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Journal Index

New country!

February 7, 2005

San Salvador, El Salvador

Wow! I'm in El Salvador.

I'm going to bed.

Day one in a new country.

February 8, 2005

San Salvador, El Salvador

OK so I was a bit tired last night. Getting out of Guate turned into no small feat. Now a lot of places the bustation is just a dirt lot with lines and lines of chicken busses, unfortunately Guatemala City has a modern bus system so there are terminals all over town and none of them go to the same place. My "system" to deal with this is to go to one and ask about getting a bus. I figure they will know who goes where and will give me directions. This didn't work well. Everybody kept sending me someplace else. In the end I got an address for a bus company that was going to El Salvador unfortunatly they reversed the numbers for the street and avenue. Nice for people from the same company.... Either way it meant it only took me four hours of taking city busses all over town to find the station. Oh well, I got to see a lot of Guate.

In the end I met a local from San Salvador who had was in guate for the day and we chatted for a bit and he gave me his number in case I needed anything and invited me to take a road trip with some friends this weekend. We will see.

Since I got in late, after dark, I took a taxi to the place recommend of the two in the guide. It's seams to be the city hang out for the Peace Corp volunteers when they are in the city on business. Both my older brother and my Dad were in the Peace Corp so it is interesting to meet these people. I have even ended up with the phone number of one of they guys incase I make it out towards his sight. El Salvador the land of phone numbers.

Today I wondered around the town for a bit. I am not used to using US dollars as regular money. The fact the ATM gave me my cash in ten dolor bills is a bit odd.

I don't know what it is, but there is something about here that reminds me of Los Angles. Really, I know that sounds odd but I keep thinking that it reminds me of my trip through L.A. back in October. Maybe it is the weather or some kind of smell I haven't noticed but I keep getting that feeling. I did arrive on a bus that was affiliated with Greyhound, but it was cleaner, and the L.A. bus terminal was one of the most disgusting ones I have been through and this one was quite nice. I doubt I will be able to put my finger on why this seams like L.A., but it does.

Down in the city center (which is nothing like L.A.) I went and saw the main church Catedral Metropolitana. It wasn't anything too exciting. Modern design and compared to most in Guatemala and Mexico, cheerful. The paintings behind the alter were all of Christ's life but one could say the happier moments. (Except for the crucifixion of course, although depending on your take on theology there is a reason why it is called Good Friday.)

After the church I visited the National Library and met one of the most friendly security guards I have run across. She was very happy and excited that I should want to see the library. Actually all the security guards I have had more than a passing nod with have been helpful. (And there are _lots_ of security guards; every little store has someone with a big gun standing out front. When I walked by the equivalent of a Sam's Club they had a guard in a tower overlooking the parking lot.)

The library wasn't all that interesting. It was the National library so unless they have an exciting building I don't expect much for a tourest. It did look like it was used a lot by the locals as there were a bunch of probably High School aged kids in school uniforms using it. I have discovered a bit of a paradigm shift since I left the United States in what is important in libraries. Back up north the libraries are trying to figure out how to fit more books in to buildings. The Books Sprial in the new Seattle Public Library is an example of worry about getting enough room for books. Down here there seams to be a lot less worry about getting enough room for the books. Here half of the basement level of the library was just empty. A lot of the libraries in Mexico were the same. Lots of room, not enough books. (Of course can you ever have enough books?)

The other church I went to was the Iglesia El Rosario that the guide book describes as looking like a dilapidated airline hangar. I agree that its all concrete construction does make it heavy and has a very industrial look to it. (It looks a good deal like a Ralph Rasphison building in someways.) But inside it is really georgous because in all the concrete is set stain glass. Even the plain blocks along the side walls had pieces of flat colored glass inserted into the moarder joints. I know my pictures won't do it justice but it is a really inspring space.

There were also thses odd welded meatal and concrete sculptures that must of been the stations of cross. For all the attempts at realism and bloody images of Christ being nailed to the cross I have seen in the last few mouths, the abstract one here was probably the most striking I have seen.

