Archive for April 2012

My Husband Knows me Well   Leave a comment

Before coming back to Los Planes de Renderos from the hills of Chalatenango, my husband purchased some pork meat.  A woman in the neighborhood, Nuria’s mother, decided to sell the meat herself rather than sell the whole pig to someone else, as she’d make more money.  Jesus told me he purchased 100 pounds of “pellejo,” pork skin, and says he wants to bring half of it  with us to the states when we return (eewww, I thought to myself) – but it would be dried of course.  He also bought some ribs, and a bit of lomo de cerdo, or pork loin.  His mother made a recipe the other day and he’d hoped I could replicate it.  She had marinated the lomo de cerdo in pineapple vinegar overnight, then pan fried it and placed it in a tomato-based sauce.  Totally unconventional for this cut of meat, I know, since most people try to preserve its natural tenderness by oven-roasting it.  Well, no ovens in either of our households, so stove-top cooking it is!    Anyway, to get back to my story.  While he went to go watch television I decided to put the meat in the marinade.  About an hour later, my husband went into the kitchen and checked it out.  Ok, the kitchen retard strikes again.  He says to me “Me siento Verguenza” (I feel ashamed/embarrassed).  And proceeded to take the meat out of the bag I had placed it in to marinate.  Indeed,  the Kitchen Retard had struck again.  “Ni pusiste especies, nada,” he says to me (you didn’t put any spices in there or anything), and “Come iba marinar asi – no cortaste la carne,” (how was it going to marinate like this – you didnt cut it up).  “Y seguro usaste la bolsa como guante para no tocar the carne,” he says (and I’ll bet you used the bag like a glove so you wouldnt have to touch the meat).   Yeah, he’s right!    Looking at the meat scene, I could clearly see the err in my ways.  Really, what had I been thinking after all?   How would the meat marinate, exactly, as one large clump with a couple of small pieces?   And he knows me well – I DID use the plastic bag as a glove – I’m a pro at cutting chicken up now, but there are moments where I cannot stand touching raw meat, so I felt so clever using the bag as a glove last night. The meat is happily marinating itself in the fridge now, and we’ll see how the dish turns out.

Eventful day – ATM card awol, road crew sequester, & the ZOO!   7 comments

It was Saturday morning, about 45 minutes before I was to be at the zoo.   Let me make sure I have money, before I go, I said to myself.   Checking wallet.  Money? Yes, check.   Debit card?   Hmmm.. last time I used it was ok, about a week ago and….Holy Crap where is that GD card?    300 left in cash and a about the same in an account here in E.S.  But half that’s to buy materials for finishing the roof, required now that it’s rainy season.  Continue searching, with more urgency and shortness of breath, because banks in the U.S. – at least mine – will NOT send an emergency replacement ATM card to a foreign country – found out all about this before moving here.   They send it to your current U.S. address, where [hopefully] a family member or dearest and most trusted friend will send the new one  to you in your foreign outpost.  In a concealed way like inside of a book, so no one in the mail system is ‘tempted’ to use it for you.  (Though I will say we’ve never had anything stolen from us in the mail here).

Then I remembered my “emergency ATM card trick”.  Before moving, I set up a 2nd checking account and put my mom’s name on it, god-forbid something were to happen.   The bank had sent an ATM card, so I stuck it in an envelope with a pile of official papers I brought with me, and ran into it a few weeks back while pulling out tax papers with my husband – “Oh look at that, it’s my emergency ATM card,” I said, “huh, I’d almost forgotten about that.”  So there I was this past Saturday, pulling out large manila envelopes, and dumping their contents in search of that “easter egg” of economic independence.    Later on, of course, I remembered I could wire money from there to here *, but its funny how one’s mind forgets about alternate solutions when the one you’re working on is stuck.

Found it!   Yes, thank gawd I’m a contingency planner.   Now to answer the question you may be asking:   Could I have relied solely on a Salvadoran income while here?   Yes, but life would have been very different.  I wouldn’t have worked helping Salvadorans at Habitat for Humanity, but in my field instead to help “myself.”   Glad I put together savings before coming here, because this extended visit was about family – my husband’s, and our attempts at making one, and experiencing El Salvador.   The weather and nature have been glorious here, but employment for my husband in construction, not as cheery as we expected – a crisis up North means a crisis here, too.  So, I give a big hat’s off to people who make it in El Salvador, especially those without good connections or a family who could afford to educate them past 9th grade when they grew up, because it’s not easy.

With the panic cleared up, I was rolling out the door, already late.   I make it all the way up the newly cement paved street they’ve been working on over a month now, and as my car reached the crest of the hill, I saw the infamous “tree branches in the road” to indicate an issue on the roadway.  Put the car in idle and walk up. 

