The Rest of El Salvador

The first week of my trip existed in a vacuum.  Equilibrio was a worthy and exhausting endeavor. It was easy to feel not far from home, surrounded by so many close friends and familiar social interactions. But once the event ended and the crowd dissipated, I got to explore a little bit of El Cuco and the surrounding area.

One day we crammed 14 people into a pickup truck, with 8 of us piled intimately in the back, and drove up to a short hike to the top of one of the area’s volcanoes, Conchagua. At the top is a mirador, or looking platform, with panoramic views of the Gulf of Fonseca and the mountains of Nicaragua and Honduras. On the way back we stopped to stroll through a colorful mountainside cemetery, and again to get some pupusas, a doughy local favorite filled with cheese and other good stuff. This town must be known for them – their town center has a whole row of competing pupuserias under a covered pavilion.

I’ll be honest, with everything I’d heard and read about how dangerous Central America can be, I was more than a little spooked the first few times I headed out on the town with my cameras. But I just stay alert and ask local people (in my pretty decent Spanish) if its a safe area to take photos. More often than not there are just certain areas travelers should avoid, and the neighbors will gladly advise. Its important not to be constantly afraid while traveling, but aware and cautious instead.

So after a week in a bubble with 120 of my peers, we all continued our journeys in different directions. A group of 10 of us, still a staggeringly large number to travel with, set off together to Honduras.

 

 

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Equilibrio

Equilibrio is balance. Work and play, energy and rest, independence and teamwork, industry and community. As a participatory event, Equilibrio asks each attendee to consider a contribution, which begs the question, what do we each bring to the table?

The result is an empowering forum for creators and healers to interact and share their skills. Performance, medicine, and rituals of incredible variety – acupuncture, acroyoga, workshops, talks, surfing, dance parties, anything we can do to connect to each other and to ourselves. Each individual brings their own unique flavor, a magical medley.

But as powerful as the relationships formed between the participants of the event, are the interactions between the participants and the local community that surrounds the property.

El Cuco is a small fishing village on the Pacific Coast of El Salvador. Its a popular stop for backpacking surfers, but being so far off the beaten path has thus far protected it from being overrun or overdeveloped. Just a few small, raw beach hostels dot the coast, separated by old coconut plantations and unoccupied vacation homes.

La Tortuga Verde is a hotel/resort that doubles as a sea turtle sanctuary. The owner, Tom, has spent several years buying turtle eggs back from local poachers to be re-buried safely on the beaches, thus completely changing the local turtle egg poaching industry and saving tens of thousands of future majestic sea giants.

The hotel also brings much needed jobs into the area. Tour guides, drivers, hotel staff, groundskeepers. The Equilibrio team, Steffi, Mary, Samuel, and Dallas, collaborate with local builders, seamstresses, and musicians to complete projects locally, with local materials and local sounds. The Equilibrio flag was sewn on site from a graphic designed by the event’s producers. The circular effigy was constructed from wood, bamboo and palm gathered from around the property. The entirety of the Cosmix bar, tea house, and trading post area was furnished with materials that were found within a hundred yards of the site – plus a little fabric. Many festival guests also attended the weekly local circus at the fish shack up the beach. Belly dancing, lip syncing, and slapstick comedy conveyed the humor of the vibrant local culture.

So as we all gather to talk about the social climate of the world, what our place is here, and how we can encourage healing for each other and for the earth, we know that we have the support of our El Salvadoran hosts. Thousands of miles from home, we aren’t outsiders, or gentrifiers. We are collaborators. We are guests.

Infinite gratitude and admiration for the Equilibrio producers: Desdemona Dallas, Mary Frisbee, Steffi Min, and Samuel Sutcliffe. You have created something inspirational.

Cosmix

I’ve wanted to own a bar since the moment I walked into 116 MacDougal Street, where I had my first New York City bartending gig 4 years ago. I found a calling of mine serving stiff drinks to deserving patrons and crafting conversation like castles of wet sand.

Since then, I’ve worked to create spaces to encourage imbibing anywhere  I can. From warehouses to water towers to trespassed hotel conference rooms. I say, if you have some booze and a slant in your smile, its a party.

But there’s nothing quite like the tropical pleasure of mixing margaritas at a watering hole in paradise, my own tiki speakeasy. Machete in hand, Pacific wind in my hair, I hacked away at coconuts all day long. The drink menu, designed by the Equilibrio team, was ripe with local fruit and homemade ingredients.

Cosmix infrastructure by me. Bar by Max McCann. Menu board by Jaclyn Atkinson.

Thank you to the Equilibrio team for giving me the opportunity to host this space, it was magic for me.

Tea House

The Tea House was designed to be grounding. A soft, low place to bring people together for rest and restoration. I spent many nights sleeping on the mattresses in this space – awoken only by the sun peeking up behind the circular effigy sculpture.

Tea House deco by me. Woven palm chandelier by Max McCann. With design contributions from Jaclyn Atkinson.

Arriving in El Salvador

My arrival in El Cuco, El Salvador was a whirlwind. I travelled through the night from the bitter cold of New York and set my purple combat boot-clad feet onto the glittering sand at exactly the moment the sun peeked above the horizon on Tuesday morning. From that point on, it was time to create.

I had been tasked with building out and running the area of Equilibrio called Cosmix, which included a tea room, trading post, and my specialty, a small bar on the beach – a tiki speakeasy, if you will.

I was immediately surrounded by inspiring friends. Old ones, who had conceived this magnificent event over the course of the past year. And new ones, volunteers, who worked tirelessly to make everything come together. This time, Rome almost was built in a day.