Click a photo of one of our lovely insects in El Salvador to read more…
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Click a photo of one of our lovely insects in El Salvador to read more…
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On Monday, February 21, shortly after 5:00am, on the highway that runs from Santa Ana to San Salvador, El Salvador, a horrible accident took place, which started with a tractor trailer and a car, and resulted in two buses crashing. 15 people have died as a result of Monday’s accident, 9 declared dead shortly after the accident with the death toll rising [20 are now dead as of Feb 28, 2011]. 80-100 remain injured, several with serious injuries in the ICU.
More detailed but graphic El Mundo article with witness reports covering Feb 21 accident. I translated two vivid parts, as online translators do not do much justice:
I don’t know how many dead I counted. Seven, eight, I don’t know. But, inside the bus, among the twisted metal it looked like more bodies were trapped. One could easily see the leg of a woman who died there. They were macabre scenes. Several bodies were dismembered. Almost all the dead looked like textile workers that traveled early to get to their jobs.
Testimony from one of the victim’s on the bus:
I fainted from the impact, he told me. When I asked him about the cause of the accident, he told me: ‘The bus was going so fast that the driver couldn’t even use the breaks. When he saw the other bus crossed in the road, he wanted to avoid it but we stopped against the tree.
Article on La Prensa Grafica regarding the Feb 23 bus accident
Initial reports tried to blame either the car or the tractor trailer, but testimony that came later from survivors of the horrendous crash revealed that both bus drivers were driving at high speed, and “fighting over the road and fighting over passengers.”
I’m going to explain what this means because for those of us who grew up with a transit system in a developed country, this does not make sense.
The bus system in El Salvador is not run or owned by any government or quasi-government agencies. It is a “collective transport system” with many different owners of various bus routes, manned by bus drivers and fare collectors who basically have the run of the roads. The route fleets consist primarily of old school buses, most from the United States, and older transit buses, and numerous micro-buses which resemble the hippie volkswagon buses in size and shape.
Fares are all collected in CASH, by hand, which is the root of many problems which make the bus system dangerous for drivers and fare collectors, and for passengers. Gang members routinely demand “rent” from buses, that covers the first endangered group. The second group is constantly in peril because the cash system means every passenger is another coin or “cha-ching” on the register. Bus drivers and fare collectors, if they are the slightest bit dishonest, are “garnishing profits” for every “head” they can get on their bus.
Thus, it creates a “fighting for the road and passengers” problem, or “Peleando por Via” as it is called in Spanish. Imagine a group of passengers waiting just around the bend for a bus. Two buses are approaching and can see the passengers. Both buses, even if on the same route, want to be “first to pick up the passengers” and get the money first.
So the bus drivers play a game and continuously pass one another, to be “first” to get them. Sometimes it reaches the point where two buses can be seen driving in both lanes of a two-way road, one going against traffic, trying to pass the first bus, and the other with traffic, speeding up to avoid getting passed.
Passengers are treated like animals instead of humans, and the result is what we saw on Monday.
!Newsflash! A second major accident just happened, outside of Santa Tecla on the highway near the “Los Churros” water park. There, witnesses are saying the same “Peleando por Via” phenomenon occurred, and one of the buses breaks failed. 3 people have died so far, as of 9:30pm local time in El Salvador, one of which was a 10 year old boy.
I have driven on that highway near Los Churros with my husband, and it is a winding section of road with many twists and turns, which my husband always refers to as “dangerous” when we pass through there. Not the place to be jockeying for position as the “Alpha Bus”.
One would think after Monday’s horrific accident that bus drivers would calm down at least for a few days, but between yesterday and today 3 bus accidents happened, this serious one near los Churros where as of this hour, 3 died, and another two bus accidents between yesterday in San Miguel and today in Chalatenango which left a total of 22 injured. Complete barbarism on the part of the bus drivers in all of the above, some even ran away from the scene of the accidents.
