Archive for April 2011

Large Spider – Tarantula’s cousin? ( El Salvador )   8 comments

This not-so-little friend was walking along the wall of the back patio one night, not long after I had first moved to El Salvador.  I called out to my husband, who immediately grabbed the broom.  In a dramatic moment, I saved Spidey’s life: “Run, Spider, Run!” I yelled.  He escaped just before the broom slammed the wall, and my husband cursed me.  My in-laws insisted this spider was dangerous; they said though it doesn’t have a venomous bite, the web it weaves can poison animals that walk into it, like horses and cattle.  I scoured the internet everywhere to identify ‘poisonous webs’ or ‘venomous webs’ but could not find a thing.  Old Salvadoran wives tale, I say.

Date spotted:  November 2, 2009.  Species:  unknown.  Visit the Wonderful World of Insects in El Salvador Photo Gallery.   UPDATE:  according to one of our readers, this is known locally as a “horse spider.”  It appears to be a type of tarantula.

Hairy like a Tarantula, but not quite

Look how big this spider is

This spider is as big as hand!

What in Tarnation? (strange insects in El Salvador) – Dobsonfly!   2 comments

Just one more discovery in the world of strange insects in El Salvador.  It was resting on the wall of our bedroom and apparently had died a quiet death.  Since it was so darn big, I decided to document it with my niece Carmen, taking out the tape measure to illustrate.  Nearly 3 inches long without antennae.    Date spotted:  January 13, 2010.  Species:  unknown.   Visit the Wonderful World of Insects in El Salvador Photo Gallery.

Update:  It’s a Dobsonfly.  Special thanks to Kathy Mahler for her comment informing us who this insect is.  Based on photos, he appears to be a male.  And we were living near a river at that time, natural habitat for him.

strange insects in El Salvador 1 strange insects in El Salvador 2

Multi Horned Spiders – El Salvador   3 comments

Two multi-horned spiders, red and white.   Seen in Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador, October 9, 2010.  Looks like “Spinybacked Orbweaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis)”  per photos on

See more at the Wonderful World of Insects in El Salvador Photo Gallery.

( CLICK to enlarge )

Butterfly – Orange and Big   Leave a comment

Large orange and brown butterfly with white spot on each wing.   Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador, September 24, 2010.

See more at the Wonderful World of Insects in El Salvador Photo Gallery.

large orange and brown butterfly with white spot on each wing

Walking Stick ( of Phasmatodea or Phasmida family )   Leave a comment

It all started on the patio in September 2010 during rainy season,  Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador.    My friend was visiting when I noticed something on the floor.

“Gee what is that?” I said to her.  “Wow, es un gran animal!” she said (it’s a big ‘animal’).    Holey Toledo, he IS big!   Look at the size of this guy.  That paper is over 6″ wide, so I estimate this walking stick insect is about 5 inches long, not including antennae.

walking stick, about 5 inches long. walking stick insect el salvador

An internet search yielded many photos resembling this walking stick in numerous geographical locations, from smaller versions in the continental U.S. to ones 6-8″ long in Puerto Rico, and sticks in Peru and Madagascar.    They belong to a family of insects called Phasmids, known for camouflage capabilities. This is the 3rd major insect I have seen with camouflage capabilities in El Salvador, the other two are a leaf-backed grasshopper called an “Esperanza” in Spanish, and a leaf-backed Praying Mantis.   Fascinating stuff.

Holy Week carpets in El Salvador / Alfombras de Semana Santa en el Salvador   5 comments

Can you say COOL?

The carpets / alfombras of Semana Santa (Holy Week) seen in El Salvador and Latin America are a wonderful creative expression of spirituality.   The carpets are made of pigment colored salt or sawdust and are  ‘painted’ by teams of people who start working on them as early as midnight on Good Friday.   The photos speak for themselves.  Photos below were taken the morning of Good Friday in Los Planes de Renderos, San Salvador, El Salvador.  Unlike other places, where the carpets get wiped away by the religious processions of Good Friday (Viernes Santo), these are marked off with cones or tape and people walk around instead of on them, so they last through both the morning and evening processions, on display for at least 12 hours.

>> CLICK on any picture to enlarge <<

A picture of Christ – all in Salt!

The craftsman checks his work

Texture and dimension
…see the detail in Christ’s hand

Largest alfombra we saw

LEFT detail.

