Archive for March 2011

We bring it to YOU (walking vendors in El Salvador)   7 comments

Living in a developing country, in the middle of nowhere?  Not to worry, you needn’t leave your house, most of the necessities in life come to you.

Various vendors, marketers, and peddlers wind their way through roads and passageways throughout El Salvador every day.  This entry takes you through encounters with vendors selling their wares on country roads in rural Chalatenango to others walking door-to-door in a tourist area just south of San Salvador.

Bakers peddle on bikes through caserios (country neighborhoods) and colonias (urban and suburban neighborhoods), offering rolls, bread, and pastries; signaling their arrival with a horn (comically, it’s a clown’s horn), attached to their bicycle.

Rural Chalatenango:  A vegetable vendor we prefer comes into the caserio every week on selling tomatoes, cabbage, cucumber, onions, avocado, etc. off his small commercial truck.  Unlike the grocery store, there may be only 1 variety of orange that day, or red onions but not white, but he usually produces most of your vegetable needs.  He packs a big plastic bin of “gelatins,” small bite-sized capfuls of a jello-like candy to give out to kids on his stops.  Every Thursday between 7 and 8am we hear the long hand press on his horn, announcing his approach.  Since my mother in-law buys large amounts of tomatoes and cabbage to run her ‘pupuseria’ he stops right in front of the house for her.  My husband and I stock up on veggies for 5-9 dollars a week.  Avocados went up from 3 for a $1 to 40 cents apiece*, still not bad considering they were 2 for $1.50 at best when I left the U.S.  Food selection is limited in rural El Salvador, but bless it for cheap fruits and vegetables!  Another veggie vendor made rounds here, but thankfully he stopped.  He had a megaphone strapped to his truck, broadcasting his products in a loud, not so good auctioneer style  (aspiring auctioneer perhaps?); we heard him blocks away but couldn’t understand his garble.

Chulto City is a major salt vendor and use the megaphone well.  All they sell is salt, and boy are they proud of it.  “Get your best salt here, Chuuulto City, bright white white [Chelita Chelita Chelita…], iodized salt, don’t live without it…” is chanted on wheels in Spanish.  “Helados ‘Candy’” dances ’round the neighborhood in their ice cream truck a few times a week.

The final but not forgotten of the megaphone crew are the “Chatarra” guys.  In any neighborhood in El Salvador at least once a week they come by not selling, but buying “Chatarra Chatarra Chatarra lamina, compramos refridge, tele (TV), latta…”   They pick up discarded items with scrap metal, tin or aluminum.  Auctioneer style as well.

Got room for a few more bottles? Spotted in Puerto de la Libertad October of 2010

Recycling hasn’t hit prime time in El Salvador, but there are recycling centers, and ambitious people with trucks will travel:

courtesy of Daniel at

The helado (ice cream) guys ring a small bell to humbly announce offerings from their cart.

It breaks your heart to see them pushing along in the beating sun.  And almost always an older gentleman, so one is compelled to buy a couple cones.

A sweet older woman came by last fall, selling canastas (baskets).  I got a deal buying a small hamper-sized basket for 5 bucks.

[I interrupt this story to note that as I typed this, along came someone ringing a bell in the street in our new neighborhood, Los Planes de Renderos.  Sure enough – a sorbet man!   Just as I was saying, an older gentleman, selling 25 cent child-size cones in your choice of vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate.  “I’ll take four!” I said, and treated my husband and the two masons working at the house we’re renting.  The ice cream vendor carried everything in a large cardboard box with a strap, on his shoulder.  Pictures of fancy ice cream bars adorned its top.  Inside were cones, cups, his scooping spoon, and a smaller cardboard box containing 3 flavors of ice cream.  No plastic containers, no ‘cooler’, just a simple cardboard getup, human powered with hands legs and feet!   He had travelled from San Marcos, a town nearby to sell his cones in the well-off neighborhoods of our tourist town with Mountain Vistas.]

Meanwhile, back in Chalatenango….not long after Chulto City belted out their salt-selling sermon, a guy selling blankets came by our rural house.  One had a Whinnie-the-Pooh and friends design in blues and whites, colors inverted on the opposite side.  I bought the blanket and my husbande teased me, but we did use it a few nights when it got “fresco” (brisk) on December nights last year.  Sundry food items also pass through the ‘hood’, such as frozen chicken, which comes by regularly.  When in season, an old woman with very few teeth and her mentally challenged son come by with fish, which my husband likes to buy.  The tamale girls, as I call them, come by selling freshly made hot tamales which they carry in “guacales” (shallow plastic buckets) on their heads.  They live in the neighborhood and make their rounds occasionally.  I’m usually game as it’s warm and fresh.

