Archive for August, 2009

Beach Living

Life settles into a rhythm fairly rapidly when one is based in a surf spot with few other occupations. Days normally start at around 5.30 with an early morning stumble out to a wave to try and beat the crowds and the wind, enjoying a solitary hour or so before the hordes descend. Breakfast and coffee follow, normally reading or writing for a while before picking up the board and returning to the ocean for more time in the water.

Of late this has involved hopping on a crowded public bus and spluttering along the coastal road with nothing more than board, the clothes that will be surfed in and enough change in pocket for a return bus trip; normally about 70 pence. Discharged on the side of the road, a walk commences through small settlements to beach access and the surfing session and then a drip dry walk back to the road to await the bus or, with luck, a successful hitch hike afterwards. A late lunch follows before cowering in the shade from the blistering heat of the day reading, playing cribbage or watching one of the countless pirated DVDs floating around the hostel. As the day cools, Surf Number 3 commences with a return to the hostel in time to cook supper before the hordes of hungry insects arrive to devour every inch of uncovered flesh. One large beer and a game of cribbage later and self mummification in bedsheets to protect against mosquito death squads ensues shortly followed by sleep at around 10pm to prepare for the same thing the following day.

El Tunco, El Salvador
26th August 2009


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Local Hospitality

Written just in front of the Punta Roca surf break, just outside La Libertad. Despite stories of dire events, the attitude in the water has been fine, with no trouble from the locals and respect shown all round.

La Libertad, El Salvador
26th August 2009

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Living In The Shade

My current base of operations from which I point myself towards various beaches can best be defined as the “cheap and cheerful” end of the spectrum. Run by a pair of very amiable San Salvadorian brothers, Jose and Mauricio, La Sombra tends to attract the slightly more laid back crowd, leaving the partying to the other end of the collection of hostels that is spread along the beachfront from the main road up to the rivermouth. Home to a trillion mosquitos, funky odours from the septic tank, sporadic and untimely noise from the construction site of a more upmarket hostel in progress and the most damp smelling couches in the history of mankind sheltered under a leaking palapa in the tv area, the place is still held in fond regard by its owners, guests and various passers through, myself included.

El Tunco, El Salvador
25th August 2009

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The last two nights have heralded ear splitting storms, tearing palms from trees, flooding roads with torrents and drenching all and sundy with near sideways rain. I, naturally, slept like a baby for both nights, waking in a slight confusion to stories of the others of hours of window shaking thunder and lightning.

At these times the rivers swell, pregnant with the weight of rainwater, and gush out into the majority of the surfing breaks, turning the water an opaque brown with the weight of silt and mud. It also brings other unwanted gifts to the surfing line up, as I discovered when paddling out the day after a big storm, dragging my arm through plastic bottles, crisp packets and packaging of all shapes and sizes; the glorious effluence of a growing consumer society eagerly stoked by plastic loving multinationals.

“The people in the villages up in the hills just throw everything into the river; there’s no refuse collection services provided” explained my Argentinian roommate Nico, as we sat watching detritus turning over in the brown foam of one of the local waves, Bocano. “As soon as there’s a big rain, it all gets dragged down here. I’ve heard of dead animals floating around out there, and a lot of surfers get really sick after surfing when there has been a storm. I’ve been up the hill to the river source,” he added somewhat whistfully, “and the water is beautiful and clean there.”

Water pollution is a huge problem in El Salvador, with the government taking no initiative to assist those who live on the coast by providing public services for dealing with refuse and educating the coastal populus on the issues of sustainability of the current approach. With the local residential and business communities placing online petitions to try and draw the attention of the government, steps are being made but progress still seems like a distant hope; in the meantime the water users of El Salvador keep their mouths shut when in the sea and hope that it keeps raining often enough to flush out the steadily building refuse piles up in the hills before they get too big.