MIDDLE detail

Detail, RIGHT

The carpet quotes Luke 9:35   In Spanish:
Camino, Neocatecumenal….”Este es mi hijo, el [mi] elegido, escuchadle” La transfiguracion Lucas 9, 35


My favorite alfombra,
depicting Jesus and Romero

Romero is a modern day Jesus
for the Salvadoran people.

I love the detail, colors,
and cursive writing



It all starts with a drawing

And patience

Careful craftsmanship

Tinted hands

Close up look at the salt

Not all are religious pictures.

As I wrote this I realized boy did we get lucky.  A few sprinkles fell from the sky mid-day on Good Friday, but stopped, sparing the artwork so painstakingly created.  Saturday, just a day later – the sky belched out a POURING rain for two or more hours in the afternoon.

A couple links to other sites showing Good Friday carpets here:

Carpets in Antigua, by Shannon O’Donnell.

Carpets in El Salvador from 2008, by Hunnapuh.

History of Holy Week carpets – three theories.

Procession of the Way of the Cross / Procesión del Víacrucis (Vía Crucis)   Leave a comment

Nuns walk towards where procession will start, 9:30am

Here are photos of a few stations for the Way of the Cross processions on Good Friday in Los Planes de Renderos, San Salvador, El Salvador.  A morning procession took place, and in the evening, an even larger, more attended procession happened from 7:00pm – 10:00pm local time.

Click any photo to enlarge it.

This Viacrucis station was my favorite. Gorgeous colors and flowers

detail of viacrucis to the left

It was lovely how they sprinkled flowers in front of this viacrucis station.

Nice natural detail for this viacrucis with heliconia flowers and sawdust in front

more detail of viacrucis on the left

Information on the Stations of, or the Way of the Cross below (known in Spanish as the “Viacrucis” or “Estaciones de la Cruz” and also “Vía Dolorosa”)

Way of the cross – English.

Viacrucis (o Vía crucis) – Espanol

Here are videos of the processions as they took place in Los Planes de Renderos for 2010 and 2011.  Visit the 2010 one first, it’s more authentic with no music overlay, you can hear the people praying and chanting (and even Cicadas in the background!)  2011 is available also.  Both were shot by jucabuher (YouTube user name).

Thank you, Mr. Greenspan   Leave a comment

A breath of fresh reason amidst the sweltering greed.   Thank you, Mr. Greenspan, for your words on Meet the Press, April 17, 2011.

No Water, No Lights   Leave a 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.

The workman explained that 3 years ago (somewhere in 2008) when he started working on the house, none of the houses below had electricity, which is a bit exaggerated.   The entire street was missing streetlights, and my neighbor below explained this past weekend that yes they have had electricity for some time, but that without street lights it was dangerous and he often walked with a knife to defend himself against the occasional ‘ambush mugging’ one could encounter here in the dark.

It is true that the house directly below us, owned by the woman asking for water, did not have electricity.  We know this because they snuck in and “stole” electricity, connecting a line directly to the breaker box which runs the pump for the reserve water tank next to the house, which initiated the dispute with them.  It is inconceivable for most Americans to build a home without electricity already connected, but here in El Salvador it happens enough; electricity and water may be set up some time afterwards when economics allow for it.

It is quite common for multiple houses on the same property to share the same electric meter.

Saintweek Begins! Semana Santa Empieza en El Salvador !   Leave a comment

Festivities for Semana Santa in El Salvador (Holy/Saint week) began yesterday morning, and it was lovely.   Friday marked the start with Viernes de Dolores,  “Friday of Sorrows” or night of the altars*. has a page from Spain naming each day and calendar date.

Photo by CAMARO27, in post "Primer Viernes de Cuaresma" Feb 2010

I was at church without leaving the house.   I’ll explain:  in front of our house is an Evangelical church with large parochial school.  They were singing along starting with morning classes.   A church on the other side of the ravine, behind our house, was singing folk gospel songs all day and into the night, well past 10:00pm.

It was so wonderful to to hear such happy music emanating everywhere.

* People throughout El Salvador set up altars everywhere in devotion for the Vía Crucis – Way of the Cross, when Jesus walked to his crucifixion (National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi gives an explanation).  My mother-in-law set up a “Vía Cruz,” as they call it here, decorated with flowers and ornaments in front of her house.

