Curbside Recycling: VW Vanagon – One With Nature

We were going through a heat wave this past April, just when I agreed to join my wife in one of her teaching outings. A trip to the beach of El Zonte, to join a communal school festivity of some sort; clowns, school plays, and piñata time were on the day’s agenda. Sounded like a good way to unwind from the week’s pressures.

At least, it sounded like a good idea before arriving. After helping out with some decorations in the morning, by noon the mercury was close to 95F. Counting humidity (thanks Google!), it felt more like 100F.

We took a five-minute walk on local trails in search of lunch, and before long, I felt weak on my knees and lightheaded. Once at the table I barely touched my lunch. Half an hour later, I somehow clawed my way back to the makeshift school, before collapsing under the shade of the basketball playground’s tin roof.

Well, another trip that doesn’t quite go as planned; the voice in my head went. Around me, I could hear my wife and some helpers getting all ready for the upcoming activities. A little girl approached my wife: Have you seen the chicks? Playfully, my wife rushed after her, as the little girl approached and pointed into some discarded tires. Indeed, a bunch of artificially colored chicks were inside, not far from where I was laying down.

I laid down on the playground’s concrete floor for a good hour or so. It was mid-afternoon and the heat hadn’t decreased much, but attendees were already arriving. Electric fans had been set up in the changing room, where a clown was rehearsing and helpers sat in wait. A sense of festivity was in the air. Better get up now… before too many questions come my way.

I stumbled away, in a bit of a haze, around the school’s surroundings. And there, not far from the school’s back entrance, I came across the discarded carcass of an old Vanagon. I sensed a weird kinship with the inert object; its empty sockets and corroded body seemed in a state of transition I could almost relate to.

Was I daydreaming? I wasn’t quite expecting to discover an old abandoned vehicle on the school’s grounds, though I admit it was far from a great ‘find.’ That said, a junkyard find has a beauty of its own, and the flaky qualities sea salt provokes on metal is a rare wonder of nature. It is a type of rusted patina impossible to obtain otherwise, as the seemingly invincible iron dissolves away into oblivion.

Fitting with the afternoon’s surreal mood, a couple of kids came to play with the Vanagon. It was clear the discarded vehicle is a beloved backdrop, as the pair played with the dashboard and moved the steering pointlessly around in a well-rehearsed make-believe routine.

Meanwhile, music played on the basketball court and families started to sit in wait. The clown came out from the dressing area and started to work up the attendees. A few minutes later, the Vanagon kids left to join the party.

I stayed around the van’s surroundings, examining it. It seemed like the perfect fixture for the school since I relate the model with easygoing and self-reliant Americans. Yes, Americans. The communal school had been founded by some surfing Expats, who visited these beaches years ago and stayed ever since. At some point, they created the school to serve local poor families, as the surrounding area went increasingly upscale and the government’s education policies never arrived.

The rocky beaches around El Zonte have become somewhat known to the international surfer community, and a few relevant events have taken place recently. It has turned the area oddly pricey for El Salvador, while still having a good amount of ‘the dispossessed’ serving in local restaurants and hotels. The area is in a state of flux and reflects in a nutshell the dilemmas of our times.

Curiously, upscale Salvadorians tend to choose the new pricier hotels, while foreign surfers stick to their relaxed ethos and lodge in cheaper accommodations. Though these last are becoming scarce.

Still, one can visit the area and find a rugged enough environment; nowhere near the level of artificial wholesomeness of say, Waikiki or San Juan. Small shops and boutique hotels tend to be the norm, and a certain bohemian spirit permeates the air.

The event’s organizers must have noticed I was in a bit of haze, as they offered me their outdoor showers to cool off. I obliged immediately, it was my chance to regain a sense of self. I took to the makeshift structures around the school’s back (somewhere behind the wooden stairs, above), and allowed the water to cool me down. It was a rewarding moment. The whole day had been an odd mix of pleasant and unpleasant sensations.

Afterward, I finally joined the party. The crowd seemed delighted, with the clown asking attendees to join him for games and pranks. I had quite a bit of respect for him, as he was in vest and tie, sweating profusely while being cheery. How did he do it? Superior clown genes? Meanwhile, the older kids -who had outgrown clowns- played further out, closer to the Vanagon area.

It all ended not long after, in the only logical way: Piñata-time! Or better said Piñatas! Three were about to get smacked around, the only way to truly please the kids.

There’s no way to quite describe the air of excitement that surrounds the piñata custom. The bright and fragile objects come out of hiding, with a multitude of kids jumping and bobbing, eager for a chance to take a swing at them.

Piñata One! Piñata Two! Piñata Three! All were smashed to bits by the eager and rambunctious little participants. Candies sprawled on the floor, loot in their hands, it was time for us to head back home. Now in retrospect, the whole event seems rather magical, though to be honest, my recollections may be a bit on the hazy side. On this occasion, I think I prefer them that way.