Crying in El Salvador

When we went to El Salvador in 1999, I was woefully under-prepared. With a trip to Europe and an afternoon in Tijuana under my belt, I thought I knew what to expect, but El Salvador threw me for a loop.

The weather was hot, I got sunburn and a urinary tract infection, the mosquitoes ate me alive, Suegra arranged for the baptism of my baby without permission, I had to sleep in a hammock, no one in the family had hot running water – (and that’s when the water wasn’t completely shut off), the baby had colic and cried almost non-stop, there were no seat belts so I thought we would all die in a car crash and I was starving because my gringo doctor scared me off eating most of the food saying I could get really sick.

After spending a sleepless night being eaten alive by mosquitoes and trying to hush my colicky baby, Suegra insists we have our son baptized. As you can see, I was crying.
It was unbearably hot and the baby was crying too. Even though I told the Tio not to, he began to strip off the baby’s clothes to cool him down.
More crying. (Carlos and the baby.)
The baby got to bathe in water warmed on the stove. I wasn’t so lucky.
Carlos enjoys a coconut and a break from all the crying.
On a pony… getting ready to cry.

And yet, ever since we left I’ve been saying that I want to go back — I guess I’ve always known that none of this was El Salvador’s fault – it was my fault because I wasn’t ready for it and I was being a spoiled American, (and come on, traveling with a baby can be hell even under the best circumstances.) I could see El Salvador’s beauty even through my tears. There was so much I loved, but I was so completely overwhelmed that I couldn’t take the time to experience it the way I wanted to. The only thing that has prevented another visit has been the expense – year after year, we just haven’t been able to afford it.

More than a decade later, everything has fallen into place so that we’re finally able to return, and the kids, (thankfully at an age that won’t require diaper changes or preparing bottles) – deserve to see where their father came from – a place which probably seems more make-believe than real to them at this point. El Salvador – as if Carlos and I invented a fairytale land of volcanoes, paletas, stray dogs, careening buses, pupusas, debris of war, the sound of green parrots flapping their wings, unexpected downpours which disappear as suddenly as they came.

And so, we re-new our passports with plans to travel sometime in August. We hope to bring back plenty of photos of us smiling, laughing, eating pupusas, climbing a volcano, riding the bus, and abandoning Suegra at a Tio’s house, lest she unexpectedly arrange my forced baptism.


  1. Yay!!! I´m so happy for you guys!!!! It will be a wonderful, mind expanding, and love cementing trip your family. ;)
    Oooohhh and I CAN NOT wait to read the blogging that will come from such an experience! :D
    Love u amiga!

  2. Mi Pulgarcito bello, El Salvador!!! Y can totally see how that experience left you shocked, to say the least. I’m glad you’re giving it a second chance. I suggest you leave the kids with family for a weekend and you and Carlos head out to the beach, at least for one night. You have to experience that sunset once in your life.
    In fact, I think you just gave me a new mission!! You are a blogging superstar and the guanacos need to treat you as such!! I’m off to do what I do best: Connect!

    • LOL Ana – What are you up to, amiga?!

      I love your missions jajaja… Besos!

      BTW – if you’re there while we are, hopefully we can meet up!

  3. Wonderful! But I sure hope the KIDS are prepared! do they have cousins their age there? That seems to make an incredible difference! Can’t wait to read all about it!

    • There aren’t any 1st cousins, but a few 2nd cousins who are around their age – plus a friend they met recently will be there :)

  4. How exciting! So happy, and especially for your boys… the trip so eyeopening and significant in their lives. Can’t wait to see all the pictures. I love all your posts, Tracy! This one had me cracking up with some of your photo captions “…getting ready to cry again” LMAO!!

  5. Tracy, Tracy Tracy, you have a gift! I am sitting here alone at the computer laughing out loud and shaking my head at your commentary. I try to compose myself, but I’m still laughing as I read everyone’s comments! Ahh, ok. I think I am ok now. I am so excited for you and your family! The kids must be over the moon! Let the countdown begin…. :)

    • Thanks, Victory :) Can’t wait and the kids are excited, and yet kind of don’t believe it. I don’t think they’ll really believe it until we’re packing, or going to the airport, or on the airplane, etc. LOL.

  6. The first time I went to China in 1999, I was quite shocked too. Yeah, I speak Chinese, spent hours studying the language and the culture, but nothing could have prepared me for the unbearably hot and humid Beijing summers, the crowd, being stared at everywhere, the bureaucracy… It took me a while to enjoy it. The second time was better!

    When we traveled to El Salvador in 2001, we had been coming by land from Mexico-Belize-Guatemala, so we were used to the heat and a lot of little cultural things. It made it easier.