Stay tuned for more posts…

Stop Crying about Gas Prices – it’s $4.50 here   2 comments

According to Doug Short at the Wall Street Cheat sheet on April 12, 2011,

Gas Prices Spring Higher Toward $4 Per Gallon in April

Gas has been over $4 a gallon for at least 3 weeks in El Salvador.  We filled up at 4.19 a couple weeks ago, then it rose to 4.22…and 4.25…. and yesterday my husband put $20 of gas in at 4.35 a gallon.  Next week is “Semana Santa”  (Holy Week), so no matter what the price per barrel, gas will jack up like it does in the U.S. during summer travel weeks.  According to an April 11, 2011 article on the price of combustibles at,

A gallon in central & western areas will be $4.45 and in the East will cost $4.49.

Gas prices over $4 a gallon are painful but still “manageable” on an American salary in comparison to here, when you note that:    the average person in El Salvador makes between 1/8 and 1/4 what American makes for the same job.

So STOP CRYING already and be happy you’re not paying more!!

Mind you, g

The Day the Music Died   2 comments

It occurred to me a couple days ago, when I was suddenly aware of dead silence.  Ah, that’s what it is, I thought – the Cicadas have stopped singing.  Initially only morning and later afternoon, but as time went on they sang all day long, deafening at times.

They sing throughout El Salvador for about 6 weeks, wane out, and if any are left by rainy season, the soggy stamps them out.

A peculiar experience during Cicada season happens when you drive past an area where many are singing.  Something to do with the speed or movement of the car alters their sound so from inside the car it sounds like airplanes landing.

He may be Poor, but…he’s got the coolest birds and plants around   6 comments

sabas humble home of corrugated metalMy neighbor Sabas may be poor, but he’s got the coolest flower and fauna around.

Here are his digs, a humble house of corrugated metal.  He sells firewood for a living, a scarce commodity in this area.   But don’t feel sorry for him – he doesn’t want your sympathy.   He’s happy have his good health to collect firewood, and he is OLD!   (Seventy-something.  A lot of very old people are seen working throughout El Salvador, but the good news is they’re in much better health than Westerners their age).

Most afternoons you’ll see Sabas stroll down main street with a caretilla (cart) filled with the day’s wood findings, while gleeful upper-class Salvadoran tourists skip along the other side, deciding which bar to thrown down a couple of beers at and enjoy the view on the “Mirador” side of the mountain*.

palm seed pods

Thanks to Hermano Juancito I was able to find this plant’s name: heliconia rostrata.   For amateur botanists, check out National Botanical Tropical Garden.

Does it get any better than this?   A Torogoz, the national bird of El Salvador, hangs out in his backyard every day.

Photo by Ruben Quinonez. Visit

* El Mirador is one of two major tourist stops in Los Planes de Renderos (San Salvador), El Salvador.  This viewpoint is GORGEOUS both day and night.

The other hot spot is the Puerta del Diablo (Devil’s Gate) on the other side of the mountaintop, also with fantastic views.  The area is popular with young couples for ‘romantic jaunts’ but also with families on weekends, who like to enjoy the cooler climate, drink Atol de Elote (sweet corn drink), and eat Riguas and Tortas (pancake-like treats made out of cornmeal).

How to Power a 220V Tool without an Outlet   2 comments

We see new things every day in El Salvador.   Today’s lesson was on how to connect powerful 220v (volt) tools without using an outlet!    This “How To” is for HUMOR ONLY so please DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!!!

A welding/soldering team came by and cut a piece out of the large metal garage door (“puerton”).  They fashioned a smaller door out of it, and needed power to weld it into the main door.   Our house isn’t outfitted with a 220v outlet, but even if it were they would not have used it.   The “jefe” asked ‘Where is the electrical box?’    When he took the entire FACE off the box, I began unplugging things in the house, quickly.

Here is the pictorial:

Connect 220v tool without an electric outlet - welding machine

1. Bring machine to job

Extra Long cord for welding machine

2. Have extra long cord attached

3. Remove face of electric panel

How to connect 220v power tool to live electric panel

4. Connect exposed part of each metal wire to one of the two openings available in the live electric panel

This is all tongue-in-cheek here folks, so again, DO NOT try this at home!     Oh, one more tricky detail – there is NO main cut-off switch in or to the service box – all wire connects/disconnects happened l-i-v-e.

Apparently this practice is common for welders throughout El Salvador. The gentleman who worked on the Puerton (large gate/door) at my in-laws house in Chalatenango did an interesting variation: he scaled the utility pole and connected wires from his welding machine directly to the live wires on it!

Life is exciting in very odd ways here. These crazy risk-taking welders are up there with extreme skiers in my book.

How to Use a Washing Sink (“Pila”)   20 comments

This article explains How to use a Washing Sink, or “Pila”, as its called in El Salvador.

