I went to El Salvador alone -- here’s what I learned
It’s so early. The sun hasn’t even come up yet. I’m so tired but ecstatic. What will it be like? What will I see? 9 days is a long time, but something is saying “not long enough”. I’m going to fall in love. I just know it. With the waves, the sisterhood, the warmth. I know it, yet I have no idea what’s to come.
Last summer I filled out an application to attend a nine day retreat with The Salty Souls. I didn't know why or think about it too much -- it was just “it” and I knew I needed to go.
I arrived in El Salvador not sure what I would see. When I stepped off the plane I immediately felt the warm air hit my skin... physically arriving. We went through customs and I gained a second stamp in my passport. Next, to find Eduardo. There were so many people lined up and waiting outside of the airport but we found him. We piled into a van that magically had enough room for all of us and our stuff and headed toward the ocean. There are no traffic lights and speed limits. It's just road and somehow everyone knows how to drive it.
I saw chickens on the side of the road, fruit stands everywhere, trucks full of people going where they need to go, women walking with buckets on their heads, men herding cattle on the side of the road, and banana and sugarcane fields that resemble our corn fields. How beautiful.
As we got closer to the ocean I could feel the salty air... arriving.
We finally turned off the main road and into the village El Tunco. I was soaking in every detail, I was speechless. We were greeted by two glowing women - Nette & Shelby. They showed us around and let us get settled in.
I made it.
1.) El Salvador is AMAZING
Let me first start by saying, don’t Google El Salvador. You will only find terrible (negative) news coverage and fear-based information that will sway you into not going there.
El Salvador is an absolutely beautiful country. During my visit I spent the majority of my time in El Tunco. But, I also visited El Zonte and Santa Ana. Every local I met immediately felt like family. There was never a moment where I felt unsafe or scared. Forget the crap you read online (except this ;)) - El Salvador is now one of my favorite places, and I will be back.
So here are some words I wrote to help explain:
I went anyway
The US says “don’t go”.
I went anyway.
I didn’t know a soul.
I went anyway.
I’ve never surfed. I don’t know how.
I went anyway.
I’ve never been out of the country alone.
I can’t even speak Spanish.
I went anyway.
What if they don’t like me?
Who cares, I’ll go anyway.
The news says it’s dangerous.
I better have my guard up.
What if I don’t return?
There’s only one way to know.
9 days in, I almost stayed.
I’m glad I went anyway
2.) I am supported wherever I go
I packed my bags and my dad dropped me off at the airport. I was meeting four other girls in Miami that I didn’t know.
Will they like me?
Will I like them?
If we don’t, we’re stuck together to 9 days.
What if I can’t find them?
The Fyre Festival doc just came out, what if that ironically happens to me?
One by one I spotted the other girls (Thanks, Facebook). I gathered all of them like I was collecting gold, “Are you a Salty?” I asked. We immediately started chatting and each one felt like home. I knew these girls even though we’d just met. We were all going somewhere new together.
Over the course of the week I was supported by the other women and our hosts. By the ocean and our surf coaches. I was supported by the salty air and the warm breeze.
I left the Salty Souls stronger than before. I left the Salty Souls with so much more than I bargained for.
These women, they are gold.
Here is something I read out-loud to the group during one of our workshops:
Yeah, I’m crying now.
I can hear some of the girls sniffling, the waves crashing one after the other...
let the healing begin.
The music is lovely but I can’t recall the name of the song. I feel... like I am healing.
I am light and it all flows out of me. It has been validated here today
and the day before.
The girls, Janne, me.
The sun and the ocean have declared it as well.
They... we all agree there is something special about me.
3.) My soul is so salty
Sitting in front of the ocean with coffee and a few other girls. I think those hens are going crazy. Surfers in the ocean and the soft warm sun. This is what it feels like to arrive.
To be here.
To be me.
I think I’ve always known I have a “salty soul”, but this trip confirmed it. I am more summer than I am winter. I am more beach than I am city. Growing up going to the beach every year trained me to smell the salt in the air and feel the temperature rise as I get closer. Hell, when I was young my AOL screen name was Oceanbabe802 - you all, I grew up in Indiana (AKA completely land-locked), yet, something inside of me has always known. I am in fact an ocean babe. If I had to choose I’d wear a bikini everyday. I love how luscious and full my hair is when it’s caked with salt and sand. I crave the sun on my skin and the salt in the air.
She said to me, “I bet you like to be in the water.” And I do.
Near the water, in the water. I flow like water.
I am beautiful and fluid and overwhelmingly powerful.
I am the water.
All of the beauty and mess
all at once.
High tide, low tide.
Morning and rip tide.
I am the water.
The water is me.
4.) My people are all over the world
Last year I journaled a lot about finding “my people”. I made a list of the qualities my ideal friends would have but still wasn’t quite sure where they were. But you know what, they arrived for me in El Salvador.
These women who were strangers became the closests to my heart.
We surfed and yoga’d.
We hiked to the top of a volcano.
