El Sunzal, La Libertad and Freddie Mercury

September 6, 2011

El Salvador Unique, Things To Do

waves at El Sunzal, El Salvador

View of Surf at El Sunzal

Have you ever seen a person who has lived a stable life, who smells good, has no criminal instinct, no criminal record, who has no mental health issues, and has never suffered deep rejection (that they earned), truuuuuuly, and I mean Truuuuuuly ROCK?

Not talking about hitting the notes, getting all the dance steps right. Im talking about absolutely KILLING IT.

Musical form is irrelevant, this applies to opera just as much as metal. Are the voices, (and the lives behind them) that have moved generations normally the prettiest, or is it something else entirely that engages your imagination?

Perfection is totally different from awesome. You could say perfection is be the absence of flaws, But the most beautiful things in the world are sometimes seriously F*!¡ed up, but still beautiful not only in spite of, but partially because of the flaws, the obstacles and the bumps in the road.

I am getting pensive and retro-minded as I type this, while accidentally watching an ancient Queen concert, and contemplating the California I grew up in and the California I left.

I am considering what I heard and saw this weekend, and wondering what it is that I find so engaging about this country. Because I am accidentally watching this concert, I suspect it has something to do with whatever it is that makes me prefer awesome voices over beautiful ones. The odd fascination must come from the same source. Queen was never one of my favorite bands, but looking at this show, I have admit, that there is that quality I call “Awesomeness”.

As an experiment I want you to think back into your past and recall the artists that grab you.

Hotel at El Sunzal El Salvador

Hotel at Playa El Sunzal

Are they just lovely, or do they move

you in other ways? Right now I´m thinking of my favorite artists, and few of the musical ones sing well, many are ugly, and most probably smell bad. You could have guessed my position, because I moved from California to El Salvador. There is a connection.

That was a long introduction for a simple “trip to the beach story”. I basically stayed at a fairly expensive hotel at El Sunzal, ate delicious food, watched surfers from an infinity pool and got a sunburn. Don´t get too hung up on the rock and roll analogy (Although the drums at El Tunco did rock way into the wee hours of the morning, we were responsible parents and watched the bats from our balcony)

Our hotel was just across the HWY that runs along the coast (ie: less than 50 yards from the water). It is a two lane highway and because the slope leading away from the ocean is quite steep, so we were high enough that I could just brace my elbows on the edge of the infinity pool and watch surfers enjoy the beautifully formed waves. My view was occasionally interrupted by passing cattle, and dred-locked surfers hopping on and off the passing chicken buses. I no longer giggle at the sight of slender young men herding longhorn up the highway. I just smile. They are quite pretty against the sunset. The ridiculous decorations on the buses are no longer ridiculous to me. Just ridiculously awesome.

During this season Sunzal, and several other beaches are completely covered by rocks of every size, from pebbles to boulders. Regulars told me that all the rocks disappear in October, leaving a clean black sand beach, and return again after March. I had trouble picturing it. Boulders just go away?

After entering the waves for a bit I understood more about the power of the waves. This is not a place to just stand in the water.

surfer at El Sunzal

View of Surfer from the hotel across the street

Even in the most shallow portions, with every wave the rocks roll and tumble in the water, battering your ankles and generating a quite some noise.

Is it painful or dangerous? It is El Salvador, where most things are one, the other, or both. The solution is to get all the way in. Kids lay down and roll up and down the beach with the waves, with the rocks. They come out happy and totally free of bruises, which I don´t understand. My ankles got seriously tagged a couple times.

Two features of note. 1) This beach drops off suddenly from shin deep, to neck deep in just one terrifying step. 2) At many points this drop off is also the location of an impressive collection of rolling boulders. You only notice ahead of time if you pay close attention to several waves. It sounds like the death-trap of a 1980´s video-game and it more or less is. At least the fact that these huge rocks are mobile also means they are smooth rather than jagged. Remember, you can just swim over them, if you time it right, or find the right spot.

The ocean is powerful here, and there are no lifeguards. On the other hand, unless you choose to remain in the danger zone and tangle with the rocks, the water is warm and pleasant, and the powerful waves have a wonderful flow.

This strip of beach has four breaks. The little hotels and restaurants offer board rentals and lessons. The beache serves as a little highway when they are clear of rocks, and people pass up and down from one little town to the next. There are various restaurants and bars, as well as music, and everything else you would expect where surfers gather both day and night.

