Located on the Pacific coast of Central America, El Salvador, the “Land of Volcanoes,” offers visitors the chance to interact with and learn from noteworthy locals through a variety of educational activities. From hands-on arts and crafts workshops to guided nature tours, a number of standout Salvadoreans educate travelers on important parts of their culture to which they have made major contributions.
Creation of an Art Industry: Fernando Llort
Vivid murals of birds, houses, trees, and shapes cover many of the walls, businesses, and homes in the northern town La Palma. These images are the signature style of Salvadorean artist Fernando Llort who singlehandedly changed a town’s livelihood from one of agriculture to one driven by art, and whose work today has been exhibited around the world in esteemed venues including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Vatican Museum in Rome. With the inspiration of a single copinol seed as a canvas and heavy influence from the Mayan culture, Llort created his painting style of bright, symmetrical, abstract drawings of daily life in El Salvador. Along the way, he taught townspeople how to draw and paint in this same style. Today, there are approximately 100 shops in La Palma selling wares inspired by Llort’s distinctive style, and the town’s economy thrives on the sale of arts and crafts.
Travelers can visit Fernando’s gallery, El Arbol de Dios, in the capital city San Salvador; purchase his work online; or, participate in one of La Palma’s many workshops to try their own hand at the style on wooden boxes or copinol seeds.
Ex-guerrilla Giving Back to the Forest: Rafael Hernandez
Northeast of San Salvador in the town of Cinquera, visitors can learn about El Salvador’s tumultuous past and the hope for its future by meeting with Rafael, a former guerrilla fighter who is currently head park ranger at the Cinquera Forest (Parque Ecologico Bosque de Cinquera).
Rafael has been working as a park ranger and tour guide for 17 years and is passionate about conservation efforts within his home country. He educates visitors on the importance of and provides a first-hand account of El Salvador’s civil war, which began when he was just eight years old. His passion for conservation comes from Cinquera Forest’s position as a stronghold of guerilla resistance during the war, and Rafael feels that since the forest protected his life during the war, it is now his turn to protect the forest.
A meeting and forest walk with Rafael, complete with an English translator, can be arranged.
Preservation of an Ancient Handicraft: Irma Guadrón
Amid the cobblestone streets and colonial architecture of the town of Suchitoto, travelers have the opportunity to learn first-hand about the indigo dying techniques the ancient Maya utilized for everything from murals and pottery to ritual sacrifices. Irma Guadrón, owner of the art gallery and indigo workshop Arte Añil, is responsible for keeping the traditional methods of indigo creation alive, propelling Suchitoto to be considered El Salvador’s “Capital of Indigo.”
At a time when not many locals knew about the indigo in the region, Guadrón began to research the history of her ancient culture and the role indigo played. She began to create indigo straight from the plant in her home, using it to design intricate patterns on clothing and canvas. Today, she leads step-by-step classes that educate participants on the history of indigo in El Salvador and teach them basic dying techniques. Classes are $25 per person and include a finished product to take home as a souvenir.
For more information, please visit www.elsalvador.travel.