Archive for the ‘El Salvador’ Tag

A walk in the Park (and a little Trespassing)   4 comments

No matter how long I live here, I still can’t get over what a paradise it is.   First, being in El Salvador, almost every day is a sunny day.   On top of that, where I live is “fresco” as they call it, which means cooler temperatures, so it gets warm, but not steaming hot like other parts of the country below us.

The whole office is off for three weeks, so I’ve had a chance to re-connect with Los Planes, the house and its garden, and neighborhood, so I’ll share some of the sights on walks nearby with you.   We start at the top of a street near the entrance, and walk downward.   There’s no shortage of views here.   Here’s a man carry a “tambo” of gas on his shoulder.  If he were a woman, he’d be carrying it right on his head, like this woman in the picture below walking with her son.  My husband says men can’t balance things on their head like women can.  Our extra padding on the legs and behind gives us a lower center of gravity, so there may be some truth to it, however, I’m now convinced.  I think men don’t even try the head balancing, because it would look “womanly”.  Gotta carry stuff on your shoulder.   It’s manly, and besides, looks like you’re working  harder.

Throughout the neighborhood one can see banana trees in various places, like this house here.   That works out nicely for the residents around this time of year, because people make lots of tamales for family on the 24th and the 31st.   Tamales in El Salvador are wrapped with banana leaves, unlike the Mexican kind which are typically wrapped in softened corn husks.  The house below has “ojas de guerta,” banana leaves, softening in the sun on the roof.  This picture was taken a couple days before the 31st, so they were getting the leaves ready for tamales to serve to family and likely visitors coming to ring in the New Year.

Shortly after, I walked by this “terreno”, a little patch of land in my ‘hood.  Its been up for sale, heaven knows how long,  with the same sign saying “se vende terreno”  up since I moved here.   Dont’ see any “no trespassing” signs in sight, so what the heck, I decide to sneak in through the fence and check it out…

It’s a houseless piece of land, which starts up at street level, and has “some” room, perhaps, for a house, if you dug into the hill and/or dumped some fill in to make room for a foundation.  Then it soon drops off in an angle downward towards a ravine.  It has winding trails that lead into and around the ravine, with tropical shrubs lining the walkway.  There’s a rusted out abandoned water tank near street level, with a few orange trees close to it, and peppered throughout the terrain are pacaya plants, everywhere.  Salvadorans eat pacaya flowers just as they are sprouting (this one here is too mature) – they dip them in eggs and fry them.

Pacaya plant, about 6 foot tall

Pacaya shoot sprouting

As I walk downward, I’m wondering, “How far does this land go?”  I spot a barbed wire fence marking the territory on one side, the fence moves downward.  As I walk downward with it, I see the fence move somewhere past a dried creek bed below.  From the looks of the angled land going upward, this same creek has slowly been drinking the mud of the earth above it, the hill eroding over time, with small dried water trails and crevices everywhere underfoot, evidencing this fact.

I walk out of the creek bed, and upward, into a type of clearing, with flatter land, marked by a fence ahead of me, and recognize what I see.  Except now I’m seeing it from the other side.  Months back during one of my walks in the neighborhood, I met a neighbor, who introduced herself as Patty.  While talking, she had mentioned, “oh yes, there’s someone who owns ALL THIS back there” – gesturing towards this same clearing.  And here I am now, lurking around, an invisible trespasser, feeling shame that she or another neighbor might see me, so I quickly do a 180 and walk back towards the dry creek….

To my left is a trail that I passed on my way to the clearing.  I take it and move leftward.  Shortly after I find myself in a type of underpass, created by the branches of a large veranera above me, and a cut out piece of land like a wall, meeting the trail I walk on. Dried purple flowers discarded from the veranera have carpeted the underpass, its entrance and exit.   Here is it, I’ll show you, a little magic carpet ride..

Veranera Carpet on the ground

Magic Carpet Ride - click to enlarge

I walk away from the veranera tree and back upwards again, struggling to keep my footing as the earth gets steep again.  I make a note of the foot traffic above, trying to keep myself down low, aware of my trespassing status, as all  the neighbors here know each other, and make note of anyone who’s not “from” here or not “where” they should be.   I creep up the side of the hill, and run into this crazy spikey green fruit, growing right out of the tree trunks of a few different trees here.  It reminds me of the “morro” tree, whose fruit also grows, bizarrely, not from the side or end of a branch,  but literally smack dab off the trunk of the tree (the morro fruit is orgeat, the  main ingredient used to  make Salvadoran horchata with).

