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Were You Really Barefoot There?

February 26, 2014

The question is right from the non-barefooters playbook:

“You didn’t go barefoot while you were there, did you?”

My answer: “All the time.”

Response: “Don’t you know they have ________ [name the choice of vermin, disease, or other danger]?”

My answer: *Sigh*

I just returned from a medical mission in El Salvador. And the barefoot questions have started since I got back… the questions about picking up strange worms or diseases and such.

These questions are interesting to me because they presume, perhaps, that in the U.S. we have no strange worms or diseases. I suppose there are critters I’d rather not deal with in a place like El Salvador, but they are the exception rather than the rule, just as they are here.

There is a lot more litter in El Salvador than in the U.S., there is no gainsaying that. My observation is that there is a lot more “dangerous” debris laying around also – broken glass, bits and pieces of wire and metal, plastics and biological refuse.

That being the case, however, I also observed that people in shoes were also avoiding all that dangerous debris – just like the U.S., oddly enough.

It is also my observation that many Salvadorans are less “hygienic” than North Americans. Perhaps if we were a land with very limited hot water, and irregular water service at that, we might be a little less ‘hygienic” also. If the choice to be made is between water for a shower or cooking for the family, I might choose the food myself.

There are people I know who think going barefoot is less hygienic. They don’t seem to realize that there are likely more germs on the shoes of people than there on the soles of my bare feet… I wash my feet every day – sometimes twice a day. When was the last time someone who wears shoes washed the soles of them?

The Salvadorans didn’t seem to think being barefoot was unhygienic. They DID think it was curious, but no one minded in restaurants, Church, or anywhere else. Some even took the effort to try and question about my barefoot walking in as good English as they could muster (and I tried to response in broken Spanish).

One member of the medical mission team I was with kept on the alert for me: “I hope you step on a screw worm… you’ll see what that’s like.” He even said, “I think there are scorpions on this path. You don’t want to step on those!” Another team member felt I needed to wear those blue shoe covers, but not everyone in shoes needed them. What’s up with that?

The fact of the matter is that screw worms have been eradicated in El Salvador since 1995, and prior to that they preferred dead flesh to living flesh anyhow. And scorpions, while dangerous, are “more afraid of us than we are of them.” And if I had a dangerous germ on my feet – again, no more dangerous than anyone had on their shoes – those flimsy blue shoe covers are just a ruse… they wouldn’t have kept anything out.

In reality, I would rather be barefoot in El Salvador – and anywhere – than to be there – and anywhere – in shoes.

We visited this awesome volcano, Boquerón, outside of San Salvador. Mountains amaze me anyhow, being from the flattest parts of Indiana, but this volcano was great. It was very steep… the road to the top was roughly paved and cobblestone… great toughening surfaces to feel. While the sun beat brightly on us as it began to set around the volcano rim, the ashy dust of the path was cool to the feet. The roots that traversed the path were a tripping hazard to shod and unshod hikers, but to feel their knotty fingers was invigorating. In short, being barefoot enhanced my experience of Boquerón in ways that the shoe-wearers couldn’t understand.

We also visited a UNESCO heritage site, Joya de Ceren. It is like Central America’s Pompeii, an entire Mayan village covered with ash and debris from a nearby volcanic eruption in the late 6th century. (No human casualties, thank God.) Everyone oohed and aahed at the remarkably well-preserved buildings and sites, but I couldn’t help but think that I was the only one who really walked in soil that those same Mayans enjoyed barefoot 1400 years ago.

So, yes, I was barefoot there. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. El Salvador is a wonderful, mysterious, inviting place. Barefoot is the best way to experience it.


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  1. From what I know, to get a screwworm infection (by the maggot of some parasitic fly), an adult fly must lay eggs into its victim. You don’t step on the worm, you get attacked by a fly. Nothing other than a space suit will protect you from these flying vermin.

    I myself have been to Thailand recently and have spent entire two weeks barefoot, and so did my son, and sometimes my wife and daughter joined us. No problems whatsoever.

  2. That’s what I understand – the guy was nice, but just wanted to harass me a little… I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand – maybe some day 🙂

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