The oddest thing I’ve seen sold by mobile salespeople in El Salvador would be Mattresses.  Sold by men and women who walk them around.  Obviously not Sealy Posturepedic (try hauling that down the road!), but a thinned-down version one can fold and carry on the shoulder with a strap.  I feel for these vendors when I see them carrying such large and cumbersome items. I’d often like to give them a ride, but my husband reminds me their success comes from entering every neighborhood, and walking by every home, like door-to-door salesmen your grandparents knew.  So no point in offering a ride unless I want to be the salesman’s side-kick.

My husband and I made a furniture purchase from mobile vendors once – a pair of men selling folding wooden tables in Chalatenango.  Seeing how easy they carried them helped make the sale!

“Ah La La Pizzaaaaaaaah!’.   This guy is one of my favorites.   The pizza man has a unique songlike chant, it’s rather inviting.  We hear him streets away, buzzing around on his motorbike, pizza and soda on tow.  A buck a slice with a cup of soda, a deal by American standards, but pricey for Salvadorans (daily wage for a laborer in the country = $7-10 day), so more likely indulged by families getting remittances.  The remittance club can also afford to buy from the motorbike carrying Pollo Campero, or as I like to call them, Pollo Robero ** (see ‘robo‘).  It is good stuff, but be ready to empty your wallet – costs almost as much as the states.

Let’s take a gander back to the mountaintop venue again in Los Planes de Renderos.  The vendors have been selling and walking along, all this time.  There are two ladies I know well by face, and a 3rd who has made herself familiar of late.   All three sell chocolate discs, which are used to make Latino style hot chocolate with, and other small items.    I can go to the “Mercado Central” (main market in the city) and buy everything they offer for a better price, but they are such dears and make their living this way, so I buy when they stroll by.   They are from nearby towns, and we often remark about the big difference in climate just 15 minutes down the hill, often 10 degrees warmer than here.  Thus, the ever-present chocolate discs and sweater they carry with them.

A salesman of house wares came by just a week ago and left an impression.  A mountain of goods, he pulled out item after item from his collection-in-tow, trying his darndest to sell one of a dozen aluminum pots, curtains, and blankets.  Insistence often pays, so he kept on after my first warnings, offering one thing, then another.  He piled it all back after my final ‘I’m sorry, I have all those things’.  Eventually, everything was on his shoulders again.  I couldn’t believe he could carry it all – a dozen or more aluminum pots up high on his back, and several blankets and curtains held on his sides from a strap.  A human mule, hoping to dump some cargo in exchange for a few bucks.

Clothing, shoes, and hammocks lend themselves well to sales walkers and we’ve seen all kinds.  Hammock sales have a comical barter process.  The vendor starts at, say $15-18.  ‘No, I already have hammocks’, you say.  “But this is a great hammock.  I’ll bring it down to twelve.”  ‘No, really, I have that kind already’.  “You can always use another.  How about $10?”  ‘No, really, I don’t need anymore hammocks’.  “OK, OK…$8.  But I can’t sell it for any less….”  At local gas stations down the road hammock vendors approach to take you through this interchange; after the 4th ‘no’ the price has dropped in half.

Another time here on the mountain a couple of young girls (tweens?) came by selling “Atol de Piña,” a hot drink made of ground corn meal and pineapple.   I’d always eaten pineapples in cold dishes, so this was an exotic treat.

The best purchase I remember in our mountaintop locale was from a husband and wife duo selling popsicles.  I bought an arrayan flavored frozen fruit treat, generous sized and shaped like an umbrella. Best popsicle I’ve had in years, and was only 35 cents.

* Avacados, at the 3/2010 price; they’re now up to .50 apiece (vendor/market price) or more a year later.

** Went to a Pollo Campero.  Got a bucket of chicken, and….hmmm…I don’t see the drinks on the menu.  Ah well, let’s get 4 big drinks for the gang, we’re dying of thirst in 90+ degree heat.  Along comes the receipt.  Drinks are $1.25 for a small fountain soda (in El Salvador, no less) and we ordered all LARGE!   Slick job not listing drinks on the menu, Pollo Robero.

Have you ever seen the Rain?   2 comments

The song “Have you ever seen the Rain” by CCR rings in my head as I write this.   Most of you reading this probably come from a temperate climate where rain or snow falls year-round, albeit heavy at certain times in spring or winter.

To illustrate what it’s like here in El Salvador, which is essentially “black or white” in terms of rainfall (6 months on, 6 months off), I quote from a diary entry written this time a year ago.

