Day 1, 8/2/2010
Walking out of the airport feels like another planet. It´s hot and sticky, and there are people everywhere. As the customs officer gave me my 90-day tourist visa, I asked him about the procedure for extending it, or for leaving the country and returning to get a new one. Hacemos lo que hacemos día al día, he said, or we do whatever we want, which means there really is no procedure.
After not sleeping very much on the red-eye, which was only four hours from LAX (never take a red-eye less than four hours), the first day went by in a total blur. I got picked up from the airport by José Luis, the gerente general (CEO) of the organization, and we drove throughout the countryside visiting branch offices and checking out cities where new branches might be going in. At the branches, José Luis was very animated and gave some probably inspiring speeches, but my Spanish is having a slow start and I mostly stood around, smiled, and tried not to get asked any questions.
The El Salvadoran airport is located in Comalapa, a city over three hours away by car from the capital of San Salvador when it was built in the 1970s. Constructed by an authoritarian government, the sparkling new airport was supposed to be a tourist gateway to the coast, rainforest, and international resorts. Infrastructure never caught up with the plan, however, and the coastline remained a largely uncontrolled and unsettled place throughout the conflicts of the 80s and 90s.
Although new roads now make the capital only an hour away, the isolated airport is a constant reminder of the country´s rocky and sometimes backwards development history.