Surviving San Salvador

Mark Stewart Misadventures 4 Comments

That gut feeling, everyone knows it. Something inside of you, hidden deep within your subconscious, that pops up now and then letting you know you’ve fucked up, and that it’s time to change what you’re doing immediately before something goes sideways.

Not All Bad

Statistically speaking, San Salvador is the seventh most dangerous city in the world outside of an active war zone. However the city overall, or at least a large portion of it, is no more dangerous than any other big city in a developing country. Stick with common-sense travel protocol: don’t flash money or valuables around, don’t walk alone at night, etc., and you should have relatively nothing to worry about. That being said, whether it’s gang activity, violent muggings, or worse; San Salvador also has its fair share of neighbourhoods to avoid all costs, especially in the East side of the city – regardless of daylight or not.

After finishing a little exploration of the relatively safe area a few kilometres from our accommodation near the centre of town, we decided that a bus would be easier than walking under the scorching mid-afternoon sun. Prior to heading out, our host set us up with a list of a few places to check out and what busses are required to move around – including which ones would return us safely home. Unfortunately, one seemingly simple detail was left out.

Right Bus, Wrong Way

Finding the right bus can often be tricky, but that’s only half of the battle

The bus itself rolls up almost immediately and is heading in the general direction of our neighbourhood; so we board and take a seat. It soon turns to the right – instead of the expected left – but we don’t bat an eye, busses rarely follow a straight line to their destination. A little more winding and we’re finally pointing back towards home… Wait, spoke too soon, turned again. Only now it seems to be holding onto it’s heading fairly consistently. Deciding to wait it out a few minutes longer, hoping for an eventual re-route, it’s soon clear that this bus is not taking us home.

We quickly realized that not only have we strayed from our expected destination, but we’ve made our way deep into the Northeast areas of town. Do we ride it out and hope the bus eventually turns around? Do we get off and hope we can grab something going the other way? Given the number of warnings we’ve had about these parts of the city, we opt for the first.

Shift Over

Another few long minutes pass and the roads we’re on are no longer displaying on Google maps; the houses are rough shacks with walls of rusted corrugated steel and fences of razor wire. The bus is nearly empty as it pulls into a lot with several other parked busses. Relieved now that it seems we’ll finally be turning back, our hopes crash fast as the driver turns off the bus, takes his cash box, and exits. His day is over. This bus isn’t going anywhere.

Mild panic sets in as Kylee desperately explains our silly mistake to the driver, himself seemingly uncaring and irritated. Mentioning us to follow him, we walk down the road from the lot as he grumbles out loud about the dumb tourists. Passing a couple of guys wandering the other way, we’re given a strange look but think nothing of it and soon after are brought to another bus matching the route number of the one we’d just taken. The drivers have a short exchange and we hop in on the backdoor, as the new driver allowed us to skip the turnstile and avoid payment. Finally it seems we’ll actually get home before the sun fully sets.

Not Clear Yet

Just prior to the otherwise empty bus pulling away, the two young men we’d just passed on the road, board the bus and sit directly across the aisle from us. Immediately, the feeling kicks in hard. A completely empty bus, yet these two guys who only a few minutes earlier were walking in the opposite direction are suddenly sitting directly beside us. As the bus slowly begins heading back up the road, alarm bells howl in our heads. I suddenly remembered something one of the boys in Santa Ana mentioned to us: “Whenever you’re riding a city bus, sit near the front, because all the dodgy stuff happens in the back”. Heeding this advice we move near the front, just for the hell of it. Only a few seconds later after a shout from behind, the bus pulls over and the men get off.

Were we in any danger, were those men planning on mugging us? It’s hard to say, but the situation certainly seemed a little odd. If we’d gotten off the other bus sooner to look for a taxi or wait for another bus, could that have put us in a worse situation? These things are complete unknowns. All we can do is learn from a situation that we fortunately walked away from unscathed. I can’t say that trusting your gut is the answer for everything, but it seems to be a pretty reliable place to start.

 

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Jason rosa
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Happy to hear that you made it out of there safe. While Central America seemed relatively safe there are certainly those dodgy moments and glad to hear you made it out of this one.

Deah
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We recently wound up on the right bus, wrong direction in Sofia, Bulgaria. When we finally got off the bus way out in the outer ring of the city, there seemed to be no return bus heading the other way, and we were in a not-so-nice area. So we had no choice but to go to the other side of the street, turn around, and start walking back towards the center of the city. Luckily, after about 15 minutes, another bus did come along and we were able to get on it. Happily, no muggers.