A wonderful birthday present

By James Johnson at August 27, 2005 20:50
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Today was my 44th birthday. And my parent's 45th anniversary...you do the math. This morning we went to meet with Tia Dora Alicia (Carmina's Aunt) at the Hogar Moraga Orphanage to take some pictures so that I can start hitting you all up for donations of clothing, shoes, sporting goods and other items.

I had previously thought the orphanage was both boys and girls, but Dora Alicia told us it was just girls, ages 6 to 18, some are full-time residents and about a quarter come to the facility during the week as sort of a boarding school. When we arrived, Dora Alicia greeted us and showed us around the facility where the girls sleep and eat and introduced us to a few of the women that work in the kitchen and laundry. She took us to the basketball court - if you could call it that - where the older girls were playing a pick-up game. She gathered them all around and introduced us as I took a few pictures, then the little girls came in ready for their pictures.

Everyone was happy and bubbilng with excitement as to what this tall, heavyset "Americano" and his Salvadoran esposa were going to do.

Tia Dora Alicia and two of the girl's teachers got the girls lined up in a small patio, on either side of a small statue of the Virgin Mary. Everyone posed, giggled, smiled and I snapped a few shots. As soon as I said "finito" I was instantly mobbed by the girls all wanting to see their picture on the camera. The younger girls all started tugging on my shirts asking "otra foto mi". I had to oblige these sweet little girls. As they flocked around me, some started hamming it up for the camera, others using their fingers to make rabbit ears behind their friends, and still others making sure thier hair and their friend's hair and dresses were just right. After each picture, the girls would mob me again wanting to see what they looked like. While I was taking pictures of the little girls, I noticed the older girls had left assuming they had gone back to their basketball game.

All of a sudden I heard singing! Tia Dora Alicia had remembered today was my birthday and had gotten all the girls to give me a present of three celebratory songs...in Spanish of course. I pretended I was wiping sweat, instead of tears, from my eyes.

The majority of these girls are up for adoption. They are well behaved, sweet and very charming. Two sisters are in the process of being adopted to the United States. One little girl in particular really captured mine and Carmina's heart.

Please take a look at the pictures in the gallery titled, "Hogar Moraga Orphanage" and consider helping them out with a donation. They need clothes (girl clothes of course), athletic shoes, hair things (barrettes, clips, scrunchies), little things to make a girl feel pretty and, sporting goods. Their basketball court needs new rims, backboards and nets. I had previously written they could use comptuers and such, but at this time I think the things I just listed will be better used.


Costa del Sol

By James Johnson at August 26, 2005 20:24
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We traveled about 2 hours east to go to Costa del Sol, a beautiful south facing beach. All the beaches in this area are private – either homes or hotels – so we paid $20 per person to spend the day at the Pacific Paradise Hotel. It was twenty dollars well spent as it included soft drinks, a lunch from a well rounded menu and a semi-private patio right on the sand complete with hammocks. The sand was awesome dark grains on the bottom with gold-flaked, yellow sand on top. And like the water at the other beach, it was very warm and pleasant to be in. There was a strong rip-tide at the time, so the lifeguard wouldn’t let us go too far out, but it was fun none-the-less.

Today was a trip back to San Salvador for more shopping and then a trip to more Mayan ruins at San Andreas. Unfortunately the batteries we bought for the camera were crap, so we didn’t get as many as we had hoped.

Tomorrow is our last day here…sigh… so it will be a day of packing and trying to figure out how to get all our treasures safely stored in our bags. Then it’s a birthday celebration at Mauricio and Estella’s restaurant for yours truly. We get to wake up at 4 am on Sunday for the plane ride home. Yahoo!

I’ll write more on the plane. I promise.


