That's right more pictures... more medical shenanigans...
"My Brothers Went Surfing In El Salvador And All I Got Was This Blood-Stained T-Shirt"
"Enough words. Show me the gunshots."
John and I arrived in the San Salvador airport at around 12:30 local time on Sunday the 10th of September. We had signed up for a trip through Wavehunters, one of the worst, fly-by-night surf operations on the planet, but we didn't know that.
Our guide, from Punta Mango, the worst surf tour company ever, was late picking us up from the airport. This was to become par for the course. (They quickly became "Puta Mango". Don't book a trip with these clowns.) This gave John and I plenty of time to be propositioned by cab drivers. These guys were pretty clever, saying things like, "You want to go to La Libertad? Your ride go already."
The view from our hotel.
Eventually, our guide showed up and took us to our hotel in the port city of La Libertad. After arriving at our hotel we dropped off our bags and went to go for a surf. We were shown the local breaks right in front of our hotel. There were two right point breaks, one of which, Punta Roca, is world class. Then we hit the road and went up to Sunzal, a surf break to the west of La Libertad that looked like a pretty good point break from the shore, but once we got out the peaks were shifting all over the place. It was about head high, but the wave was really lazy, not breaking with any power at all.
After about two hours of paddling, we packed up and went to Zonte, another break to the West. This spot was better with long right lines peeling off a rocky point. It was pretty fun, but it was also getting dark.
The next day we got up early and went back to Zonte, which had gotten smaller overnight, checked another couple spots, and went back out at Sunzal, which was about chest high. Once again the waves didn't really have any power and after surfing for a while, our guide made a suggestion that we go see the Mayan ruins near San Salvador, since the surf was so small.
By noon we arrived in San Salvador, only to find out that the Mayan ruins were closed (only on Monday). Our guide made another suggestion that we go to the Volcano of San Salvador. The road to the volcano was in really bad condition skirted with squalid little shanties. We had to stop and ask for directions about three times in order to find the right 4-wheel--drive--necessary road to the top.
Top of the Volcano (It was kind of chilly.)
The volcano is a classic cartoon-type volcano with a very steep crater that we didn't climb into - since then we would have to climb back out. We were there long enough to take two pictures when a guy came up and told us that there were thieves on the way down that would try to steal things out of the car. So we started walking back to the car, then a guy with a shotgun (it seems like everyone has a shotgun in El Salvador) stopped us saying the same thing. He said that the thieves had an "arma larga", which means shotgun in Hillbilly Spanish.
So we over-tipped the kid that was watching our car, who then told us about the thieves. (And no, the irony wasn't lost on us -- nobody told us about the thieves when we asked for directions on the way up the mountain.)
Boqueron, the big mouth crater.
Our guide's name was Ernesto Vladimir something. "Ernesto," he told us, "for Ernesto 'Che' Guevara - do you know him?"
We both nodded.
"Vladimir," he continued, "for Vladimir Lenin."
That should have been our wake-up call.
(On a historical note -- the U.S.-backed-government and the government-backed death-squads fought against Marxist guerillas during El Salvador's recent Civil War.)
On the way down the volcano our guide was driving. I was sitting shotgun (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge*), and John was in the back.
So here we are, driving down the volcano, and fast. We passed a couple of shanties and Vlady, as John called him, said; "Civilization, we're okay now." I suppose that the term 'Civilization' is entirely subjective.
Right after we passed the shacks, two guys on the side of the road turned to our car and one of them had a shotgun.
At this moment, I put my hands up, thinking, "If I just give them my money they probably won't hurt us." John, who was in the backseat, and about a million times smarter than me, saw the shotgun and ducked. He recalled thinking, "That is a homemade shotgun." Our guide decided at this moment to try and outrun the thieves, so he floored the car. The thief with the gun then turned and shot at the guide through my(!) window.
The passenger side window exploded, spraying glass into my face and the scratching the cornea of my right eye. The shotgun shot passed in front of my face hitting my left hand and the shoulder of the guide.
Vlady, kept driving his car as fast as possible down the mountain.
Covered with glass and half-blind because of black powder smoke and shards of my window in my eyes, I thought I was dead. I thought that the glass that had hit me in the face and head was actually bullet fragments.
It was at this moment that John sprang into the first of his two of his two emergency modes, First Aid. He said, "You guys are bleeding!" That was when I realized that I should check to see if I had a face. "John," I asked "do I have a face?" "Yes," he said "but it looks like you got hit with glass." He then pointed out my bleeding hand, and gave me a hammock to put pressure on it. I hadn't noticed was bleeding. He also put a towel on Vlady's back. After about a minute, the towel fell off his back. When John tried to put it back on him, Vlady said not to. John then called Vladimir's boss on a cell phone to tell him the situation. Rodrigo, Vladimir's boss, began speaking to John in Spanish, so he handed the phone to me. (John's Spanish is, shall we say, rudimentary, at best. He knows how to introduce himself, ask for a beer and the word for 'coconut'.)
John then went into his second mode: photojournalist.
