Archive for February 2012

Toasted Maize Coffee / Café de Maize Tostado – Café de Palo – Café Pusungo   10 comments

Here is a treat I got to see  recently – someone grinding Salvadoran-style “coffee” made of toasted maize, also called “cafe de palo,” or as my mother in law terms it, “cafe pusungo”.    Our neighbors in Chalatenango, Lupita and her brother Cristian, came by my mother-in-law’s house to borrow her “molino” or grinder, to finish making a batch.  Lupita says her mother likes to drink it because “no le hace dano” (it isn’t bad for her health).

She had a bucket full of toasted maize kernels, blackened on the comal/griddle, and was grinding away.  Her arm was getting tired, so Cristian jumped in and started winding the grinder like it was a kid’s toy – he did it like a pro.  Take a look at the results:   doesn’t it look like coffee?   I had to sample it, of course  – didn’t taste much like coffee, or anything I’d want to drink, but then, coffee is an acquired taste.

Café de maize tostado is a traditional drink in El Salvador, and other parts of Latin America.   It was consumed much more in the ‘old days’, but as we see by this example, still consumed by some to this day.   Looking into the history of this beverage, I cannot yet determine if it was a traditional indigenous drink before the America’s were colonized or not, but it has been an economic surrogate for coffee.   According to this 2001 article in the Diario de Hoy (translation, with original text, following),

“At one time, don Lito, the price of coffee was so high, that the poor, not having the resources to drink good coffee, would instead drink coffee of toasted maize, which they sometimes mixed with avocado seed and coffee casings [the shells containing the grains] to give it some flavor.   Nowadays, 100 pounds of maize is worth more than 100 pounds of coffee, even though it only takes four months to produce that 100 pounds of maize, and four years for the same amount of coffee!”

“-En un tiempo, don Lito, el precio del café era tan alto, que los pobres, para variar, no tenían capacidad de tomar buen café y tomaban café de maíz tostado, que a veces lo revolvían con semilla de aguacate y algunas cascaritas de café cereza, para darle sabor. Ahora, un quintal de maíz en plaza vale más que un quintal de café, aunque para producir un quintal de maíz sólo se tarda cuatro meses, igualito que el café, sólo que ¡cuatro años! ”  – link to article by Lito Moltalvo, in Diario de Hoy

Another bird experience in El Salvador / Otra experiencia de parajos   2 comments

Another once-in-a-lifetime [bird] experience.  Only in El Salvador (or someplace tropical).   This one was great, it happened early last week.  I was leaving the office, a bit later than normal, and decided to wait a few minutes more for our security guard, Virgilio, to finish his shift at 6pm, and give him a ride.  While I waited for him to put on his “civvies”, I had a few minutes to notice our environment – the sun was almost setting, and the birds chirping like crazy – “deciding where they’re going to sleep tonight” is what another security guard in the neighborhood said as he was walking past.  “So that’s what all the chatter is about,”  I said.

Rose-Ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri) Richmond Park, UK, naturalised population from cage birds that escaped into the wild. Photo by DAVID KJAER


I looked up to see where all the chirping was coming from, and wouldn’t you know it?  Right there in the tree in front of our office – a house in a fairly urban neighborhood off Boulevard [Bulevar] Los Proceres – was a group of 6 PARAKEETS.  All hanging out, getting ready for nighttime to come, before sunset.

WHERE in the WORLD do you get to see a group of 6 PARAKEETS, sitting in a TREE IN FRONT OF YOUR OFFICE?   People can say all they want about “El Salvador dangerous this“, and “Are you sure you want to live there, that“, but this BEATS THE PANTS off most of your office experiences, wouldn’t you say?

It’s bird time   6 comments

Yellow Oriole

Every day, in the hour before the sun sets, it turns into “bird time” in our yard in El Salvador.  At times I feel as though we are inside of a bird sanctuary.  We are blessed with a nice backyard, and wrap-around patio to boot, so have a good panorama of Salvadoran nature-side.  As I write a flurry of activity is taking place, from the Yellow-Backed Oriole, who don’t sit still long enough for me to shoot him, to the clarineras (sp?), making their various noises, along with some small yellow-green birds about half the size of your hand, jumping around, and Salvadoran style pigeons/palomas (they are much smaller than the big fat guys on city streets up north), flitting from tree to tree.

hard to get a shot of this guy

The elusive Torogoz even got into the action, gracefully flying to a perch very near our patio,  flying away again in time for me NOT to get a good picture of him.

