Archive for May 2012

Rock you like a Hurricaine   2 comments

We had a storm last night – INSIDE of the kitchen!   I was the only one in the house, but thankfully the dog was with me, so she shared in the excitement.  It was getting dark on the walk home from the in-laws, but we expect it to rain at night anyway as its rainy season.  I begin cooking the meatball recipe Id planned on, and the wind starts picking up.  And it really picked up.  So I shut the kitchen door, which opens up onto the patio area.  There’s an opening at the top of the wall about 4-6 inches wide along the length of the whole wall for ventilation, and so I could really “feel” the storm building outside. By the time I’d started on the sauce, stray leaves were falling in the kitchen like a blustery autumn day.  I had to quickly cover the pots when loose cement crumbs high up the walls from the  construction began falling onto the stove.  Meanwhile, as it was raining sideways the kitchen started to get really WET.  I opened the door onto the patio to check out what was up with the dog, and saw no sign of her, but the entire patio/corredor was soaking wet when it is normally dry as it’s covered.  I ran to the sala/family room/sleeping area to see if she was in the house.  I found her there under the bed, and terrified.  The rain had also been pelting so hard sideways that a stream of water began entering the MAIN part of the house underneath the door.  Whoa!  Quick, yank out all the suitcases from under the bed, and the two cardboard boxes now in the  middle of the shallow “stream” being created.  Onto the back patio, I’m sweeping the water away and thinking woops, poor design and how can we re-think/do the cement on this back patio, huh?   That done, and back into the kitchen, where our little dog “Sausage” was happy to keep me company. I’m sure glad the sauce was done by then because now the lights went out (they go out a lot in this remote Northern Chalatenango part of El Salvador), and I only had to worry about cooking the noodles in candlelight.  It all turned out well, Sausage loved the meatballs, and we had a great meal together.   This morning we swept up the aftermath, stray leaves and branches strewn everywhere.  My brother in-law Yito’s “milpa” has a lot of flopped cornstalks, but other than that, it’s all good.

Views from our new House in Chalatenango   4 comments

Hi all, someone requested pictures of views from our house here in Chalatenango, now that we’ve moved in, and I’m happy to post them.   I’m offline more than online these days, so apologies for slow comment turnaround these days.    Here they are:

View in front of the house, Dec 2011 (early dry season), hills overlooking the caserio we live in

View out front, with morning fog at 6 A.M.

View from the back, overlooking cow pastures on the other side of the river.

View on Oct 9, 2011 – mid rainy season and everything full green. I started my job at Habitat for Humanity the day after, on Oct 10, the same day big storm Tropical Depression 12-E started pouring on us.

Our friend the Torogoz, sitting 15 feet from us while we sat on the front patio drinking morning coffee.

after table

Three Days   2 comments

We have now lived in our revamped adobe house together for a total of three full days.  Today we start the fourth, and I’m the first one up at 5am.  You see a different piece of the world waking up this early.  It’s like a private window that opens up to a beautiful view that most people only see from a different angle.  The first thing I notice are the “sopes,” or vultures.  One or two of them were “parking” for the night in a  tree yesterday at the end of my sister-in-law’s visit, and now there are six of them, like a family, in a tall tree that overlooks the river and pasture behind our house.  We didn’t have sopes in Los Planes, but that’s because there’s no livestock there.  Here there’s livestock and more brush animals like armadillos (“cusuco”), and iguanas.  One day a few weeks back on a visit, looking at this same view, my husband noticed a gathering of sopes in the hills just past the pasture.  “One of Elmer’s Ganado (cow or steer) must have died.”

It was an amazing site to watch.  There must have been 25 or more of them all flying in what was almost a cloud of them.  They were in a bunch, and then began to fly in almost a tornado like formation, as members of the flock began descending to the ground.

similar to this, but more of a ‘vortex’

Then, it’s as if they have radar – we could see vulture after vulture coming from different sides, in the sky – but a line of them were coming almost from the same direction.  And they did the same thing each time – form a cloud and then descend after circling in a spiral.  The sense of hearing, sight and smell must be immensely powerful for these animals, as the distance they were flying in from was several football fields away from the presumed carcass.  Bit I digress, now let’s come back to the back porch where I was sitting, a little past 5am.   There are some major differences between “here” (Jicaron, in western Chalatenango, and not the high mountain areas that everyone thinks of as soon as I mention the name) and “there” which is now Los Planes de Renderos, just outside of San Salvador.