There’s several men standing around a cement machine.  Half the road has already been paved, but the cement roller is perched on the completed, dried half anyway, so that both the done and about to be done sides are both un-drivable.

I start inquiring and discussing with the workmen what’s up with the road blockage, and can’t I get through before they pour.  “Oh, no hay PASO,” one says (there’s no way through).  Another one says “Isn’t there another exit [to the neighborhood]?”.   “No,” I say, “this is the only exit – didn’t anyone explain this to you?”   “No, the engineers didn’t.”  “Great,  &!% [Spanish expletive] engineers with their white shirts and always making more $ than everyone else,” I said.

They really have done a good job. This road was a mess before.

Looking at the road, I thought to myself, well this is DUMB.  Half the road is already paved and dry so why cant they arrange the equipment to let pp pass on the dry side while they work on the wet one (like they did in my in-laws neighborhood)? I dont say this, but keep insisting there’s no other entrance, and I HAVE to leave, and they HAVE to let me out now, especially since they didn’t pour yet.  Some pp ‘hear’ me and others ignore me, so I catch the attention of a couple of them and say “OK I’m gonna drive through, so make way for me.”

Meanwhile another person has driven up, on the other road that meets at this same corner and only exit out, and is beeping.  “See, like I said, I’m not the only one who has to leave.”   So, I managed to get through.  But ONLY because I was using “American Pushiness”.   The people who work the corner fruit stand were watching the drama, probably thinking I was being insistent, by the looks on their faces, because the typical Salvadoran (and I am NOT kidding) response to this would be, “Shucks, that’s the way it is, guess I’ll go back home and wait for the cement to dry.”

Before making it to the zoo, I had to stop, and document this for the Americans back home.  Yes, I am one to stop and smell the roses, even if I’m ALREADY late, but this was worth it.   I asked Mom today how much gas is there now.  It’s $4.00 a gallon in South Florida.  So this should put things into perspective.   I was planning to get a cold drink at the Puma gas station anyway.  Then I see, what the heck, long lines of cars all the way into the street, lining up at the gas pumps.   There’s  a guy waving a flag on the grass directly beneath the price display, and they even have an MC making announcements, and, well it wouldn’t be El Salvador or Latin America without this – the sexy and curvaceous girls dancing around next to the MC.  So what’s all the HOOPLA for, right?   Gas has been at $4.65 and $4.60 all week, and “today” (Saturday) until 12:00 noon the Puma gas station was offering – get this – gas at $4.44 a gallon!   Yeah, isn’t that funny.  So I had to take pictures of this, I was laughing.  And thinking ‘Boy I cant WAIT to pay $4.00 a gallon back home again!”

And now we’re off to the zoo – finally!     BTW it’s only a dollar entrance.    I didn’t have to search the park for my friends, as they’d already gone to the parking lot for a fine lunch catered by Jennifer, with yummy sandwiches and macaroni.   I went in with them for their second “round”  which included the newly refurbished aviary.   It’s really nice, check it out if you get a chance.  Lots of loud macaws, various types of parrots in one area, and then as we rounded the corner there were peacocks.  They were great!   Though I have seen them a couple times before, I’ve  never heard their call yet.   The peacock was making a terrific honking sound while he displayed his nearly 7 foot feather span, and it was amazing.   The kids loved it, and us adults also noticed they are speaking in “Spanglish.”   Wow, it doesn’t take long for them to adapt  and incorporate words from both languages into one language in their own minds.   They also really liked it when the crocodile opened its mouth.  Is that to stay cool like a dog does or something?   And we even picked up a friend.  The other Gringas were a little nervous about her, but I figured she wasn’t tough to handle.   Just made sure my purse was always zipped and gave her a quarter later on that she asked for.   We think ‘mom’ works at the zoo gate.  I hope she gets to meet a lot of people while wandering the zoo, it beats being a market kid!    Oh, and we were celebrities while there.  While in the snake alley, a couple young girls approached us and asked if they could ‘interview’ us for a class exercise.  Sure, we said.  Next thing you know Dad’s whippin’ out the camera for his daughter and friend, and hey, we were stars!  Pictures below – please CLICK ON  A PIC to ENLARG-O!

fancy peacock

fancy feathers fanned - a 6 -7 foot span?!

orange parakeet - cool!

the kids loved scarey big mouth

We picked up a hitchhiker. She was OK, though, and only asked for a quarter. I think she liked listening to us talk English, too.

* On wiring money to El Salvador.  Do the paperwork for this well before moving to a foreign country, cuz it may take awhile.  I worked with my bank on this, and after several weeks and delays to authorize the paperwork (Homeland Surveillance), they asked me to do it again as someone screwed up.  It’s a not a last-minute ‘jiffy’ thing, so if you want access to your money get it straight before you leave so a lost ATM card doesn’t leave you relying on someone for a western union transfer.

