26 August 2012

Cumplimos un mes!

I've made it through two weeks of school with my 20 kiddos; week three starts tomorrow. They're really interesting, smart kids, and I'm having a blast getting to know them. I'm also really enjoying the 1.5 hour planning period I have in the middle of the day while they're at Spanish. It's just unreal and totally unheard of in the States.

We also celebrated our one-month of living in ES last Thursday. In honor of this milestone, I've decided to list some things to remember while in El Salvador:
  1. Always carry an umbrella.
  2. Check your cup for ants before reusing it.
  3. Agree on the price of every taxi ride before getting into the car (this is always negotiable).
  4. 2 pupusas are probably enough.
  5. It's okay not to refrigerate eggs, but you should wash the shells.
  6. If an invitation says 5:00, no one will show up until at least 6:30.
  7. Might as well get a beer...it's the same price as water.
  8. Never underestimate the amount of time it's going to take to get somewhere on a road that's not paved, no matter how short the distance.
More on school soon!

04 August 2012

La Palma, El Rosario, Perquín, and El Mozote

Lots of traveling around lately has lead to a little confusion and has brought to light a few cultural differences between United Statsians and Salvadorans. That said, I got to go to a lot of really cool places this week, all of which turned out great.

On Wednesday, we took a long day trip to a lodge in La Palma, a town in northwest ES. We stopped up in the mountains, and the scenery/weather was gorgeous. From the lodge, we drove about 40 minutes and went on a hike to the border with Honduras. We waded across the river to stand in the other country and had a fun time in the water.

After hiking, we went back to the lodge and had gallina india for lunch (chicken and soup, basically). After we were all done eating and were ready to go, we had to wait around for like 30 minutes for our driver to finish whatever he was doing...wouldn't really fly in the U S of A, but down here, you just kind of have to roll with things. We finally got going and stopped in el centro de La Palma to buy some goodies before heading home. Lots of time in the car that day.

On Thursday, the new elementary teachers + one of our lovely welcoming committee gals set out on a trip to Perquín, a town in the northeast of ES. We rented our car for $25/day from someone that a lot of people in the complejo use. Driving in ES is a talent. Carolyn did an awesome job avoiding pot holes, cows, dogs, horses, pedestrians, and semi trucks, all without wrecking the car on one of the crazy curving roads.

On the way, we stopped in El Rosario to find the aguas termales (hot springs). After a lot of asking for directions and circumventing a construction zone on foot, we hiked about an hour out of the town down to a river, only to discover that the nearby hot springs were actually just a tiny trickle of water funneled into a concrete pool about four feet by three feet. We were entertained and took pictures.

On the way back up the mountain, we got caught in an afternoon rainstorm and got completely soaked. I was lucky to be with super laid-back, flexible ladies that weren't bothered one bit. We hiked back to our car in the downpour, much to the amusement of the locals who smiled and laughed at us as we walked by.

We got to our hotel, the Perkin Lenca, and got keys to our bungalow. It was super nice and pretty spacious, with free bottled water and a hammock on the porch. We cleaned up and headed to dinner in the main building - it was delicious and inexpensive.

Our hot breakfast was included the next morning; we ate and booked a guide to come pick us up for what we thought would be a few hours of hiking on the Llano del Muerto and Bailadero del Diablo. Our guide arrived, and there was quite a bit of confusion as to how long we were going to be hiking and where we wanted to go, etc. There was a particular waterfall we were interested in seeing, and Carolyn and I did our best to convey in Spanish the fact that we wanted to do a long hike to get there. We thought we had it all figured out, but our guide Rafael apparently had other ideas about how long we'd be hiking and drove us about 30 minutes from the hotel to the entry point for a 3 minute hike to the waterfall. Hmm.

After discussing with Rafael the fact that we were very confused about our agreed price of $50 for a 3 minute hike, we decided to use him as transport to the Cerro de Perquín, a hill/mountain that the guerrillas utilized during the war and the place where the war museum was located. We drove about 30 minutes from our waterfall to the hill and hiked up about 30 minutes while Rafael told us all about the guerrillas and how they used the hill. He turned out to be a former guerrilla fighter, and he showed us all sorts of things like plants they ate for survival and places where bombs had impacted the side of the mountain. It turned out to be a great tour with a lot of good information.

We hiked back down and went to the museum, which houses a lot of pictures, news articles, weapons, and propaganda posters. There are a lot of former guerrilla fighters there who are very eager to share their stories.

This morning, we checked out and headed to El Mozote, a site slightly south of Perquín where a terrible massacre occurred during the war. The government was utilizing the strategy called quitar el agua al pez or taking the water from the fish. During the war, the guerrilla fighters were like the fish, and the pueblos and civilians were the water that supported them. The government massacred the entire population of El Mozote, nearly 800 men, women, and children. We heard the story from a woman near the monument as well as from a young man named Eduardo. While not everyone in our group could understand every word he was saying, Carolyn and I did our best to translate, and it was obvious to everyone what a terrible tragedy it was.

Eduardo told us about another monument about a mile away that was under construction and offered to walk us there. We followed and were very pleasantly surprised at a large structure featuring Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and MLK Jr. It was beautiful and quiet, and we felt surprised and privileged to have seen it before its completion, as it was obviously not listed in any of our guide books. After taking some pictures, we headed back to town, bought some artesanías from the ladies near the church (the freakin ginger candy is amazing), and hopped in the car for our drive back to San Salvador.

All in all, it was a great trip. While confusing at times, we were happy with the outcome and learned quite a bit about El Salvador. If you are on a strict schedule or need everyone to always be on time and accurate when estimating the time things are going to take, you may not be the happiest camper traveling around this country. The key is to relax, take it all in, and not be too perturbed when things don't go exactly the way you were imagining. The people are incredibly kind and helpful, and will always be around to point you in the right direction if you're lost. The animosity toward people from the US that I've felt in other parts of the world doesn't seem to be as much of a thing here. For someone who has been to a lot of places, the gente amable of El Salvador is a welcome change.

Posing by our anticlimactic hot springs