Cerro Verde

By James Johnson at August 24, 2005 23:41
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After a day of resting, we ventured back into the mountains. This time we traveled to Cerro Verde, home of the Los Volcanoes National Park. It was a beautiful drive up the mountain with great views of Santa Ana and San Salvador on the left and, Lago Coatepeque on the right. The weather was cool and breezy with large puffy clouds and thousands of brightly colored butterflies flying around. The butterflies are a common feature of El Salvador and we have seen a wide variety of them. Brown, red, purple, large yellow ones, and small blue ones. I wish I had brought my entomology books with me. After driving up the mountain for close to 45 minutes we reached the gate, only to be told that the park service had recently limited admittance to the park to 300 guests per day, and tickets were sold in Santa Ana. Mauricio spoke with the ranger and explained we were “Americanos” and visiting their wonderful country. It took about five minutes of negotiation, but finally the ranger agreed to let us in, after we gave him our names and places of residence.

It’s interesting that the government makes these changes – remember the Guatemala trip – and the citizens aren’t totally informed of them. A sign at the bottom of the mountain at least would’ve been nice.

We entered the parking lot and were greeted by several young Salvadorans, offering to give us guided tours for a fee. We talked to several of them and decided to go with Diego, a small, friendly 11 year old who told us he knew a lot about the park and would only charge us $0.25 per person. What an amazing little boy! He has confidence of an adult with the knowledge of an encyclopedia with the bright-eyed innocence of a kid. He was very serious during his talks, but would occasionally skip along the trail. As we started the tour we thought he had just memorized a script, but we soon found out we were wrong. He answered, in great detail, any question we asked. During our trip we asked what he wanted to do when he grew up. He answered with “be a biologist and work to save the forest.”

The trail was 2 kilometers, rose to 1500 meters and went deep into the rain forest. It was filled with bromeliads, ferns, large vines, tremendously huge trees, hundreds of birds and the ever-present butterflies. The rain forest is truly a sight to see as all things within it all live together symbiotically. Living in the city for 10 days, the peace and quiet of the forest was a nice change. Standing still, you could sense the energy of the forest and several of the pictures we took had the now familiar “energy orbs” in them.

The trail ended at a closed down restaurant. The restaurant was built on the edge of an active volcano, but the earthquake ten years ago severely damaged the building and there has not been enough money to make it sound. The volcano had been active since the 1700’s and Diego told us investors decided to build here as tourists liked to come and see the lava and flames. They felt this would be a good site to put the restaurant. However, the day before the restaurant opened, the volcano went dormant.

During our trip, a storm started moving in, so our view of the volcano was obscured by heavy cloud cover. Even though we didn’t get to see it, the entire trip was well worth it. Returning to the park, we stopped to eat and talk about what we had seen. As we piled into the van to start back downhill, the clouds broke and we were given the chance to see the volcano perfectly, complete with steam rising from its crater. We could see several people on the edge of the crater and were told they were geologists monitoring the volcano as it has started showing signs of become active once again.

Tommorow is a trip to Playa del Sol, about 2 hours east of Santa Ana, where the sand is yellow. We'll be staying at a private beach, where it costs $35 per person to get in and includes all food, drinks and sundries. Should be fun, check back soon.


Vacation update

By James Johnson at August 20, 2005 01:00
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Hello dear readers…

Well this trip has taken a turn for the worse. I haven’t been able to write, because I’ve been captured by rebel guerillas and held hostage. The ransom was a free copy of ArcView 3.1 and the October 1973 issue of Sports Illustrated. Fortunately, I had a copy ArcView on my laptop and Marta had the magazine, so Carmina was able to get me free.

Now that I have your attention….

This trip continues to amaze. We are all so relaxed and feel no pressure at all. A routine has settled in as we explore the country, come home to relax, shower, plan the next day’s events, and then fall asleep. The past few days have been truly amazing.