The biggest are climate and temperature.  It feels like almost a 10 degree difference between the two places.  And it’s much more dry here.  Which during dry season sucks to be here in Chalate, but during rainy season it’s a nice break from the soggy sog wet days, because in Los Planes it usually rains twice a day versus the one here, but sometimes 3 or 4 times.  Certain plants grow better there due to the temperature and humidity difference that just can’t hack it here unless you keep them in the shade, water always, and do massive TLC.  The other major difference is a constant presence of flies here.  Farms, right?   Apparently they wake up early too – 6am and there are 3 or 4 of them dancing around my book “No Ordinary Time” about FDR and Eleanor, and the coffee cup which must now always have something covering it – a postcard works perfect for that.   But I began to notice some similarities this morning.  One in particular cheered my day – a hummingbird (“colbri”, “gorrión”, “pica flor”) was flitting around a tree out back that has yellow blossoms.   The Torogoz is another uplifting sight – this one here is a bit smaller than the one who inhabited our previous locale, and seems to have more yellow/orange on his head and back.  He’s a fantastic hunter, and I got to see his talents yesterday.  He flew off one tree, and in mid-air caught a flying insect, then glided to another tree with his catch.

GOING INTO TOWN   Leave a comment

Photo courtesy of MERCADEO ACACYPAC, Picasaweb, at the Festival of Maize in 2006. See more here

I wanted to go to “La Nueva” (Nueva Concepción) on Sunday, but we decided it was best to wait till today when the Ferreteria/hardware store would be open.  Just like in the days before Home Depot, the local hardwares are all closed on Sunday.  So off we went, Monday morning.  On our way to La Nueva we passed numerous men with their “fumigacion” gear on.  It’s a big plastic jug that “agricultors” wear like a backpack, to spray insecticide and kill weeds and growth.  The first rains started steadily this week, so the “siembra,” or planting season has begun.


At the market we picked up $1 worth of ‘berro’ and four large cucumbers for 50 cents.  Berro, or what I think may be called “Cress” in English (a photo here looks like it) is a leafy vegetable used in “panes con pollo” here (chicken sandwiches).

This cress looks like berro

Like parsley but with a more delicate leaf and flavor.  Then we were off for the beans and other veggies.  We circled the market and finally found our beans, and the cacahuetes (peanuts) my mother-in-law uses with her choco-bananas.  I was looking for those other veggies and spent extra time looking for a vendor I wanted to buy from.   A couple years back at this same market a Baptist woman overcharged me a lot, according to my family, for some cilantro I bought.  As we walked through, there was a whole stretch and side of the market where every woman had the white Baptist habit on her head, asking us what we wanted to buy.  I blew past them all, wasn’t going to buy from any of them today, and joked with Carmen that this was the “Baptist Market.”  I bought the remaining veggies from an old woman who was wedged between Baptist women, and happy with my purchase.  I might give them a chance some other time to prove they won’t overcharge me to help pay for the diezmo (10% tithe), but today was not the day.


Onto the supermarket, and nothing noteworthy happened except they make you check all your bags, including the tiniest purse you may be wearing, that’s always irked me about this particular Baratillo.  Baratillo means “good deals,” because barato means cheap.  So we shopped at “Good Deals”, I found the flyswatter, and Carmen found the umbrella she wanted, so they got a good review.