Ok, this is too close for comfort. Just felt yet another “temblor,” a tremor. This time, sitting in the family room with my husband. This mini quake was between 5 and 10 seconds, nearly twice as long as the other one I felt while alone (eeeh), and felt like it came in two parts.
We both agreed we should have been AT the door moving outside sooner. Here’s one reason for parents to sleep in the same room with small children, at least in earthquake-prone areas.
The 2010 murder rate in El Salvador was 10.9 murders a day, a 9% reduction from 12 a day in 2009. Tim’s El Salvador blog reports this well in English; the original article in Spanish was reported in La Prensa Grafica.
We live in a mountaintop area not far from San Salvador, El Salvador. Our neighborhood has people of mixed economic class, with no “puerton” (gate) and no “vigilante” (security guard). In most areas in or near the city, living in an un-gated community can be a treacherous proposition, but it is very safe here, “sano” as said in Salvadoran Spanish. On our stretch of the street, three homes owned by upper class or well-to-do people stand in a row. However, just next to us is a family in a “casa de lamina” which is a house of corrugated metal for walls and roof, nailed to wood. They are nice folks, and actually live on the property rent-free, which is owned by another family just down the road in the neighborhood. This may sound like a “great deal” but comes with one caveat: there is no water pipe coming from the water system owned by ANDA, and they are required to pay the electric bill. But their family gets a break and the owners are more secure knowing no undesirable elements or squatters will move into the home.
We give them water from a hose every few days which they fill their barrels with. They holler over the fence where we sometimes talk together. My neighbor was telling me today they’d like to move, and wants to buy a refrigerator. But she is still caring for their 2 year old boy at home, and her husband’s salary is a check for $80 twice a month. A miracle the two of them and their toddler live on that. I thought they were ‘really poor’ but when I talked with another friend in the neighborhood later on, learned this is par for the course: her husband, twenty years older than the neighbor’s husband, only makes $40 more a month. Yikes! So much for a laborer’s career path in El Salvador…
Along a walk today with my pet dog I met another neighbor. A nice old man started chatting me up by commenting on my “bonito” dog. If you want to meet people, buy a dog and start walking, its the perfect ice-breaker! How long has he been living here, I asked. Oh…he had to think for a moment…52 years, he said. “I used to take care of the property here, next door” he showed me, gesturing to the puerton next his house. “One day the owner said he was moving to the United States. He sold that part to a doctor, and this piece which goes all the way over there, to me.” He built the reinforcement wall in front of the now doctor’s property when he was much much younger. His name is Alfonzo, and he also lives in a house made mostly of corrugated metal. His dog and mine made friends while we chatted. He told me he keeps his dog chained because if not, he wanders into the house and sleeps on the furniture. One day when I came back in the house, there he was lying on the bed, Don Alfonzo told me. I decided not to tell him about the time I saw his dog, outside in the street, dragging his chain which had broken off, and a moment later struggling to get back IN the front yard, jumping through a gap between the gate and the wall. Don Alfonzo was doing some yard work and sporting appropriate clothing: his white T-shirt was aging, with small tears forming along the collars. It is not uncommon to see small tears or holes in people’s clothing here, and it is OK. Most people in El Salvador, excepting the upper classes, have a shirt they wear with a rip or a stain. It is quite acceptable to wear it, because everyone else has a rip or stain in something they sport so who really cares anyway?
Further down the road from Alfonzo after we turn left at the bend and walk down a steep hill is another humble home. This one is made out wood and mud. Thin pieces of wood are encased within dried mud, and horizontal layers of mud with wood dividing them make up the walls. It seems a variation of the adobe brick homes still found in the country. Right before the bend in the road is a fantastic vista of the un-housed ravine below it, filled with numerous banana trees, forming a “guerta”, and of the hill on the other side, sporting a few modest sized ‘modern looking’ homes. Turning at the bend and walking down the hill you are greeted by more banana trees, as you continue down the slope, and walk over a small bridge for a small creek. The road reaches a dead end, with a few houses on either side and where is tops you see a ‘pasaje’ which takes you down to a house below, nestled in the trees, near another creek you can hear trickling.