We laughed and shared through dinner.
We looked into each others eyes and held each other.
We jumped into a crater lake.
We drank beer and danced our hearts out.
These girls are bad ass.
I am grateful for the saltys for bringing us all together
so very grateful
this place is magical
but words don't do it justice
what's more than magical
whatever it is
it's the salty casa
it is The Salty Souls
5.) It’s all about the party wave (and Skate Kitchen)
I wiped out AND I surfed
I wanted to give up, “take a break”
it was so overwhelming and hard
and I did it
I stood up and I cried and I yelled and I laughed
I have no words to describe it
it was wild
wild and wet and all-encompassing
I walked out of the water after my first surf session with tears running down my face. Not because I was upset, but because I was in awe. I couldn’t understand or put into words what had just happened. I just stumbled onto the beach in pure awe. I looked at her and she looked at me
“How was it?”
“It was…. *tears*”
And she hugged me.
I’ll never forget this moment.
Thank you, Nette.
We also went to Puro surf where I got to “shred” on a Carver skateboard. NOTE: shred is an exaggeration but it was a blast! It was so refreshing and odd to be a beginner at something again. I haven’t been a beginner in a very long time. I needed this. I need surf. And now, I’ll never stop.
I’ll just be over here practicing my pop-up in Kentucky ;)
6.) I’m re-inspired to teach yoga
This experience also included daily yoga (jackpot!) and I was very thrilled about this. If I was diving into (literally) surfing I definitely needed something to ground me. Salty Yoga (as I’m now calling it) did just that for me. It only took two yoga classes until I felt that fire to teach again. I’ve been feeling very un-inspired. Dull. Bland. I haven’t wanted to teach in a while because everything has just felt boring. I took the break I needed and thankfully this trip has given me the gift of renewal.
Thank you, Erika!
If you want to check out Salty Yoga, join the Salty Club. *No beach required.
7.) Desire is greater than Doubt.
When I told my family about this trip they thought I was crazy. And I understood why. But the strong desire to do this couldn’t be stopped. I knew I had to go. From this trip I know without a doubt that my desire is greater than fear, doubt, or external-questioning. Every time in every scenario. Follow your desire, it will lead you where you must go.
I have a tendency to dive right in.
My heart goes first
I jump without knowing.
There’s no room for doubt
or trying to figure it out.
I don’t have time for “what if”
I simply know what’s it.
I trust my heart
And where I’m going
8.) Mindful Consumption
This year a big focus of mine is mindful consumption. Not showering super long, not using 100’s of paper towels, not overbuying fresh food that goes to waste/compost, turning off the lights, minimizing scrolling through social media and Netflix binges. Etc. So far it’s going quite well.
But, being in a developing-country and in dry season you have to watch your water consumption. It really makes you think about your normal habits and consumption when you consider that you can actually run out of water. This isn’t completely new to me because we go off the grid often and have to strategically portion our water, but it was definitely a nice reminder that water is not an infinite resource that just comes out of the sink and shower head - IT COMES FROM THE EARTH. Let us acknowledge and be grateful for our resources and not obliviously pretend that they’re “just there”.
Waking up at 6:30 without an alarm is so nice
seeing the pink orange sky through the window as the sunrises
yes this place is surreal
more than that
it's 100% unreal
9.) Keep your plastic out of our ocean!
It’s actually a problem. I don't know about where you live, but here the paper straw craze has taken over. Some people love it, some people hate it. Some restaurants abide, and some don’t. I always opt out of using a straw because I just want to drink out of the glass, but some people don’t. Either way, those straws (and all of your trash / non-compostable waste) have to go somewhere. We spent an afternoon cleaning up the beach and I can’t even count how many straws I picked up. It was honestly frustrating.
When you see trash in nature, please pick it up. This goes back to mindful consumption (and nobody is perfect) but I think we can all try a lot harder to do way better :) Regardless, wherever you spend your time, thank that space and keep it clean and taken care of.
Where the river meets the sea
she calls to me
with every crash
she's alive in me
10.) I want to learn Spanish
Being in El Salvador and only knowing your basic hola and gracias was a little comical and very eye-opening. Travel and visiting a new place isn’t just about “seeing” all of the pretty sights. There’s something to immersing yourself in a new culture and getting to know locals on a personal level through their way of living. I am so grateful to our surf coaches and tour guides who were patient with me and made the experience incredible regardless of my “y’alls” and “HUHs?” Needless to say, I will be learning Spanish and challenging myself to use it in conversation for the next time I go back!
Bonus: What most surprised me?
I can’t stop listening to Spanish music - I’m obsessed!
I miss it like crazy. Like, coming home was REALLY hard.
I like Suprema beer (one of their local beers)
I can go a few days without meat - this is VERY surprising to me, LOL!
I saw a huge sea turtle in the ocean and couldn’t believe it
Black sand beaches are magical
Thank you, Shelby, for your friendship and incredible photog skills <3
One more thing before I go…