Habitat, Port St. Lucie, and El Salvador   Leave a comment

I’m delighted to run into this story, as I worked here for Habitat for Humanity, and have family in and around Port St. Lucie, Florida.  Let’s hear it for Amy Whitlach volunteering in the Getsemani community in El Salvador, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and Habitat for Humanity El Salvador!!



Answer to: How do I Reproduce?   Leave a comment

If I had shown you THIS picture, some of you would have gotten it right away.   Funny place to hide a flower, huh?

Another pic of the flower, without flash:

2nd day of Rainy Season in El Salvador, whoopeeee!   1 comment

I don’t know where else it’s raining in El Salvador today, but it’s rained good for the second day in a row, and some of us have been real excited about bringing it on.   Just as we were sick and tired of the sop sop drip wet last year, the constant dry, dry, dry, has been getting old.   Dust layers everything, and the once green hills turn a sad brown.
Though this is a tropical climate, some trees are not evergreen so drop their leaves and go dormant for awhile like in a Northern climate – but usually not as long.  We’re less affected by dry-ness at the higher altitude where we live, but in many areas of El Salvador dry season is like a long, hot “winter” — things drying up or looking dead, lying in wait for the rains to return.

The izotes and mangos could care less there is no water, they fare well during dry season, and shine on.  The ones in this picture here do well also, they hardly need water.  But kiss your impatiens goodbye without daily watering. Our poor lawn was toast.  Now we get to live in a green world again, dotted everywhere with flowers and butterflies and spiders like an impressionist painting.

Bonus Quiz

How do I reproduce?

<< Click Pix at Right for the Answer >>

Taquacines y Gallos / Possums and Roosters   Leave a comment

Last night, for the third night in a row, the possum walked all the way up the stairs, from the lawn 12 feet below, and up onto the patio, to trot right in front and past me just 5 feet away – he knows I was sitting there.  Very brazen of him, I thought.  “Hey, Dude” I said, standing up, so he trotted faster, and ran the length of the patio and into the neighbor’s yard, just like he’d done the two nights prior.  I wonder if he has a little “spot” in the garden where he sleeps every day.

Speaking of animals, one of the Gringa’s who went to the gring-union at the zoo this past weekend has inspired me to come out with it, since she’s going to start a chicken coup, after the landlord says yes:


And the big news of the day was:    It rained, ALL DAY.  From mid-morning till mid-afternoon, and pouring for stretches.  We’ve had some rain here and there, those “occasional rains” they were talking about, but there was no mistaking this.  An all day rain session can mean only one thing around here:  Rainy Season in Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador,  has officially begun.  Hooray!!!   Let the festivities begin.

El Carbonero – en Nahuatl [ El Carbonero of El Salvador, sung in native Nahuatl ]   2 comments

Hi all, a famous song called the Carbonero (the coal deliverer) is usually sung in Spanish, cumbia or folk style.  This one here is sung in Nahuatl, and I thought it would be nice to share with you all.

Para los Paisanos Salvadoreños, aca vean y escuchen un video de la cancion El Carbonero, pero cantado en Nahuatl:

Why its good to have a DOG in El Salvador   Leave a comment

Fer-o-cious doggy. Watch out would-be-thieves, she'll rip the back pocket of your jeans right off!

Ok, so it finally happened.  Something baaad happened to us in our neighborhood.  But fortunately, it was a not-so-bad kinda bad thing.   We got robbed of a few of our possessions, valued at probably $75.  Ok, hubby left the toolbox, drill, and a bucket with tools in plain view, in the garage where everyone can see them through the fence.  So…sometime between Thursday afternoon and Sunday morning, we didn’t notice until today, someone made off with the box, drill, and a couple extension cords.  My husband found “pistas” (evidence) of where they climbed in at the corner of the garage, using pieces of the rebar for footholds and climbed over the barbed wire (if it were razor wire, oh, not sure they would have dared it).  Ok, well, lesson learned.  Husband was very sore about it, but I reminded him that we did invite temptation by leaving those things in plain view, and it could have been a LOT worse.  It was a reminder to count our blessings they didnt make off with the car, or break into the lower part of the house while were were in it, and other blessings, like how we’re not poor and stuck living in El Salvador forever like many people here with no other recourse – where a robbery would be so much more painful, right?    Didn’t quite lift his spirits, but I tried.

Which brings me to my point.  Even though we have just a tiny little chiweeny, if she were here instead of my mother in law’s house, her bark would have scared them off because it’s an instant alarm system.  And that’s why so many people in El Salvador have a dog.  My friend and I are joking right now, imagining this little doggy, ferocious thing, hanging by her teeth off the back of one of the perp’s jeans, while he tries to make off with some of the loot.  And she would do that, too.