Now onto the HSBC local bank branch to pay the light bill.  This bill you don’t pay online because there’s a $9.10 subsidy most people receive on their electric bill which subsidizes the price of propane gas we use for cooking.  We were delighted with the short line at the bank.  While we were there, I was able to notice more differences in country versus city people, and saw two women, both older, wearing the standard “delantal” over their dresses while waiting in line.  The delantal replaces a purse for them, and with two, three or more pockets, they can place their change and bills how they like ‘em and they don’t have to tote an extra bag around while they do their selling or daily work.  My mother in law wears one from the moment she gets up until she undresses each night – it’s as vital for her as her underwear.  Then a woman came into the bank holidng a baby and nursing simultaneously while waiting in line.  Women here don’t use baby carriage much and can practically stand on their heads while nursing, it’s like nothing for them.  A friendly man a few paces in line offred to give up his sport for her but she said no, I’m getting a rest here in line from the heat.  That was very nice of him.  We got to the counter and I pull out the bill.  “We can accept payment but we don’t’ give the subsidy here.”  I giggled and said, “well that explains why there’s almost no line!”  So off to the next bank we went.


Lucky for us a bank that pays out the subsidy was right across the street.  Good ‘ole ACACYPAC.  My being easily tickled by the smallest and silliest of things, I kept cracking up about the name, my niece and I giggling and joking together.  Try and say A-CA-CY-PAC five times in a row as fast as you can without saying CACA – hard, isn’t it?*  In el banco de caca, we took a number and had a good honest wait to pay our bill and get the subsidy.  While there, we noticed the same old woman wearing her delantal from the bank we just came from – looks like the same thing happened to her.  She goes to the counter, pays her bill, then has to sign to confirm she got the subsidy.  The clerk pulled out the ink pad, she stuck her finger in it, and signed with her thumbprint.  Many people here, especially older people, have to sign documents with their thumbs.  They’re analfabeto/illiterate.  Illiteracy is getting stamped out here slowly, and as a country El Salvador now has a literacy rate of about 87% but there are still people who miss the reading boat to this day.  Back in March on election day, one of my husband’s friends, “Chevo” wouldn’t go to the voting booths out of shame, because he didn’t want to sign with his thumb.  Id’ say he’s all of 25 years old.  His mom was a single mother when he grew up, they lived rather remotely, and she didn’t make him go to school.  Back at the bank again – our number came up – we paid the bill, got our $9.10 in subsidy, and we were off again.

“Can you run by the agro and get some abono?,” my husband asked in a quick phone call.  Yep.  Back to the same agroferreteria (agro-hardware), and we pick up the stuff, which is fertilizer, and is called “formula,” of all things.  Makes sense, no?  We got just a small bag, an “arroba,” which is a 25 pounder, for Yito, my cuñado (brother-in-law) to use on the small patch of land in the front of our house where he is growing a milpa (corn-field).    The alcaldias (municipalities) of every town in El Salvador are part of a system that provides farmers/agricultores with one sack of maize and one sack of abono (fertilizer).  Here is a photo and link to the APOPA website showing men picking up their abono.

That was it.  Over three hours later, and our errands story perfectly framed full circle by starting and finishing at the same store, we left Nueva Concepción to return to our rural caserio called “Jicaron”, affectionately nicknamed “Jicaron City” by a number of us here.  With our car loaded to the gills with a Quintal (100 pounds) of concentrado/chix feed, two 40+ pound bags of cement, 4 small square cinder blocks, the abono, and a load of groceries, I cruised at grandma speed of 40 mph maximum to give myself ample time to dodge and avert the many 3 and 4 inch deep potholes (“huecos”) already present in just the first two weeks of rainy season.  We passed a new set of men with fumigacion gear on their backs, walking and on bikes, and found our way back home.

* I learned, just today, the correct pronunciation of our funny-named bank, on the radio. To my disappointment, it’s very safe:  “ah-kah-see-pahk”.   We’ll still poke fun of it though.

Moving Day   5 comments

Today we are moving from the lovely home we have been staying in for nearly two years in Los Planes de Renderos, but we’re not leaving El Salvador (yet).  ( If I don’t answer a comment or email, it’s because I’m still offline!)  We are “leaving the enchanted forest”, but moving on to green pastures.   My husband worked over a year part time to fix up a small adobe house his grandfather used to live in, in Chalatenango, and that’s where we’re moving to. *  The house there is “way in the country” and sits on  a hill, with gorgeous views.  On the front porch we see the hills overlooking the neighborhood, and out back we have a view of , literally, cow pastures, and behind that, hills and ridges.

