Surf’s Up

This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, December 04, 2007 was originally posted on December 07, 2007.

DAY 15:  Amongst the top things that El Salvador is known for is the surfing scene.  With fine black sand beaches caressing the white foam of crashing Pacific waves, it has been an international draw for surfing and world-class surf competitions.  The base of surfing in El Salvador is in La Libertad (translation: “The Libertad”) about forty minutes away from San Salvador by bus.

I THINK I COINED the phrase, “The C Phase”, that period of time when you’re traveling in a Spanish-speaking country and just acknowledge everything you hear with “Si” — whether you comprehend what is spoken to you or not.  (It almost got me in trouble when a gay Peruvian chef who came onto me on a cargo ship to the Amazon.)  The C Phase almost got me again when a taxi driver offered to take me all the way to La Libertad from San Salvador.  Thankfully I figured it out.  “No, el autobus es bueno.”

He dropped me off at the lot where the “chicken buses” to La Libertad started from — and they started whenever they felt like it.  I got there right when a guy was thinking about doing a route, and hopped aboard.  My big bag took up an extra seat so he asked me to pay for two.



El Salvadorean buses really don’t keep a timetable; the driver went to the first stop and just chilled out for a while, waiting for the bus to fill up.  We parked there for seemingly random people to appear and decide to get on.  Luckily it was only about twenty minutes and we took the road to La Libertad, picking up and dropping of passengers on the way.

LA LIBERTAD WAS NOT the surfer’s paradise I’d conjured up in my mind.  I pictured it being like a surf town in Australia, built up with surf shops and cafes all along the beach.  Perhaps it was because I was dropped off in the Zona Comercial, a busy local market away from the beach and near a really smelly fishing pierPeople come here to surf? I wondered.  Using the extremely limited and outdated map in my Let’s Go guide, I managed to walk to the area of surf shops in town — it too was a bit dumpy — and realized that perhaps the reason why it looked deserted was because the peak of the surf season had ended in October. 

That’s not to say there was no surfing to be done; I just had to find it.  I thought La Libertad would be a sort of travelers hub like Antigua with lots of tour agencies selling surf packages along the coast, but there were no obvious ones.  I asked one shabby hotel for a travel agency and they directed me to one, although I couldn’t find it, especially since I was busy fending off the drunkard following me, urging me to go with him to places unknown.  I was the lone backpacker after all, catching the attention of locals with my big backpack, and I heard one confuse me for Malaysian, while his buddy argued, “[No, he’s Japanese.]”

I realized that the real surf scene was at the beach to the west.  After a quick lunch of corn pupusas (stuffed tortillas served with pickled vegetables on top) at a food stand, a cab driver took me down the coastal road, about twenty minutes down.  Away from La Libertad, I saw the road was lined with different resorts and surf camps, and I opted to go to the Surf Camp Horizonte in La Playa Zonte, a thumbs-up in my Let’s Go, away from the more popular La Playa Sunzal.  Upon arrival, I was greeted by Carol, a Panamanian surfer girl who showed me around.  The camp was a mini-resort with a well-manicured lawn, cobblestone pathways, and a big hut to chill out and watch movies over the beers and sodas provided in the corner.  The bathrooms were clean — even the shared ones — and the rooms were adequate.  I could have gotten a full-service bungalow, but opted for a simple private room in the big three-level beach house.  Topping things off were hammocks everywhere, a peaceful flowing fountain, and two parrots that were perched on a branch, who either squawked at each other like a bitter married couple, or perched one up and one upside down like in the 69 position.  On the beach was a homecooked seafood restaurant overlooking the bay.  The whole thing would have been perfect if only the swimming pool wasn’t being retiled — but with that, I got a discount on my stay.

Surf Camp Horizonte was one of a few other surf camp mini-resorts in the Playa Zonte area, each fenced in from the local beach shacks that served food to gringoes and local surfers alike.  All of this was juxtaposed to the waves and the black sand beaches — along with interesting rock arches during low tide — that attracted not just surfers, but sunbathers and local soccer-playing kids.

“[THIS IS TILO,]” Carol told me.  “[He’ll be your surf instructor.]”

“Hola.  Erik.”


“[You want to go now?]”  He was rearing to go.

“[In an hour.]”

An hour later went by. “Listo?”


Tilo, an eight-time local surfing champion (or so he claimed) was from La Libertad, but was amongst the local surf bums looking to hang out, teach surfing, and scope for gringo chicas bonitas.  “Hola!  La chica bonita!” he called out to a Canadian girl he had his eye on at another camp; she ignored him.  We continued along and took the surfboards down to the other side of a creek along the beach, to an area more suitable for beginners with its lack of rocks. 

I’d tried surfing once before at Manley Beach in Australia, but I wasn’t too manly at it at all; it was a tiring day of exhausting wipeouts.  A refresher was in order and so Tilo just had me practice my mounts and my stance on a stationery board on the beach before taking to the surf.  It wasn’t exactly rocket science; you just stand on the board and try to balance — I was on a 7.5 footer longboard to make it easier on me.

Into the Pacific Ocean we went, and I went through the motions:  the paddling, the mounting, the trying to stand, the loosing balance, the wiping out, and the being whisked away and disoriented by the power of the waves.  Tilo would coach me in finding appropriate waves to try with prompts to “arriba” or “paddle.”  I struggled, lugging the big heavy board, fighting the surf that would set me back at every step forward — a got a blister on my big toe from fighting it.  “[It’s hard work with your first time fighting the power of the waves.]”

One thing I learned about learning to surf is that there’s not much an instructor can really do for you; you either have it or you don’t, and constant practice makes perfect.  I did get it after a while, and by the end of our session I actually got a few runs while standing up: actual surfing.  Tilo gave me a thumbs up and finally started speaking to me in English.  “Fuck yeah, man!  You’re standing on your first day!  Perfect!”

We checked out a local’s turtle hatchery and then head back to camp to chill out the rest of the afternoon with the local rastafarians, one older one with dreads and sunglasses that everyone around just knew as “Rastaman.”  “[You stood up?]” one rasta asked me.


He held his hand out for the Salvadorean surfers’ handshake — a slide of the palm followed by a pound of the fist. 

The rest of the day was a relaxed one, listening to my iPod, writing, reading Youth In Revolt, all while watching the tranquil ebb and flow of the crashing tides.  A few surfers were out in the rockier section, and I marveled at their ability to stand longer than ten seconds (picture above).  After a sunset walk along the beach, the evening continued to be a relaxed one, with local Pilsener beers and other vices, including a really delicious grilled fish stuffed with a creamy shrimp stuffing.  Surfing on the waves may have been hard for me, but if you asked me if I like the relaxed “apres-surf” lifestyle in a Spanish sentence I couldn’t comprehend, I’d probably say “si” anyway.

Next entry: Out Of Seclusion

Previous entry: Logos

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  • Damn you. I kind of think I hate you right about now… it’s freakin’ COLD here… yes, I’m a wimp - no one from the North yell at me about it…
    People DIE in your cold - we just whinge about our cold.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  03:57 PM

  • Noelle - I fell down so hard on Saturday night because Chicago is covered by ice! 

    Erik, that place looks so great!  Maybe I’ll have to try surfing.  Even though I have my doubts.  I’m really bad a water sports.  OK, that sounded much worse than I intended!  haha

    Posted by sara  on  12/09  at  03:01 PM

  • i will never surf, because I fear drowning…

    Posted by markyt  on  12/09  at  04:37 PM

  • I’ve been surfing thrice. (I always wanted to use that word in a sentance)

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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.

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Out Of Seclusion

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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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