Being in a big of an art mood I figured I would go visit the Museo de Arte de El Salvador. I am working on getting over a general maltrust of urban bus systems so this was a good adventure off by bus. I only got slightly lost and with my handy compass I found the Art Museum and saw it's collection. They even had a card with the descriptions in English for me to carry and read as I went along. Maybe not the most moving set of art I have even seen, but I did enjoy it. There was a set of drawings of native people that I enjoyed by one artist. They really had a point of view and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the artist's background feeling was, but they were well done and worth the trip.

Beaches to Coffee, or how the other two percent live.

February 13, 2005

Juan򡬠El Salvador

Well I have finally made it to someplace my parents haven’t been before. (At least so said their last e-mail. When most travelers write home about their trips their parents get worried or at least have lots of wonder on what the places might be like; my parents get nostalgic.)

I left San Salvador Thursday and spent a day in the beach town of La Libertad. I went there as much as it was anyplace and I needed to get going as I did to pick up a present for my friend Becca. It’s an OK little town. My impression of it is a bit marred by the fact that just as I got there I had my first “walking walletEexperience in El Salvador. It was just a kid who came up and wanted to help me find a place to stay and followed me around and pointed out the places I was already planning to go to. This ends with him asking for a tip for his services that I never wanted in the first place. (These ‘helpersEare always in more of a rush for me to pick where I will stay than I am to make the decision. I don’t like pressured decisions, and I don’t like paying for something I didn’t want in the first place

The town is the closest beach to the capital. This led me to think that it would be a little more setup for the weekend beach trip out of the city. In fact it probably had been, but that was probably back in the early 70’s. There were the remains of a nice beach front park with concrete tables and benches. The tables were warn, the benches broken and the park all weeds and trash. At first I was disappointed that like many of the interesting buildings in Guatemala, things that were once great are being left to rot rather than maintained. Then I remembered that this country had been in bitter civil war as recently as 1992. When I was in San Salvador I went to the Centro Monse񯲠Romero where a small museum displays bits from the civil war and they had a map showing where thirteen years ago there were military fronts and encampments in the areas of the city I had just visited the day before. They probably have had bigger things to rebuild than their park benches.

Yesterday I took busses 287 and 249 here to Juay򡮠 (From what I can tell, all the bus routs in El Salvador are numbered like the busses in a metropolitan bus system. I like it.) Upon arriving at the town and walking two blocks a guy, who for some reason reminds me of my Uncle Bob, pulled up in his pickup and asked if I was looking for a place to stay. He offered a ride up to his hotel and said he would give me a ride back if I didn’t like it. I took him up on the offer and went to see the place.

It’s a nice quiet place that has a wonderful view of the nine volcanoes that surround the place. He pointed out which ones were active and which weren’t. As the room cost less than what my guide said to expect, I figured no harm in taking it.

This morning after my shower he took me out to see his coffee finca (farm.) The guide book says that 95 percent of El Salvador’s income comes from coffee, but that only 2 percent of the people control that. Well I got to meet one of those two percent.

My host’s family has the coffee finca, owns commercial property in the Zona Rosa in San Salvador (along with their own home) along with this hotel. He had been largely educated in Guatemala and Mexico which sounded like a good idea as much of it was during the civil war. Too bad I’m not more outgoing or maybe I could have weaseled my way into visiting his place in San Salvador and gotten to see how those who can afford the Zona Rosa live.

The coffee finca this morning was neat. They just finished the harvest this week so it took a bit to find a coffee plant to get a good picture of. The coffee is sent to a mill across the valley that sounds like a kind of Co-Op. It is also a mill that provides coffee for Starbucks. So I have now seen at least one place that Starbucks gets it’s coffee.

Along with the rows and rows of coffee plants they have various trees mixed in. They also grow two kinds of oranges, avocado, macadamia nuts, and limes. After the tour I helped unload the pick-up of stuff he had brought down and then helped reload it with oranges he was taking to town to sell. The stuff we unloaded was stuff he is using to put together a couple tourist houses in the finca. When it was all done it looked like it would be a nice place to stay. (It was a bit like the old days unloading a truck again. I think they were a bit surprised at first that I knew how to carry with others well.)

