As I approach the immigration line at the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Salvador, El Salvador, a man with a migración badge asks me for my pasaporte. I pat my crossbody bag (read: my fanny pack worn as a purse) and to my dismay, I realize that the hard, familiar rectangular presence is there no longer. Mierda.
I quickly do an about face and take the elevator up one floor to where passengers are still disembarking from the plane. I attempt to reboard the plane, but I am immediately intercepted by a gate agent. Esepera! (wait) he says. Yo dejé mi pasaporte en el avión (I left my passport on the plane), I respond.
We received customs forms on the flight from Miami to San Salvador and although I had nothing to declare, I still had to fill out my entry/ exit info, date of birth, and passport info among other items. I consulted my passport info (numbers I should really know by heart by now) filled out the form and should have replaced my passport in my bag. But instead, I let it rest in my left hand atop my lap. Then, sometime later, when I heard a thunk on the floor, and looked down to see nothing, I shrugged my shoulders and thought “welp, that probably wasn’t me.”
The gate agent pulls out his cell phone and makes a call. Minutes later, enough time for me to visualize the theft of my passport (I’m sensitive to things like this now, as my iPhone was recently stolen — more here and here), another gate agent appears on the jet bridge with a small navy book, issued by the U.S. Department of State, and the guarantor of my freedom of movement in his right hand. He flips to the passport info page, scans the picture, looks up at me with my big, beseeching American smile and hands me the book.
¡Gracias! I exclaim to agents one and two before I dart back down the escalator to rejoin the immigration line.
There are two lines – one for foreigners and one for nationals, the only difference between the two lines is that foreigners must pay 12 dollars (and I do mean literal greenback USD) to lawfully enter the country. I hand over a twenty and received a Lincoln and three large silver coins in return. Like Panama (more here) and a few other countries, El Salvador has a mixed currency system – USD for bills and the national currency for change (but also, they use US coins — I received both on my trip). I pocket my ticket and not long after, with my recently recovered passport now bearing a stamp, I enter the Republic of El Salvador.
“Taxi! Taxi!” a barrage of cab drivers swarm travelers as they exit the airport. Years ago, I had a language professor who remarked that no matter where you are in the world, the word for “taxi” always stays the same. In my travels (and no, I haven’t been everywhere, of course) I have found this to be true in all parts except Estonia where the singular “takso” was printed on cars in lieu of the common plural form “taxi” that is almost universally employed.
I search for the Royal Decameron Salinitas shuttle but see only local taxi cards. Royal Decameron Salinitas is one of the few all-inclusive resorts in this poor country, it offers a great rate (well, by American / Western European standards at least).
I pace back and forth but cannot locate the hotel shuttle that I ordered. Frustrated, I walk out to where travelers are packing their belongings into cars — nothing. “Taxi?” “No gracias,” I reply.
Using Skype, I try to call the hotel, but there’s no response. With free airport wifi, I shoot off a hail Mary email to ask about my traslado (transfer) but as it is nighttime, as expected, I receive no response.
A child comes up to me and extends a tin of nuts in my direction, speaking rapid Spanish. I smile and shake my head — a polite “no” that the child understands even though we are from different cultures and languages.
I’m about to give up and approach a taxi guy when finally, I spot the “Royal Decameron” sign — he was NOT standing there this whole time, I am certain. We walk with the man to the big sketchy silver van, and I slip into the first row of seats with my backpack and carry-on bag.
Although we leave after the sun has already set, the poverty that we encounter on this two-plus hour drive is clear as day. A dinky, little sign reads “servicios de grúa” (crane service) most probably to be rented to liberate stuck vehicles. Beyond in the countryside, the cows are all emaciated — protruding hip bones and all. Moving forward, the drive is like one of those arcade games where when you advance, obstacles pop up in the distance that you must avoid. Families, friends, and solo people are walking along the highway. A teen without shoes is patiently waiting for a break in the speeding cars to dash across the high-speed motor way. There are stray dogs left, right, and then left again. At one point, I thought I saw a many-legged beast scurry across the street, however, as the driver’s lights expose the monster, it becomes clear that up ahead it is only a woman with a large backpack and two small boys who are traversing the highway at top speed. In the distance, I admire the hilly landscape with its bright metropolitan areas high and low and there is a volcano — a darkest mass — in the backdrop of the night standing nearby.
Finally, we approach the palm-lined driveway that winds right up to the open lobby area of the resort. After two flights and some bumps along the way, I had made it to Royal Decameron Salinitas for a mid-semester solo vacation. Let the adventure begin. More to come in subsequent posts.