For my vacation, I opted for El Salvador — to share a muggy dorm room, eat rice and beans, be covered in bug bites, and march with people in honor of their martyred hero who stood up to what they consider American imperialism. The march passed a long, shiny, black monument that looks just like our Vietnam memorial. It was busy with mourners and etched with countless names — each a casualty of a civil war their loved ones believed was fought against American interests and American-funded troops.
It's not a matter of whether America is good or bad in a certain instance. The fact is, the popular patriotic sentiment “my country, right or wrong” — while embraced by many Americans — is by no means unique to our country. There are good people waging heroic struggles all over the world… against our country.
If you've got a week to spend in Latin America, you can lie on a beach in Mazatlán, you can commune with nature in Costa Rica, or you can grapple with our nation's complex role in a country like El Salvador. I've done all three, and enjoyed each type of trip. But El Salvador was far more memorable than the others. The tourism industry has its own priorities. But as a traveler, you always have the option to choose challenging and educational destinations.
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You are reading "Choose to be Challenged", an entry posted on 12 June 2009 by Rick Steves.