At night, the house is locked up tight. On Saturday morning I was feeling antsy and wanted to take a walk to the main road and buy some breakfast. With my broken Spanish, I asked Marta to “abrir la puerta”. I thought I had asked her to close the door behind me. Instead I asked her to open it. I stepped out and took off. Marta panicked and ran back to Carmina, yelling “Nina CeCi. Se me salio su esposo.” (your husband got out)

Once I made my apologies to Marta and things calmed down, we went to visit Tia Dora Alicia, Carmina’s aunt. Tia Dora is a nun, who works in an orphanage. She is short, sweet, bubbly and full of life. Carmina and Dora haven’t seen each other for six years, and the tearful and genuinely joyous reunion would bring a tear to even the meanest curmudgeon. The orphanage was built in 1913 and currently has 50 children, ages 6 to 18. It is a large building, with a beautiful courtyard and sitting with Dora a complete sense of calm and peace filled the space. Of course, she kept having to run off to take care of this and that, but she did it all with a broad smile on her face. While we were there, we met two little girls, Claudia and Myrna, who were washing clothes. I took a few pictures of them and we chatted for a bit. It turns out they’ve been learning English and asked me how long it took for me to learn. :) The orphanage takes older kids who are harder to adopt out. The kids are taught vocational skills and, as all orphanages, seem to need a lot of everything. When we return, I am going to start soliciting donations of clothing, cash and computers to donate to Dora and the kids.

After our trip to see Tia Dora, we set off for Juayua, high up in the mountains of the Sonsonate departmento. It is about 30 miles south of Santa Ana, but since it is through the mountains, and because of the inevitable rain, it took close to 90 minutes to get there. Sonsonate is the primary coffee growing region of El Salvador. The coffee fields are high on the mountain sides with the bushes grown in rows. Between every 10-15 rows is a line of large trees, which have been trimmed to provide shade for the coffee beans. Juayua is a tourist-centric town, so the citizens keep it quite clean. There is a large open-air market with Salvadorans and Guatemalans selling items. Like all Salvadoran towns, there is a large Catholic Church on one side of a large central park. The town itself is very hilly and with cobblestone streets, it was reminiscent of San Francisco. After our visit we stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant. I had my first cup of genuine El Salvadoran coffee…strong, black, and brewed with black pepper and cinnamon. It was extremely good. That evening we met and had dinner with Martha, Carmina’s new sister-in-law.

Yesterday was a day of relaxing. Mauricio has a good friend who owns a hacienda on the beach at Costa Azul. What a great day that was. The weather was warm with a calm tropical breeze. The beach is black sand, long and flat. The waves break about 100 yards out, and the water is so warm, it feels like bath water. We all piled into Herman’s 4x4 and drove along the beach to a small estuary where the family played in the water while Niles and I walked along the beach, picking up sand dollars, small shells and coconut husks. When we got back we feasted on grilled beef, snail ceviche, raw oysters, tortillas, beer and fresh coconut water. After lunch it was time to soak in the pool, and then take a siesta in one of their several hammocks.
Today, Monday, we got up early, piled into a chartered bus and took off for Esquipulas, Guatemala. The trip took 90 minutes to get to the border where we had to have our passports stamped. El Salvador and Guatemala have a treaty where citizens of both countries can pass freely, just by showing their identification cards. However sometime during the past year, in order to stop the child smuggling trade, El Salvador changed the requirements and minors need to have a passport. We didn’t know this and didn’t have Denise’s passport with us. After a brief family discussion it was decided that Marta would take a taxi back home, get the passport, return to the border while we stayed and waited. So, with all our passports and documentation in hand we “checked out” of El Salvador and crossed the border to Guatemala. The Salvadoran border patrol is very thorough and actually spends time examining the documents and comparing pictures to actual people. Guatemala was quite different, a stamp on the passport, a “Buenas” and a wave through the border. When we arrived at the border from El Salvador, close to ten money changers, stormed the van trying to get us to change dollars to quetzals, the Guatemalan currency.

Esquipulas is the home of the “black” Christ, a crucifix made of black wood in 1597. The church the crucifix is in is made of granite, large, very ornate, and full of candles. Over the years the candle flames have covered the wall with soot, and the main entrances to the church are slippery with wax. Outside the grounds of the church are vendors selling rosaries and candles, all of which have a very negotiable price. The crucifix is at the head of the church with a long curved ramp up to and around the glass enclosure. As you leave the area, you walk backwards, as you are not supposed to turn your back on Christ. Carmina told us during the weekends the whole church grounds are packed with people making a pilgrimage, often with people walking on their knees to and from the crucifix. Interestingly enough, there are signs posted on all the entrances not to go into the church with either your cell phone or your hand gun. While we walked around the grounds a priest was blessing several families with holy water.

We stopped for lunch, then walked through the Mercado. What a difference! The vendors are pushy, there is trash everywhere. In fact we carried our empty water bottles around because there are no trash cans. Just about every vendor sells some sort of food, primarily candy and the bees swarming around was disgusting. There were several other vendor stalls inside the building but in the dark, musty and humid environment it wasn’t fun at all. Every stall had the same selection of blankets, leather wallets and cowboy hats. Some items even had stickers “made in China”. We left for home soon after. It was strange having a “I’m glad to be home” feeling.

This trip just keeps getting better and better. Everyone is happy, there has yet to be an episode of someone getting on someone else’s nerves. We’re healthy, with only the occasional mosquito bite. This is supposed to be the “bad” time of year to be down here, but the weather has been great. Mid 80’s, some humidity, usually a hard rain either in the morning or evening, then bright blue skies with white puffy clouds. Steam is rising from the seven volcanoes surrounding the area. As we drive through the mountains, you can smell a distinct sulphur laced odor. The people here are friendly and our Spanish skills are getting better. I haven’t seen the parrots and wildlife I thought I’d see, but there are plenty of Salvadoran deer and ostriches running around. I will post some pictures as soon as I can. There are two geckos living in the patio. Each night we are greeted with a loud “raaak, raaak”. Each morning Estella and Marta are busy preparing deserts for the restaurant and fill the house with the smell of cheesecake, tiramisu and pan dulce.

Being able to spend quality time with this fantastic family is terrific. I can't remember when I've seen Niles smile as much as he has on this trip. It has been great, having the chance to see where Carmina has come from, and what things in her life have made her the wonderful woman she is today. I feel great.

More later...


Getting our luggage - yahoo!

By James Johnson at August 19, 2005 20:32
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We finally got our luggage. Well all of it except for Willie's suitcase. Carmina got in an argument with the United Airlines customer service agent ( I think I will start a site called UnitedAirlinesSucks.com), because he wouldn't reimburse us for clothing and medicine today. Buying clothing here was easy...getting receipts wasn't. And we had to buy $80 of our various medicines down here and they don't reimburse for that. As I mentioned before, Estella owns a clothing company, so getting a "receipt" for the $375 will be easy, but it totally sucks that they won't pay for the meds. Since we didn't have the receipts handy, we have to wait until we get back home and send in a claim to UA headquarters in Chicago.

Excuse me Mr Glenn F. Tilton but I paid you to take both my family AND my luggage to El Salvador, not pad your ludicrous bonus package!

On the way back home we were talking about it and figured out what probably happened. While we were waiting in line, several (almost 3/4's) of the passengers were checking in with way too many bags, or bags that were obviously too heavy. Since an airplane can only take a certain amount of weight on the plane, the heavier bags were loaded first, then the lighter, later arriving, bags were jettisoned to either another plane or the cargo holding area.

Ok, enough of a rant. It's a pisser, but not enough to ruin this wonderful vacation. We have our own clothes, our various and sundry items and plans to travel to the mountain town of Juayúa in Sonsonate. Here's a preview. Information on Juayúa for gringos can be seen here. For the rest of you, here.


Days 3, 4 and 5

By James Johnson at August 19, 2005 15:06
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It’s been a great two days. We’re all enjoying this trip a lot and it’s so much more than a gringo from ‘merica had imagined. The country is absolutely beautiful…green, lush, and tropical. It has been raining off an on the past two days and a harder storm is due tomorrow. United Airlines says our bags will be in tomorrow, so after we call in the morning to confirm, we’ll head off to San Salvador to pick them up. It will be nice to wear our own clothes again.

