Perquin's Winter Festival
#Tourism | My first week in El Salvador was already vacation time: from 1-6 August San Salvador celebrates the Fiestas Agostinas in honor of El Divino Salvador del Mundo (aka Jesus Christ, the worlds savior). The offices in the capital close and San Salvadorans head out to the beach, to visit family, or to take part in the activities of the week-long celebration. Instead of staying in San Salvador, Michel, two friends from UNES and I decided to drive through the entire country to Perquin, just shy of the Honduran-Salvadoran boarder, to visit a different festival.
Since the end of the civil war in 1992 the small town of Perquin celebrates its “Festival del invierno” every year – on the one hand to celebrate the end of the war and commemorate the guerrilas who fought in the region, but also to celebrate the winter/rain (it’s still 28°C with 60% humidity). We had heard that it always attracted many people from all over El Salvador and were able to join two work-colleagues that were heading there.
Pupusas, elotes locos and dancing gring@s
A should've been 5hrs but it took us 8hrs car-drive filled with reggaeton, Magic System and Eminem (Michel was in control of music) along part of the Ruta de la Paz later we got to our destination. The first challenge: finding the campsite which was about 1km outside of Perquin (signs aren’t very popular here…) and maneuvering the half swept-away road with a low citycar. The next challenge: Finding the person who has the key to the cabin we had booked for the four of us.
We were told he'd be around later, so in the meantime we decided to hike up the hill to Perquin, where we were greeted by loud music, busy stalls and, of course, lots and lots and lots of food: Pupusas (the national dish consisting of soft tacos that are filled with cheese and vegetables/beans/meat), elotes locos (boiled corn on the cob covered in ketchup, a salty sauce and cheese shavings), papas fritas (also covered in ketchup and cheese shavings), or plates of meat, sausage, some vegetables and tacos.
In between the crowd, women had set up huge cooler-boxes with beers and sodas, some youngsters were selling Chicha, a diy alcohol, and other women were preparing pupusas for the peoples midnight snacks.
After eating our fill it was time for music, dancing, and people-watching! The music was a mix of Salsa, Bachata, Cumbia and other styles I can’t identify (yet!). To spice it up there were scantily-clad dancers on stage showing the public how it’s done (I leave it up to you to interpret the “it” – my internal monologue was “wow, how do they move their feet so quickly?!” to “hmm, where are the half-naked men? Objectification - check!”). The spectators weren't dancing quite as enthusiastically - more like nodding their heads and laughing at the gring@s trying to dance to the faster songs.
The queens and kings of improvisation
When we were ready for bed we headed back down the hill, hoping to find the person with the key to our cabin. Nope, no such luck: We arrived back at the campsite where a car had managed to get stuck on a tiny wooden bridge (or rather: two wheels were on the bridge, and two were not… I’m pretty sure alcohol was involved). The rather drunk gatekeeper (with our keys?) was hiding so he wouldn’t be roped into helping out with the car-bridge-situation.
We finally found him, only to hear the cabin was no longer available. Luckily he found us a couch, two hammocks, and a yoga-mat on the floor next to the tents (the tents were all set up on the tiled floor, while the grassy grounds were reserved for lounging during the daytime).
For the car they also found a solution: after about 1 hour of 15 men first trying to lift the car themselves, then using sticks to leverage it, trying the jack and finally finding another car to pull it while somehow lifting it, they managed to get it across the small river with many cheers - don't ask me how!
First of many history lessons to come
We spent a total of fours days at the festival and visiting the surroundings and the Museo de da Revolucion Salvadoreña , learning about the guerrillas that fought the military regime in the mountains of Morazan during the civil war (1980 – 1992). The museum was rather small, but displayed many pictures of the people that had fought in and died during the war.
To my surprise it also had some articles in German from the “Solidaritätsbrigaden” people from all over the world (including many from Germany and Switzerland) that went to support the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran revolutions during the 80s.
Our guide also fought in the guerrilla and shared some personal stories with us - unfortunately in a very rapid Salvadoran Spanish so I only got half of it... I'm sure it'll get better with time! A preserved guerrilla "campsite" with its bunkers ("Tatu"), kitchens, sleeping tents, hanging bridges and a rebuilt radio-station is part of the museam, giving a very small glimpse into the “domestic” life of the guerrilla and how they kept themselves hidden in the forests. For example, to prevent the smoke and flames of the kitchen fire from giving away the camps location, they built a flat tunnel over it, so the smoke would rise much further away from the fire. The "tatus" were used for protection during bombings, but also to hide the generators for the radio station.
At the end of the tour, you could also buy some nice souvenirs (bullet-necklaces and belts) or pose in front of one of the tents with huge rifles – selfie time! - which the young women all did with a cocked hip and seductive smile and the young men with “scary” faces and flexed muscles.
In addition to the history lesson, Morazon’s hills offer beautiful vantage points overlooking Honduras (Cerro de Perquin, 1321m masl), swimming in waterfalls (Llano del Muerto - it's more fun than it sounds!), and hiking through rural areas (although we only managed to do 1 hour of hiking before turning around and going to cool off in the waterfall).
Sunday was memorable as some of the concerts took place at the same time as the church service which was being broadcast via loudspeaker as well – so the Ska-musicians were competing with prayers and gospel in the village square, all while a storm was coming our way. The “winter” part of the festival manifested itself mainly in the winterboots that were worn by women and men, and two short rainstorms during which all people scattered underneath a tent that would periodically be swept into the air by the wind.
The festival and visit to Perquin was a fantastic initiation into El Salvador with fun people, beautiful nature, mostly good food, and a lot of (to me new) information about the history and geopolitics of the region.
For some more images of Perquin: