In December I woke up to go to a tour at the crack of dawn to go to a tour in El Salvador in Usulutan. It seemed that it was a long way away, and in a country often called ” el pulgarcito de America” or America’s thumb, two hours away seems a long distance even if when I was in Madrid I would travel two hours back and forth without batting an eyelash.
We took an ecological tour to a local fisherman islands. It seemed, well not my cup of tea. Besides, I argued to myself, what exactly do we have that is environmentally sound left in El Salvador? It is a country torn apart by earthquakes, violence , wars , and all the like. It has it’s beauty but it is tarnished in these weeds and it is easily forgotten in the tedium of living in a small congested city.
I was wrong, very wrong.
When we arrived, we were treated to pristine river which was beside a boating restaurant. The man who was our tour guide gave a small tour to show us all the animals we might find in our little adventure. There was crocodiles, and pelicans and turtles and fish… all sorts of exotic animals I had only seen a couple of times in all my years of coming back here. ( Unless you count the time a giant snake was in the highway near the Botanical Gardens, a story that seems almost as implausible as having been almost struck by lightning twice in my life which my brother states is only a cause that I make these stories up. It did happen, and I do have a witness…. I digress.)
We set out on the boat tour alongside a series of water trees and birds and people going by boat instead of buses. The air was not congested with smog. The sky was blue. The wind even seemed lighter and the water was cleaner. The man told me the story of how this little ecologically ptrotected space came to be.
They started in 1998, a couple of fishermen who realized that in order to get the just price for fish, they might just have to form a co-op. They started to grow together, and in each step of the way they realized that the more they did things together as a cohesive unit the more they organically grew. They started to learn new techniques, to create their own fishing nets, to make attempts with new types of fishing with shrimp and other fish. They started to learn how to make boats and share their learning with other islands. These islands became more populated as people arrived to find out more. This attracted NGO’s who wanted to help. The community realized that they needed clean water, so they tried together for this to happen. They also realized they needed electricity so they tried again and this happened as well. As new needs arrived so the community created this as well.
They had two adjoining and small islands nearby , which had a quietness I had not experimented since I arrived in El Salvador. The man who was the mayor of that small island told me how he wanted to educated people on not polluting. It was a strange life to imagine, one where you can sleep soundly at night on a hammock and nothing would happen to you. In a culture of fear and distrust which we have grown so accustomed to in El Salvador this was an unknown luxury. I asked him of any gang violence. A glimpse of this had come to pass when one gang member had come to escape the police and had already killed someone only to flee again. Was this a paradise lost? Was this little nook of a more innocent time to be tainted? What would happen to the surrounding eco system? When would this bubble burst and encroaching tourist attractions alienate what the local people had accomplished together as a unit?
This small fishing community also had another extraordinary, and more famous story to tell. The fishermen started to practice on the beach and started to play beach football. This led them to be extraordinarily skilled, so much so that they were asked to become the official Salvadoran Team. This small and humble group of Footy players travelled to foreign lands like Mexico , Dubai and Germany. They eventually were given the Second Place in the World Cup.
They came back as heroes, and as such were given a larger house and furniture in that small island. By the time we showed up, they were gladly playing with anyone who came by, as well as signing autographs. Large group photographs of the soccer heroes were placed over the island.
This was all great, but it led to a degree of uncertainty. In a small and fragile ecosystem , which was built by collective participation, could it be interrupted by these stories of personal glory? Already there is talk of how they are now of a different social class, and their activities now revolve around them.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Only time can tell. What is known as the fishing community has become more and more well-known, it cannot be self-contained forever. And if this happens, it begs the question if that small little snippet of tranquility can be maintained or will it be exploited as with everything else here.