A half dozen little convenience store “chalet” (pronounced like the French word) are peppered throughout the neighborhood, and perhaps a half dozen more I don’t know of are nestled among smaller streets and “pasajes” (passageways).
Our neighborhood also boasts its own Church with a parochial school and Soccer field. No surprise on the field, they’re partial to soccer here (called “futbol” in Spanish and other languages).
Hey wait a minute, that was…an…
Ok, it was very minor, but when you’re sitting at home alone and it hits, you get the willies.
Comically, my husband has felt at least two of these “sismo” or “temblor” as they call these tremors when I didn’t feel a thing. The trick is to be sitting still. If you are standing up and moving around, you might not feel it. One ‘sismo’ I did feel happened while my friend Chata, her daughter, and I were sitting at a pupuseria in Los Planes. Chata noticed it first, then Sara and I did – although it was subtle.
But THIS time…
I was sitting in the chair watching TV, when I felt something like a wave roll underneath my chair and seemingly to the other side of the room. For a moment I felt a sensation reminiscent of an illicit drug from days long gone by. I looked to the right and saw my laptop jiggling, as if someone had just bumped the table, and to my left heard the metal door rattling against its frame. For ONCE I felt the damn thing and no one to share the excite and fright with. Arg! I called my friend Chata: “No, we didn’t feel anything” she said, but they were on a walk (remember what I said about up and moving around?). So I call my husband. Ring Ring, Ring Ring, Ring Ring… No answer, no one to share the scare.
I thought I may have even imagined this, but alas, my sensations were on the mark. I found a web page which recorded the mini earthquake: http://es.sott.net/articles/show/4048-Temblor-de-4-2-sacude-a-El-Salvador
Horrible translation, but you get the idea: http://babelfish.yahoo.com/translate_url?doit=done&tt=url&intl=1&fr=bf-home&trurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ultimasnoticias.com.ve%2FNoticias%2FTemblor-de-4%2C2-sacude-a-El-Salvador.aspx&lp=es_en&btnTrUrl=Translate
These ‘sismos’ happen all the time in El Salvador, but are no less frightening regardless of frequency, as tremendous damage and many lives were lost in both the 2001 and 1986 earthquakes. So we count our blessings when its a ‘mini’.
Besides being a police officer, which we know is treacherous here. You will probably guess someone who works in high altitudes or high risk construction or engineering job, or something of the like.
Drumroll please…..and the winner of the most dangerous job in El Salvador is: Bus Driver!!
This is one of the riskiest professions in this country. At least once a week, if not 3 or more times, we see the image of yet another torched bus on the evening news. Bus drivers and ‘cobradores’ (fare collectors) are expected to pay rent demanded by gangs, which can range from 10 to 15 dollars a day, or a couple grand or more per month, depending on the route. When the driver cannot or wont pay rent, its “flames” to the vehicle, often accompanied by execution. Passengers are marched off the bus, and the gang quickly ignites its latest example of what happens when you fail to pay rent.
Buses also serve as a fine source of theft income for gangs, outside of extorting the driver. My husband was robbed on a bus, along with several other victims in August of 2009, in front of the infamous Tiendona market on his way back from English class. He was sad to have lost his wedding ring, but relieved to get away with his finger intact, as it was a struggle to remove the ring. Fortunately, the marero (gang member) helped him get it off by prying it off my husbands finger with his teeth. Needless to say, I have avoided buses in most of the city since arriving to live here.
Market vendors and small business proprietors experience extortion similar to that of bus drivers, and are often victims of violence when dues are not paid.
An additional factor in life-risking occupation is often brought on by the bus drivers themselves. A reckless “I own the road” attitude many of them have causes accidents left and right. As they race along a high speed chase to collect as many fares as possible (have to cover the ‘rent’ and then some) they endanger their life and everyone else’s.
March 28, 2010 – original diary entry, and updated.