I have made many friends in this neighborhood and will miss them.  I met them on walks with my doggie, or on errands for Pilsener or tortillas.   A week ago some of us got teary eyed during one of my last visits, knowing I wont be just down the street anymore.

This neighborhood and community literally feel enchanted,  with a very different climate and lifestyle compared to other parts of El Salvador or even the city.  It is cooler than most parts of the country, abundant with flowers ( you can almost hear “Hello and Welcome to Flower World!” with the man who does the voice over from ‘moviefone’), and has a small-town feel about it.  Clouds/fog that roll in every afternoon around 4pm are just one of the special perks we’ve enjoyed while here.

Below are a few shots of the house taken this morning, just hours before parting:

this house has stairs everywhere

View from my ‘perch’ at the table on the patio

I could watch the birds from the patio, which looks out onto this tree, 9 feet below the patio level, perfect for watching feathered friends.

The left corner of this pictures shows where I would talk over the fence with my neighbor Sabas, or his stepdaughter Elisa, where that heliconia flower is. Our house and our neighbors’ are a perfect example of the contrasts existing in El Salvador; our house with its labyrinth of staircases and almost too-big yard, and our neigbhbors next door, living in a casa de lamina (sheetmetal house).

* The adobe house is a “one-room house” style often seen here, and he built a separate standing kitchen, also of adobe, next to it, and built two long porches running the length of the house in front and in back.  Souped up the walls with cement and a smooth stucco finish, and voila!  Home sweet home.  Yes, at least two or three blogs are long overdue with pics on the adobe house construction.

Fishing with an Atarraya / Pescando con un Atarraya – El Salvador   Leave a comment

My husband wanted to show me how you fish with a net, which is called an “atarraya” in Spanish.  Although it’s not quite rainy season yet, the Metayate river in Chalatenango always has a few fish, even if they are small.   So, we went to the river, and my husband started throwing the net.

After each toss of the net he would toss me his catch, usually a handful of very small fish.

He would walk upstream several feet after each throw, because the fish run way from the net, he said.  In one of the net tosses, Jesus caught a four-eyed fish, an interesting creature.  From a distance the fish appears to have two eyes, but looking closer, you can see each eye has two different pupils.  Reading on the ‘net I learned that the “eyes,” or pupils above the surface, are designed for ‘terrestrial’ use, and the pupils below the water are designed to handle light and environment beneath the water’s surface.  We may think of this fish as a primitive creature, but it can mentally process two different sets of images simultaneously.  How many humans you know who can do that?   Observe nature, its complexities, and gain humility.

Here is Mr. Four Eyes,  in this video:

And a fun “blooper” video I saved, my husband pirouetting with the net:

Ok, I lied   Leave a comment

A couple weeks back, I announced rainy season in my enthusiasm of seeing it rain hard for a second day in a row.   In the interest of keeping dear readers well informed, rainy season doesn’t start until May.  We’re here now and it rained again once since my big announcement, at night, so I wouldn’t say we’re there yet.  Happy to report things are greening again, though.  Was amazed to see my friend Lizzie in Boston wearing a heavy Irish wool sweater today on Skype – brrrhh!    Nice to enjoy a cold day in Boston from afar on video.

Flor de Izote con Huevos – Yucca flower with eggs   3 comments

I cooked something!   Sharing the recipe with you.   Something totally new (to me) and Salvadoran.  Flor de Izote con Huevos – which is Yucca flower with eggs.  Not to be confused with cassava root / Yuca (one “c”) which people eat, usually boiled, and tastes similar to a potato.

This is a white flower that sprouts from the top of what we call the “Izote” plant/bush/tree, and is also the national flower of El Salvador.  I learned that the Izote plant is also a big desert plant, which makes sense since El Salvador has virtually no rainfall for 6 months a year.   Pictures, with instructions for cooking, for anyone interested in making this at home (if you can get your hands on an Izote flower where you  live).

Flor de Izote

You start with the flower that grows on the top of the Izote bush/tree

The hard part inside of the flower is bitter, so most people take remove it before they cook it.

