Archive for the ‘NATURE in El Salvador’ Category

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.

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:

“IF YOU DON’T HEAR ROOSTERS WHEN YOU WAKE UP, YOU’RE LIVING AROUND TOO MANY RICH PEOPLE!”

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.

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.

We have BAD manners (Americans, that is)   11 comments

In comparison to Salvadorans, Americans have bad manners.  I’m not talking about the kind of manners you were forced to learn as a child, like table manners, sitting up straight, or more ‘structured’ kind of etiquette.

I’m talking about social niceties, or “treating people right” kind of manners.  There are things most Salvadorans simply do naturally and without thinking that have become less commonplace in American society.

1. Greeting people on the street.  Almost always, when walking past someone you will hear a Buenos Dias, or Buenas Tardes, or often “Adios” which is a polite way of greeting someone here who is a complete stranger when passing them.

2. Buen Provecho.  This means “good appetite”, and is said to a person eating by someone who sees them, usually when they enter or leave the room of the ‘eater’.  I noticed it at work when people walked up to or past the table, but I ALSO experienced complete strangers in restaurants greeting us with a “Buen Provecho.”   How nice!

3. When starting a business or other conversation where you must discuss getting something done, you must always “Add the Flowers “.  A colleague of mine and I were discussing this one day, that when starting a conversation, you must say hello, how are you, maybe ask about the family or a small question or comment that has nothing to do with the business at hand before getting into the ACTUAL reason why you are conversing.  Americans tend to be direct, and at times blunt.  So if you call a Salvadoran on the phone or start a conversation and go immediately into “business” it’s like throwing cold water over their head.  You must do the flower dance first, and then get into the serious stuff.

4.  Expressing Anger will almost always backfire on you.  Americans are accustomed to public displays of anger, even in the workplace.  It may be just an irritable comment but can easily elevate to a raised voice with insulting commentary or graduate to all-out yelling.  I rarely see this here.  Salvadorans tend to show their “nice face” in public and get taken aback when someone blows up publicly.   I’m sure there are exceptions, depending on personalities, but for the most part, it’s best to keep a lid on it and remember that yelling or becoming angry tends to startle people from El Salvador, and is not as easily forgiven as back home.

5.   There is always an extra plate of food.  If someone comes to a Salvadoran home unexpectedly and near mealtime, a plate of food is handed to them.  I don’t know how some poor people suddenly have extra food, but they may just make everyone’s plate a bit smaller to accommodate the extra person.

6.   On that note, receiving unexpected visitors is taken well here.  This may come from the fact that many Salvadorans have larger families or live with extended family, so they are accustomed to having more people around, and in their “personal space.”   So it’s not such a big deal when someone drops by without notice.  We were talking about this the other day at the lunch table at work.  A woman was mentioning the reaction her Canadian Sister-in law had when suddenly a bunch of family members who were visiting from our of town stopped by, and oops, it was almost dinner.   Her reaction, which she expressed out loud was, “I cant feed everyone here!”  A Salvadoran, on the other hand, might be upset, but would probably NEVER express it, and start rummaging through the kitchen or run out to get something quick to serve her new guests.

7.  Kids are welcome and loved, basically EVERYWHERE.   This isn’t necessarily manners, but more of a cultural custom.    I’ve had time to observe how people from El Salvador behave with children.  Here’s something innovative for us to learn:

THEY INTERACT WITH THEM!

In America, when visiting someone’s home or bumping into a couple with children on the street, you often see the adults talking the kids sort of melting into the background, or the parent doing most of the interacting with the children.  I too, have been guilty of talking with just adults myself.

I remember this ‘melt into the background’ phenomenon when visiting a friend in the states last November.   There was a group of us, and a small toddler all in the same room.  While most of the adults talked, the little boy play and his mother checked in on him, but for the most part, he was kind of playing along by himself with some toys and things near him, while we talked amongst ourselves.  In El Salvador, everyone in the group would be taking turns playing with him, or picking him up, etc.

Here, even when a complete stranger has just met a child, they talk directly with them, engaging them with questions about their family or what they like, and overall,  having a much more participatory interaction.  Kids are very much a PART of life and the social settings here.

There are more differences and customs beyond these, but I’ll stop here for now and I invite commentary by readers to add more.

Visitors   2 comments

It’s that time of year again…now that rainy season is in full swing, signs of life begin to emerge.   We inaugurate the  new “winter” season in El Salvador – which compares more to spring in temperate climates, with plants bursting green everywhere  – with a visit from some friends who emerged from the foliage.

I was literally sitting on the toilet the other day, when in marched Mr. Walking Stick, not in the least concerned I was already in the bathroom.   Unable to move, I was grateful to see him on the other side of the bathroom, heading for refuge behind the trash can.

A day later, shortly after blowing my hair out, I spied a strange object on the corner of the dresser mirror.

Was he there the whole time or did he just wiggle his way up there?

What's that on the mirror?

Hey, weren't you in the bathroom the other day?

Yep - it's Mr. Walking Stick again

CLICK to enlarge Green visitor

Either coming as a voyeur or looking a makeover, I didn’t mind visits from Mr. Stick.

Returning home late evening this same day, what do I find on the pot we use to heat water every day, but a bright, green…

This visitor was a bit more intrusive.  Luckily I found it before my husband, as I have learned over the past year or more that Salvadorans are DEATHLY afraid of caterpillars.   Who knew?  And us Americans, we think they are soooooo cute.

Almost everyone I know from El Salvador says ‘eek’ when seeing a ‘gusano’ or even mentioning one.  On a walk with a friend the other day, we passed a small tree / bush that had been cut or fallen partially into the street.  She screamed, hopping over the branches, and dashing ahead. “Ewwww, gusanos!” she said.   I took a look.  In fact, there was a gathering.  And they were gorgeous, with bright colors like yellow, black and red.  Their fear is not irrational:  caterpillars here can give a smart sting, so they learn quick as children ‘Don’t Touch!’

Rain or Drought   Leave a comment

This photo called 'Dry Season' by Cordelia Mclellan, is a perfect depiction of how it looks in El Salvador during dry season - yellow, brown, dry and cracking except for a few trees and plants in between like the bougainvilleas. CLICK to see more photos by this photographer

The rain finally came.  We were off on a day trip to Citala, El Salvador, a town near the border of Honduras, when it happened.

The last time it rained anywhere near us was in the middle of November, a short storm, while we slept.  For 5 months now, it’s been ‘dry dry dry’.    Not a single drop of rain.

Moments before the shower the air was pregnant with moisture.  Thick and heavy, it felt like a giant had crouched down, breathing on us in the little tourist town.  The sky finally broken open and bled out is long awaited rain.   The bursting, breaking, cracking open, wonderful release was felt by everyone.  We walked in it, on our way back to the bus, at the end of our day trip, to return home.

From diary entry – April 3, 2010

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