That Time We Rode Out A Hurricane In El Salvador

Some travel adventure writing about the time my family and I went to El Salvador and a hurricane hit us.
That Time We Rode Out A Hurricane In El Salvador

Monday 7:30PM

I’m laying in the dark next to my oldest son, Atlas and I can feel the sweltering heat returning. I’ve only slept about 1.5 hours in the past 2 days and I have a splitting headache.

Maybe it’s the fatigue or just the 2 jalapeño margaritas I had with dinner in El Tunco — the only place between here and San Salvador with power — but I do feel my mind starting to calm.

Shortly after, my body slowly begins to shut down for the evening.

(the previous) Saturday 2:00PM

We decided to get away from the beaches and head up into the highlands of El Salvador and have spent most of the morning and afternoon driving along the Ruta de las Flores, stopping in the little villages, eating street food in the colonial town of Juayua at a weekly festival and taking in the scenery.

Our final stop is a random, yet quintessentially Central American, tourist destination I saw on the map called El Labertino de Apaneca. Tucked on the side of a highway, the Labertino is part hedged maze, part canopy tour, part amusement park, and a completely well oiled machine for extracting $USD from day trippers from San Salvador.

I love these off the beaten path tourist destinations and it provided the perfect opportunity to tire the kids out before making the 2 hours drive back to our AirBnb at the beach. While it’s a fun place to kill an hour if you’re in the neighborhood, novelty aside, there isn’t much to El Labertino de Apaneca.

The only reason it bears mention in our story is the fact that when Atlas and I stood on the rickety tower in the center of the maze and rang the victory bell, I couldn’t help but notice the borderline gale force winds.

It wasn’t until later that night I received a WhatsApp message from our host with a single link to an emergency alert containing information about a Category 1 hurricane making its way from the Caribbean, across Nicaragua and barreling down straight for us.

Sunday 11:00AM

“Nah, I’m not gonna risk it, we’re gonna pack it in and head to San Salvador for a few days”, I overheard a surfer say to his friend on the street of El Tunco. My wife Justine shot me a worried look.

“I suppose we should stock up and do a little hurricane prep” I offered, hoping to ease her anxiety.

Having experienced Hurricane Sandy rip apart my beach town, as I had back in 2012, I’m fully aware of the destruction that can be caused - not only from the initial storm, but from the days of power outages, lack off access to clean water and sanitation, communications networks collapsing and basic challenges of just getting around.

Compound this with the fact that we now found ourselves in a part of the world that often struggles with all of the above under normal circumstances, I suppose some planning was in order.

Our next stop was the Super Selectos grocery store in La Libertad to stock up on extra water, provisions, and beer.

We might lose power but at least we’ll have plenty of tortas y frijoles and papaya, I thought.

Sunday 4:00PM

I’m driving back from our favorite little puperseria with a dozen and a half of these greasy little masa wrapped packages from heaven. The sky is dark and ominous and the tension in the air is heavy and palpable. 

It suddenly dawns on me why there have been workers cutting back the trees and restringing power lines on the side of CA-2 for the past few days. 

A single drop of rain hits my windshield followed shortly by another and another.

I suppose I better get home.

Monday 12:30AM

I wake up to a click of a mini-split air conditioner kicking on simultaneously with the warm chime of an iPhone connecting with it’s charger.

I hear the torrential rain pounding off of the neighbors corrugated zinc roof and see the palms outside our window ferociously dancing in the wind.

Ten seconds later the power goes out again plunging us into complete darkness.

Thirty seconds later I hear that familiar “click-chime” and the lights are restored.

Ninety seconds after that — silence & blackness.

For the next three hours my mind races as the power continues to dance on and off.

What the fuck were we doing here?

Should we have headed inland?

Will the kids be safe?

I keep going back to the days and weeks after Hurricane Sandy and recognize the low level trauma my generation still carries.

Monday 3:30AM

The power goes out for the final time and we’re plunged into complete darkness.

Outside I hear the thud of what I suspect is a coconut falling from a tree, losing it’s battle with the storm.

I doze off into an uneasy sleep.

Monday 4:30AM

I wake to the sound of Arabelle crying in the other room. Sitting up in bed I hear a steady stream of liquid dripping nearby. I get up and step into a puddle of standing water and realize that the ceiling has sprung several leaks.

Venturing into the living room, I discover the entire interior perimeter of the south side of the house has taken on a few inches of water. Later I would find a 1/2” gap in the sliding glass windows that allowed it to enter.

Meanwhile, outside, the storm continues to rage and subside, rage and subside, rage and subside.

Monday 6:30AM

Rylo and Atlas are awake and unusually docile — especially for the morning. They can sense the danger.

The eye of the storm is now sitting just 10 miles off the coast from us and judging by the intensity of the rain and wind, I guess that we’re approaching the climax.

The water continues to pour into the house as quickly as I can sweep it back out and for the next six hours, the storm continues to rage but, noticeably, the lull between rain bands begin to increase as it moves up the coast towards Guatemala.

Almost 24 hours after those first few drops of rain, it finally passes.

Monday 2:00PM

I’m standing over the Puente el Majagual, white knuckling my iPhone and trying to document the aftermath of the storm.

The raging waters below have touched the bottom of the bright orange bridge and I realize that from my vantage, I’m only 3 or 4 feet from being swept downriver and out to sea should I lose my balance.

According to the news, Hurricane Julia had already taken 14 lives and I had no intention of being her 15th.

I return to my car and continue up past El Tunco, looking for somewhere to buy additional water — without electricity the pump can’t deliver water to the taps, showers, or toilets.

While pool water and a bucket provide a means to flush the toilet and keep our bathrooms operational, we otherwise have found ourselves running dangerously low.

Fortuitously, a supply truck follows me into a parking lot and I’m able to buy a 5 gallon jug off the driver.

I head back to our house taking note of the downed trees, electricity poles, and swollen rivers.

A newly fallen tree blocks the road back to our house and I’m forced to find a detour.

Monday 5:30PM

The sun is beginning to set and the power remains out.

I know it’s going to get dark really quickly and our AirBnb came equipped with just a solitary, half burned candle.

We’re all going stir crazy and tempers are starting to flare. We need to get out of this house.

I recall from my previous reconnaissance mission into town that the lights seemed to be working at a few of the local restaurants and I suspect some of them might have generators.

We pile in the car and venture out.

Tuesday 3:00AM

I’m woken from a deep slumber by a familiar click-chime.

This time it feels different.

30 minutes later the power remains on.

As I feel the cool breeze of air conditioning hit my skin, I smile gently before drifting back to sleep.

back to writing

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