Fiestas Patronales – Patron Saint Festivals   Leave a comment

We went to the Fiestas Patronales of Agua Caliente, Chalatenango, El Salvador this past March.  Fiestas Patronales are festivals celebrated in different pueblos salvadoreños in honor of a patron saint.   The Fiestas Patronales remind me of carnival type festivals we had back home called the Field days, with mechanical rides, games, sometimes animals, all mixed in with a lot of drinking around the beer tent.   But there the commonalities stop, and Fiesta Patronales feel like a bigger festival, with their religious orientation, and a crowning of the “Reina,” or Queen, a local teenage girl who  gets crowned pageant style and rides through town in a parade.  Another fun extra part, at least in Agua Caliente, is the rodeo, called a “jaripeo” here, with bull riders, and live entertainers such as singers and dancers.   Here is a link to the schedule of the Fiestas Patronales in El Salvador for 2012, organized by department.

The bull riders are not the most successful, I have to say, and manage to stay on the toro for probably 2 or 3 seconds.  A few years ago, I think 2010, they had a skinny Nicaraguan man as part of the Toro team and he was pretty good – stayed on all of eight seconds almost every time he rode.  We got to the jaripeo a bit later this year so we missed someone who stayed on several seconds.   Below is one of the bull clowns, his name is Juan, and he’s been part of the team every year that I’ve gone – four years now – I was lucky enough to catch the 2009 festival during a visit here.  I think Juan is more talented than a lot of the bull riders, and likes to have fun with the bulls.  << CLICK ON ANY PICTURE IN THIS POST TO ENLARGE >>

Below is  video of part of the jaripeo where young men try to conquer young bulls.

Unusual Surprise
Our visit to the Fiesta Patronal this year had a bit of a surprise.  It started off with a visit to the jaripeo/rodeo.  Then while walking back into town with my niece Carmen, we felt raindrops.  Could this be, on March 18?   Yes, it was, and so we and everyone else around ran for cover under the gazebo in the middle of the town square, all waiting for the rain to stop like a bunch of gallinas (chickens).   Well, that was fun, and when it was done we wandered over to where the rides and food were.  We sat down at the Toro Grande tent to splurge on steak dinners.  They had live entertainment, two men singing Cumbia songs, outfitted with a karaoke machine as their band, with two female dancers accompanying them.  One of them had a skirt so short you could see, and I’m not kidding because I wear daisy dukes myself, pretty much all of her rear-side as she twirled about, which the audience loved.   No sooner did we sit down when we the patter of raindrops began again, and so re-arranged ourselves on the table to avoid the drops on the outside.   Light drops turned into heavy ones, and within 10 minutes upwards of 200 people who had been in the rides and games area were trying to squeeze in under the vinyl for cover.    The rain was now gushing, and streams were starting to fall inside of the tent.  The musicians stopped playing and moved their amps away from the falling wetness.   A pool of water above the seam joining two sheets of vinyl gave, and we looked over to see several people getting doused underneath it in a large waterfall.  One woman was enjoying this waterful experience, and began standing beneath big streams of water, as if showering.  Onlookers stared while she bathed herself gleefully.   She works with the carnival, and seems to be a bit “off”, but hey she was having fun.  We moved earlier to a table further inside the tent to stay dry, but wetness from below was catching up.   The ground, soppy from the earlier rain when we came in, was now full of large puddles, which then grew until they finally formed one large lake, and the water kept on rising as the rain poured down.  People fortunate enough to have chairs raised their legs and lifting their feet to stay dry, and also for safety, as this tent was rigged with various types of lighting, wires strung everywhere. My husband used his plastic dinner fork to measure the water, and it got up to about 5 inches.  On a few occasions the lights went out, then came back on, and I kept thinking of the horrible demise that might occur if the current and water were to meet.   The wait staff continued to serve everyone heroically, a couple of whom were completely soaked.  God bless ’em.   After at least an hour and a half of constant rain, it began to die down.   Some of the crowd bravely left during the rains, a courageous few running for cars to retrieve their sopping  companions, or locals who could, running home.   The rain finally stopped, and the musicians and dancers resumed their act.   A small group of three men took their places in front to get a good view, and one of them was a macho-dressed and transgender lesbian.   There was a dance later that night as there is every year, but we decided to go home and stay dry.

A couple days later, on the news, they mentioned that “Occasional Rains” were taking place here and there.   Jesus and I laughed together.   OCCASIONAL?    Nothing occasional about the rain spilt on us at the Festival!

