El Salvador had a bad reputation. The infamous Mara Salvatrucha pulled strings in most parts, and low-level criminals ramped up where the Maras did not. Western press discouraged travelers, urging them to skip El Salvador altogether. It became such a plague that the government invested in massive promotional efforts. They created an instagram campaign to encourage travelers: #Dontskipelsalvador.
Rob wanted to surf in Central America again. He did not mind gangsters. You could negotiate with a gangster; crocodiles however… It had been a bit over a year since his encounter with the beast in Costa Rica. The memory chilled him to the bone. There were good waves in El Salvador, and according to his research, no loose crocodiles on the beach. That was enough.
November was low season, which meant few tourists and great deals. Rob found a villa on the hillside of Puerto La Libertad, overlooking Punta Roca, the best wave in the country. The villa had a rooftop and a staircase leading straight to the beach. He confirmed the location with Google Earth, and swiped his credit card.
The flight from Miami was less than three hours. Rob walked out of El Salvador international airport and felt the heat. The sun was pounding and the air humid. Gusts of hot wind moved the cotton-shaped clouds. Rob looked for a taxi and saw a sign that read “Suave Surf Trip 🤙”. The man next to it was short, tan, and sturdy. He had long curly hair and a thick mustache rivalling Freddy Mercury’s. Rob approached him.
Rob: Hola amigo, hablas ingles?
Mustache man: Si amigo HAHAHAHAHA. How can I help you?
Rob: I’m looking for a taxi to Puerto La Libertad, and someone who knows the surf spots around here.
Mustache man: They call me Winnie Pooh, I’m the oldest surfer in El Salvador HAHAHAHAHA.
Rob: Winnie-the-pooh, like the bear?
Winnie Pooh: Si amigo. Winnie Pooh like the bear HAHAHAHAHA.
Rob: Okay Winnie Pooh, I’m Rob. How much to go to Puerto La Libertad?
Winnie Pooh: $30 for the best drive HAHAHAHAHA.
Rob: Can you show me the surf spots too?
Winnie Pooh: Of course amigo! Winnie Pooh knows them all HAHAHAHAHA.
Rob: Sweet! Do you know where I can get a good surfboard?
Winnie Pooh: I have boards in my car HAHAHAHAHA. You wanna see?
Rob: Hahaha sure, Winnie Pooh. Let’s see what you got.
They left the shade of the airport dome and walked to the parking lot. Rob was already sweating when they reached the car, a beaten-up blue Corolla. Winnie Pooh pulled out four boards from the back and laid them carefully on the ground. They were all high-performance surf boards, each worth at least $800! Rob’s eyes popped out of his head. "Good boards eh? You like them? HAHAHAHAHA" said Winnie Pooh. Rob was hooked.
They drove on the costal road leading to Puerto La Libertad. Green hilly fields extended to their right, and lines of trees bordering the ocean to their left. Rob asked about Punta Roca, and the old man said it had been guarded for decades. During the civil war in the 80s and early 90s, locals used to shoot at foreign surfers who dared to go in. After the war, criminals preyed on surfers to rob them of their boards. Nowadays, foreigners could surf Punta Roca without harm or robbery. It was the locals’ gem, a world-class wave.
The entrance to Puerto La Libertad clashed with the peaceful road leading to it. Pimped-up school buses clogged the traffic, coughing black clouds and honking at every move. Cars and motorcycles fought for space, and people walked around like ants in distress. Rob felt dizzy; he was still in the car. Puerto La Libertad was a mix of concrete, street markets, small businesses, and experienced hustlers.
Winnie Pooh dropped Rob at the villa, where a young woman checked him in. The garden led to an indoor patio. The house, built on the hill side, looked straight at the ocean. Below it stood small shacks and food carts on the edge of the water. Winnie Pooh carried the surfboard inside and left Rob his business card. From the rooftop, Rob could hear the sound of waves moving boulders on the beach. Too excited, he dropped his bag and went surfing.
The session was sensational. After dropping the board back home, Rob walked to the restaurant downstairs where an old lady was making pupusas. From his house, he had access to Salvadorian homemade food, epic waves, and Spanish lessons. El Salvador was extremely underrated. Like all selfish surfers, Rob wished it stayed that way. There were no crocodiles and no time to worry about criminals. He went to sleep a happy man.
It had rained overnight, which ruined the surfing conditions. Punta Roca was no longer magical or safe, so Rob called Winnie Pooh to take him somewhere else. They drove two hours South on the coast to a secluded spot only Winnie Pooh knew. Away from the rain, Rob enjoyed another perfect surfing session.
It was two hours before dusk, but the sky had turned into a dark grey. Then, the rain caught up to them. They drove back under steady downpours and howling winds. The rain intensified and lightning joined the party. A thunderbolt turned the sky purple for a second, and Rob shuddered in anticipation. Winnie Pooh commented that Hurricane Sandra crept in from Mexico. He said, "It is God punishing the sinners. Non-sinners have nothing to fear....HAHAHAHAHA". Rob said nothing.
The bridge to Puerto La Libertad was blocked by traffic. Water levels rose and the river flooded. The storm caused a power shortage in the city, turning everything black. Only cars, stuck in a line, shed light on the chaos. Brown streams came down the hills, pushing objects and debris down the road. Winnie Pooh could not venture his car. He stopped at the bridge, and turned back. Rob continued on foot.
Guided by the cars’ lights, Rob followed the current. Water rose to his shins. He reached the villa and found the house garden transformed into a swimming pool. The inside was flooded too. Water had taken over everything. Furniture, random objects, and tree branches floated around him. Rob turned on his phone torch to look for his passport.
It was going to be a long night.