Surf And Turf

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, December 06, 2007 was originally posted on December 08, 2007.

DAY 17:  Three years ago in Xi’an, China, I met a Mandarin-speaking Texan girl named Elisa, who was traveling for a short while to see the Terracotta Warriors away from her study-abroad base of Beijing, where she majored in philosophy.  Our encounter was brief — only a few hours — but it was in that time that we easily hit it off, strolling around the Muslim Quarter, sampling local foods, and exchanging palm readings.  Regrettably we parted ways sooner than we wanted, but we’ve casually kept in touch since then.  I remember telling her that fateful day that “our meeting was not coincidental.”

Three years later, I’d discover that our brief encounter would lead me to another person in another part of the world.  Behind the scenes, Elisa emailed me contact information so that I could look up her El Salvadorean cousin Juan Pablo (JP) in the capital of San Salvador, which I had done the day before.  We had plans to meet up later in the evening back in the city.

MY DAY STARTED at the surf camp in Playa Zonte.  After watching the regular surfers take to the waves coming in with the morning tides — including Tilo who finally showed off his skill to me and Claude — I went out on my own for one last crack at surfing.  I had only one good run that morning, but then wiped out majorly near the shore.  The power of the waves pushed and dragged my body along the scratchy, sandy bottom at such a speed that I got a sort of “sand burn,” like a rope burn or rug burn on my back.

“Okay, that’s enough,” I said aloud to myself.  “I’m done.”

The beach bums were sad to see me leave so soon.  Originally Tilo wanted me to go with him to La Libertad that evening for a big town-wide fiesta, but knew of my planned rendezvous in the city.  He knew that if there was anything better than nightlife in La Libertad, it was the nightlife in San Salvador, and wished me well.  Another local surfer told me, “You’ll be in Salvador?  It’s Friday night.  The city will be alive.”

And so I spent my day traveling from surf to turf.  A taxi ride, an internet session, a quick lunch at chicken chain Pollo Campero, a bus ride, and another taxi ride later (in that order), I arrived at the Gallerias Mall — “like the Gallerias Mall in Houston,” JP told me.  Not that I’d ever been to the one in Houston, but it was more or less your regular Western shopping mall, with a big Christmas tree, an electronics store, a Hallmark, a GNC, a Benneton, a Zara, plus a food court just like one in the States — although one difference being that the people who ran the Chinese food place did not also run a generic cajun food place with free samples of Cajun Chicken on toothpicks.  (Don’t all malls have both of those?) 

Elisa’s cousin JP found me writing and waiting at our rendezvous point near the China Wok, and called to me.  “I see you,” he said on his cell phone ten feet away from me when my back was turned to him.

We made with the introductions, and talked of my coincidental (or non-coincidental?) meeting with Elisa.  A well-traveled young man himself, JP had settled for the time being in his native El Salvador, working as a supervisor for a financial company —  not that work was on his mind anymore with the end of the work week.  He had a loose agenda in mind for the weekend ahead, the first item being a Friday night out on the town with him and an entourage of friends.  “You’ll get to see the jet set of San Salvador,” he told me.

We sorted out a place for me to stay, the best option being the first transit hotel I stayed at after my Tica bus ride, since it had the best rate of anything comparable, plus a wi-fi signal in the area I could leech off of.  I chilled out for a bit, showered and changed in the best clothes I had with me, until JP picked me up.

“I’m sorry my shirt’s all wrinkled,” I apologized.

“It’s okay, that’s the new style!” he said with a smile.  With him was his best friend-turned-girlfriend Tatiana, a Salvadorean leggy blonde of Russian descent dressed up for a night of clubbing.  She, like JP, spoke in perfect English, and I was happy not to have to translate Spanish phrases in my head all the time and answer simply with “Si.”

“Do you like vodka?” JP asked me.


“Good, because we’re going to drink two big bottles tonight!”

“As long as it’s the good stuff,” I said

“Of course.  We got Finlandia.”

Dinner was not far from the hotel, as I was “in a good location” — San Benito, the affluent “new downtown” area of San Salvador.  We dined at their friend’s family’s restaurant La Hola (The Wave), a fancy-ish seafood/sushi/pizza restaurant.  We had a bit of each, with Greek-style octopus, pescaditos (little fried fishes you eat whole like french fries — similar to gavros in Greece), two platters of yellowtail and salmon washimi (a sort of sushi carpaccio), and a big pizza topped with shrimp and the local herb loroco that reminded me of broccoli florets.  The pizza went down the hardest, mostly because we’d eaten so much before it arrived, plus there was twice as much cheese than there was crust.