WHY do they call it Agua Caliente?    That same night, as we were piling into the car to leave, my husband says to me, “Hey, want to know why it’s called Agua Caliente?”   Come on over here, and I’ll show you.  I walked over behind the car.   All right, stick your hands in there, he says, gesturing to a small creek at our feet.  I crouched down and stuck my hands in it.  Yep.  Hot like bathwater.  And mind you, it had just rained for nearly two hours.    There is a hot water source right there where the festival takes place, and my husband said years back the water used to collect into a small pond, but they filled it in and now what they have is this small creek that runs along this dirt-road area.   What a way to NOT capitalize on a possible tourist attraction.  Hello??   But then, Agua Caliente is a long ways away from just about everything, so you’d have to build up a fairly attractive place to get people to come all this way.

Here's the small creek filled with Agua Caliente, or
hot water, where the town gets its name. No volcanos close by, but something is heating
this water.


Another picture of the water, with a bull next
to it. It used to be a big pond, but they filled it in
so they could use the land for other things, and this is what's left of the hot water pond there.


Feliz Semana Santa – Happy Holy Week in El Salvador   Leave a comment

Let the festivities begin!

Some Salvadorans were lucky enough to start their vacation earlier this week, but by Thursday morning most of El Salvador is not working and spending their time between religious festivities and celebrating Semana Santa at the beach, water parks, or relaxing with family and friends.

This week is one of two big “vacation weeks” here in El Salvador, and marks the end of summer, much like how Labor Day weekend does back home, but with serious religious overtones.  Today in downtown San Salvador they had the procession of the  flagellation of Christ.

Thursday at midnight the carpet “weavers” will began making the salt carpets throughout downtown San Salvador, major cities and towns, and even here in Los Planes.  People will walk through morning and evening processions of viascruzes (way of the cross), on Viernes Santo (Good Friday), and continue celebrating over the weekend through Easter.  Happy Easter to all of you freezing your butts up North, we’re having a great time in sunny summer El Salvador, wahoo!

Good News is Bad News for Some…   2 comments

Photo from Click to link out to their site.

Some of you may know this already, but the homicide rate in El Salvador dropped by less than half starting this March.  We went from up to 14 murders a day to around 5, almost overnight.   The drop coincided closely with the movement of 30 gang members from a maximum security prison to minimum security ones with perks like family visits, and included moving key leaders from both the major ‘maras’ (gangs) here – MS 13 and Barrio 18.   El published an article on March 14 claiming this was the result of a negotiation between the gangs and the government, from a gang member they interviewed.  This sparked a whirlwind of controversy and a , howevflurry of media activity, including  a writeup in the NY Times. Meanwhile both the government and the gangs deny any negotiations.  Two groups did quickly take credit for the drop in crime:  the church, saying they were having discussions with gangs at the jails, and the police force, who say due to  “improvements in security”, things have dramatically improved.  Even Funes, in a TV spot I saw twice yesterday is proudly announcing the drop in crime due to their good work.   HA HA HA!   It’s good comic relief.

You can read more about this in Tim’s blog, and I’ll get to my point.  Even good news can be bad news for some, and a grave thing is happening:

Funeral Companies all over El Salvador
are Losing Business!

On the news two days ago, my husband saw them interviewing a member of a funeral business, saying they’ve always had a constant flow of business and now things are suddenly drying up.  My husband was laughing and guffawing, and made me run from the kitchen to see the rest of the news spot.  He thought it would make a good blog entry.  He’s right, and I’ve written it – Thanks, Jesus.   Lemons to make lemonade with have now been halved.  There’s always Guatemala and Honduras, if they want to pack up and move their funeral shop there.

Colorful Safety Guidelines for visiting El Salvador (or moving here)   20 comments

“I’ll just dress like them, and blend in,” I thought to myself.   That was over two and a half  years now, and I do not ‘blend.’   I can live here twenty more years, and I’ll still be a gringa.    Here are some rules of the road that may help you when visiting (or just moved/moving) to El Salvador, similar to what you’ll read in the Lonely Planet or another travel guide, with color added, for your entertainment.

1. Dress HUMBLE.  Even if you are a Salvadoran or Latino by blood, if you’ve been living outside of El Salvador for a long time, here are some appearance guidelines, which basically follow the phrase ‘DO NOT ADVERTISE MONEY’.

