponte, America's new spy chief, former Ambassador to Iraq, and Ambassador to The United Nations. One needs only to read the works of such Liberation Theology writers as Robert McAfee Brown, Gustavo Gutierrez (among many others) to see the effect on the people of Latin America of United States foreign policies in this area.
Thank you for your splendid article. I have forwarded it to many others.
Sincerely, Gordon Ringenberg
Great article. Our church, New Hope Lutheran, has a sister relationship with a very poor campesino church, El Buen Pastor Lutheran Church in Usulatan, and several of us have been visiting with them over the years. We also use the Center for Global Education for our trips, and Cesar was our guide. Wonderful fellow and very informative. You explained the situation very well, and we usually do much of the same tour of San Salvador for orientation, and also visit with the Lutheran Bishop, before going to Usulatan. And we do go to the beach (Costa del Sol) after with Pastor Julio for down time, reflections, and figuring out how our congregations can best help each other. The beaches are wonderful - watch out for the undertow, and once a farmer drove his herd of cattle across the beach. How cool and rustic and photographable is that!!
I think we gringos get so much more out of these trips than the El Buen Pastor parishoners do. Just to share in their sense of family, and spirituality when there is nothing else. Something sorely lacking in most of our area near Houston. And they do love the fact we care enough about them to see them every couple of years or so, in addition to giving monetary aid like scholarship funds for the youth etc.
New Hope Lutheran Church
Missouri City, Texas
I read the Central American reports — did not strike me as particularly eye-opening. Please remember that finding things to confirm one's prior prejudices is not the same as actual learning.
I am a big fan of your shows on PBS. I was excited to find out you were traveling to El Salvador but quite disappointed to see there was not one nice comment about my little country. Yes, we have a million problems but that's just the way everyone lives. God probably thought we could handle it so that' s why when the war was over we got an earthquake...I speak with first-hand knowledge because I was there in 1986. So here is my list of a few things I think you missed:
1. Family and friends are a priority to Salvadorans...no matter how little someone has they always seem to have enough to share.
2. Italy has Gelato....El Salvador has Platanos con Crema, budin y tamales (I hope that was included in the tour you joined).
3. The Beach!!!!!!!!!!
4. Joya del Ceren
5. El Trifinio
6. El Volcan de Izalco (another tale of how we always end up with the short stick)
With your influence with the American public and your desire to help others a few nice comments would have been helpful to promote tourism. But after what I read and all the things I did not see please don't visit again. After all mas ayuda el que no estorba.
Anyone reading your journal will probably never consider visiting now....If you do go back PLEASE PLEASE take the time to see the positive stuff too!!
You're absolutely correct, I failed to report on all the wonderful things and tourist opportunities El Salvador offers. I must admit, for my visit, my focus was on the ongoing political and economic struggles. Won't it be great some day, when people think of beaches when they think of El Salvador?