El Salvador

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Sunrise, sunset, whatever time, whatever day. In the palace where the rainbow of flowers are born and don’t die. This is the beginning of a never-ending life. The sweet melodious sound of the flocks dance over my head as if tuning in for the concert of their lives. And so it begins. Each new rose brings a new song to my ears, each new flower sings with joy and triumph. The triumph of living.

We landed in a place like no other: the heat was overwhelming, but to us, it was almost most pleasant.  Waving their leaves, the trees were murmuring to one another of the new arrivals in their land; they were the hosts of the country and admired it greatly. The fantasy of the soothing and silky colors brushing my hair and guiding me into the warmth of its arms. As each flower bloomed, I realized how grateful and satisfied it was to just be, and live free. It was like a dream. My stomach was filled with butterflies of excitement which almost made me scared at the same time. I had no other thought in my mind but one thing; I was going to see a new land. Being that this was my first time finally meeting the country of El Salvador, I knew it was going to be an impact on my life.

I focused my eyes; they were walking closer but I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I soon came to my senses, so wise and joyous. Seeing the face of nature shining with the light of happiness unmistakably inspired me.  At that moment I knew there was a magical bond between us, dancing through it, I became part of the land.

As I kept exploring my father’s birthplace Suchitoto, I couldn’t believe there was still more to see, to explore and to cherish. For this land seemed to bring such warmth to my soul and to my heart. I trotted as fast as I could and almost stumbled over my own feet, but I couldn’t resist seeing what was next, so I had to hurry. The mountains swelled with gold rays from North to South locking in with the burgundy notes of the sky and the birds singing of God’s mercy to every morning’s delightful sunrise. This was the moment I knew I would be singing my freedom and peacefulness of each day.

Giving my soul the liberty to be sun kissed, I came across the crystal clear waters of the waterfall. The  clear crystals shined as each drop landed on my face, giving me a true welcome to its wonderful place of luxury. I could be free without worries and just live. I had never been so indulged in my being like that wonderful place and time. A time where my life stood still and everything was in fact a real dream. I was a child again.

The most cherished memories would always stay within my heart. The peacefulness of the village, the silence of the homes, the singing birds, the murmuring trees, and the stillness of the land, all a composition of a wonderful land; Suchitoto, El Salvador.

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El Salvador PictureI met her in the small village of San Jacinto, El Salvador. My heart aches when I think of her because I only see her face. I failed to learn her name. Her eyes revealed her identity as surely as her fingerprints: one-of-kind, cherished, beautiful. The gaze emitted from her piercing brown eyes, big and full of wonder, was petrifying. There was a group of eight of us, yet when I looked down at her face, she stared directly at me.

Through a gate made of two, three, maybe four-time recycled barbed wire and dead tree branches, up the steep foot-paved path, and under a makeshift clothesline, we stood at the “doorstep.” The ratio of children to people in our group was a perfect one-to-one ratio, yet there were no parents in sight. Walter, our San Jacinto native and translator, explained to us that the children’s single mother was gone. Each day, twice a day, she would walk anywhere from three to five miles in order to get some almost-clean water. While she was gone, all eight of her children were left only to be chaperoned by their tatter-haired dog and their half-dozen chickens.

The quaint little house was built by our team from the previous year. From the doorstep, I watched as everybody else played with the kids, named the chickens, and ran from the scrappy little dog. Though I saw with my eyes all of the things going on around me, it seemed as if my world had stopped. Everything grew silent. The air was a bit thicker than before, my neck a bit sweatier, and my heart heavier than I had ever felt it. I stepped inside. That’s when I saw her.

You could see it on her face. I can still see it today. She was not healthy, an illness or a disorder perhaps. All I could do was look at her as she sat there, curiously looking back at me. Smiles. Her throne was made of periwinkle plastic, ornate and royal in nature, at least for her it was. As I stood steadfast, the rest of the group entered the concrete mansion and took their places next to me. Almost like osmosis, each person stood with eyes glued to this girl, this beautiful little girl. Thickening air, sweaty necks, and heavy hearts. Every part of me wanted to run and flee from this moment, but I knew with utter certainty that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I knew that this was one of those moments, the kind that people write books about and movies are inspired from, and that made me happy because I got to spend it with her.

Shattering the silence, I heard through Walter’s thick accent, “It’s time to go.” And so we did.

Through the gate of three, four, maybe five-time recycled barbed wire and dead tree branches, up the steep foot-paved path, and under an empty, makeshift clothesline. The air was just as dry as I remember, the sun just as unforgiving. Almost exactly a year later, I found myself here again.

I stood on the doorstep. This time there were no kids to play with, no chickens to be called by name, and no scrappy little dog to run from. It was lifeless and it was barren. Everything felt gray. The air got thicker and I swallowed my heart back into my chest as I stepped inside.

My eyes confirmed what my heart refused to believe: she was gone.

In the land between wakefulness and dreams, in the land of cappuccinos and coffee beans, and in all the lands that fall in between, I find her there. In times of blissful happiness, I find her there. In times of deep sorrow and anguish, I too find her there. Anywhere I go, she is there.

I yearn for a day where I may sit, pen and parchment firmly in hand, in the little Salvadoran town of San Jacinto, appropriately equipped with a chair for me and a periwinkle plastic throne for her. I cry out for the chance to relive that moment, if only to whisper, “¿Cómo se llama?”

I may never get the opportunity to meet her again yet I regret nothing; I put my hope in the boys and girls all around the world. The righteous tears, the innocent philosophies, the eyes overflowing with wonder.

Khalil Gibran once said, “Keep me away from the wisdom that does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh, and the greatness which does not bow before children.”