    • Yes! The crowds and being stared at – those were things I wasn’t prepared for either. My “personal space” was constantly invaded, and that sounds like such a prissy thing to get upset about, but it’s very culturally ingrained in Americans that you keep a certain distance from others – when people get into that space, especially if I don’t know them – I feel so incredibly tense. It’s exhausting. (And the staring is uncomfortable as well – very draining mentally. Made me very self-conscious. ) … I like to think I’m more laid back now and won’t exhaust myself over these things. We’ll see!

  7. That’s so great that you are going to give it another try! I recently went to Bolivia to visit my sister and brother in law and it was just myself, my grandmother and my two kids. We had a similar experience…my kids were sick and crying (at least one of them puked or pooped on me during taxi rides where they bounced around on my lap or sat on the floor boards) and it was very overwhelming. I have been saving money each week and we are also going to go to El Salvador, but in December for Christmas. My husband has not been back for 15 years so I expect it to be a very memorable trip. And now, like you, I know what to expect. I can’t wait to eat a pupusa with loroco and queso achiclado! :)

    • The bumpy taxi rides are difficult – especially for those of us that get motion sickness! Ugh – poor babies. Thanks for reminding me to pack Dramamine. LOL, we’re too soft here.

      My husband hasn’t been back for 12 years – so I know where you’re coming from. Hope you get to go for Christmas.

      Have you had pupusas with loroco before? I didn’t like it. I LOVE pupusas and fully intend to eat them daily while in ES, but the loroco ones tasted bitter to me.

  8. Great pics, but so sad to see u crying! Your little boy in the tub of water is adorable! I hope it all works out and ur able to go with out any glitches. I want to see everything you described above. Take lots of pics for us that may never have the opportunity to go. I too want to take my son to meet his fathers homeland and familia but it seems like year after year we have some type of emergency and it’s impossible to come up with the funds. Good luck with your travel plans and can’t wait to hear more!

    • I love that pic of my oldest son too – one of my favorites, (and one of the rare moments he wasn’t crying. LOL.) — Coming up with the funds to travel back is something I think a lot of us struggle with. I hope you can figure out a way to do it eventually. I’m jealous of people that have been able to do it each year, but that just isn’t a reality for us. I’m just glad the boys are at an age where they’ll really soak it up and remember it vividly.

    • Yes I have. I actually make pupusas for my family at least once a week and I sell them too. I buy frozen loroco which is pretty good but I have never had fresh. And, of course the cheese here is different. The closest I get (segun mi esposo) is queso de Oaxaca which they sell where I live. I actually love loroco. The smell of is it wonderful…one thing I won’t be trying in my pupusa however is chicharron. I’m a vegan but stay vegetarian when I travel :)

  9. Pobrecita! I can only imagine the scene of your suegra forcing the baptism on you. I’m impressed by the grace with which you allowed it. It says a lot about you. I think I would have given chanquletasos to everyone. Priest and suegra included. LOL
    So happy you’re goin back. I have no doubt you’ll all enjoy it. Take it easy, embrace the good and the bad. Bring tons of pictures!

  10. WOW!! I’m SO, SO excited for you and your family, Tracy!! Great news! Like the others, I can’t wait to read your posts about your trip. (and see if Suegra has you baptized, haha!) I agree, it will be so exciting for your boys. I predict they will love it and be amazed at the freedoms they’ll have there, to do wild and crazy things that are fun, but just not allowed here in the States.
    I’ve felt like you did at times, in Bolivia though…I remember crying hysterically when I was pregnant with my first child wanting to come back to the US. I know everyone thought I’d lost it.
    But each time we’ve gone back there, I’ve liked it more and more. I imagine it will be totally different for you this time around…many smiles and laughter…and tears when you’re boarding the plane to leave.

    • I imagine it will be totally different for me this time too – Ojalá! :)

      Thanks for sharing how you’ve felt about Bolivia over the years. I can imagine this is a common occurrence – the culture shock and crying, even while knowing you love that place and will want to return.

  11. The first picture of you in this post? You look positively miserable! Poor thing! I hope your visit is fantastic and brings you happier memories!

    I LOVE the picture of the baby in the basin! Beautiful!

    • I know – some women look so pretty when they cry. LOL. I cry ugly. That picture makes me laugh now at least.

  12. Somehow I don’t think you’ll be crying so much for this trip. You can at least commiserate with your boys when the culture becomes overwhelming. It’s good that they get to go at these ages when it will be a great memory for them and everyone can find something they enjoy. Yay for you! :)

    • That’s something I hadn’t really thought of — I may be so busy watching the boys culture shock that it will take my mind off my own. LOL

  13. I’m so excited for you!!! Hopefully I’ll be going to El Salvador in August or September. Unfortunately I’ll be going by myself because my husband’s papers are in the process and he has to stay here :( but he says I need a vacation so he’s keeping our daughter here with him. The only people I know there are his grandparents because they came here for our wedding. I’M SCARED!!! Haha, but at the same time, very, very, VERY excited. I can’t wait :) What part are you guys going to?