Yesterday we went to Lago Coatepeque and had lunch at Hotel Torremolino. The lake was formed from a volcanic crater and is about 3 kilometers in diameter. The water has been receding over the years and it’s peculiar to see the piers coming out from the buildings, standing like spindly leg spiders. We ate on one platform which was about 30 feet above the ground. A calm cool breeze soothed us while we ate local fish, deep-fried and stuffed with shrimp. Various birds flew by, including several groups of parrots. We drove around the small town and found a house on the lake for sale. Actually two homes on 1.18 acre, complete with a caretaker family for 1.2 million colones. The exchange rate is currently 1:8.75, so you can do the math. :)

The lake itself is about 3000 feet from the top of the crater, with a long winding hard-packed dirt road to and from the main road. Coming up from the lake it started raining hard, and riding in the back of a pick-up truck, in the rain, on a bumpy dirt road, in a forest, with dark forbidding skies and lightning flashes was quite exhilarating…to say the least. All we need was a Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing us and it would have been directly from Jurassic Park.

Today we toured Centro (the center of) Santa Ana. Carmina took us to the Catholic Cathedral, which is the only Gothic style Catholic church in Central America. There were so many pigeons there; it reminded us of Trafalgar Square in London. There is a central park bordered by the Cathedral, the National Theatre, City Hall and the old National Police Station. Our next stop was the National Theatre, built in 1910, which is in the process of being renovated. It is the only theatre in Central America to have such elegance and is absolutely beautiful inside. Sitting quietly and letting your mind wander, you can envision all the history and events that having taken place over the past 100 years. Amy took the opportunity to sing a few arias. We took several pictures which when we looked at them later, up close, have unfamiliar energy artifacts in them. Interesting.

After the theatre, we stopped by the National Police Station, which is now the home of the Asociación del Patrimonio Cultural de Santa Ana. We were greeted by Salvador Solis who took it upon himself to give us a tour of the building and tell us its history. During the civil war it was used as a government interrogation center and prison, and he eluded that many executions took place there. What is important to know, is that now this building is being used as a place to teach children art, music and dance. What a complete and peaceful turnaround this is.

We walked back to the restaurant for lunch, then back to Mama Quena’s for another visit. Our next trip was back to Chalchuapa to visit the Mayan Pyramids. This time the museum was open and we were able to walk the grounds. Several sections of the main pyramid are fenced off, but there are other sections were we could climb and explore. In the 1950’s the government decided to “preserve” the ruins by coating them with a concrete/stucco mixture, so up close, it looks a bit strange. Archaeologists have decided that no more excavation can take place as the pyramid is so large and so deep, the town would have to be destroyed in order to fully examine the ruins.

We’re having the times of our lives.

Day two

By James Johnson at August 16, 2005 21:58
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After a good night’s sleep we feel great and ready to do some more exploring and family visits. We head over to Mauricio’s restaurant and are escorted through the Mercado by one of his staff. The drivers are really crazy around here and he is worried we’ll get hit by a car. How this person will protect us from a crazy bus I don’t know, but we humour Mauricio all the same. The Mercado is an open-air produce market where the local farmers come to sell the things they’ve grown. It’s busy and hectic, complete with live chickens for sale.

Carmina’s grandmother and aunt live just off the street. She hasn’t seen them for six years and it’s a happy reunion. Their home is interesting. A heavy wood door from the street leads into a hallway, which opens into a large open-air, partially covered patio. The kitchen is covered but outside, with each of the bedrooms off of the patio. The walls are adobe and in the back of the area is the original house, crumbled now. Carmina grew up in this house and shows us all around.

We happily chat with the family and share our wedding photos with them. There is a lot of energy in here.

Its interesting being in these houses and how they are built to take advantage of the climate. The kitchens are outside to keep the heat from the house. There are no water heaters, only coffee-can sized devices on the showerheads to heat the water as it comes down. Each home has a large, about 200 gallon, plastic container to catch and store rainwater.