Here they are, the strange spikey green fruit in pictures – I don’t yet know it’s name yet, but I’m almost sure it’s NOT stinky durian, as those are super spikey.  When I find out what it is, I’ll let you all know.  CLICK to enlarge.

Here’s one more shot of the neighborhood before I finished my walk.   Guerta / Guineo trees and mountain vistas.

Visit with a Glass Butterfly   Leave a comment

The Mountaintop Rain forest is a continuous wonder in El Salvador.  Periwinkle weeds grew everywhere last September during rainy season, and the glass butterfy loves them.  Click thumb for larger pic:

See more at the Wonderful World of Insects in El Salvador Photo Gallery.

A Christmas Moment to Remember. Mi vecina me dio panes con pollo   Leave a comment

There is nothing more humbling than to have someone 20 times more poor than you hand you a plate of food. My neighbor gave ME “panes con pollo” (chicken sandwiches) just moments ago and I was nearly speechless. It was a Christmas moment to remember.

She lives in the house next door, which is made of scraps of wood and corrugated metal. There are four adults and one little boy, her boy, all living together on a plot 1/3 the size of hours. They do not have a water pipe running from the main water company’s (ANDA) pipe to their home, and it is too costly for them to install, so we give them water when they need it.

It is definitely a humble home, where packed dirt ground outside becomes packed dirt floor inside. My neighbor washes with a fury – I have never seen anyone churn out so many diapers and shirts as fast as her. She does not have a PILA (washing sink). She washes all of her laundry and dishes on the top of an old white metal table. This, and two large metal drums, serves as her “Pila”.

We have been neighbors since July, but only seen each other’s profiles till this week, when I saw her on the sidewalk, and got to chat with her. “Sabas,” the older gentleman of the house does all the water “arrangements” with us. When she offered me the sandwiches I was so grateful; I had just begun to think “what will I eat?,” being alone with the sick dog tonight, when I heard her calling from the other side of the house. A glance from her side of the fence over to mine shows a sheer chasm of wealth between her and me. If anyone should have been giving food, it was me!

But this is not new nor exclusive to here. Worldwide, one will encounter the poorest of the poor in almost any country, sharing what little they have, always an extra portion, whilst the rich sweat through machinations on how to whittle them down to a niggardly wage.

I learned a lot about my neighbor in our 10 minute exchange. She does not want another child and is “planificando” as it is said here (‘planning,’ or taking birth control). The female empowerment cheerleader in my head shook her pom-poms when I heard this. Her little boy has a cold, as it dips down at night these days, so I found some tea bags for her to heat up.

After I ate my sandwiches, I found the set of musical Christmas lights we bought this week at the market. I hung them up on the window at the far corner of the house, nearest theirs, and put up the volume so we could share the blinking lights set to the tunes of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and a One-Horse Open Sleigh.

Christmas Greetings to all from El Salvador

The curse of the gringa face   4 comments

We went to the market in Aguilares today, my husband and I, to buy raw cacao beans and spices for family members I plan to visit soon.

At the first stall, we were a bit surprised at the price of the cacao beans – $2.50 a pound.  Not even a year ago they were $1.50 a pound.  I opted to hear the same price repeated to me at a second vendor stall before buying at the now 40 percent increase in price.   Inflation happens here in a more obvious way — Salvadoran red “silk” (seda) beans have recently risen atrociously from 50 or 60 cents a pound to $1.25 a pound.   Chicken was 1.25 about 6 months ago – also now also increased, to 1.35-1.50 a lb.    You  know when beans cost almost as much as chicken by the pound  the “Pueblo Salvadoreno” – Salvadoran people are indeed, in trouble.

My husband told me after we left the second vendor stall,  “This is why I don’t like to go with you to these places – let’s forget it and go back to the car.”     He was sure everyone charged us more because of the case of…

“La Cara Gringa”     /   ” The Gringo Face”

Woops.  All I have to do is stand next to you and it’s the “curse of the cara gringa” – my face is the hidden tariff that sends prices racing to the clouds.   But we know, at least, when it comes to beans, that’s already sky high.   $1.25 and rising, without even a gringo face around!

Posted October 19, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Food, Living in El Salvador

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Delantal (apron)   Leave a comment

Spent the morning with my husband’s mother and learned something new about her.   We were talking about making new seat cushion covers for the chairs, as she just finished a waist-apron (called an delantal) made out of remnants of Christmas tablecloths.  It was neat the way it turned out, with one type of fabric for the main apron, and a different one she used for the “pockets part.” – Wednesday, January 13, 2010.


