Tapas from a S. American surf adventure
Molly Larmie, GLOB Correspondent
EDITOR's NOTE: in 2012 Molly was graduating from UF's College of Journalism and went in search of the perfect wave with a limited Spanish vocabulary on her final Spring Break - a dream surf adventure. This is a slice of her adventure. GLOB photos are by Megan Larmie except the picture of Molly surfing, which was taken by a local "K59" surfer.
A severe-looking customs agent peered over her glasses at us, the three gringos.
“Do you speak Spanish?” she asked.
My sister, her boyfriend and I shook our heads no.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“We’re here to go surfing.”
“How long will you be here?”
The customs agent took another long look at our passports, then stamped them.
Benvenidos. Welcome to El Salvador.
My sister Megan and I grew up in Ormond Beach, a sleepy town on the East coast just north of Daytona Beach. Our high school sat right across from A1A. We used to keep our surfboards in the car and go surfing after school (or during math class).
Megan started dating Robert in high school, more than six years ago. I think she fell in love when she found out he surfed too. The three of us dreamed about a surf trip for years. Finally, on our last college spring break ever, we made it happen.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, located south of Guatemala and east of Honduras. AtComalapa International Airport, we found our board bags in baggage claim and then found our local guide, Tony, who went by the nickname “El Toro."
“Why El Toro?” we asked.
“Because of the way I surf,” he said.
El Toro strapped our boards to the top of his van. We headed away from the capital, San Salvador, to La Libertad, a county on the Pacific about an hour away.
Light from cooking fires lit up the highway every few miles.Many families live in tiny palapas along the road. They wash their clothes in river streams that wind down the cliffs and into the ocean.Crime is a problem. People build high walls around their houses and put broken glass and barbed wire on top of them. If they can afford it, they hire security guards with guns.
We passed through downtown La Libertad and kept climbing in altitude, away from the bustle of the city. As we rounded a sharp corner, the Pacific came into view.We could see the white water from waves breaking along the points of several surf spots, Mizata, El Tunco, El Zonte and El Sunzal.
We reached our surf destination, K59, which is named for its position on the highway: kilometer 59. K59 has along, powerful right-hand wave that breaks along a rock point and in toward a black sand beach.
As we pulled off the highway, we saw a fire raging along the top of a nearby mountain.El Salvador lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire and is subject to significant tectonic activity, including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The fire on the mountainlooked like a wave of flowing lava.An east wind blew the flames inland, but we fell asleep to a strange orange glow filtering through the windows.
The next morning we woke early to 6-foot waves and the smell of rich El Salvadoran coffee. Thick and bold, coffee is one of the country’s major crops, along with corn and sugar cane.
Rosaria, a beautiful woman who cooked for all of the surf guests, stepped outside her tiny kitchen to take our breakfast order. She didn’t speak any English, and my Spanish is generally limited to phrases like “por favor,” “gracias,” and “cerveza.” As in, “Cerveza, por favor. Gracias.”
But by pointing and butchering the language, we managed to order three huge meals a day.
Here’s a sampling from Rosaria’s menu.
Huevos rancheros: Fried eggs and black beans and rice piled onto two slices of toast and covered in jalapeno salsa
Huevos picados: Fluffy eggs scrambled with peppers, tomatoes and herbs, also served with rice and beans
Panqueques: pancakes served with fresh strawberries
Frutas y granola: granola sprinkled over a mound of fresh fruit: apple, banana, mango, watermelon, pineapple, strawberry and papaya
Hamburgesa de pescado: a huge, flaky fish sandwich
Quesadillas con carne o pollo: tortillas stuffed with steak or chicken and cheese
Arroz con vegetables: rice with carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and tomatoes
Pupusas: a fried corn tortilla filled with meats, cheeses, vegetables or refried beans. (Pupuserias sold this popular El Salvadoran dish on almost every street corner in downtown La Libertad.)
Platanos fritos: fried plantains
Arroz con pollo: huge chunks of chicken smothered in cheese and piled on top of rice
Pescado: fresh fish, usually Mahi Mahi or red snapper
Camaroncillo: spicy little shrimps, served with vegetables and rice.
Crepes: pancakes wrapped around bananas and smothered in Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread.
The official beer of El Salvador is called Pilsener. It’s actually a light lager, perfect for day drinking in the pool between surf sessions.
K59 is a fast wave that breaks in long, glassy lines around a rock point. The drop was steep, and many times we had to bail out over the top of a wave before it carried us into the rocks. We could see right to the bottom through the clear green water.
According to the locals, the swell was hitting at the wrong angle, which made the rides shorter than usual. They apologized for the bad surf. This was bad? The waves were better than Florida on its best days. If it was “good” I think I would still be out in the water.
On our last day at K59, we met a local surfer named Walter, who invited us to dinner at his house. He lived near an American named Marty (whom everyone called Martine), who was building a house near the surf villa.
That night we walked up the dusty road to Martine’s house, then over a dry riverbed to Walter’s. His two dogs, Bali and Koa, greeted us at the gate.
By the time we got there, the party was in full swing. There were six of us from K59, Martine and his two sons, a handful of locals and a group of Belgian foreign exchange students down from Guatemala on a weekend trip.
We sat in chairs on the patio and scooped up fresh guacamole and salsa with hard tortillas. We ate a kind of smoked meat, which tasted like ribs. I didn’t know what animal it came from, and I was smart enough not to ask.
The main course was fresh red snapper from the local fish market.
We had gone to the fish market in town the day before, when the tide got so low we were likely to dry dock our surfboards on the rocks.
The market is located along a pier that juts out near a surf spot named Punta Roca. Fishermen guide their small wooden boats alongside the pier and wait for deck hands to lower a hook down. They attach the hook to the center of their boats, and giant diesel engines hoist up the boats, fishermen and all, and lower them onto carts on the pier. Then the fishermen wheel the boats to a spot along pier to clean and sell their catch.
As we wandered through, men tossed fish and eels from their boats into large white buckets. Young girls carried the buckets on their heads to a wooden table, where young boys used long knives to quickly clean them. Old women then laid the fish on the rocks to dry them out or pressed them against large slabs of ice.
The red snapper we ate at Walter’s had been cooked over the grill with lemon. It was delicious—flaky and piping hot. For dessert, we ate chunks of watermelon with our hands.
After dinner, we passed around a bottle of Tic Tac, a local liquor made from distilled sugar cane. Reggae thumped from the radio. The liquor made my tongue thick, so I stopped talking and let the steady breeze cool my sunburn. If I sat still enough, I could hear the Pacific breaking against the rocks.
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Bob Tuesday, 27 March 2012 10:46 Comment Link
Awesome report! Makes me want to start looking at flights to MY favorite Surfing - Food destination.... Nicaragua! I will be sure to post a food report, after.
Thanks for the story! - Bob