Jan 17-21, 2014

From Guatemala, I decide to skip most of Honduras and drive through El Salvador instead. Whereas Honduras is notorious for its poverty and bribe-happy police, El Salvador has been the child left out of all the tourism fun in the Centroamerica family, and as such is dying for attention. Also, much like in Big Fish, I need to be immersed in a body of water soon or I will go crazy. Costa Esmeralda was nothing more than a tease, I didn’t even dip a toe in the gulf. I decide to avoid the north famous for its human trafficking and go down south instead, hoping to find a nice, quiet beach. It’s here that you will find the best surfing beaches in all of Central America, namely Playa El Espino and also Mango.

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Exiting Guatemala is easy, entering El Salvador takes 2.5 hours. Unbeknownst to me, a trucker strike had just ended the day before, (protesting the payment of a new cargo tax – $18 per bill of sale, NOT per truck, for a new x-ray scanner bought from the Americans to help combat trafficking). I’m lucky because for the two weeks leading up, the truckers had blocked off the only little bridge leading to this border crossing. I drive slowly for 10 miles next to 18 wheelers parked on the side, with their drivers dangling in hammocks underneath, or simply laid out on the road, in the shade of their cargo. It looks more like an accident scene than anything else, motionless bodies laid out in the blistering heat.

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When I get to the border, I manage to go to all the wrong windows and need to double-back from building to building. At one point I’m told my car permit has not been closed properly in Guatemala and I need to go back to close it. I really don’t care by now, so I try another window, and the woman there doesn’t seem to care about the permit. I’m soon out of the Aduana, and stop shortly after on the side of the road, to get a USB cable from the trunk and give out candy to two little girls walking by. Ten minutes later I get stopped at an Anti-narcoticos checkpoint – there’s about 9 of them in full SWAT gear. Bertha says the temperature is 94 degrees. I don’t disagree. The captain asks for a bottle of water from my backseat and then wants to see my papers. Somehow I can’t seem to find my passport and after about 5 minutes of rummaging through the car, I start to freak out. I get turned around, no longer allowed to proceed further.

I race back to the border, which is now closing. I run to all the windows from before and ask all the people if they have seen my passport. Nothing. I ask if they can put it over the loudspeaker or if the policeman standing next to me can announce it on his walkie-talkie. Nope, unfortunately, the walkie-talkie doesn’t work, nor does anyone else seem to carry one. I hire a pedicab ($20) and have him pedal me on the side of the road for about a mile (where I stopped earlier), while staring the ground to death. I keep envisioning this moment where I see the passport, its burgundy color contrasting with the green grass, rays of sunshine gleaming off it, and birds chirping. Again, nothing. I get back and check the car inside out. I’m now positive it has fallen out of my large pants pockets onto the road and somebody picked it up. I’m officially stuck at the border. I can’t go back into Guatemala and I can’t go forward into El Salvador. Scare no.2 of the trip has fully commenced. I vow to burn my pants the first chance I get.

A fella on a motorcycle stops by, and asks about the stickers on the car, and whether I remembered to close the car permit in Guatemala. He’s pretty westernized compared to the locals, with Timberland hiking boots, an army Camelback, and a white motocross helmet. His English is almost perfect, with barely a hint of an accent. I show him the permit, and say that I think it was closed – I had it stamped at the border. But of course, it’s not. That stamp is only 1 out of 2. Because I’ve already exited Guatemala and now have an exit stamp (on my now missing passport), if I ever want to go back to Guatemala (which I do), I will need to pay a few hefty fines ($1000+) for exiting the vehicle without getting it properly signed off by Customs. If they only gave you this piece of paper when you *entered* the country.

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I tell him I’ve also lost my passport. He grimaces and offers to help. I hop on the back of his 1980s Honda 125 to go announce it on the local radio station. Biking around the dirt roads of a border town in El Salvador, sunset turning into evening, bugs hitting eyes and teeth, an apex of not giving a fuck anymore about the little insignificant things in life is reached. By now I could easily be kidnapped for all intents and purposes.

We get to the radio station/snack & car parts store, and we are greeted by a smile and a pair of blue eyes. She yells at her dad and then goes to fetch him. He’s only 20 feet away, old and topless, staring into a glaring TV. He finally shuffles over, takes my dollar and promises to have it announced on the airwaves within the hour. So in case you were listening, that’s how you heard my name on Radio La Hachadura. Idiot Romanian loses passport from his pants on the side of the road. If found, return for reward.