First, familiarize yourself with the Pila. All Pilas have a “tub” area to hold water, and one or more “washing” areas/slabs.


Pila, El Salvador


Fill the tub with water, when water is running*.  Be sure the faucet is in the OFF position if you turned it when water wasn’t running, or it will spill over when it comes back on (happened to us already).  I’ll share a phrase my friend in maintenance at the Omni Hotel in Charleston, SC taught me over 20 years ago:  “righty-tighty, lefty loosy”.   Thanks, Jim, still use it today!

Have soap and a guacal ready.

SOAP for washing clothes is sold in short, fat cylinders at the Super in packages of 3.

Max Poder or "Max Power"

My preferred washing soap. We like anything with the word "Indio" here.

GUACAL**: a shallow plastic bucket




guacal - shallow bucket



Now for the washing part: Wet your item, lay it on the slab of the Pila, and roll on the soap.  Use the item to wash itself.   Hold the part closest to you on the pila, with one hand, palm down.  Grab the far end with your other hand.  Bring it to the near end, and rub it against itself, in “away” motions so not to get suds all over yourself.   Don’t by stingy with the soap:  if you don’t have enough, more friction makes it harder to wash and wears it out faster.  For large items like bath towels, I do it in reverse – hold the far end and pull ‘toward’ me for greater arm force to move a heavy, wet cloth.

Pila-Blanket-NoWayBlankets and sheets? Forget the Pila!

Some Salvadoran woman may pride themselves in their ability to wash a blanket on a tiny cement slab, but I’m not that crazy.   Tried it once, pieces of blanket were dangling off the pila, landing on the ground, so tried bunching it up but parts would fall out again, and into the pila’s tub.  Damn thing was more dirty after I washed it than before I started.

Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Mr. Large Bucket.

Throw some “Rinso” in water and mix.  Let ’em set 30 minutes or so, do some “human agitate” like a washing machine, and presto!  Freshly washed bedding.

Works for me.




Wring where needed, and hang. ClothesDrying-clothes-Back-of-Refrigerator drip dry fast in most of the country, heck there’s nothing but sun here.  Except…last year in the rainy season, we were “Living in the Rain forest,” as there was exceptional rainfall between August and September of 2010.   Took 3 days to dry clothes (I got good at wringing).   Sweatshirts – took so long they smelled like sweaty socks, never really dried.  A friend showed me the “hang it on the back of the fridge” trick, it helped tons.

Hangers: People on the mountain put everything on hangers as it rains throughout the day during soppy season.  At the first sign of a sprinkle, one dashes out, grabs all the hangers in one fell swoop and brings them in under cover.  Rain stops, hangers out again.  Repeat.

Dry items ‘reverse’ and Don’t leave ’em out too long. The sun is STRONG here, so if you forget to reverse your nice new green shirt and take off for the afternoon….you’ll find a nice lime green shirt when you get back.

Laundromats? I know of no coin-op laundries in El Salvador.  May be for many reasons:  tradition + economics tied to hand-washing, issues with a city’s plumbing infrastructure, and safety issues (most people are in by 7pm to avoid dangerous encounters – that’s prime laundry time).  Fortunately, there is no shortage of women offering laundry services for the working woman too busy to hand wash.

Benefits of Hand Washing Clothes:

1)  Avoids premature “dingy-ing” of clothes (no “grey soup” in the washing machine from pieces whose colors run)

2)  No more wings!   You know:  the under-the-arm flesh that  jiggle when you wiggle?  Hand wash for a few months and see them disappear!!

3) Saves on electricity.    4) Free Exercise  ( see #2 )

* In many areas of El Salvador, the water does not “run” with constant water pressure 24×7.  Salvadorans have adapted well; they fill their pila and one-two barrels of water to have enough when it is not running.   In some places, like where my in-laws live, there is a specific time window when the water “runs” so homes can fill their drums.  Even the well-to-do live with water interruptions.  They have a large “tank” called a “Cisterna” – seen in urban and suburban El Salvador (a large cement tank to store water, located on their property), or a black hard plastic water tank.

** a Guacal (alt. spelling: huacal) is the word used for a shallow bucket.  Ranging from the size of a small bowl to a large 2 foot diameter basket-size. Guacales are used to pour and store, all over the house and market. Used in washing, cooking, and transporting items like ground corn meal (masa). Women throughout El Salvador (and Central America) carry items in guacales on their head; the shallow shape lends itself well to balancing on the head.

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