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Earth Day in El Salvador

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- Yesterday was Earth Day, it was Earth Day all over the earth. I would not have known it if it were not for a dancing artist with a bad rock and roll wig painting an Earth Day slogan from sidewalk to sidewalk, across the entire surface of the main road in front of my apartment.

He had one lane of traffic blocked off with a plastic water basin on top of a cardboard box. The speeding buses, trucks, cars, ice cream men pushing carts, and the errant bicycle rider would need to go around the man with the rock and roll wig: for he was painting an Earth Day message.

I walked up to this man, shook his hand, and asked: “What are you doing?”

He told me that he was painting a message. He said it was for “La dia de la tierra.”

The dia de what? Oh, Earth Day — La dia de la tierra. I suppose we need to have one of these days every year, I guess it was today.

I asked the painter what the message was going to say.

“La tierra nunca olvida que el arbol es su 1er. pensamiento.”

The earth never forgets that the tree is its first thought.

The artist seemed to stress the last word “pensamiento” while pointing to his head and asked me if I understood.

I lied.

But only one half of the message was painted at this time in an effort to at least allow one lane of traffic to be able to pass free. The painter told me that he was going to wait an hour and then block off the other lane to finish the painting, and that I should return to watch him do it.

I returned.

I watched the guy with the rock and roll wig do funny dance moves in between brush strokes. There was no music playing, but nobody must have let him in on this. He engaged the people around him who were standing out in front of their houses, he grabbed a little boy who ventured too close and spun him like a ballerina. The audience was the usual assortment of people who can be found sitting out in front of their houses at any point throughout the day. But today, rather than commenting on the pretty lamps that passerbys pass by with, they had a show: a one man painting show, complete with rock and roll wig.

I looked down at the road as he worked. The painter’s template had been previously carved right into the pavement, each letter was outlined with a concave depression. I asked how it was done.

The painter made a chiseling gesture, and told me that he had carved out the statement in 2005 and that it took two days to complete. He had now returned to finish it with paint for Earth Day of 2010.

“Do you have permission from the city to do this?” I asked.

The painter smiled with vindication:

“Permission?,” he laughed, “No, I don’t need permission, they pay me to to do this.”

I think he then told me that he was paid twenty dollars or something like that, his words trailed off and the Spanish became incomprehensible to my ears.

I then asked him why he was doing this, why did he carve and paint this slogan across the road. The reply was simple: so people see it. The painter then continued with a deeper explanation of his intentions, but I could not fully understand his words enough to repeat them. Though the bases of the message was clear: save the earth.

I watched the painter work some more. I watched him dance. I looked at the faces of the other people in the streets: they watched idle, entertained just enough to continue watching. I walked away.

I suppose Earth Day is good holiday — it is a day that all nationalities, countries, cultures, people can feel some sort of an affinity with: we all live on the earth, we all have at least this one thing in common.

Some people plant trees for Earth Day, some learn that they shouldn’t throw their trash in the river — “why not, we have always thrown our trash in the river” –, while others sit in the streets and watch a man paint a slogan that few people seem to understand.

The earth never forgets that the tree is its first thought.

The next day I walked by the people sitting out in front of their houses right where the Earth Day painting was in the road. I asked them if this was done every Earth Day. They told me that they usually just color in the engraving with markers, that this was the first year that paint was used. Then a woman turned and looked at me squarely:

“I don’t understand what it means,” she proclaimed. “Do you understand?”

I had to admit that I did not.

Another woman appeared from inside the house.

“Do you know what it means?”

She shook her head no and went on with her day.

Earth Day in El Salvador.

El Salvador Travel Guide | El Salvador Photos

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Filed under: Celebrations, Central America, Culture and Society, El Salvador

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3170 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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