The Lonely Planet Guide is not entirely reliable… I feel like I´m going to get struck down by lightening for daring to insult this travel bible, but I´m afraid when it comes down to the El Salvador part of the Central America guide (and to be honest quite a few other parts, where a lot of recommended places are in fact closed and don´t exist – and with my sense of direction being what it is – rubbish – I´ve wasted quite a few hours wandering around deserted streets before discovering this) I feel the book is a bit out of date. It has only a tiny, barely noticeable square of text about Santa Tecla, but in my humble opinion this place has had some of the best night life I have experienced in Central America and I think the travel bible should give it more space and a higher recommendation for a weekend visit. Not that it needs extra people – the locals all know it and at the weekend the street is packed with people of all ages and the 135 bars are full (yes – 135 bars and restaurants in one relatively small street. You can walk to all of them. This is one hell of a bar crawl!!). It reminds me a little bit of Edinburgh festival in the way that there is so much random live, artsy stuff happening in one small space… except it´s better because beer is about 80p and the place is full of exceptionally friendly El Salvadorians.
Here are just a few tasters of what might happen on just one night out here – all of which I have regularly seen in my month here!
- You will hear someone singing ´My Way´ in Spanish (Mi Manera). Live music is everywhere here, and there are some very awesome guitar playing skills happening every night somewhere. I just have to walk down the street with my ears open to find it. I have a few favourite Spanish songs now, but I find it really amusing how enthusiastic everyone is here about My Way – I think I heard it 5 times in different places in one night being sung with utter passion. To be fair, I think I prefer the song in Spanish.
(This is a weird photo – but he was singing My Way, so I include it!!)
- With the above, you might well see a bunch of locals get up and start singing randomly with the main guitarist also. This happened one night in a bar and it was so random, like a slightly cooler version of kareoke and made me realize that literally anything could happen on a night out here.
This is possibly my favourite singer here – his voice is incredible.
Moments after this was taken, this guy in red arrived and started howling the harmonies along with him. It was both hilarious for me and brilliant at the same time.
- You will see people in random costumes, walking up and down the street. A popular one is a sort of Disney princess look. I can´t work out if they want money or they are just enjoying themselves, but it´s just awesomely random and adds the craziness on the street.
- You will quite possibly see a street performance by a couple of clowns.
This show is regularly performed on the street and I love it because it is basic slap stick comedy at it´s best.
The physical performance of these guys is really slick and the comedic timing is perfect. As far as I can see, there is no health and safety here, so the stage manager inside me screams a lot (Especially when they break out a bit of fire, or stand on an audience members head!), but I have a sick pleasure in how freeing it is without all the stuff we have to think about in the UK (Maybe they have thought about it – but I don´t see the evidence!!).
The kids love this show so much – they get really excited in the front row and it’s a wonderful thing to watch, especially as it´s open to everyone so kids from anywhere can come and enjoy themselves without needing money for a ticket (they ask for money at the end, but you can give whatever you´ve got, so you don´t need a lot of money to enjoy).
It´s also perfectly acceptable here for the clowns to threaten a particularly cheeky child with a machete, which is brilliant!
- You are likely to be welcomed to this country in some form or another. I have found El Salvadorians to be ridiculously friendly, and wherever I go someone wants to say hello and welcome me to this country. Maybe they just want to practice their English, but it´s incredibly nice either way.
- You will see street performers of the kind regularly seen in Covent Garden or on the Thames. The ones that dress up and stand very still for money. Except here, they are really funny as they seem to get bored quite quickly and give up standing still and so are just people in weird costumes standing in the same place, but not for any particular reason other than the hope of a few dollars.
- You could see some alternative theatre/ dance with fusion music from around the world.
We went to a show at a disused prison/ museum (yup that’s right).
The music was composed by the group, containing sounds from pretty much everywhere in the world. The dancing was actually a bit weird and the show felt like a first run through, not even a technical rehearsal, but I kind of loved it all the same.
The venue was really eerie and mysterious and the show was a one off so felt special.
- You could buy and eat delicious street food from around the world. There is regularly mini food festivals here, with specialist food from a particular country. My favourite so far was the Arabian night.
- You could stop buy Liz Cakes and eat the best cake in the world. OK, this is only my opinion and is probably just something you would do during the day so doesn´t fit into this post… but I can´t write about this place without mentioning the chocolate cake with strawberries on top. Seriously, it´s the best cake I ever had! We buy it every other day and I am getting FAT!
- You will be able to look at and buy beautiful arts and crafts of all shapes and sizes from stalls and colourful shops like this…
My absolute favourite was a stall with an artist who has these wonderfully colourful pictures of landscapes. While browsing through them, he says to me, ýou know I make these within less than 5 minutes´ and then proceeds to show me how he does it using spray paint. It´s incredible to watch and the result is really stunning. (I didn´t take a picture as I had no money to buy anything, but will try and get one next time).
- You might see a random dance class in the Plaza de la Cultura (a staged area in the middle of Paseo El Carmen). We went past on a bus the other day and about 300 people seemed to be doing a kind of Zumba there. Well why not?
- Also at the Plaza de la Cultura, you may see a film or other art installation. We watched a really fascinating documentary on the history of the war in El Salvador, for free there. It’s the best thing I´ve seen to help me begin to understand what happened here. Did I mention it was another thing for free?!?
- You can drink a glass of wine, while browsing and buying Antiques! (Perfect combo for me!!) This bar was playing some good music, so we went in and I discovered it doubled as a propping/ antiquing dream! I had a great time sifting through the stuff. Gregorio, who owns the antique shop part of the bar was really friendly, and spoke pretty good English too. (They can be found on facebook – look for Victrola Antiguedades if you like that sort of thing).
- You can smoke a hookah and drink beer by the bucket load.
Sorry, I have to mention the beer again – it´s insanely cheap and they sell it by the bucket. Hooray!! (You may also see a few drunk people!)
What you won´t see… many other foreign tourists. Almost everyone here is local, and I´ve barely seen any other travelers during my stay. I love the travellers I meet obviously, but it´s nice to find a place that still feels quite untouched by tourism. That said I´m sad that more travellers don´t get to experience this place because I´m having a great time here.