Playa El Tunco
Traveling is one of the most rewarding gifts that we can give to ourselves. Although some of what I write on here can be downright, filter free honesty with a dash of attention to the underbelly of cultural differences, I do sincerely hope that it never, ever discourages anyone from pursuing a visit based on my addictive attention to details.
With that being written, Santa Ana was left in the dust for a taste of El Salvador’s frequented surfing beaches south of San Salvador. Having learned surfing about 7 years ago on the coasts of New Zealand and Australia, and also having not surfed since then, I figured this place might just tempt me into the water once again. After a quick transfer in an oven like bus in San Salvador, and one more in the busy market of La Libertad, we were once again sweaty and bound for the beach. It had been quite a long hiatus since we last set our feet in the ocean in the gentle waters of Placencia, Belize. After scoring the cheapest room we could find (15$ w/AC, yes it’s possible), we made a mad dash for the water.
At this point I must share that this beach is quite beautiful set amongst rocky sea stacks, giant driftwood logs that are perfect for sitting, and produces those shimmery summer sunsets that you dream about (Google image search Playa El Tunco for gratuitous “ooh” and “aah” shots). But what I’d also love to cue people in about is why this place is developing into such a surfer haven prone to steal a few months out of your life, if you like to get tubular of course. The current here is gnarly to say the least. It’s world renown for it’s surfing and not for it’s swimming. After a quick dip into the ferocious pit of doom had us being whipped around as if we were on the spin cycle of a high-efficiency Maytag top-loader. After Elissa realized that surfer’s were no longer scouting waves to surf but rather those that would remove her bathing suit we conceded and couldn’t take anymore punishment. The powerful waves here have provoked defensive engineering with the beachfront restaurants and bars all toting fortified concrete sea walls about 6 feet higher than the beach itself. This provided a great place to kick back, watch amazing surfers tame the waves, and take in an awesome sunset. Some local locos provided a free show by doing flips off the sea stacks into the surf while we watched the day melt away. Drugs were prevalent here and although I’m not going to make any personal guarantees for those looking to party, I’d put money on their presence.
When we visited there were 2 main strips filled with businesses catering to the foreign surf scene. Bars, restaurants, hotels, hostels, and hospedajes lined each of the two dirt roads. Most served up surfer-sized portions of food and offered some sort of live entertainment, usually blasting music into the twinkly night sky. For Elissa, this beach reminded her of a previous visit to Costa Rica’s Pacific coast a few years back and I expected more of the same later on when we made our way south. We went out and found a local brewery called “Brew Revolution” that makes micro-brewed craft batches of whatever ingredients the Californian owner can muster up there. We got to hang out with the man himself while he told of us his past, present, and love for zapote smoothies. We had never heard of zapote (even though we spent time in Cuba) and could not wait to try, as he put it, a sweet potato apple pie concoction. The next morning it was game over for me as I now crave zapote smoothies on a daily basis.
As an aside, I am magnetically drawn to surfing beaches for some reason or another. The easy going attitude that floats through the misty air near a wave break always sedates the chatter in my brain and brings me right into the present. In my travels I’m finding that surfers are some of the most interesting travelers that can be encountered. Surfers tend have a unique way of wandering through life and chasing waves on this planet while respecting the power that exists in mother nature and her lunar cycle. They always have a good, albeit sometimes simple, story to tell. Ask a few questions and before you know it you have a real sense of who that person is, what they’ve been up to in life, and a genuine sense of honesty. I can’t conclude that the conversations involve depth, but you can often be surprised. On the flip side of that you can also be horrified. It can really go either way. But El Tunco had plenty of talented mellow surfers who were there chasing the waves and living out a mellow agenda.
We spent only one night in El Tunco because the surf was over my head (literally). Four more school bus rides later we set foot off the famed gringo trail and into the small, beautiful colonial mountain town of Suchitoto.