On the way back we stop and buy some bananas, a watermelon and a bag of talpajocote. They are very different. A hard green shell covering a sweet tasting, slimy covered seed. The bananas and watermelon are very tasty, better than what we have back in the states. After our visit we go back to the restaurant for lunch, then it’s on to the Chalchuapa, a Mayan pyramid site. Chalchuapa is a small town built right at the foot of the pyramid. It’s a typical town, more of what I was expecting to see here. Because of the earthquake a few years ago, the government closed down the pyramid to tourists, so we have to view it from behind a chain link fence. There is a museum, but it is closed for the day as the town is having a festival. People are walking down the main street dressed in their special clothes going to have fun. We plan to come back on Thursday, when the museum is open, so we can explore some more. Amy, an anthropology major, is excited about coming back.

At the pyramid, we met a couple from Sacramento being guided by a local company. Interestingly enough, they didn’t want to chat. We stop for lunch at an open air café and have boiled yucca root and grape sodas. A snow cone vendor comes down the street and we have tamarind and strawberry snow cones. Another vendor walks up, selling nuts. We bought a half pound of cashews – the biggest and best tasting I’ve ever had for 2 dollars.

Carmina and I are surprised at the prices here. The costs of things in the markets are almost as much as back home. Estella tells us the government has recently decided to use U.S. dollars as the official currency which has greatly inflated the prices of things. The typical worker makes $0.65 an hour, or about $150 per month. A two bedroom house rents for $100 per month, so there’s not much left over for other necessary things. And from this it seems like there is a lot of poverty here, but I don’t see it. For the most part everyone seems happy. There is a lot of commerce and construction going on and children are attending school.

This evening we had a hard rainstorm with lots of thunder and lightning almost directly overhead. It’s fairly cool and the humidity is high, but it is comfortable. Niles, Carmina and I have been lucky with the mosquitoes. Amy and Willie haven’t been so fortunate.

More later…


What's next, you ask?

By James Johnson at August 15, 2005 06:50
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A very smooth flight with great service. The customs agents at the airport stare at Niles and I while Carmina explains 'el es mi esposo y hijasto'. Niles and I have to pay $10 each to get into the country, but we get extra special Turisomo stickers to go along with the stamps for our passports. On to el Reclamo de Equipaje.

Hey! Wait a minute! Where are our bags?

Practically everyone on our flight is missing some piece of their luggage. And of course, there is only one customer service agent to help the 30 people in line. Niles was the only one smart enough to bring a change of clothes.

But...things happen for a reason and part of the fun is waiting to see what it is. It's about 75 degrees here with high humidity very tropical reminding me of Hawaii. Sitting on the airport floor we have a nice view. There are coconut palms and strange black birds with long tails flying around.

More later...



In the airport

By James Johnson at August 15, 2005 06:47
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Growing up in a privileged Southern California suburb, seeing someone who looked different than me was a unique experience.

Ricky dropped us off at LAX and we got into the check-in line. There are only two “white” people in line here; myself and Niles. The airline attendant looked at me quizzically and asked if I really was going to El Salvador. We waited for over two hours and it’s interesting being the minority. Everyone is chatting and friendly, no one is complaining about the wait. Carmina has made friends with the family in front of us and is happily chatting away. It turns out that one of the young girls is heading home to La Libertand after an extended visit and, since she’ll be traveling home alone, the entire family has come to make sure she gets off ok. Typical of Carmina, she offers to watch over “Liz”, so we have a new traveling companion.

Boarding the plane, we see another Caucasian face… the flight steward. So, now there’s three of us on board. The plane is crowded. There are four business women in first class, grandparents, babies, young men who look ready to take on the world. As I sit in my seat and look at their faces walking down the isle I can’t help but wonder about them. What there lives are like, how there lives have been. What did they do during the war, how did it affect them and how they are today.

Take off… I look over at Niles and Amy. Niles is grinning from ear to ear and gives an enthusiastic thumbs up. Amy asks if he’s happy and he responds with “mucho mucho”. Willie giggles as we take to the air. He’s so excited to go on this trip.