“Hope you’re not worried about calories,” JP said.  “At least we have a good cushion [for the drinks ahead].” 

The vodka started flowing at dinner, mixed with sweet coconut water, while next to me, Tatiana was partaking in another El Salvadorean concoction, miche lada, the “hangover cure” drink with lemon, salt, hot sauce, worcestershire sauce and some light beer, all served in a mug.  As disgusting as it sounded, it wasn’t half bad.  “It’s like a bloody mary,” I said.

JP’s sister (and Elisa’s other cousin) Ana Maria was with us on the other side of the table, along with her boyfriend whose name escapes me.  We chat over my brief meeting with Elisa, and they told me about actor Paul Walker’s recent trip to El Salvador — it was still buzzworthy news.  Soon we were joined by another couple in the entourage, Luis Carlos and his girlfriend whose name escapes me.  Soon, we paid our bill and head out; the night was young and we had people to see, things to do.

“Here’s your first Salvadorean cuss word,” JP said to me.  “Zerote.”


“Zerote,” Tatiana reiterated. 

“It means ‘shithead.’”

We hopped in the car and picked up yet another of the entourage, Walter, a graphic designer who complained about trying to fit too much copy in particular magazine page layouts.  From there we head off to a casual house party in the affluent Zona Rosa district, at the residence of one of Tatiana’s friend, Camilla (yes another one) and her family.  The house was a big one with many rustic and tastefully decorated rooms, a huge covered patio area that looked out to a yard and well-manicured tropical garden and a swimming pool. 

More friends of the young, chain-smoking, twenty-something upper middle Salvadorean class arrived, all for the pre-game session of Vodka Red Bulls.

“ English,” Tatiana urged her friends to speak English in my presense out of courtesy so I wouldn’t feel left out.  Everyone was bilingual and switched over in a snap.  Mostly (in English), Walter and Luis made fun of JP’s pink polo shirt.

It was a little after midnight when we decided to go to the club Code, a happening trendy spot blaring dance and reggaeton.  With our caravan of several cars, we rode back downtown, to be greeted by a familiar face for them.  “This is the most infamous bouncer in town,” JP told me as he got a free wristband into the VIP section.  “[This is my friend from the Philippines,]” he told Mr. Infamous.

“Mucho gusto.”

He gave me a wristband and led us to the VIP door like we were a bunch of cool guys and gals.  We walked up the stairs to the VIP section, the mezzanine level of the club that overlooked the dancefloor and bar below (picture above).

We all convened at a table surrounded by comfy couches and ottomans to mingle and work on our bottles of vodka.  It wasn’t overly-crowded in the VIP area, but we did managed to run into other friends of their VIP entourage society.  Tatiana ran into an old college friend Drake, a slight, aspiring-filmmaking hipster who wasn’t really into the scene surrounding him, but was there for his friend’s birthday.  We chat for a bit about his philosophy of film, and he gave me his YouTube handle Dagoavila for me (and you readers) to check out his experimental shorts.  I was happy to know see this other side of El Salvador; guidebooks tend to make you believe that you’ll just meet people in the tourism business or locals trying to sell you goods you don’t necessarily want.

Nightclubs in San Salvador are either hot or not, and at specific times of the night too.  By 2:30, Code was almost empty.  Like sheep, the clubgoers went off to other after-hours clubs, and by three in the morning we were back in the action again at Envy, another nightclub on the upper level of a mall, with an exposed roof.

“This is the place to see and be seen,” Luis told me. 

But it was there that I started to fade, not so much from the vodka but more from the exhaustion.  “Sorry, I’ve been up since six.  I was surfing this morning,” I told JP.  He offered to take me back to the hotel for he understood my pain; he too was feeling a bit out of it, despite his girlfriend switching over to beer since the vodka was gone. 

We rode back to my hotel close to four in the morning, where after banging on the doors for ten minutes trying to wake up the security guard to let me in, I passed out in my bed.  In the end, it was a great night out — especially since I was out of the tourist world for a change, and at VIP status no less.  And to think it might not come to be if not for that one afternoon three years ago in China.

