Lo Mullem, 22 years old, is from Belgium and lived for 7 months in El Zonte. She fell in love with the beauty and rawness of our little beach town.
Lo Vanmullem is writing about her experiences and feelings during quarantine in El Zonte, El Salvador:
Quarantine in Paradise
This text isn’t one of the many blogs of ’10 ways to survive quarantine’ or ‘how to stay healthy during the lockdown.’ This is me, sharing my perception of the quarantine here in El Zonte, and how I dealt with it.
So grab yourself a coffee or tea, make yourself comfortable, cause this is a heavy one.
March 22, 2020.
The ‘cadena nacional’ was emitted on all TV-channels and radio channels at 8 pm. It was our turn to lock our doors and stay inside. El Salvador in lockdown.
El pueblo salvadoreño, thousands of people who go out every day to sell on the streets, super friendly people, forced to stay inside.
That night, March 22, it rained cats and dogs for the first time in 2020, it gave us the chills. And so the Salvadoran lockdown began, with mixed feelings, a lot of uncertainties and questions, but still with a grain of hope that the virus wouldn’t reach the country and this would all be over soon.
El Zonte has always been a tranquil and peaceful town, regarding its nickname ‘El Pueblo Loco.’
However, on Saturdays and, especially, Sundays people from all over the country come to this black-sanded beach to brunch, dine and wine in one of the local culinary restaurants, to drink some delicious micheladas on the beach, to shred some perfect right-handed waves at the point or to just hang out and chill at the pool in one of the ho(s)tels.
Sunday evenings, the people from the city go home, and the residents of el Zonte party together at Wipeout. Every single week during summer.
Ah… Monday again! The beach is empty, we all greet each other anew with a satisfied smile on our faces, ready to start the new week. “What a weekend, eh? Qué locura!”
The lockdown in El Zonte hit hard. All of us. All in a different way. All on a different level.
As I already told you, it rained that first night of the quarantine for the first time in 2020. We entered the official lockdown with questions, mixed thoughts, and a weird feeling.
The Universe was warning us; it was surely telling us something by pouring that amount of water over our pretty town.
Bars and hotels had already closed their doors a week before the official lockdown since that was the safest thing to do, and it was already clear that no tourist was entering the country in the next couple of weeks.
With hotels being empty, and concerning the situation in our world, I got so lucky to stay at Palo Verde Sustainable Hotel from day 1 of the quarantine. Because of the owner’s pure heart, I was going through these weird times living in the right conditions.
Everyone was quite okay with everything already being closed. Boy, we didn’t know it was going to be for months, we had no idea what was knocking on our doors.
We were clueless.
El Zonte, el pueblo loco, forced to stay inside? Hell no. We were all confused. But we listened, we stayed inside, losing our minds bit by bit.
I could say there were three groups of us, regarding the confusion all of us was dealing with:
One-third of us (including me) was okay with it. We stayed inside because we had to, we saw it as a time to rest and do the things we didn’t have the time to do during our’ rush life’. We chilled. I tried to take my Spanish to the next level, watched Netflix (a lot), slept for hours, took care of my stomach by feeding it a bunch of veggies and cookies (what a combination, right?),…
One-third of us was not okay with it at all. The people panicked, stayed inside because they were terrified of the virus, and completely lost it.
And then the rest just went outside, couldn’t bother at all. Saying the virus didn’t exist, or that it wasn’t going to hit El Salvador, and especially not El Zonte.
On the first Sunday, during the lockdown, I went to the beach. I stayed on the property where I stayed, so I didn’t break any rules but went to check out the waves and the black sand. I had missed them. It felt like I had been living in the mountains for three years. I was that happy to see and smell the beach again finally.
It was empty. Completely empty. I had never, ever, seen it like that before, on a Sunday! There was no trash.
The black sand was sleeping since nobody was disturbing it, and not a single footprint was seen.
The waves were dancing to the music of the wind; the birds were surfing every empty wave.
The palm trees were waving at each other, celebrating their freedom.
El Zonte was breathing. Boy, it was beautiful, it was wild, it was powerful, it was overwhelming. So I cried.
I was grateful for the quarantine; I was so grateful. I saw the positive side of it, and El Zonte did too.
However, every coin has two sides. Surrounded by nature’s beauty and wildness, there was the pueblo, living without an income. Living? More like surviving.
The lockdown in El Salvador meant: staying inside. No exceptions. Going to the grocery store was okay, going to the pharmacy too, or the bank. Otherwise, you had no business outside of your property. Break the rules? The police or the soldiers would make it clear to you that that is a stupid decision.
It was scary, and it got scarier by the day. Thousands of people, especially people from the coastal zone who live in rural villages, live from their daily income. They go out on the streets to sell their cocos, mangos, candy, … and bring home the money they made to bring food on the table.
These people were forced to stay inside, made no money, have no savings, and after a while, had no food on the table at night to feed their kids, their loved ones, their pets, themselves.
This is a different type of poverty, one I had never seen before. It changed me, every minute a bit more. It made me realize a lot of things about El Salvador, about the world in general, about the system, society, and humanity.
We were lucky to receive a bunch of donations so we could bring hundreds of families food packages, but it was never enough. For every household you provided with supplies and food, you had to pass another household where you couldn’t stop and give because there was nothing left. It was devastating.
Seeing, living, experiencing the lockdown in a third world country is something that has changed me (and a lot of other people who live in El Zonte) for life.
It has taught me so much. It put me on a roller coaster of emotions. It made me face reality. It was a push and pull game between the overwhelming beauty of our town, finally breathing again and its people drowning in the middle of it.
However, one thing stood out:
How they still smile.
How they still have hope in their eyes.
How they still believe.
I love ‘el pueblo salvadoreño,’ and I love ‘el pueblo loco’ with all my heart. And seeing this pueblo in lockdown is something that goes beyond description in words. So let me put down pen and paper here (or just shut down my computer), and let it all sink in once again.
Take that last sip of your coffee or tea, and consider visiting El Zonte whenever possible again. Trust me, seeing these people grow and rebuild again after the lockdown changes your world as well. It’ll be worth it, and I can assure you that.
We want to thank Lo for her honest and very touching words describing the situation in these hard times. In general, the whole community in El Zonte and El Salvador is hardly affected by the total lockdown. Especially the tourism industry was/is a secure source of income in the past years for many people who live here. And now than never before, we realize how vulnerable El Salvador as a developing country is. But it’s good to see how the community stays together in these hard times. WE HOPE TO SEE YOU BACK SOON IN OUR LITTLE PARADISE!