  • Leave the gold, fancy watches, and expensive jewelry at home.
    • Example of what not to do.   A girl  at a former job (no, not Habitat), sported a G-OR-geous and large diamond ring.  I had to comment (being “Metida”), ‘Wow, what a nice engagement ring.’  She corrected me: “Oh, it’s a commitment ring, to stay abstinent until I get married,” she said.  Her mother had bought it for her as a birthday gift.  It was a choice between that and a new car.    Theresa (let’s call her that) was a party girl.  Some of us agreed she was probably a bit “spurled” by mummy and daddy – Salvadorans, btw, but she and her brother decided to live here  “on their own” for a year or two * to beef up the C.V with ‘international business’ experience, along with their MBA in the works.  The partying life nearly cost Theresa her job at call centro a couple of times.  Perhaps it caught up with her, because she has since left the call center, and presumably El Salvador.  But the twenty-million dollar question is:  Did she return home with all ten fingers? **
  • Clothing:  Avoid pricey name-brands or logos advertising your foreign-ness.  If they’re name brand, but worn out/older, you’re probably OK, as pp here buy 2nd hand American clothing here all the time (Variedades Genesis  has multiple locations.  There are a few used clothing store near the ‘Mercado Central’ including Genesis ).Pants versus shorts— pants first, then check out the scene for shorts.
    • Men:  some guys wear cargo shorts here.   I don’t see ‘golfing’ style much
    • Ladies:  shorts are worn here, shorter ones get whistles.  Bring calf and ankle length pants.
  • Tennis Shoes / Sneakers
    • Men:  leave expensive Adidas, Nike, and Air Jordan (or latest $150 craze) where they belong:  at home in your closet, thousands of miles away from El Salvador.  Buy a cheapo pair, and replace them with a standard brand that non-ostentatious people wear here after you arrive.  It’s ok to look ‘cool’ at home, but here looking cool means “come steal my wallet.”  Or the very sneakers you are wearing.  People do wear converse style brand and knock-offs here.
    • Ladies:  it is still not common practice to walk around with “exercise/walking” sneakers as a female in El Salvador unless you’re going to the gym, or wearing the “converse” style that are all the rage.  Anything outside of that usually means, “Hey everyone, I’m NOT FROM HERE!!”
    • Example:   At the Fiestas Patronales recently, it appeared a woman at the next table was ‘visiting.’  Looked like a Salvadoran, as she was among them; who else comes to the boonies in Agua Caliente, Chalatenango?   The shorts she wore were shorter, but fair game for El Salvador.  It was the paper-white legs inside them, along with American style walking sneakers at the bottom (eeeek!  stop sign!) that were a dead give away.  That, along with constant camera-clicking, and taking pix of poor children in the snack area.   I wondered how many years those legs have gone without proper Tropical sunshine to have turned that hue.  My “trigueño”  husband, after having lived in the states for 5 years, had all bus lost his indigenous glow, and was almost (dare we say it) lookin’ like a “white guy.”

2.  Electronic Equipment.   More and more people in El Salvador have access to nicer phones and cameras, but it’s wise to think location, location, location before whipping out electronics.  My husband yelled at me the other day when I took out our five year old camera for a couple quick shots at the Mercado Central.  I was with him, my personal “vigilante” and willing to chance it would get snatched.  Laptops:  people I worked with at my last job would not travel on buses with their laptop, opting for a ride with a relative/friend or a cab.  And they are Salvadoran.  Heed their smart behavior and do the same.  If you absolutely “must” travel with a laptop, be smart and camoflouge it inside a backpack or something.

3. Traveling alone, or in small groups – especially in isolated areas.

Have you ever visited a city back home, wandered away from the “tourist area”, and asked yourself, “Hmm..have I gone too far, is this a good area or a BAD area?”   Don’t do that here.  Common sense at home applies here, too.  We do not do a lot of hiking or sightseeing in parks with few people, but when we went to El Imposible the ranger walked on a trail with us –  the only clients that afternoon, he was all ours!    I literally NEVER hear on TV or radio about tourists getting jumped or accosted here.  I read of one incident on a travel site  a couple years back of a small group of 2-3 people jumped on a trail, so it’s advised to have a park ranger or tourism police walk with you.  Some parks will not allow you to walk alone and you’re obliged to have them as guides.

4. Traveling at night – buses, the country, and the Bronx

Buses at night?   VERY Safe area?  Maybe.  Sketchy/Not sure area?  NO NO NO.  Take a cab.    At call centro where I worked, the company paid for private transportation (mini buses) to take everyone who lived within 30+ minutes of San Salvador, home at the end of shifts ending at night (usually 9pm+) .  People who lived in Santa Ana requested, and got, day shifts because they lived outside of the transport area.

In the “safe” areas of the city of San Salvador, it’s fairly safe to travel at night, in a car.

Driving through the country at night:  if you KNOW where you are driving – the area, the people, and know its safe to drive there, cool beans.   If you do not know what you’re driving through at night, then don’t.   I have traveled from “country” Chalatenango to San Salvador in the dark, but 8pm is my limit  – tomorrow is another day.

