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.
AN EXTENSIVE BLOOM
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.
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.
CANE, COFFEE, and GRAIN
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.