It hasn’t rained here, literally one drop, in months (last rain was an evening in November), and though the river is much lower, there’s still enough to swim in, bathe in, or wash clothes, so we are lucky.  Our river is the Metayate river, and at least two upstream water sources flow into it.  Further up the road, in Agua Caliente, only one source feeds their ‘river’ which has now dwindled into a trickling brook, algae forming in shallow pockets everywhere.

Because the water in our river is moving so slowly, a strange juxtaposition of temperatures within create odd sensations.   While swimming, in one moment you are moving through a layer of very warm water within the top 2 feet, but moving below this or towards the periphery, one encounters a sudden ‘cold flash’.   The water has cooled at night by a large drop in temperature, and as the current is not moving enough new water, nor swiftly enough, those patches stay cool even after mid-day. – Saturday, March 13, 2010

For someone not accustomed to living in a country with a “rainy season” or a “dry season,” not seeing a drop of water fall from the sky for months on end feels most peculiar.

Hummingbird Sits Still / El colibrí se queda quieto   Leave a comment

I looked at our “Lima” orange tree today to see the tiniest of birds hidden amongst the branches.  ‘What is that little bird?’  I wondered until I got closer and saw it’s our little hummingbird.  He comes by daily, usually morning or late afternoon, always flitting along so quickly by the time I grab the camera he’s sucked the sap out of the flowers and whizzed away to the next tree.  But today…

he sat quietly, completely still, and if not for his long little snout, I would not have recognized him.

No Water, No Electricity (What!?)   1 comment

The woman who lives on the other side the fence came by to ask last night if she could “buy” water from us.  I remembered the owner’s comments when we moved in about how they “gifted” water to the neighbors next door and “below” us (which I presumed last night, was her).   “Let me know how much it is when you get the bill” she says.    “I think that will work”, I say, since I already give water to our next-door neighbor, since he is quite poor, “but you’ll have to get another hose to connect with mine as it won’t reach over the fence”.    They run a pupusa place on the hill so I think they can handle the hos.e part.

So I mention this to my next door neighbor today, and immediately he says “Don’t trust her.  She’s bad! ”   NOW what have I gotten myself into!   He explained there was some issue with the neighbors down below, and according to him, they hooked up a wire to the electric box.  He colored his profile of her with another detail, saying “She hangs out with ‘brujos’ (witches).”

Later, I caught up with the workman about it, since he started renovating this house from day one after the owner bought it.  With his parochial Spanish I could understand about half the story, but bottom line, there was a dispute, and those neighbors came up “putiando” (swearing) at them and now neither he nor the owner talk with them anymore.

So this is interesting….

The lady down below just ‘moved back in’ a month or so ago, but hadn’t approached me, so I suspect she doesn’t like the price another neighbor is charging her or perhaps…another dispute?

You may have asked yourself  “WHY is your neighbor asking if she can “buy” water from me in the first place?”

Let me illuminate.   Shortly after I moved here, I got the scoop:  the water company did not set up water pipes running from the main pipe to various residents’ homes (either the water company, ANDA did not want to or I’m guessing it was cost prohibitive for the residents).  So Doris, a different neighbor living down below, would buy water from the lady who used to own the house, by the barrel.  She finally got her “water line” set up, which is a small 1 inch PVC pipe running along (on top of, not buried) our neighbors yard, and then up in the “air” over the street below (as the hill drops) before taking a right angle to reach her house.  Doris is very happy now that she doesn’t have to make special arrangements just to have water in her house.

If you think the water situation was bad, it gets BETTER:

During our talk today the workman explained that 3 years ago (somewhere in 2008) when he started working on the house, NONE of the houses below had ANY electricity.  “Are you serious?” I asked, “when you told me there were no lights, I thought you meant no streetlights.  All this time,  the people down there were living with NO water lines, and NO electricity?”


Unbelievable.   No Water (beg your neighbor to buy it by the barrel), and No Electricity.  How did the live?  So much for a refridgerator, the 6:00 news, let alone a hair dryer.  Whoa.

There are at least 50 -100 people living on that section of the street.  Just Doris’ area alone, which consists of her, 2 adult sons + daughter-in-law + 3 grandkids, her sister, and another 5 or so living behind them, you’re up to 12-15.   Now walk down the street and keep counting.  No Water.  No Electricity.  Wow.

Barack’s visit to El Salvador & shameful white house press corps   Leave a comment

Obama coming to visit was a “big deal” here.   The press conference today with Barack Obama and Mauricio Funes was going swimmingly.  The state heads presented topics on economic development within El Salvador, combating narco traffic and crime, and of course, immigration.

Then questions from the press.   Four total, two from the Salvadoran press and two from the White House Press Corps* (United States).

Salvadoran journalists queried about the topics mentioned above.   Journalists from the US?   Both questions about the (sudden) use of military force in Libya.

