Land at the airport and be on the beach with a drink within 45 minutes? Yes, please. This sounds like a little something I would like. And yet it was a big part of what life in San Salvador was like for Natasha who blogs at La Vie Overseas. Her current posting recently brought her to Kabul (read about that garden spot here), but below she reminisces with us about pupusas and quad-exhausting volcano hikes from her couple of years in El Salvador. Follow her continuing adventures on the blog, facebook, and twitter.
Diplo-spouse (or other)? Diplo-spouse
Field is about my former post, San Salvador, El Salvador
two words, loosely translated to mean “F— yeah!” in Salvadoran slang Spanish).
Salvador: It’s close to everything. You can spend the morning at the beach,
the afternoon in the mountains and the evening in the city.
town for the weekend in San Salvador, what does the weekend look like? Depending
on the arrival time of their flight, it’s straight to the beach at la Costa del
Sol, where, through our dues to the employee association that runs the
commissary, we also had membership to a beach club. (I always promised guests
that they could be on the beach, coconut drink in hand, within an hour of
landing.) We’d then head to San Salvador (about a 45-minute drive from the
beach club, 30 minutes from the airport) to unpack, relax, freshen up and enjoy
a cocktail on our balcony overlooking the beautiful San Salvador volcano. For
dinner, we’d take a short stroll across the street to La Pampa Argentina, a nice steakhouse.
típico breakfast at one of the
restaurants with a nice view (Las Brumas
is a good one; there’s also a La Pampa that serves breakfast on the volcano).
We’d then head out to the western part of the country to drive the beautiful Ruta de las Flores and stop to
explore the little towns (Juayua, Ataco and Ahuachapán are favorites), do some
shopping and, depending on the season, maybe visit a coffee finca.
Lunch at Jardín de Celeste or at least a cafecito and
snack at Flores de Eloise is a must. There’s also ziplining in Apaneca for the
more adventurous visitors (we never went in El Salvador but did go in Costa Rica.)
We’d then head back east/south and stop for a sunset michelada (and maybe dinner, depending on our appetites) at Beto’s
restaurant in La Libertad, set on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.
mix of surfers, backpackers and city dwellers looking for live music and
dancing at several bars and clubs situated along the beach. For a more low-key
night, a half-hour drive would have us back in San Salvador, where we could
enjoy some Salvadoran craft beers at Cadejo
or some drinks at Paseo El Carmen, a pedestrian-friendly area in the neighboring
city of Santa Tecla with a few restaurants and bars.
for a luxury mani/pedi and/or massage is a must (these three appointments can
easily take four hours – I’ve done it!). For those looking for a more rugged
experience, hiking Santa Ana or Izalco
volcanoes would fit the bill. On the way back to the airport, we’d stop at
Olocuilta, a town right off the highway that boasts the best rice-flour pupusas
(they are traditionally made with corn flour, as explained below) around.
Salvador, you must try: Pupusas,
the national food. The basic version is a tortilla-like disc made of corn flour
stuffed with a mild cheese called quesillo
and pureed red beans. There’s also cheese with loroco (a native Salvadoran plant with edible flowers), chicharrón (fried pork rinds) and ayote (a type of squash) . Gourmet
versions include basil, shrimp and all kinds of other fillings. The best part?
Individual pupusas usually cost between 25 and 75 cents.
sources for learning about the culture or things to do/experience while you’re
at your post city? Other blogs (Foreign Service or not) are always good
resources. There’s a good Facebook group (Expats in El Salvador)
as well. I relied more on word-of-mouth from others in the Embassy community
and CLO recommendations, particularly for travel tips.
living in San Salvador: Security constraints. Due to high levels of
gang-related crime, the RSO is pretty strict about walking/running so you have
to drive everywhere. With the exception of malls, the beach and a couple other
places, you can’t really walk around safely.
post? That would have to be our diving trip to Utila, Honduras, which involved a 12-hour journey via microbus and ferry
from San Salvador to Utila.
you were far from home? When our sponsors took us to our beach club
(realizing we had a beach club) our
second day in country. It sort of dawned on me that my life was going to be
very different than the one I left behind in Washington, DC!
important thing about re-creating your home at post? Having a few familiar
items – photos, our coffee maker, our magnet collection – really makes a place
feel like it’s “ours.” This is especially important at our current post, Kabul,
because we had to pack pretty light given space constraints. But our fridge
here looks just like our fridge in San Salvador – covered in magnets from all
can’t live without at post? (Good) coffee (I blame El Salvador and its
delicious coffee for worsening this habit!), my laptop and my camera.
you couldn’t live without but have had to? Honestly, you don’t have to go without much in San Salvador. Almost anything you can’t
find/buy locally, you can order through the DPO.
advice someone ever gave you about the diplomatic life? Be patient with
yourself. Arriving at a new post can be overwhelming, what with a new culture,
language, job and a host of other things, not to mention the logistics of
moving, unpacking, getting settled, etc. It’s OK to not to get unpacked, find a
job, learn your way around the city and meet a new group of best friends right
away. On the more practical side, Dani at The Hot Pot Blog recommended packing sheets in my luggage – something I did for both San Salvador and Kabul and
that has made a big difference my first nights at both posts. (Read about Dani’s adventures in New Delhi on her own Notes from the Field!)
uniform? For working at the Embassy in San Salvador, skirts/blouses or
work dresses and heels or cute flats. For weekends/casual wear, a comfortable
dress and flip flops – usually over a bathing suit!
over on Saturday night, what’s on the menu? When hosting a dinner party, I
usually try to focus on having one star of the show. (I’m talking about the
food, of course.) So I might do a simpler main course and sides – a roasted
chicken, garlic mascarpone mashed potatoes, sautéed greens and a salad –
followed by a homemade carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting. Or if I’m feeling ambitious, I might
make Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas with a couple fresh sides but an out-of-the-box dessert.
If we have out-of-town guests, I might enlist the help of our empleada in making traditional
Salvadoran chicken tamales (wrapped in plantain leaves instead of corn husks), casamiento (rice and beans) and
assignment? Why? We are in the midst of bidding so I don’t want to jinx our
actual choices for our next
assignment, but I would love to return to Latin America one day – specifically,
South America. My husband is a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID), which means our assignments are limited to
developing countries. Many of USAID’s already limited South American Missions
are shrinking – both in terms of size and budgets – as the economies in those
countries are growing (a good thing, of course!). So landing a tour in a place
like Bogotá, Colombia or Lima, Peru while we can would be amazing.
someone had told you before arriving? If you work on the local
economy as a spouse (i.e. outside the Embassy), you should buy a second car. We
made it work for the eight or so months that I worked for a local NGO,
but it would be much easier with two vehicles. Even though we lived where a lot
of other Embassy employees lived, with varying work schedules, gym/sports
activities and other after-work commitments, it wasn’t always a guarantee that
my husband could get a ride.
let the news dictate your opinion of San Salvador. Yes, there are serious
security issues there. But for the most part, the problems are isolated to
specific areas and common sense (and RSO recommendations, of course) will
dictate where you should/shouldn’t go. El Salvador is a beautiful, warm (both
literally and figuratively!) and welcoming place with so much to see and do.
blog, what are three of your own favorite posts?
On surprising moments during my tour in El
Salvador: That JUST Happened
On why San Salvador is the best post ever: El Salvador: As Good as it Gets?
On reasons to visit El Salvador: El Salvador for Visitors