Walking the Streets
By John Farmer, KF 15, El Salvador
Walking in San Salvador is the stuff nightmares are made of, but not for the reasons you might think.
You have probably heard about the dangers of walking the streets in big cities in Latin America: you’ll be pick-pocketed, purse-snatched, robbed at gunpoint, sequestered, murdered… Those are real threats, but I’d like to discuss a few others that don’t get as much headline space. Here is my list of Less-known Dangers of Walking the Streets of San Salvador.
1) Razorwire is everywhere, often at eyelevel. Frequently it is accompanied by electric wire.
2) Many storm grates have been stolen and not replaced, leaving a 2-meter deep (or more!) hole at the edge of the road. This combined with a lack of streetlights make walking at night a real hazard. There are no indications of any sort that there’s a hole in the ground, other than the hole itself. Worse yet, recently there was a cylindrical hole about 1 meter (3 feet) wide and 10 meters (3 feet) deep at the side of a busy sidewalk. It was capped after a week.
3) Sidewalks are often not present. Recently I was walking on a sidewalk which disappeared and I found myself walking on the shoulder of a highway. This was scary because cars drive on the shoulder at high speeds. My situation became even more precarious when the shoulder turned into a lane!
4) Cars parked on the sidewalk, blocking it and forcing the pedestrian to walk in the road. Motorists then get angry at the pedestrians and honk and come menacingly close to them.
5) Electric wires on pedestrian bridges. I often have to duck to go under them or step over them. Wires are everywhere here, drooping and dangling.
6) Armed guards on the sidewalk. I tried to take pictures, but they always turn right when you’re about to aim at them. I’m not sure what the qualifications are to hold a loaded gun in the streets of San Salvador, but I can guess. And when the sidewalks are narrow and I have to pass right next to the end of a rifle, I get a little nervous…
7) Pedestrian Rights. There are none. If a car avoids you, the driver is doing you a favor. Where there are no pedestrian bridges, pedestrians often have to cross the street lane by lane, waiting in a few centimeters between streaming lines of vehicles. Remember the video game Frogger?
John Farmer is a Kiva Fellow at Apoyo Integral in San Salvador. He was hit by a car in San Salvador recently, which slightly damaged the bag of produce he was carrying. OK, he wasn’t hit, but the bag in his hand was. Really.