After the insides of the flowers are taken out, wash the petals and strain them.

Then boil the petals until they get soft – 5 minutes or so. They will look a bit more transparent.

I sauteed one medium size onion and 2-3 tomatoes. Cook them first before adding the flowers, as the flowers have already been boiled. Add salt and pepper or whatever spices you like. Ground ginger is nice for this recipe.

After the onion and tomato are sauteed, add the flowers and cook for a few minutes to absorb the flavors.

The final step is to add the eggs. Here I show the finished product on the plate but you get the idea. You can whip the eggs first or break them into the pan and stir them quickly into the vegetable mixture.


My last purchase from Margarita   2 comments

The Flor de Izote I bought from Margarita was my last purchase from her.  For almost two years now, I’ve bought veggies, cheese, cream, and all sorts of foods from her as she makes her rounds in our neighborhood, toting her goods in the guacal on her head.   I don’t always need what she sells me, but I’m happy to help keep her in business, and admire the courage it takes to walk from door to door selling the way she does.  And always with a smile, and a laugh, she was a bright spot in my week on the days she came by.  I will miss Margarita, so took these pictures of her to remember her.

The white flowers in this guacal (bucket) are what I bought from her that day, and cooked them.


International Labor Day in Panchimalco   Leave a comment

Tuesday, May 1st was “Dia Internacional de los Trabajadores” and also the graduation day for my friend Chata’s first level class in cosmetology schooling in Panchimalco, where they had a big FMLN style celebration.  Everyone had the day off just about, and mid-afternoon I went to “Pancho” with my camera.   Before the graduation ceremony began, they had live entertainment and some folk dancers.

I enjoyed these dancers. The dance in the picture to the right was my favorite – the couple danced back to back with flirtatious gesturing.  The girl in yellow knows the importance of smiling along with the dance movements

Walking through the crowd, you can definitely get the feeling that Panchimalco is populated with a lot of modest, small town type of people, and there is big support for the FMLN party here.

Red shirts everywhere, mostly employees of the Alcaldia (town hall), but some townspeople.

You can tell by the faces this ain’t no Colonia Escalon

Hail to the Chief of the Red Village of Pancho

Mario Melendez, the recently re-elected FMLN mayor, spoke during the graduation ceremony, and there were even a couple of women Diputados (deputies/senators) who came as guest speakers.  I think the red party is doing serious PR work after the heavy losses by their candidates during the recent election.  In fact, Sigfredo Reyes, the head of the legislative assembly, and FMLN party Deputy, came by our neighborhood to speak at the inauguration of our recently paved street.  Talk about making the PR rounds, coming to our dinky neighborhood to celebrate the completion of just one street.

While walking through the crowd, I spotted this basket-o-chickens just outside of the market being cared for by a teenage girl.  There’s an odd-shot every day in El Salvador

After all the song and dance, and requisite political speeches and blessing by the local reverend, the graduation ceremony began.   My friend Chata and all of her other companions had been sitting under the tent, in their Sunday best, waiting for the moment to receive their graduation certificate and  a handshake from Mayor Melendez.  People were taking so many pictures afterwards they asked graduates to please sit down so the other speakers could make announcements.

Courses are being sponsored by the Panchimalco municipality for computation, cosmetology, sewing, pottery, and crafts of card-making and paper flower-arrangements.  Daycare service is provided also.  Sounds like a good program, and I even saw leaflets that were hung up on utility poles and placed in mailboxes.    There were also a few graduates for a literacy program who stepped up the the stage to receive their diplomas.

Here is Chat with her diploma just after she received it.  A big change from where she was just a year ago, selling tortillas in our neighborhood.


To Chalatenango, and Back   2 comments

Today’s blog is of casual shots I took on the way to, and from, a trip to Chalatenango two weekends ago.  The photos are very descriptive, so I’m going to “let the pictures do the talking” for the most part, with a little narration.   ( Rhymes with ‘let your fingers do the walking’, doesn’t it?   For pp too young to know what that means, just wiki it – the rest of us will enjoy remembering that jingle from the good old days.  ).   Ok, and one thing while you’re reading, you can CLICK A PICTURE TO ENLARGE.  I can tell from the statistics you’re not doing that enough, so start clickin’.