Christmas apron (delantal) Irene made herself

The Delantal
A delantal is simply an apron.  Women are seen wearing them anywhere and everywhere in El Salvador.  When driving through the country or city, you’ll see women sporting their aprons in markets, pupuserias, restaurants, french fry or other food stands, and on sidewalks as they sell various goods.  Sometimes women wear a delantal when not working, instead of carrying a purse.

The delantal most commonly seen is a waist-level apron that runs partway to the knees, is usually white (or light) with lots of lacey or ribbon fringe on it as decoration.  The utility of the delantal is its multiple pockets, to hold coins, paper money, and small items while a woman works in or outside of the home.

Almost all women sport a delantal, regardless of their age, and sometimes in unexpected places.

On a visit to Panchimalco, I commented to my friend that a lot of old ladies were walking up the street with their aprons on.  “Oh, they’re coming out of church,” she said.  “With an delantal?,” I asked.  She explained that in the country its common custom for older women go to church dressed that way during the week, so as not to change clothes in the middle of the day.

Here are some photos I found from others that show well what women look like wearing a ‘delantal’.

Nice shot, restricted on flickr, so click this link: Mercado Central by hurtadoc777

Photo by Lon and Queta on Flickr

Posted October 8, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

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On Paying Bills   5 comments

Jan 4, 2010 – Today we went to Nueva Concepcion to pay our internet/cable bill at the bank.

Boys Standing in Line by Phillip Faulkner. Click pix for more

Most people pay bills in El Salvador either at the bank or directly at the utility provider, and in cash. The other payment option is via credit card, as writing a check is not, I repeat not an option to pay bills here. That cuts out probably 80% or more of the population. A quick review of credit card rates is rather interesting: in a recent visit to Scotiabank I saw a list of interest rates for various cards posted at the service window, all ranging from 16% APR at the lowest for a ‘platinum’ card, to 38% in the highest case. Most were between 22-35%. Thanks, but I’ll pass.

While at the bank, a middle-aged woman walking out was sporting a purse that said “Feels Good,” which struck me as comical. So few people here know any English beyond “hello,” I wondered if she knew what it meant. I bet if it said “Just Farted” she’d be happy all the same.

October 7, 2010 – more on paying bills…

The line for paying bills at lunchtime is often 20 or more people long. Some banks have started requiring one have an account with them to pay a bill, and others are only accepting payments until 2 or 3:00pm. I don’t know what arrangements the banks have with utilities, but I imagine they get a cut for all this servicing. No banks are open on Saturday’s, so you must devote one or more lunch hours each month towards paying bills, and cross your fingers the line isn’t so long you get back to work late. You cannot save up your bills and pay them all at once. Here’s why:

Bills arrive at homes hand-carried by utility employees, and often SO late you must run to the bank during lunch quick-speed within 1-3 days. If you miss that mark, you have a couple more days to pay direct at the utility office; any more delays and you’re risking a late fee. And at $6-$10 a day salaries, even 50 cents hurts.

As for the delivery method: how funny is it that utility companies can afford to have bills HAND CARRIED to houses instead of sending them by mail? The joke is on both Salvadorans, the one who makes sh*t for money delivering the bill, and other who gets it at the brink of being “tardy!” We got our water bill from “ANDA” on September 14, 2010 somewhere after 10:00am – it was slipped under our ‘puerton’ (metal garage door/gate). The bill stated it can be paid at banks “till September 16” and at ANDA directly after the 16th. By the way, September 15 is a national holiday so we had exactly one day to pay the bill at a bank, thereafter must go to an ANDA office. I thought of making a remark to someone there, but the bill comes in cheap enough I better shut well shut my mouth or they’ll find a way to jack it up.

Bills don’t often come cheap with ANDA, and people constantly make complaints. One news story had an interesting and happy ending for water charges. Bills for several families in a very poor neighborhood were showing balances of up to 40 and 60 dollars, outrageous in El Salvador. Turns out while they were paying the bills, a very un-bright employee of ANDA was discarding the receipts and pocketing the money, all the while being filmed by cameras that ANDA always had in place while they were working there. A replay of the footage showed everything.     Duuuuuuuuh.

Posted October 7, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Paying Bills

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Hydro Dams, Mining, Dangers and Protests   1 comment

A lot of controversy exists in El Salvador regarding hydroelectric dams, and even more for mining projects.  Pictured here is an example of what can go ‘wrong’ with hydroelectric dams, especially in developing countries with little regulation who are financially ‘beholden’ to investors.