Example.  If I wanted to drive from the beach at the Puerto de Libertad to Los Planes, I would see two possible routes on my map.  One starts on route 4, and runs past Santa Tecla and Antiguo Cuscatlan, and the city, and up to Los Planes.   Another starts on route 2, and then takes some lesser “country roads” but looks shorter and might be faster.  As a novice in El Salvador, I decide to take  that route, which runs through both Panchimalco and Rosario de Mora, on the way back  to the hotel I’m staying at in Los Planes de Renderos.  In my naivete, I chose to drive through two very dangerous towns in El Salvador (many gang homicides).   My real self, knowing these towns, would never drive through either one at night.  Years ago, some people would never drive through the Bronx in New York at night (or daytime).  An ex boyfriend from outside NYC, said back in the 1980’s, if your car broke down on the highway there, and you left it to get help, by the time you got back your car would be on blocks, and stripped.   Panchimalco and Rosario de Mora are like THE BRONX IN THE COUNTRY and their gang members are scarier.  Do you want to run into them when your car breaks down at night?

5.  Do not answer unknown numbers ringing your phone or the door for strangers.

Everyone here knows the drill:  don’t answer your phone if you don’t recognize the number.  Back home, this is to avoid telemarketers.  Here, it’s to avoid an extortion threat, someone demanding money or else.  It’s not just “gang” members but any yahoo who thinks they can get away with it.  I cannot say how frequent this is, but it has happened enough where the rule is:  IGNORE UNKNOWN NUMBERS.  A gringo from the call center who’s lived here several years said it happened to him once, he hung up, and nothing happened.  I answer the door to vendors I recognize, usually women, but …(BAD EXAMPLE) I answered the door to a young man who knocked yesterday, who worked on the road crew in our neighborhood recently.  Said his brother was murdered and he was collecting money for his casket.  Now, my husband told me a few days ago that a worker asked him for a dollar when he walked past (said he’d spent his busfare on a drink at lunch), so I figured, same guy, new lie.  The street workers did NOT work yesterday, and this one, who’s not from here was touring around – very discomforting.  I wanted to kick myself for answering the door.  I gave him two dollars and said I hope you’re not lying, and if you or someone else comes knocking on the door again, I will not answer it, and good luck.  My friend from El Salvador laughed when I told him, said it’s one of the ‘stories’ they use.


* What makes Theresa’s ring-wearing even more odd, is that her brother Michael (let’s call him that) told us a story about something that had happened to them.  It was a presentation we had to do in training, tell the group about a “near-death” or most astonishing experience you’ve had.  Their family (all Salvadoran) came here  for a visit some years back.  Having  just arrived from the airport, and in their relative’s home, a thug entered the house, and demanded everyone get on the floor.  They emerged victorious, a gun and lots of courage were involved, no one died, and everyone lived happily ever after.  And Theresa’s parents let her (or she insisted – ?) leave the U.S. of A sporting that big fat momma diamond ring.  Go figure.

** My husband had a “close ring-call” in August of 2009.  He was on the bus, returning from his English class, in a not-so great area – the “Tiendona.”  A group of 7 gang-members boarded the bus and began ordering people to give it up, wielding knives.  A marero (gang member) held a knife to my husband’s throat and demanded the goods, including his gold wedding ring.  It was too difficult to get off, so the gangmember made threats – like cutting off his finger – and finally came up with a better alternative.  He stuck my husband’s finger in his mouth and yanked off the ring with his teeth.  To this day my husband will not ride the bus in that area.  He’ll walk all the way from the Mercado central up to the street called “5 de Noviembre” to catch a bus heading up to Chalatenango.  Even though the streets there are not ‘that safe’ it makes sense.  On a bus you are a sitting duck – no where to run.  On the street you can run, cross the street, or yell for help.  No more Tiendona drama for my husband.  

Will this happen to YOU?  It’s not August 2009 anymore, and  ‘presumably’ the American and Salvadoran economies have improved, but people get robbed on the bus frequently, so ride with few valuables and split your money in multiple places.

The Seasons of El Salvador   4 comments

During your first year in El Salvador, after living through an ever-sunny and always dry 6 months, followed by a rainy, and by the end of it, soppy wet season in rain-forest world, you assume there are only two “seasons” here.  But look beyond the sky and the changing-to-green-and-black colors of your cloth items, out the window and into the trees, onto the ground and what sprouts from it, and you’ll discover there are many seasons here.

Every fruit, tree, and plant has its season, insects all have their ‘time’, even birds and animals behave differently certain periods of the year.

We begin with the Zapote tree in our yard. Recently it was looking sickly – poor thing’s leaves were all spotted and browning.  Then it began sprouting new leaves alongside them, dropped the old spotties almost overnight, and grew the new ones out within days.  An ever-green, unlike the pine needle kind we are akin to.

Foto by jmisael123ct. Click for his flickr page.