We start our photo journey near the center of San Salvador, at the Tiendona.

This photo shows a lot about what happens around the Tiendona and markets in El Salvador.   Starting on the left, a man in a beige/brown shirt is pushing a type of cart.  Then a street sweeper with a blue barrel – if you look closely you can see his broom looks like a home-made country type of broom.  Street sweepers all over El Salvador use those type.   The lady in the khaki shorts looks almost American.  What’s SHE doing at the Tiendona?  The red truck with veggies in back, and a man carrying numerous ladies purses and bags.  Many vendors carry items on their backs, shoulders, and off of belts on their waist.  And finally, the white truck on the right is a typical commercial truck used for hauling agricultural goods.

Here is an example of what’s seen all over El Salvador – people carrying things on their heads and shoulders, hauling & pushing things.

Here’s the guy in the picture form above – look at
how much he’s pushing!

Here's the guy in the picture form above - look at
how much he's pushing!

Now driving away from the Tiendona, near the
street "5 de Noviembre" I saw this woman, with veggies on her head. Photo a bit muddy, as I took it while driving, looking out the rear tainted window.

These guys knew I had a camera and started smiling, but I was driving , so couldn’t catch them well without having an accident.  They’re driving northward away from the city, looks like they went to the Tiendona market, too.

This pickup driver is a patriot of his country and Jesus – it says “El Salvador is for Christ.”  All the way to the right we see part of a Minutas cart.  Minutas are shaved ice with flavorings and fruits poured over it, and are well known here.  The sign above the truck tells us how far we are from Guazapa, Aguilares, Chalatenango, and the Frontier with Honduras, “El Poy” – I’m still a  good hour away from the cow pastures of our place in Chalatenango.

Ok, now I’m on my way BACK from Chalatenango.   My husband showed me how to fish with an ‘atarraya’ while I was there, but that’s another blog we’ll talk about later.    Here’s a picture of my favorite tree in El Salvador:  the Conacaste.  In Aguilares, off the Truncal del Norte (route 4N).   These stately trees become very large, as seen in this picture, but the leaves are small and almost delicate.  See the truck on the lower left?  Blue barrels are full of milk that they’re bringing into the city.

Right below the Conacaste is hand-painted graffiti, with is a message written in protest:  “The Dams are Death.  No to the Cimarron,” which is a hydroelectric dam project which began a few years back, causing a lot of controversy in Chalatenango.  If that dam goes up, our river we swim  and fish in is hosed.  Last I heard Funes had “suspended” the project, but it could get picked up again down the road.  El Salvador wants to maintain energy independence, and as its population grows, begins to have difficulties in keeping energy costs down.  We need more windmills and solar panels, but we also need farmland for veggies and agricultural products.  Look at the map and you’ll see not a lot of room for either.

Right next to the painted message of protest and also underneath the Conacaste, I ran
into these guys hauling pigs out of a truck. The pigs were squealing away, also in protest, as they were pulled out hind-legs first from the truck.

So I asked them, what do you sell them for?   Oh, you want to buy one?  Not today, I said, but maybe another day.  $130 a piece, he said.  This area where they have the pigs is also where men bring cattle and other animals in for sale. This is a small showing for animals, but it is a Monday.  On other days this place gets full of animals.

And speaking of farm animals, how about this representation of “the Lord is my Shepherd” on the route 117 bus?  (It runs from San Salvador to Aguilares).  The wavy El Salvador flag is like the patriotic pickup driver I saw on the trip up, isn’t it?  Except this one depicts literally how intertwined El Salvador is with the United States, the flags coming together behind the statue of liberty.  I hadn’t seen that until just now writing this post.  Wow.  CLICK THE PIC!

One thing I love about El Salvador that I’ll miss when we leave are the constant vistas of hills and mountains – there’s one just about anywhere you stand in this country.  I pulled over here in Apopa to take this picture and show you what I mean. 

That’s all for now.  Have a wonderful day.

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