Chalillo dam in Belize releases damaging sediment - 2009

Two hydro-power dams near completion or under construction in El Salvador: Cimarrón, which was ‘suspended’ by Mauricio Funes in January, 2010, and El Chaparral, under construction, and also causing controversy. As for Cimarrón being “suspended,” well…suspended is not canceled, and we see that CEL (‘the’ hydro company here) will soon pick the project back up:  June 2010 article where CEL announces it will build both dams (?suspended).  Citizens are keeping their ears up for any movement. In fact, this summer I got caught in a traffic jam when a group was protesting against both hydro and mining projects, on the “Truncal Norte” highway, which runs from San Salvador to the Chalatenango region.  Another day, a group of 200 protested in front of the President’s House in May, just before CEL’s June announcement that it “plans on building” both Chaparral and Cimarrón dams.  See article on Protest against El Chaparral, Cimarron dams – May 2010.

Note the price tag for just the Cimarron project alone: “one thousand million”. That’s a billion dollars. And foreign investors are happy to loan all of it to El Salvador.

The hydroelectric plants interrupt the environment, but also place thousands of people in peril, which a typical Westerner many ot be aware of.  Here in El Salvador, there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people who use the rivers to wash clothing or dishes, in addition to swimming and fishing. In our neighborhood the water comes to the house, but numerous people just a 7 minute drive up the road in Naranjos and Nances still do not have water piped to their homes.  They carry water to their house in jugs from a nearby well. It is hard work and impractical to haul the many jugs of water needed to do laundry, so instead they walk their clothing to the river, and wash. Women (you’ll never see a man here doing this) also bring their dishes to the river to wash, for the same reason. If they build the Cimarrón hydro-plant upstream from us (a 20 minute drive), washing or swimming in the river becomes perilous. The hydro-electric dams release discharges at various times, often unpredictable and unannounced. Anyone who risks going into the river may suddenly be confronted with a giant wall of water coming at them.  To build the dam a large stretch of land must be cleared (residents are often forced to move via eminent domain), and it is flooded with the “lake” that sits in front of the damn. Fish that live in the river are disturbed by the change, not to mention the random discharges.  Costa Rica is a prime example of a country with extensive hydroelectric dams.  When we visited that country in 2008, we would often see an inviting beautiful river with a sign next to it stating “No swimming! Dangerous Discharges released.” The poor in El Salvador at least have the enjoyment of the river to swim in, and fish which helps their food budget, but not after installing a hydro-plant.

Mining of Gold and Silver is another economic endeavor popular to foreign investors here.  An article I read in “El Norteño” (the Northerner / newspaper for Chalatenango region) in early 2010 discussed the dangers of allowing mining companies into an area. Mining in Chalatenango would create few jobs because the companies bring in their “own” employees and technical professionals, so only vendors and those that service those mining employees would see economic benefit. Few if any actual jobs would be provided to Salvadorans, the nature side would be disrupted for mining and excavation, perhaps even relocating people, and would see possible contamination of local water sources. Then when all the silver is done mined, off they go and no one here is the better for it. Ads seen on the backs of buses and on billboards in the city state “mining is exploitation” with an illustration of a pair of ghoulish looking hands with claws instead of fingernails. A great resource covering mining in El Salvador is Tim’s El Salvador Blog. Here is a recent article

Hydroelectric power is considered by some to be a ‘greener’ form of electricity.  In much of the country, especially the part of Chalatenango where our family is from, the sun shines every day, all day long, even during rainy season where it only rains late pm or night.  How about a solar panel field for starters? And how ’bout them mountains for windmills? Volcanoes everywhere, hmmm….geothermal?

A good article that appears balanced by the “Environment, Health and Safety Online” website  covers the pro’s and con’s of dams:

The article’s discussion explains in part why we see a “silt release” in the Belize dam pictured above – it must have been built with a release at the bottom where silt develops, which is a good thing, but looking at the picture, it appears something went awry.

EHSO discusses the pitfalls of creating large reservoirs (in front of dams) in tropical climates, where dangers of disease are higher.  I will add to their comments that in developing countries, poor planning after the initial budget of a president or dictators “pet dam project” can result in lack of future funds to dredge silt accumulation or perform structural maintenance.   The price tag of these dams can be stupendous, where investors in countries far from the dam make money off the interest of a loan that could take tens of decades for the developing country to pay off, if they ever do.

I await and welcome comments.


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