The brief amount of reading which I did about El Salvador before this trip encompassed half a dozen Wiki articles and some travel websites which recommended caution due to high crime rates in the country.
Today, our first full day in the country, my knowledge has increased exponentially, alongside the heartbreak I feel about the troubled past the people here have lived through.
We started off the day with a visit to a university campus that hosts a museum which details the lives of six Jesuit priests who lived there and were murdered by the regime for daring to suggest that the two sides in the conflict should sit down and resolve their differences with words instead of guns. The museum details their final days right down to the clothes that they were wearing when they were shot (mostly pajamas and robes if you weren’t convinced of the level of hideousness involved here).
Later in the day we visited the chapel where Romero was assassinated along with his home, just across the road. There is something a little strange for me visiting these places of such recent history that are sort of becoming tourist attractions. On one hand, it’s important to me to visit and experience the events that transpired there, but I start to get worried that the sites will be co-opted into profit-oriented locations.
From this chapel we stopped at San Salvador’s cathedral where Romero is entombed in the basement. A second sanctuary has been built down there with several other archbishops’ crypts around the far end. I didn’t take any pictures of the basement because it was one of those spaces that felt so heavy and solemn that it wouldn’t be proper. It was explained to us that the poorest of the city make their way there to worship and hope for miracles from being in the presence of Romero. The images above are the main sanctuary where the richest come to worship on Sundays. What a contrast.
Our last stop was at the memorial wall which has 30,000 names inscribed, commemorating the civilian victims of the death squads and massacres. The estimated toll of the war is between 80,000 and 100,000 in a country of three million. Unbelievable. The wall was very very heavy on our hearts and to know that each name had a person attached with a family and friends was truly heartbreaking. Many of the names had flowers trapped beside them or notes attached, reminding us that in some ways this is a country still grieving 21 years following the Peace Accords.
Once we returned to our hotel, Alvaro (our guide), picked up dinner, consisting of the local specialty, pupusas – a kind of meat and cheese-filled tortilla served hot. Delicious!