  14. Thank you so much for this post . . . our family has a quinceñera to attend later this month and it reminds me of when my husband and I traveled to Mexico (pre-kids) for his cousin’s quince – oh, what a mess. I thought, heck, I’d lived in Guadalajara for 2 years, I’m fluent in Spanish, blah, blah, blah. Nothing prepared me for the quantity of extended family my husband has in Mexico City (If you’ve seen “Fools Rush In’ where Salma Hayek takes Matthew Perry to meet her family for the first time, you’ll recognize the scene), the invasive questions and comments that I would never think to make to someone visiting the states and just the overall feeling of not belonging. But here we are . . . two kids and many seasoned trips later to Mexico City . . . and now I just smile when they tell my husband to order a taco “gringa” style (wink, wink), I take a deep breath at the lack of use of car seats (his family has them, they just don’t seem to use them) and close my eyes and meditate through the insane traffic. You’ll have a blast and we can’t wait to hear all about it – disfruta!

  15. I loved your story! The first time I took my white american husband to el salvador. I was prepared and also booked a hotel (lucku=y for me a work for IHG and get great discounts) so he loved it from the fist time we went and we try to go back at least every 2 years. I have taken both my kids (3 and 6 now). We went in Dicember and both my kids loved it.
    Good luck on your next trip.

  16. Y esa carita de la 1ra foto? Porque llorabas, de sentimiento, emoción o cólera?
    Que bellos sale Nico en su guacalón. Muy típico bañar a los bebés así.
    Amiga, creo que te dieron gato por liebre. Esa cosa no es un Pony, más bien parece un caballo mal alimentado. Anyways… la foto está linda!
    NO TE GUSTA EL LOROCO!!!!! Pecado mortal! Tienes que probarlo fresco. Yo no tolero las cosas amargas pero jamás he pensado que el loroco sepa amargo. Amarga es la Flor de Izote y la Pacaya so stay away from 2!
    Ojalá que en esta ocasión las cosas te salgan mejor y vengas feliz, descansada y enamorada de El Salvador! AKA – Guanacolandia!

    • LOL esa carita fea was because I was completely overwhelmed, miserable, tired, hot. The baby started crying so I started crying. I just wanted a warm shower, some food I recognized, a comfortable bed and for the baby to be quiet.

      LOL… pobre cabellito… That was owned by one of the Tíos… Pretty sure she’s no longer living.

      I will give loroco another try only because you say it isn’t truly bitter. Vamos a ver!

  17. omg rofl…..the picture of u crying omg Tracy… pobre de ti… ur suegra omg i would of been pissed… u look so funny though before i read anything i was like is that tracy? nooooo…. but it is…u and Carlos look old school chola and his guera lol… i think ull be GREAT now… u know the culture the crazy mother, and pues buen education experience for ur hijos!

  18. Poor Tracy! it is a cultural chock . It is difficult because one tries to understand everything what it was around your partner before you know him. And you wanted to discover where he run, laughed, dreamed, etc. That is love. I am from El Salvador too and I can say that It is beautiful if you have money to spend like any country in the world. The bad months to travel to ES are from February to July because is too hot. From August to Jenuary is cool without humited. Well, that is my advice. Excuse me if I write bad in English because like you I am trying to learn it. Perhaps, you can give me a hand. Take care .

    • Ulises, what you said was really beautiful.

      “You wanted to discover where he run, laughed, dreamed… that is love.”

      La palabra “discover” es un poco formal – pero linda. En vez de “discover” puedes usar “see”, pero puedes seguir usando “discover” sin miedo también…
      El “past tense” de “run” es “ran” – O sea, puedes escribirlo asi:

      “You wanted to discover where he ran, laughed, dreamed…”

      Your English is probably better than my Spanish but I’m here to help any time! Mil gracias por tu comentario y consejos.

  19. This trip will be 180 degrees different from the first one. It’ll be such a great experience for you and your boys (their Spanish will jump exponentially, even if it’s a short trip!). They might have a bit of culture shock, but it’ll be a huge adventure and learning experience. They will likely have their eyes opened to how “good” they have it in the US. You’ll be creating amazing memories together this summer!

  20. This is such great news! I’m amazed at how you are able to analyze so well what you felt and how you took everything at that time. Sometimes I know what happened to me before but I’m not able to express it that well. You inspire me to analyze myself! Who knew? LOL!
    Anyways, this trip will be so great for you guys!! I’m sure you’ll bring back tons of anécdotas and photos amiga. I’m so happy for you!!

  21. “El Salvador – as if Carlos and I invented a fairytale land of volcanoes, paletas, stray dogs, careening buses, pupusas, debries of war, the sound of green parrots flapping their wings, unexpected downpours which disappear as suddenly as they came.” I love this! I can’t wait to hear about your second trip.

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