Not ONE of their questions was related to Obama’s visit here, El Salvador, or Central America.

Half the Q&A time was about Libya, nothing to do with the theme of this press conference in San Salvador.   This link from USA Today provides a great summary, including timestamps.  Mauricio Funes, the president of El Salvador, graciously steered things back ‘on topic’ to squeeze the last 4 minutes in to talk about the BRIDGE plan between US and El Salvador.

Some of you may think:  ‘our press has a right to ask what they want, especially re: such an important issue’.    Of course they do.    But I ask, when you visit the house of a friend and his family, do you leave your manners at the door?  So why should our media do that while visiting another country?

Americans don’t see the entire picture of events related through the United States media – obviously highlights and summary make sense.  But today I did, and seeing all of it was enlightening.

The Salvadoran people have been looking forward to Obama’s visit for weeks now, showing footage all morning before his arrival (including the communications room they set up for the US journalists).

SHAME on you, White house press corps!  What a poorly mannered, arrogant representation you made of yourselves and the United States today.  You took zero interest in El Salvador and instead used this forum to limelight yourselves with ‘pointed questions’ to the Prez.  Do you do that in every country you visit?


On a positive note, the two Presidents were in agreement on issues; both touched upon how economic development must come from within El Salvador.  Obama mentioned young people should not just look to migrating to the U.S. or working in illegal business (gangs) as way to support themselves.  Funes echoed these sentiments, stating El Salvador cannot just depend on money from “afuera” (outside the country).

In regards to Narco traffic, Funes echoed what other Latin American leaders have often said:  that “demand” for drugs must also be reduced [read: United States consumption].  He mentioned the whopping dollar amount America is investing to do this:  “10 thousand million” (as translated directly from Spanish), which is $10 billion American dollars [to fund the continually failing War on Drugs].

The best news was the commitment by Obama to invest $200 million towards fighting narcos and organized crime in Central America (4 countries total).   To give you an idea of what that means down here, this is over 16% of the 2011 Salvadoran national budget (1.2 billion dollars /  “mil 200 millones de dólares” ).

* To the best of my knowledge, this is what the entourage of reporters who travel with Obama for foreign press conferences are called.  Please correct me if I am wrong.

looking back: “My very first Iguana egg”   Leave a comment

please see post from March 10 last year:   My very first Iguana egg!

>> about back-dated posts

Francisco does NOT have a cold   6 comments

On my way back from buying vegetables today I ran into Francisco, a young man who lives in our neighborhood.  I asked did he have a cold, as he looked like many of us have in the past few weeks with “la gripe”.   No, he said, actually…my mother was killed this morning.   I was stupefied.   I could do nothing but hug him for consolation.   His mother does not live in our neighborhood, but in Rosario de Mora, a neighborhood 20-30 minutes down the road which is infested with gang violence.  We saw a short piece on the news about it on the news today:  a woman, 40 years of age was stabbed to death approximately 6:00am.  The national civil police (PCN) say a gang member from”MS” entered her home and attacked her.  They say it may be due to “rencillas personales” – a personal quarrel.   A friend in the neighborhood and I are going to the wake (“vela”) tonight to pay our respects.

This appears to be the news link, if I have the correct woman.

Song of the Cicada (Chicharra, Cigarra – El Salvador)   2 comments

Cicadas* are singing in Los Planes de Renderos.  Depending in which ‘microclimate’ you live, you can hear these or other ‘singing bugs’ certain times of the year.   They were singing when we returned from Chalatenango a few days ago, and have continued their evening and morning song since.

Photo by Claudia Zelayandia on Flickr.

* commonly called “Chicharra” or “Cigarra” in El Salvador

Poor little Tacuazin   1 comment

For months now I’ve heard the name “Tacuazin” (tah-kwah-seen) mentioned plenty of times, but never saw one.  I figured it was a weasel from the way it was described, but alas, it’s simply an opossum.  And apparently, El Salvador is full of so many they are considered a pest or a nuisance, much like raccoons back home.

Photo by Rafael Menjivar Ochoa

I alerted my husband and ran back to the kitchen with him.  Here, he says, and hands me the “Corba,” a type of machete.  My face turned into a question mark.   I found the little guy behind the fridge and tried to “shush” him out the kitchen, while my husband yelled from behind “kill him!” in Spanish.  “Nooooo!”  I replied.  The tacuazin started making its way out of the kitchen, but not fast enough.  My husband grabbed the broom and I screamed “Don’t kill him!”   BAM!   I let out a yelp and dashed to other side of the patio.

I’ll never forget the look of agony on the poor little guy’s face; his mouth wide open in a silent scream, and he was looking right at me.   Oh gawd!   He looked something like this before the matanza (massacre), only much smaller:

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