After we got back to town they pulled the pick-up up to the end of a market street and sold the oranges at twenty for a dollar. They were good oranges too as I had one while he gave me the tour. I wondered off to see the weekly food fair.

Juay򡒳 economy was mostly based on coffee, so when in the mid 1990’s the international coffee prices dropped when Vietnam started exporting coffee, the town suffered. According to my host, the thing that saved the area’s economy was tourism. I am guessing that this weekly food fair is largely to thank for that money. In many ways this food fair or feria gastron󭩣a is not too much different from some of the summer festivals back in Minnesota. The food is better than most and there were no fired cheese curds or funnel cakes to be found, but still a similar feel. There was the search for a place to stop and eat, and the people running around empty the garbage bins and cleaning up. The tourist board here has it’s act together. (Of course they do this every week so they should.) My lunch was good and I will see about my supper.


February 14, 2005

Santa Ana, El Salvador

Just a couple stories from the last few days I want to put down before I forget them.

The day I was wandering around central San Salvador I had lunch at one of the comedors in the market off the square. I picked a place mostly at random and sat down to my fried chicken with rice and tortias. (For the record, with few exceptions, fried chicken tastes the same all over the world.) The guy who was helping run the place was a nice guy and if my Spanish was better would probably have been fun conversation. He turned his back to me and helped some other customers. Now down here there are entire stores and sections of the markets devoted to second hand clothes from the United States. You see lots of American sayings and logos on clothes most of which the people wearing them clearly don’t have an idea what they mean. This man was wearing a shirt that celebrated the 20th aniversity of the New French Caf鯂ar in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis. Now admittedly it would be a bit more fun if in the nearly ten years I have lived in Minneapolis I had gone to the New French Caf鯂ar, but still it’s a well folded world. (It’s not a small world at all; it’s a bloody big world. Although it is amazing how close disparate parts can be sometimes.)

One thing my host in Juay򡠳aid to me while he was selling oranges out of his truck was that the people of El Salvador are very hard workers. (I agree) They are always doing more. Apparently because of this they are called the Japanese of Central America. He said this was because since they have tasted freedom and prosperity, they will work hard to get it back after they had lost it.

My guide book says that even though they are still recovering from the civil war their economy is nearly to the top of the Central American ladder and that the minimum wage is the highest in the Central America. And even the gardens and bits of people’s patios I can glimpse walking on the street are carefully and thoughtfully tended.

Another Volcano

February 15, 2005

Santa Ana, El Salvador

This morning I got up at 7:20 and made it off to the 8:30am bus to the Parque Naciional Cerro Verde. The guide warned that you had to be on the 8:30am bus to make the 11:00am hikes, which was true. It also meant that by the time the bus got to the park the only remaining people on the bus were going to the park for the hike.

It actually was a lovely two hour bus ride out to the park. As the bus cleared out I got to see who my hiking companions would be. As we signed in and paid the park fee (one dolor US) I met Pablo who is from Spain and had seen me when he was down in La Libertad. After the hike we had a lunch and after a chance to shower, met for dinner and a beer. He is a nice guy and as he is heading out tomorrow and we are going to meet for breakfast. It’s nice to have a dinning companion.

The hike itself was good. It little rough and between this one and Pacaya I have lost a lot of tread on my shoes. There is a reason they use volcanic stone in “harsh abrasive cleanersE We will see if they last the next six months or if I am going to have to buy shoes for a second time on this trip.

VoncᮠIzalco, although classified as active, hasn’t erupted since 1966. It is still a nearly perfect cinder cone and does have vents with steam coming out and the interesting colored rocks that I have only seen before on Pacaya. You climb down from Cerro Verde (which is an inactive volcano) and meet the cinder cone and then work you way back up. The climb wasn’t too bad, maybe a bit fast but most of that is probably because the guide does this every day and is in way better shape. The top has a nice little crater that looks pretty much like it should. Sadly no flying lava, but you can’t have everything. In some ways the trip back down was especially fun as we took a different route and it was all sliding/skating/surfing/wading down a scree slope. (Hence the comment on the rapidly diminishing shoe soles.) It was actually the hike back to the road, not even back up to the park, that was the hardest. We took a longer rout that was less steep but wandered around and had some nice views. Also we had just climbed down two volcanos and up one so we were a bit tired.

