By Carmen Schaffer, Viva La Vida Travel
My curiosity was piqued when I was offered the opportunities to travel to El Salvador and Guatemala to scout out the countries as possible tourist destinations. Albeit, El Salvador and Guatemala are already growing in their tourism industry, most people who consider traveling and taking a vacation would not consider going to a country that has had a history of wars, gang violence and revolutions within their borders. I was intrigued to find out how these countries could benefit future travelers, so I went with an open mind.
Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua as well as Honduras are all Central American countries that have been hit with devastating wars and revolutions over the past several decades that have shattered their social, economic and emotional infrastructure. There is evidence of the political and economical struggles around every corner when you travel to countries such as these. There are dilapidated buildings neighboring dirt floor houses with tin roofs and no electricity scattered about as you travel the beautiful countryside. There are children and their mothers pan handling for a few coins just to get some tortillas to fill their bellies. There is poverty, a lot of it. As much as there is poverty seemingly everywhere, there is also great evidence of a rebirth that exists. Bustling cities, high rises, shopping malls and many other "first world" conveniences are popping up around every corner ~ a sign of growth and prosperity.
What does all of this have to do about travel? Why would anyone want to travel somewhere to see broken down buildings and impoverished people? Don't we want to travel to feel relaxed and rejuvenated? Here's what I have to say about my experiences in these countries and what my "take away" was from being in both El Salvador and Guatemala.
The geography for all Central American countries is simply divine. Volcanoes scatter the sky line coupled with majestic mountain ranges, tropical rain forests and pristine beaches. Just by the geography alone you'd think you found paradise. The contrast between the beauty of countryside and some of the images of poverty you may find are thought provoking at best. Now, add in interactions with local people. From the streets of San Salvador to the sleepy beach town of El Cuco, El Salvador to the Mayan Ruins of Tikal, my interactions with the locals were bar none, some of the most sincere and gracious moments of my life. Smiling faces and outstretched hands greeted me every single step of my travels. There is the assumption that if one is poor or is struggling, that it would be yet another struggle just to be kind to another person, but that simply is not true ~ not in El Salvador nor in Guatemala.
There is good energy in these countries, it contrasts with the seemingly rugged exterior of a difficult history, but the energy and the spirit of the people is resilient, supportive and caring. These people know struggle. They know what it's like to lose everything and then work slowly together, yet persistently to get their lives back to a normal if not an improved state. The history of their struggle remains deeply rooted in who they are as a people and it is that understanding of pain and rebirth that fuels their pride as a nation and propels them forward to creating a better life.
Traveling to countries who have had a checkered past but who are recuperating and rebuilding their foundations are fantastic places to travel to if you yourself are in a place of rebirth. Traveling to El Salvador or Guatemala is a wonderful way to get inspired and refocused. If you have struggled with having your whole life changed in the upheaval of divorce and have had to rebuild and restructure everything you've ever known, you will find solace and comfort in being with a nation who has done just that, but on a much larger scale.
If you travel with an open mind and an open heart, you will discover just what your heart and soul need to find.
Viva la Vida!
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