He pulled his camera out of his backpack and took a picture of the two of us in the front seat. Vlady, blood covered, and myself sitting next to him. The background was a blur of green.
John's shot, immediately after the shooting.
Once we were safely out of range I began asking Vlady to pull over, he had been shot, was in shock (understandably) and was driving rather poorly. I was thinking that if the thieves hadn't killed us the bad roads and erratic driving still could.
We finally made it down the mountain and pulled into the first Clinic that we could find, it turns out that it was for welfare recipients but was a helluva lot nicer than the regular hospital.
The Car, note the shattered window.
When we got inside they spirited Vladimir and myself to a room and gave us shots of some painkiller. After giving Vladimir makeshift bandages for his wounds they irrigated my eye and wrapped my hand.
This is when the police and the ambulance arrived. We got in the ambulance and went to San Rafael Hospital.
The hospital was crowded, very, very crowded. There were people lined up outside waiting in every shape of disrepair from bloody to snotty.
We were immediately shooed into the surgery room.
The surgery room was filthy. And I'm not being squeamish, I went to the hospital and Costa Rica and it was 10 times better than El Salvador. There was blood on the walls, gurneys, even the ceiling. It was nothing like ER. They had us both sit on two gurneys in a room of about five of them. On one of them was a tiny old man with no pants. On another was a younger guy, mid teens, who was very obviously dying of something and I hoped it wasn't contagious. The third was empty but covered with blood. The fourth had Vladimir and the fifth was all mine. I didn't see any leeches, but it wouldn't have surprised me.
While I was sitting there waiting to be seen, a girl came into the already crowded surgery room with her Grandmother. The grandmother balked at the sight of her gurney covered with blood so the girl touched (!) the blood and said "Esta seco." (It is dry.) Then the woman laid down on the gurney. I sat listening to the muffled groans and crying babies in the hospital Eventually, I listened as the girl, who was kinda hot, explained to the doctor what was wrong with her grandmother. This is when I learned something very valuable -- that I am passing along free of charge -- if you are in a 3rd world hospital and you hear the word "Amarillo" do NOT look in the direction that the sound came from. There is nothing, absolutely NOTHING, in a hospital that is "yellow" that you would ever want to see.
I had my wound scrubbed clean and the excess skin cut off after receiving a little bit of lidocaine. I didn't get any stitches because there wasn't anything to stitch together.
Then the press and the police started to arrive.
In the hospital, bleeding and smiling.
(This is a pdf)
After having my shotgun wounds scrubbed clean. I was in the hallway waiting for an x-ray with John and Vladimir. There were 3 newspapers and about 4 television stations covering the story. We were interviewed, filmed and photographed. The only actual coverage that we saw though was an article in La Presna. Although we were told that we were mentioned in the evening news -- a minor story about how sad it was that we were shot, having just arrived in the country.
We spent the next few days shuttling to different hospitals with Rodrigo, and having my wounds cleaned. And everywhere we went people knew us from the newspaper or TV coverage. We actually had to autograph a copy of the newspaper at our hotel.
We flew back as soon as possible, which wound up being Wednesday the 13th.
On Friday the 15th, I went to a hand surgeon who has explained to me that if I want feeling in my left pinky I am going to have to have surgery. So I am eagerly awaiting that, which has been scheduled for Sept 26. He told me that I would have to graft skin onto my palm. I am hoping that he uses skin without any hair or else I will have some serious explaining to do.
[These images are large and a little gross. They were taken 5 days after being shot.]
But Wait... The Saga Continues
The following information may make you squirm...
September 22nd, I went to an eye doctor. He pulled 5 more pieces of glass out of my eye. He seemed pretty good at it, though. They put some anesthetic drops in my eye and then, with a needle, scraped the pieces out of my cornea. I couold feel him tugging on my eyeball with the needle. It was gross.
September 23rd, I found three pieces of glass in my face. One in my forehead, one in my nose and one in my cheek. This accident is the gift that keeps on giving!
September 26th, Surgery went swimmingly. They opened up my hand after making sure, not once - or twice - but 4 times, that I hadn't eaten anything. They opened me up and found ... a badly bruised nerve. This is good news, meaning that I should be getting feeling back in my finger in a few weeks. Aside from that everything is going fine.
October 4th, I was supposed to go to a follow up appointment in Springfield VA, to get my stitches out (I think). Actually, they probably wanted to check up on everything but I am healing fine, no problems. Plus, I can take the stitches out myself. I've done it before. :)
November 15th, this time I pulled a piece of bullet out of my head.
March 08th, My right eye hasn't recovered it's vision completely (I mean it's good, but not back to where it was) and has begun to feel really dry and iritated. And I sometimes have the feeling that something is under my eyelid. The same feeling I had when there was glass in it the first time. I am going to go to another eye doctor. Something tells me there is more glass in my eye. (As a sidebar: I think it is kind of amusing that something in your eye feels like something under your eyelid. I don't know why.)
So what do you think? Send me an email.
The original article was broken into parts.
Copyright 2002 - 2010 Bill Koplitz