The pair of guys from Hungry was not looking forward to having to walk back to the park because they had left a sweat shirt there and the rest of us were just going to catch the bus as it passed on the way back to town. (It was also the last bus of the day.) When they told the guide this he had the security guard that had also been part of the trip radio back up to the main entrance. They found the pull-over and sent it down with the bus; saving the two guys a trek uphill. I like they way these people work.

A lazy catch-up day.

February 16, 2005

Santa Ana, El Salvador

Today was a day of errands and tying up loose ends: a trip to the grocery store, the post office, market, and a bit of laundry.

I sent a package off back home with stuff I had bought in Guatemala. A couple things with fabrics I had really liked and a few of the odder things I like to pick up. The first step was to find something to mail it back in. I always remember around Christmas time when my co-workers would be sending stuff off to relatives there was a big hunt for boxes. On the road it is the same but you don’t have any of the normal resources like work or the liquor store. I ended up doing the same I did back in Mexico. After searching for a bit for either a mailing tube or big padded envelope I ended up getting a cardboard box from the friendly helpful paper store. (It is also no coincidence that all the stuff I get tends to be small or like fabric foldable; it makes finding boxes much easer.)

Upon my return to my hotel room I unpacked my entire bag and went through everything pocket by pocket. Every time I send a package off I immediately find things that should have gone in it, but didn’t make it. I was to have no hold outs this time. I even remember to sort through the foreign coins I have been saving to add to my collection.

At the post office I was again greeted by helpful understanding El Salvadorian workers. The guard chatted with me while I waited in line and for the first time in a long time when I went to plaster the stamps on my package the counter was actually clean. I always have to fill out a little customs sticker saying what is in the box and how much it is worth. It tends to put the cost of postage at about twenty percent of the total value of the box. But I figure it is worth it as it’s not about the monitory value of the things in the box. Either way I like the El Salvadorian post office, now we shall see how long it takes to arrive.

After my success at the post office I headed off to wander around town. (My stress related to post office dealings has to do with how different they are country to country. For example here it was good that I didn’t seal my package up as they needed to inspect it’s contents, where as in Mexico they were annoyed it wasn’t already wrapped in yellow paper and tied up with string.) Of course one of the first things I did was wander thru the market looking at soap and ended up buying something that I will send home when I get a chance. It’s like laundry you can never get it all done.

Back at my room I had a nice shower and washed out a couple pieces of clothes. (I ended up getting a room with a private bathroom so I figured I should get some laundry done since I have it.) I discovered something sort of interesting. I knew the pants I was washing out were filthy so I tired to rinse them with just plain water to get some dirt out before the wash cycle. I filled the little sink dunked the pants and worked them expecting to water to turn brown with dirt. Nothing, water stayed clean. Then I added a big pinch of laundry detergent and just as I started to work the pants again the water turned brown. After the water got to a very dark brown, I wrung the pants out and refilled the sink with fresh water. Dunked them and the water stayed mostly clean but after adding a pinch of soap I was again able to work up dark muddy water. I’m a little impressed the difference a little soap makes. The things you learn hand washing you clothes in hotel sinks.

Back out to the store to pick up snacks for on the bus, raisins, crackers, etc, and water, and off to dinner. I ate at one of the chain chicken places that are all around Central America. It’s ok food and my other option was a restaurant I had eaten at and didn’t like or a hamburger on the street. I didn’t feel like a hamburger. One surprise was when I got my change I saw two bright shinny coins. I looked at them and saw some kind of boat on it. Now I have finally gotten used to using US money again so first thing I think is maybe El Salvador decided to do like the Bahamas and make some coins that are the same size, shape, and color as US coins and have the same value. Then I flipped the coin over and realized that, no, it was just the US issuing a Lewis and Clark commemorative coin. I leave the country and they change the money on me.

We I should run. I have to fit everything back in my bag before I go to bed as it is all over my bed and then I hope to get up early to get off at a good hour. (Don’t know where I am going to go yet, but I don’t want to be late.)