Speaking of birds, on one of my last visits to Chalatenango, while walking around the neighborhood, a pack of loud, almost obnoxious birds were flying and singing in a high pitch above me, and as I looked up, I saw a pack of (wild) parakeets, a good 5 or 6, swoon over me and land high up in a tree just 15 feet ahead of me, where they continued their discussion, screeching and chirping along.  My husband and guys in the neighborhood know how to find their nests and snatch them when they are young, before they grow feathers, and then they become household pets.

The same day I saw the parakeets, at my suegro’s (in laws) house, someone pointed out an exotic looking bird high up in a tree across the street.  After a short moment, we realized they were Toucans!

They were of the more simple colored variety, black and white with an orange beak.   My suegra (mother in law) said this is very unusual in “these modern days” to see them where they live.  They were very high up in the trees, and we saw at least 2 of them darting around, if not 3.   As I finish writing this, the sun is almost setting, and the symphony of chirping has quieted down to an occasional chirp or peep.  The excited activity lasts for maybe 45 minutes, like a “Happy Hour” for the birds, and then its time to find a perch or return to the nest for the night.  Good Night, all.

Sunuvabiiches – they ARE price fixing! ( Cell phone mafia in El Salvador)   6 comments

Tops on my list of things I will NOT miss when I leave El Salvador:   the cell phone mafia (white collar mareros* of El Salvador).   Phone saldo (credit) runs out faster than you can blink.  I suspected price fixing, jokingly, but thanks to my Google search for ‘noticias’ on Digicel, I found out some companies were BUSTED and FINED for it just three weeks ago!    A cell phone experience this past Saturday illustrates how this happens:

Did a saldo (phone credit) check. Had $3.67 credit.  Then made two phone calls:
1) 6 min 56 seconds to my husband
2) An 8 minute, 16 second call to a friend a couple hours later.
– – A total of 7 minutes and 12 seconds of talk time —

Saldo check after call two:  I had 78 cents. That’s about 19 cents a minute.

Sure, I could get a plan, for as cheap as $10 a month, and they go from there.  I went to their web pages, and see per minute tariffs you pay above your monthly rate, but don’t find plans where TALK time is included with a monthly fee.   I can get anywhere from 2-5 “favorite numbers”, and up to 150 free text messages.

I’ve asked people here, and no one seems to know about cell phone plans with voice minutes included.  Everyone says they don’t bother with a plan (unless their job pays for it), they all buy “Saldo” which is pay as you go credit.  Here is a web page from the Claro website, which has a plan for $15 a month, where calls to other Claro customers are .08 a minute, and calls to non-Claro, .14 a minute.   The per minute rate drops to .07 for $20 a month, .06 for $40 a month, and its only (only, ha ha!) .05 a minute if you pay $75 a month for the “plan”.  For all plans, out of network calls are ALWAYS .14 a minute.  You call that a plan?  I call it a sham, stan!  People who make $700-$1000 have a “good” job here.  Would you sign up for one of these cell plans if you made that a month?

But there is some justice, after all.  Proof that a number of them were price fixing, and some were fined for it, based on a January 22 article.  My provider, Tigo, is not in this list, but I bet they collude with the others – the $500 in taxes they paid last year is indicative of their  standards.

Article, in Spanish, on La Pagina, about the ruling.    Translation:

Million Dollar fine imposed for agreeing to fix telephone rates.

The Board of Directors of the Superintendent of Competition (SC) fined Telemovil, Telefonica, Digicel, and Intelfon for violating the competition Act by agreeing to set a fee, despite knowing the law prohibits such agreements.

The Superintendent of Competition, through its board, sanctioned the Telemovil, Telefonica, Digicel and Intelfon phone companies, for violation of the Competition Ac

Digicel and Intelfón received an economic sanction for a total of US$ 1, 215,497.94, after having agreed to fix the rate of $.21 plus VAT per minute for a call originating on a land line and terminating on their mobile networks.

Specifically, the phone companies violated Article 25 of the Law of Competition, which prohibits agreements between competitors.  The article literally says that “anticompetitive practices made between competitors are prohibited, which, among them, adopt the following forms:  a) Establishing agreements to fix prices o other conditions of purchase or sale under whatever form,” describes the Superintendent of Competition.

In this way each company is fined: $ 658,050.00 for Telemovil; Telefónica $260,672.03, $233,909.76 for Intelfon, and Digicel $ 62,866.15.

The fines differentiated based on criteria of reasonableness and proportionality considered by the SC, which, in addition to the criteria in Article 37 of the law, took into account the economic capacity of the companies being sanctioned.

* marero – a local name for a gang member, a member of a ‘mara’.  The ‘ero’ ending is used to denote a person who does or is associated with something.    Pelo is hair.  A peluquero (you have to change the c to a q for it to sound correctly) is a barber/stylist.  Here’s a fun one:   Mujer is a woman.  And a mujerero is a “womanizer.”

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