We get back on the bike, and go looking for the passport again. Everyone in town seems to know my new friend, Rocky. We stop to ask many of the truckers, but most don’t have CB radios and so can’t communicate to each other. Some of them start walking up and down the road hoping to find the passport and receive the promised reward. A very corpulent one, with rose colored glasses and a cigar, stops puffing when we ask him. ‘Ahh, si, si, el pasaporte de Brandan Frazier!’ He goes back to puffing and I get back to cursing. It’s now dark and we call it quits. We go to an internet cafe to search for embassy info. Guess which country doesn’t have an embassy or a consulate in El Salvador? Yup, Romania. I’m screwed. Rocky says no problem, he can get me into Guatemala, which at least has a consulate. He gets me a bed in a ‘hotel’ and drops me off at the local eatery. I try to not stare at anyone too much, eat my fried chicken while watching the small TV in the corner and realize that even in Spanish, Batman Begins is still pretty damn good.

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I don’t sleep very well, and at 7AM, Rocky bangs loudly on the door. We skip breakfast and go to the police station to get a report for the lost passport. Unfortunately, the Sergeant will only be in after 8, so there’s time for breakfast after all. I’m told how in the early 80s, El Salvador had one of the most brutal civil wars in Central America. Because people had family on both the army and the guerrilla sides, instead of choosing, some decided to leave and go to the US. Rocky was one of those people, and quickly found a job as a gardener at a university in California. We go back to meet the Sergeant, who is dutifully sweeping the leaves and small tree branches that had blown in from the outside onto the bare concrete floor. He’s the typical police officer if ever there was one. Mirror-polished black army boots, ironed, crisp pants, extended-mag Beretta 9mm raised high on his hip, sleeves rolled up and aviator sunglasses hiding under a hat. After much haggling, he agrees to write the report, and we go into his office/storage room. He apologizes for the dust on the desk, and we pretend to not notice. Inside a police station office back in the States, you would see reams of copy paper stacked, file cabinets overflowing, a general depressing state of non-ambulatory hope. This office is the same, except the reams of copy paper have been replaced by boxes of transmission fluid, in bulk. We walk out and go to my car, where I try to look for the passport once more, just for kicks. I find it under the passenger seat, chilling with a couple of quarters. How it got there, I don’t know, and it hurts to think how.

In a complete state of silent excitement, I thank my lucky stars and Jesus. I decide with Rocky that we should still go back into Guatemala, to close the car permit. So I drive right behind his bike, on a dirt road, bypassing all the checkpoints. An hour later, we are at the Guatemalan border where Rocky bribes his way through all the lines, and without even having to show the car, we get the second stamp.

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Back on the dirt road, we soon get overtaken by two rushing and imposing white F150 pick-up trucks. They’re full of men in sunglasses, carrying everything from Colt 45s to 12 gauge pump-action shotguns. I’m relieved they pass us, but not for long. A minute later, they’re blocking a little bridge, and wave me to the side. Rocky, who had always been way in front of my slow and non off-road vehicle, is now on the other side of the bridge. He notices I’m no longer behind him, and he turns back around, but doesn’t make it within 20 feet of me. I roll my window down, and two young guys approach. The one on the left is wearing an ear piece and starts speaking in Spanish. The one on the right translates: ‘Hello and welcome. I wanted to let you know that I am the mayor here and I wanted to introduce myself. If you have any problems, with the police or anything, you let me know, OK?!’. I thank them and feel a little sheepish that we got caught right in the act, but that the mayor and his bodyguards have the decency to not say anything about it.

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Later when we’re back in El Salvador, I ask Rocky, how does a young guy like that become a mayor. ‘Oh, he’s a very hard-working guy, very good person. He was working today, you don’t see a lot of politicians go out like that and work. Also, he’s a millionaire.’ Aha! I plan on giving Rocky $100 because I’m still under the impression he’s doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He asks for $350. I balk and go to the ATM to get money out while he waits. I gave him $40 the night before, and figure it would be fine if I just give him $300. He doesn’t count it and I don’t say anything. I later have second thoughts and check my rear-view mirror for an army of motocross bikes chasing me for the missing $50. The anti-narcoticos checkpoint is gone, and of course I don’t get stopped once in El Salvador. I reach the beach in peace, and finally feel I can relax. The sights are simply breath-taking.

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I stay in Sunzal/Tunco (best waves for beginners) for 2 nights, surfing, eating fresh Mariscadas and drinking cold Coronas. Everything is cheap, and it’s easy to see how one could become a surf bum. The air, the water, the waves, make you feel like you’re 5 years old again. It’s almost as if you were adding days, hours, to your life. Your health meter seems to be passing 100%, and after paddling for hours, your workout is done as well. No stupid dumbbells or Brad asking if you’d like to sign up for another month. The locals are friendly, they don’t stare too much or ask questions. More importantly, there are not a lot of tourists. There’s two Swedish girls in the water and some Germans trying to surf, but that’s about it. The local surf kids try to act all cool with their sideways Billabong hats, but everyone is friendly and seems to share one love: surfing. If there is one moment where you feel like you can touch nature and feel it through your body, it’s when you’re on top of that wave. Not me though – not for long anyways – I fall off and eat sea foam within 5 seconds.

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These are the personal views and thoughts of Stefan and in no way shape or form reflect the views of Shipwreck Rally, LLC.