I met the queen whose name I was unworthy of knowing in the small village of San Jacinto, El Salvador. It was here I learned that beauty knows no borders.

And neither does love.

About the Author: My name is Ari Grubner and I am just a normal 19 year-old guy trying to use normal words to leave the world I live in a little better than when I entered it. I am a student, an aspiring-aspiring writer, a speaker, and I am the luckiest guy I’ve ever met.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Ataco - places to visit in el salvador - welcome

Ataco - places to visit in el salvador - welcome

Concepcion de Ataco – the Staycation Destination for Salvadorans

Salvadorans love their country and all the tiny region has to offer. From beaches to waterfalls and archaeological sites to charming villages, the locals in El Salvador enjoy frequent outings to discover and re-visit nearby destinations.

If traveling is about doing what the locals do, then Ataco is one of the best places to visit in El Salvador! We spent three weeks in the country in December 2011 with the majority of the time spent in this sleepy village.

The quiet town of Concepcion de Ataco is located on the Ruta de Las Flores, one of the few traveler and tourist attractions in El Salvador. A local favorite for San Salvadorans on weekend holidays, Ataco is slowly receiving attention from international travelers too.

Ataco - places to visit in el salvador - markets
Busy Market on the Weekend

This colorful pueblo holds its own as a small but prominent stop on the 36 kilometer route that begins just 20 minutes south from the Guatemalan border. Ataco along with Juayua and Apaneca are the three stars on the short and pleasant journey through coffee plantations on the hilly “flower route”. Ruta de las Flores is a worthy detour if not a destination in itself when traveling through Central America especially if you like a good cup of coffee!

Famous for its colorful murals, hospitable residents, and fresh grown coffee, Ataco charms both local and international visitors with its vibrant ambiance. El Salvador as a whole, in fact, we found to be incredibly friendly! It seemed as if people were genuine and honest and always willing to lend a helping hand.

I first visited Ataco in 2008 and already so much has changed – in a good way. Ataco has quickly adapted to its surge of new visitors both local and foreign. Just within the past 5 years I’ve seen how the town has evolved and new businesses have sprouted everywhere. It’s as if every household has some type of store front and signage now.

Ataco - places to visit in El Salvador - food and drink
El Arky Popular Restaurant and Bar

A lady that previously sold tamales and pupusas to her neighbors on weekends has now added a restaurant to her property. A video store near the park now also sells handicrafts. A small group of Indigenous woman from nearby Guatemala have now set up camp in the park, selling bags and scarves to tourists. The streets leading to the church and the park have established themselves with new restaurants, artisan shops, and coffee houses. There’s a nightly market when it’s busy and a small food festival every weekend in the park.

Visiting the town during the El Salvador holidays including Christmas and New Year’s we witnessed Ataco in full effect! It drew so many locals from the capital that there was one Saturday evening were all the hotels and hostales were fully booked! People had to stay in nearby Juayua.

We asked the local visitors what the big draw was for them to leave the city every weekend. Only about an hour’s drive, they explained that in Ataco they could relax, take a break from the heat, enjoy good food and drink, and participate in the traditional aspects of the culture that still remain intact. It seems there’s always some type of celebration or festival taking place especially during religious days such as Holy Week. They also noted that safety was a big motivator.

Ataco - places to visit in el salvador - celebrations
Many religious celebrations and festivals

While local tourism draws big dollars during Christmas, Semana Santa (Holy Week), and random weekends, the rest of the time you could be the only traveler visiting this town.

If the town is becoming so tourist driven then why do I consider it a great destination for those seeking to get “off the beaten path” in Central America?

Because the tourists the community currently caters to isn’t Western– they’re all locals. It’s nice to mingle with Salvadoran tourists who enjoy their own country as much as you will when you visit :-)

Ataco - places to visit in el salvador - coffee
One of the Many Coffee Houses

Some of my personal favorite Ataco highlights are the cheap and delicious pupusa stalls at the fruit and vegetable market, the chocolate covered fruit skewers at the Chocobana Mania shop near the park, and the beautiful handi-craft stores. I don’t drink coffee but Harry said that Ataco had the best coffee in all of Central America!

Ataco and Ruta de Las Flores is an easy stop for those traveling in between Guatemala and Nicaragua or Honduras and one of the best places to visit in El Salvador!


For more about El Salvador, check out my travel blog Wanderlust and the Girl and for the ultimate packing lists for travel, check out my website Travel Fashion Girl.




In October 2011, George and I were the hosts for Meet Plan Go Los Angeles, part of 17 cities hosting events about Career Breaks, Mini-Retirements and Long Term Travel. We had traveled for nearly a year in 2008-9 and this month we left again for at least a year. Meet Plan Go National recently posted this article about our second career break: NOT WASTING TIME!

Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever and the rest of us? I just wanna wake up with more time on my hands than hours in the day. – In Time (2011)

In Time is a movie that really spoke to me. In the movie, the main character, Will, is falsely accused of murder and must find a way to bring down a system in which time is money. While the wealthy can live forever, the poor have to beg, borrow, and steal enough minutes to make it through each day. At one point, a character gives his time to Will and tells him, “don’t waste my time.

How many times have you been in a pointless meeting thinking what a waste of time it is? So many of us waste time every day. We casually think that there will be time later. One of my strongest memories of seven years working on cruise ships was speaking to a widow who said, “we always planned to come here to Alaska together but there was always something that got in the way.” I heard over and over again, “don’t wait to make your dreams come true” or “you are so smart to travel like this while you are young.” I often felt like a character who had borrowed against time and was running to spend my time wisely traveling.

When my company went bankrupt after September 11, 2001, I thought I would never travel again.