As the sun set, we heard drums start up down the beach from us. I was surprised that the young people we met at our hotel pool talked with us as long as they did with that kind of party going on just a short walk away! eventually it was time for me to curl up with my daughter, and for the youngsters to head off toward the drums. This weekend I realized I´m old enough not to mind just listening from my room, but not old enough to get mad about the noise. It is a happy place to be!

If you decide on a beach vacation to this area, the price of your stay in this short strip could be anywhere from well under $50

Transportation at the beach

Note the cool goalie gloves on the left.

for a small simple room, to a luxurious room overlooking an infinity pool for just over $100/night, or just over $100/night for an entire 4-5 room house on the beach you can share with your friends. If you fear the dangerous reputation of these beaches, may I remind you I came here with my six year old daughter, looking anything but smart or badass, for a very comfortable stay.

Each business has at least one armed guard conspicuously on duty 24/7. If you attempt to cross the street, a guard with a shotgun will literally walk you across. If you go out to your car during the night, the guard will stand up and stare diligently at the shadows until you are safely back inside. You can interpret this to mean the place is really dangerous (hence the shotguns), or you can interpret it to mean these businesses are serious about not letting their visitors run into trouble.

Most people agree that you are very unlikely to get into trouble visiting the beach, surfing, eating at the local restaurants, or even hanging out in the bars fairly late. Going bar hopping with strangers, wandering around aimlessly, having too much cash, an extremely loud mouth, or otherwise getting off the straight and narrow seem to be the activities that increase your risk of violence.

There is violence in the beach communities. There are gangs that extort business owners and keep a lid on what would otherwise be a thriving beach economy. I spoke with one man this weekend who told me stories about not just businesses, but entire industries, that have gone under due to the pressures of extortion, theft, and the cost of security to compensate for these problems. The examples he cited were tragic. With all of the poverty in the beach communities, what a shame to have sensible productive industries disappear, consumed by a criminal element, which itself is, in part, an outgrowth of lack of productivity and poverty.

bag of juice, El Salvador

Fresh Maracuya Juice to go.

There is hope and beauty in the beach communities as well. I spoke with a young man from Los Angeles but with Salvadoran roots. He talked about the beauty here, and the members of his family that have returned because they are tired of the United States, and now are back in El Salvador by choice (its not just me that chooses this place).

After we checked out of the hotel we stopped at the Puerto de La Libertad. We walked the full length of the Malecon, along with other happy families enjoying minutas, bags of fresh juice, ceviches and the chaos of a busy weekend. The sidewalks arent perfect, and the creek entering the ocean here is not the cleanest. There are visible problems, but I really didn´t care.

Give me a little slack, because I have been typing with my right hand, holding a beer in the left, as I watch the antics of an old rock legend, and go over the weekend in my mind. I find a comparison between music I love, and to the characters in life, books and movies that meant something in the long run. They have not been the ones with perfect pasts, or the ones without scars or weaknesses. They have been the ones that lived a real life, and within that life, came up with something to sing about.



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About Nanelle

Nanelle is a 43 year old former Ballet Dancer and Police Officer. Join her on their move to El Salvador, Living life in El Salvador as an American expat woman and loving it.

View all posts by Nanelle

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6 Responses to “El Sunzal, La Libertad and Freddie Mercury”

  1. Marina Says:

    hey, we're off to sunzal for the third time next week. This time I'm bringing my girlfriends with me and their families and small boys.

    We're staying at a beach house this time, way more than $100 per night. I haven't seen any of those when we were searching for where to stay.

    We stayed at Tukinkal the first time and remember the armed guard also telling us about the gangs. It's such a shame, we love tunco and sunzal!!!

    are you going to go back next week, would love to meet up!

    • Andy Newbom Says:

      We are not going this weekend, but we will plan a trip soon! I would love to meet up. I thought I saw one for that price, but it may have been 700/week, which is totally different I guess! When we have stayed at the beach it has been for 100/night for a big house (so like $15-20/person), but I have to admit it was further up the beach. I love renting a big house, it is perfect if there are several families! By far the best playing time for your dollars!

  2. Kornel Says:

    I am inspired by what I have just red.

  3. marco Says:

    pfft. I could have bought that land in the image titled, "Hotel at Playa El Sunzal" in 1993 for 10k.
    Zunzal has been changed and corrupted with cell phone towers that make it a big eyesore now. Viva los early 90s.

    • nanellenewbom Says:

      It is a very pretty eyesore in my opinion. You pointed out that not every part of change is good, which is true, but from the perspective of an American the place is less altered, less changed, and has fewer technological montrosities than most beaches where i come from. It´s a matter of perspective. I think It is a gorgeous place, and you should have bought it.


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