In northern North America, one typically sees trees blooming between March and May, in a short and predictable spring.   Here in El Salvador, “blooming” is extensive and various.   The veranera (buganvilla) – whose name in Spanish is derived from summer (“verano”),  flowers throughout the summer/dry season for many months.  In places like western Chalatenango, which are desert-like in dry season, one sees  toasted pastures, browning plants, dry ground and dust layering itself in your nose.  Just when you think everything is dead, suddenly a veranera appears, serving up a flowering oasis.  In Los Planes, we are fortunate during dry season, and have green vistas year-round.

Foto from Click this foto to link to her page.

El Salvador has numerous and beautiful flowering trees, and they each have a  moment of glory.   The grand Ceiba sheds its leaves in December, fools you into thinking it has died, and suddenly sprouts leaves and blooms through January;  the Maquilishuat, the Salvadoran national tree, flowers from February to April, and an all time favorite here (though originally from Madagascar), the Tree of Fire (“Arbol del Fuego”) drops its leaves the end of dry season in April, blooms, and is still flowering as rainy season begins.  Here is a nice page showing different trees of El Salvador I ran into.  The only one I’d want to add is the Conacaste, a giant and gorgeous shade-giver.

Just before rainy season, one bird starts to act quirky – the chonte (cenzontle), or Mockingbird, sings a longer and stronger song – my husband says it’s because it is asking God to bring the rain.

After the flurry of flowering activity happens and the seasons transition from dry to wet, the entire world turns green – even in tumbleweed west Chalate where the suegros (in-laws) live.  Plants sprout from every crack and crevice, insects hang off of leaves and petals, and the world awakens.

Check out this book from "MAG" (Ministry of Agriculture and ranching) from 1982!!!

You don’t have to work in agriculture to notice Sugar Cane “season,” or rather, its harvest, which lasts about four months, usually starting around December.  Giant tractor-trailer size vehicles haul the cane from the field to the mill and are seen everywhere.   Coffee, another important product here, is also harvested in the middle of dry season, but its transport is much less obvious.  More likely, you’ll see a truck packed full of people on their way to or from picking the beans early am or late pm.    These ‘seasons’ are very important to agricultural workers here; many of them get steady work only during “siembra” and “cosecha” (planting and harvesting).  The two biggest grains El Salvador produces are maize (maiz) and red beans (frijoles rojos).   Both are sown at the start of the rains, but have different harvests.   My husband told me beans can be planted twice a year, but in today’s research I learned from this agro book (Perfil del cultivo de frijol en El Salvador / Cristina Choto de Cerna ), a third sowing can happen the tail end of rainy season, using residual humidity or watering to grow.  Last year, after storm 12E flood in October, people talked about doing this.  Maiz only has one season, as far as I know, and is harvested at the end of rainy season, farmers “doubling” the corn stalks to halt their growth.

Mosquitos (“zancudos”) have a gloriously long season here, buzzing around during summer, dwindling down as the rainy season approaches, and then finally, disappearing as the multiple daily rains wash away their egg-laying work (at least where we live – in other places they may be year-round pets).   The Cicada, known here as a Chicharra or a Cigarra in Spanish, sings for the entire month of march, taking over the sound spectrum with his booming rattle to lure female groupies into his backstage den.  A purple flowering plant most Salvadorans would call “monte” (weed) has been growing for a couple months now in our yard, and once the rains come, I’m hoping the glass butterfly will come land on them.  The rains tend to bring bugs out of hiding.  Spiders spin webs furiously during rainy season; new webs appear after every shower.   This fella, pictured on the right, landed on my shoulder last year while I was in the garden, at the beginning of April – rains had barely begun here – he’s a leaf-backed praying mantis.

Fruits galore here, and each one has its “day”.    A couple months ago Jicama was everywhere, then gone.   March marks the season of the Mango – with dozens of varieties here – some are already ripe, but many, including the infamous “Mango Indio” are still green or becoming “sasson” (not green, but not ripe – the sour taste has ebbed).  Jocotes are fully-ripe at the moment, and not far from now we’ll be seeing the famous Anona.   Unlike back home, where you can buy nearly every fruit or vegetable almost year-round, here fruits and vegetables become scarce or disappear when their season wanes, and often too pricey for small vendors to afford.  When pipianes (zucchini) run out, forget it.  Tomatoes that were once 10 or 12 for a dollar are suddenly 3 for 50cents.    One learns to eat in-season vegetables and fruit, and that’s what makes them so enjoyable.  During the short season of the Anona, everyone loves to eat them, and kids climb like monkeys to get the last of the red jocotes.

So when someone says, “Yeah, but I like the FOUR seasons,” comparing a temperate climate to ours, I can be sure to tell them, while we don’t have snow, ice, or frigid cold, we got plenty more than four seasons here.

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