El Tunco, El Salvador
22nd August 2009

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Morning Time In El Tunco

My alarm cheerfully sounds its irritating reminder at 5:30 in the morning; rising groggily from my slumber I haphazardly rub a fresh layer of wax on my board and slip out of the front gate of my hostel, La Sombra, sleepwalking down to the beachfront and tread heavily along the black sand, heading for the local point, Sunzal. The water is warm as I wade in and climb onto my board for the paddle out, creaking shoulders grumbling at the injustice of it all. As I get further out, the dark walls of water rising out of the distance change shade, glassy and orange as I pull myself through the smooth, liquid surface.

I reach the takeoff, where the waves rear up and begin their final rumbling phase of their long journey and pull myself up to sitting on my board, my shoulders aching. Looking out to sea, dark clouds frame the horizon, forked lightning jumping down to strike the distant liquid line at the edge of the world, thunder rumbling across the miles. I turn and look towards the shore to see the sunrise seeping around the clouds, a thick golden blend of colour that sarurates everything it touches, bathing the landscape, the water and the two solitary surfers who have dragged themselves up at an equally unsociable hour in an incredible light. I turn back to sea and wait, watching as a bulge in the water thickens and rears up in front of me as I turn and coax a few more paddling strokes out of my shoulders, feeling the wave take me as I rise to my feet and drop smoothly down its glassy face, heading back the way I came, into the sunrise.

El Tunco, El Salvador
19th August 2009

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Paddling Out

“I guess we to in here?” one of my Australian companions suggests, lacking the certainty that I’d hope for. Thirty feet of rounded boulders covered in scratchy marine plantlife stand between us and the thundering point break of Punta Roca just outside the main beach of La Libertad, which periodically disappear from view as the whitewater from the waves powerfully surges over the rocks. With boards underarm, we skip from rock to rock and brace ourselves every time a wave comes crashing across our path, like a game of statues but with serious consequences as the black specks of surfers already in the line up observe us with interest. I survive 3 waves until my feet are swept out from under me and I am dragged across ten feet of cheese grating stone, almost totalling one of my fellow rock hoppers, frantically cradling my board against possible injury while sections of my skin are removed. Gently bleeding into the water, I brace myself against rocks and heave back into a standing position, preparing to attempt the same distance for the second time.

“There’s someone getting in over there” someone says, and suddenly everyone freezes, 3 pairs of eyes swivelling to follow the progress of a lone figure hopping across a section further down the same unrelenting rocky point. As we watch, he totters to shin depth and waits, crouching, asa wave breaks and the white water hammers towards him. As it arrives within feet, he leaps over the jumbled heap of foam and paddles furiously out to sea, sucked sideways by the after tow until, finally released, he slogs his way out of the churned up inside section and duck dives through the advancing waves that follow. Within minutes we are, with varying degrees of success, following his example, bouncing between rocks and off the shallow bottom in a frantic flap out to sea, which eventually rewards us with the welcome experience of waves that don’t break on our heads as we sit in the lineup.

“We weren’t supposed to get in at that spot, were we?”, one of my group asks another surfer as we sit waiting for one of the grinding sets of waves to come through. “Nah man,” comes the reply, “but we thought you must be Brazilians.” After a brief pause, he adds, almost by way of explanation, “They alway end up getting into macho shit like that.”

El Tunco, El Salvador
17th August 2009

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Surfing and Nowt Else

My bus snakes along the coastal road of the pacific, shrouded by jungle and dipping through tunnels carved into the hills when the calculations of the road engineers had presumably decreed that it was not worth going around. The almost incessent and, for the most part, incomprehensible chat of my driver, with whom I had “bonded” while having money extorted from me is occasionally distracted as the jungle surrounding the road opened up to reveal rumbling waves; point breaks, beach breaks, all clean and perfect, all completely empty of surfers.

El Tunco is a tiny collection of hostels and restaurants sitting just off the coastal highway, a 10 minute ride from the bright lights and conveniences of the two blocks of La Libertad, and with at least 10 other world class breaks within half an hours bus ride, three of which are right outside my hostel. Apart for two months of the year, there are always waves here, at around an average height of five feet; chances are that the local forecast update shown below will agree. In a nutshell, this is everything I could want for the next few weeks in which I plan to exercise a complete defecit of responsibility.

El Tunco
16th August 2006

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