Peacefull lake

February 19, 2005

Lago de Coatepeque, El Salvador

The last couple days I have been here on the Lago de Coatepeque. It’s sort of like Lake Atilan in Guatemala but less on the Gringo trail, as is most of El Salvador. I am staying at Amacuilco, a hostel with a nice little swimming pier and cheep dorm beds. (Or dorm beds at all.) It is very nice and tranquil. I spent most of yesterday working on a nice little sunburn. That’s what I get for reading too much in the sun.

Today was the reason I really came out here though. I called up one of the Peace Corps volunteers that I met in San Salvador and spent the day with him out at his sight.

It’s not that it is an extremely different little village than any the rest, but I got to see one with a guide and he showed me the things he had been telling be about back in the city. Lunch was with the family he has his meals with; we even watched the end of the Balboa vs. Real Madrid soccer game with the patriarch of the household.

I think the reason the Peace Corps has been peeking my interest is that I am the only male in my family who hasn’t done it. I want to go back now and sit my dad and brother down and have them tell me Peace Corps stories. I suspect comparing their experiences would be fun as they were twenty five years apart. My dad was in the first year and my brother on the 25th aniversity.

I got to see one of the farming projects he is working with. The town has a new communal water cistern that they are proud of. We passed the school which is al wired and ready for running water and electricity, now if only they had either. We even hiked up and saw the graveyard. (Yes more graveyard pictures.)

It was a nice day. If I was heading back home right away I could see myself throwing myself into some research projects on fruit trees and water purification for him. Scott was a nice host and Los Pranes probably a nice village. (If I got that name wrong Scott will have to e-mail me and tell me.)

I’m not sure where I am off to tomorrow, maybe I will work that out over breakfast but eventually it will be in Honduras and then south. There are some Mayan ruins I want to see, and some good snorkeling over on the Bay Islands I want to get to.

Rocks and Taxes

February 22, 2005

Suchitoto, El Salvador

Well I ended up in Suchitoto. It’s a nice little town in northern El Salvador. Cobble stone streets and due to it’s location very little earthquake damage, so the buildings are in good shape. At least during the week when I have been here it is quiet. The days get very hot so by mid-day it seams everybody is sitting around on the shady side of the street waiting for it to cool back down. The mornings and evenings though the weather is perfect. It reminds me of those late summer nights back home where you want to stay up all night.

The town’s two attractions are the reservoir for the hydro electric plant and the Cascada Los Tercios. The reservoir is peaty, but as the guide book said, it looks better from afar. Up close you see the trash strewn along the shore. I figure El Salvador is about where the U.S.A. was in the 1950’s as far a littering and solid waste problems. The problem here is they are in the plastic age, not the metal and glass age. The curse of the plastic bottle and the plastic bag. I am a bit more hopeful for El Salvador than Guatemala or Mexico as at least in the capital they do have limited recycling and at least here in Suchitoto they separate organic and inorganic garbage. (We don’t even do that in Minneapolis.)

The other draw are the Cascadas. The guide book had warned that they were often dry and as I am in the middle of the dry season I expected them to be. They were bone dry. But the interesting part is the stone formations. I have seen hexagonal volcanic structures in National Geographic and had hoped to see them in person. Now I have. I don’t know if the British guy who I met that morning, who I walked out to the falls with thought it was so impressed, but I was.

The other draw here is the cultural programming. It’s mostly on the weekends but I had found a poster that said today (Wednesday) was the 15th anniversary of the cultural festival and that there would be “Conciertos, alborada fiestas, ¡Todo el dE Well from what I could tell today it was mostly just a small military band that would wander around and play from time to time. Oh well so much for my big arts festivalE

I still have ended up getting some stuff done. Today I did my taxes. I just need two more bits of information and I will be all ready to go. I have been able to do it online although I will still have to print up a form and sign it and mail it in. If I had known I could have brought a copy of my 2003 tax forms with me and done it entirely online. Oh well. At least it doesn’t look like I will have to try to mail drop in my forms. (Scanners and e-mail are great.)

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