Tear up that color-coded itinerary! Put away your electronic devices! It’s time to engage in your surroundings and go with the moment!

Trip planning is necessary to a certain extent. We need to maximize our time at our destination. It’s pretty important to make advance reservations for lodging. It’s nice to have a general idea of routes and attractions. However, some people plan trips so tightly that they know which exact snack bar they will visit on the exact minute of the precise day. There are no options, only places to check off the rigid master list.

Serendipity is defined in my American Heritage Dictionary as The faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident.” To me it means veering off my “To Do” list/my trip itinerary to see where it will take me, whom I will meet, what I will find. When I allow myself moments of serendipity, I experience people, places, and events more fully, and life becomes richer for me.



Planning extra time in the schedule allows for some flexibility to take advantage of serendipitous moments when they arise. Trusting a local to recommend some of their favorite places is extremely worthwhile. Having locals accompany the traveler to those places provides a narrative inside look, as well as a chance to be introduced to key people. Accidentally running across something that looks interesting and pursuing it on a hunch–well, that is a gold mine.



In El Salvador it is always the people who provide me the serendipity. They catch me by surprise, opening opportunities to enrich my Salvadoran experience beyond my own expectations. One day I was talking to a friend and happened to mention the name of a person whose writing I admire. Out of the blue he asked, “Would you like to meet her? I can line it up for you.” What a lovely surprise. We spent half a day together, and she gave some valuable advice for website writing.

Through the informal conversations we strike up with people, we have discovered connections with mutual acquaintances. We also have ended up interviewing some of them who have turned out to have fascinating stories. These were totally unexpected people who popped into our lives through casual conversation.



It was quite by luck that we happened upon the turtle release which turned out to be not only fun but also quite informative from an ecological standpoint. This day was more than a chance encounter with nature. It was an opportunity to meet people from all over the world, some with whom we have remained in touch.



Another magical moment with nature occurred high on top of one of El Salvador’s many volcanoes when our friend suddenly went berserk, grabbing our camera, and running around wildly snapping photos. He had sited a pair of torogoz, the colorful iridescent turquoise, green, and red national bird. They have become pretty rare.

Asking a local for photo ops, we were taken to the Rue de Flores. It wasn’t the tropical flowers that surprised me. I expected them. It was the colorful murals on the walls of the little villages along the way that captivated my attention. I couldn’t get enough of them. Each one was brightly painted and had a different theme from the one beside it.

Again with the guidance of locals, we’ve discovered a variety of sites that aren’t in Fodor’s or Frommer’s guidebooks. There was the community living without a power source for water where the women were all doing their laundry together in concrete basins at the stream. It was like stumbling upon a scene on the Discovery Channel.

Hiking to an off-the-beaten path, unmarked, hidden waterfall was another wonder that took us unaware. Experiencing the cemetery scene on All Saints Day could not have been described to me. I had to be there to really absorb the event.



On our own we actually stumbled upon a local patron saint celebration where a goat was being roasted on Day One of an 11-day event.

Being asked if we’d like to sit in on a local business meeting was a big surprise. At first I was afraid of being a distraction, but we were welcomed into the group by each participant and got to see how deals are struck at this level.

Serendipity is being shown how to pick through the many layers of a cashew nut and roast it over an open fire. It is having someone reach over your head to pull fresh oranges off the tree and squeeze them in front of your eyes to make you a fresh glass of orange juice.

Not all serendipitous moments with individuals are pleasant, but are nonetheless meaningful. There is that day forever indelible in my mind when someone took me aside, looked directly into my eyes, and poured out from the depths of her soul details of the tortures she experienced.

I treasure my serendipitous moments in El Salvador. Through them I’ve made and sustained relationships. I’ve discovered much about people, places, and events, as well as about myself. When people ask me to share tidbits of my trips, it is those serendipitous moments that come to mind before any of the pre-planned, coordinated events. They are the true highlights of travel.


    Afflicted with Hope / is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.