“I’m here because I met [JP’s] cousin in China,” I had told Drake that evening.  Coincidence?  Perhaps not, for it was my time in Xi’an, China that not only led me to these people, but also to the local word for “shithead.”


I went to the fried chicken fast food restaurant Pollo Campero in the developed part of La Libertad before hopping on the bus to San Salvador.  There weren’t any extra tables, so I shared one with an older gentleman, the manager of the nearby Super Selectos supermarket, and tried some broken Spanish small talk. 

“[You like the beach?]”  he asked me.

“Si. [It’s better than the beach in New Jersey.  You know New Jersey?  It’s near New York.]”

“[No, I only know Washington.]”

“[It is better than Washington.]”

Next entry: Brotherhood Of The Cock

Previous entry: Out Of Seclusion

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Comments for “Surf And Turf”

  • WOW, I’m actually caught up.  I’m on schedule; today, I write about yesterday.

    CAMILLA:  Yes, maybe the cholesterol thing is an on-going theme; yesterday we argued over whether or not salmon is full of good or bad cholesterol, or high in omega 3.

    STEPH:  Maybe you fell down because you were “surfing.” wink

    ELISA:  Thanks for the hook-up!  More to come from your family down here.  JP says that you need to come back—you haven’t been here in fifteen years!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  03:23 PM

  • Ah yes, a surfing accident on the upper east side, er, I mean, on the river in Belize, or something.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  05:56 PM

  • You ate at La Ola!? mmm - that place is good.
    Too bad I missed the fun. I should go back - but next Year is China and Spain for me.

    Come for the olympics! That would be a better reason for us meeting than meeting JP - even though JP is as special as he is.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  07:54 PM

  • ELISA:  Greetings from your cousins’ house in San Benito.  I am using Carolina’s laptop at the dining table.  The weather is just lovely.  Wish you were here!  P.S.  Ines just showed me what you wrote about me on everyone’s Facebook page… so I’m “a total gringo” huh? wink

    Posted by Erik TGT  on  12/08  at  10:33 PM

  • What happened to growing out the moustache? According to wikipedia, “moustache’s convey worldliness.”  Hahaha.  I guess you don’t need to convey worldliness when you are a VIP and hanging with an entourage!!

    Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat which is supposed to lower total cholesterol and boost HDL (good) cholesterol.  Now don’t O.D. on salmon… cuidate!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  01:09 AM

  • I think that you might just be getting old *gasp* and staying out all night just wrecks you… wink

    Oh wait, that’s me. Sounds fun - it’s always awesome to see the truly non-tourist track… Hope you enjoy the other side of El Salvador… I need to go with a friend there sometime! But then again, there are many places I need to go.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  06:06 AM

  • STEPH:  Ah, those days surfing on the UES…  *sigh* wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  10:51 AM

  • GREETINGS FROM SAN SALVADOR, where I’m about to head off on a flight into the Honduran jungle in about half an hour—it’s the peak of rafting season there!  I hope what entries that are up now are sufficient for the WHMMR. 

    I’m unsure of the NIZ status for the next few days, so if you don’t hear from me, assume:
    A) there is no internet connection
    B) there is no available electricity
    C) a scorpion finally got me
    D) i’ve drowned in whitewater rapids
    E) all of the above (that would be a bitch, eh?)

    Stay tuned…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  10:56 AM

  • surfing in the morning, clubbing at night..what kind of life is this?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  02:44 PM

  • E - the first shots of the new indiana jones movie are out! its almost here.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/10  at  02:35 AM

  • I’m finally caught up too. The blog is making me want to fly down even more.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/10  at  01:46 PM

  • Erik, you spoiled us with all the entries!  Now going thru withdrawl awaiting your return from the jungle..hope you return soon safely!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  02:01 AM

  • yeah - I’m not digging this NIZ time!

    Posted by sara  on  12/11  at  02:54 PM

  • maybe a scorpion got him while white water rafting and he did end up drowning….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/11  at  10:02 PM

  • Maybe that Peruvian Chef finally got him…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  02:36 AM

  • wow! fancy! I’m gonna check out Dagoavila, dang.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/12  at  03:32 PM

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This blog post is one of thirty-nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: The Central American Eviction Tour* (*with jaunt to Colombia)," which chronicled a six-week journey through Central America, with a jaunt to Bogota, Colombia.

Next entry:
Brotherhood Of The Cock

Previous entry:
Out Of Seclusion


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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