Down El Salvador way

Apaneca, El Salvador, 2009 - Photo by Erin J. Bernard

I am gearing up for a wintertime visit to one of my favorite corners of the earth – Central America. I’ll be in El Salvador for five weeks during February and March and am hoping to fill my time with plenty of freelance writing and photo projects.

I am especially curious to learn more about how the newest generation of Salvadorans understand themselves and their futures, reared as they were amidst a backdrop of unspeakable chaos and intractable conflict.

El Salvador is Central America’s least visited, and perhaps least understood, nation. I know that before I visited the country myself, I had vague prepossessions of it being a violent and risky kind of place. Indeed, the Salvadoran Civil War, a 12-year standoff between the Salvadoran government and a very pissed of cadre of left-wing guerilla outfits, plunged the region into chaos and killed an estimated 75,000 people before it came to a close in 1992.

And while it’s true that the country I encountered when I visited on a lark in 2009 was burdened with its fair shake of woe (ghost towns like the one above weren’t an uncommon sight … neither were machine guns), I also discovered an incredibly welcoming band of people – slightly reserved, almost inevitably smiling, and singularly determined to move forward from the mistakes of the past.

On my pre-departure reading list: Joan Didion’s “Salvador,” a travelogue-cum-political-trope she penned while visiting the country in 1982.

“Terror is the given of the place,” Didion wrote those three decades ago.

I’m hoping I’ll learn enough to proffer my own summation – and that the impressions I gleaned as a backpacker three years back will ring true. What a place!

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