What will be next?


Take-off: 12:05:40 PST

Touch-Down: 5:49:25 CST? (Salvadoran time)


The first day

By James Johnson at August 15, 2005 01:00
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We finally get in to see the United Airlines Customer Service agent. I’m expecting some old crone who will act as if it’s my fault that I messed up her day. Instead Carmina and I meet “Brenda” a young, pretty Salvadoran woman who is very polite and concerned about us. I ask if they offer any sort of recompensation for having to buy clothes and she says “Oh yes. Each of you gets $25 per day for up to 3 days”.

While we’re talking with Brenda, we can see Mauricio, Estella and their driver waiting nervously for us outside. The airport security is similar to the States…only passengers are allowed inside. There’s no way to contact them as our cell phones don’t work down here, so they just have to wait.

Finally we meet our family. Hugs, kisses, warm greetings all around. Mauricio is Carmina’s brother, Estella is his wife. They are the sort of people where when you first meet them, they are your best friends. They’ve brought two cars to hold us and our luggage. So we all pile in, Mauricio, Estella, Carmina and Amy in one car; Niles, Willie, me and Miguel in another. We set off to Santa Ana.

The country here is beautiful, green and lush. We pass through acres of sugar cane, corn, coconut and banana fields. Every one hundred to two hundred yards along the road, people have setup roadside stands selling coconuts, bananas, and anona (a strange fruit which looks like a hard, upside down artichoke).

Driving is an adventure. There are hundreds of multi-colored buses, small pick-up trucks and farm vehicles. People are crammed in the pick-ups, usually standing up in the beds as they whiz along the highway. The countryside is very hilly so we frequently come across slow moving buses and passing on a two-lane hilly, curvy road is quite exhilarating.

Our first stop is la playa (the beach) at La Libertad. The local restaurants aren’t open for business yet since it’s only 7:00 AM, but are busy getting ready for the day. There are huge piles of banana sized shrimp, oysters and fish being prepared. We continue on and stop at a roadside restaurant for breakfast. The restaurant is completely open-air with the kitchen in the middle of the tables and a large, dirt, wood-fired oven about six feet in diameter. We have Salvadoran quesadillas and Coke for breakfast. This is not the quesadillas we know, but is actually corn meal bread with sugar and cheese. It’s very good and the Coke has real cane sugar in it, better than back home.

We continue our drive and make it to Mauricio and Estella’s home. While small by American standards, it is one of the largest around here. The garage opens directly to the living room. There is a second story with bedrooms and a bathroom, and a large open patio separating the house from our room. We meet Marta, their housekeeper of 24 years, a tiny, hyperkinetic woman with a perpetual smile. The odor of chicken soup (sopa de gallina) fills the house.

Since we need clothes, the search is on. Fortunately, Mauricio used to be my size, so there are plenty of hand-me downs. Estella owns a woman’s clothing business, so Amy and Carmina have plenty of things to choose from.

Estella’s parents, Mario and Yolanda, arrive and all of us, including young Mario and Denise, all have lunch of gallina india sopa – hen soup, ovaries and eggs included. The people here prefer “old” chickens instead of the young birds we have in the States. It’s much more flavorful than what we’re used to.  Elder Mario is a kick. In 1917 about 20 Chinese settled in El Salvador and Mario’s parents were in this group. So it’s quite an experience to talk to a little Chinese man with blue eyes, who only speaks Spanish.

During our travels today we’ve noticed that everyone is working. We have yet to see a beggar or homeless person. Everyone is busy working on the roads, picking crops, generally keeping busy. While cigarettes are sold in the stores, we haven’t seen anyone smoking either. Since Niles’ and my medicine was lost, we stopped by a Farmacia to get replacements. While we didn’t need a prescription – all we had to do was write down what we needed – the cost was pretty high, $86 for a weeks worth.

Today we’re going to meet Carmina’s grandmother, then it’s off to Tazamul, one of the Mayan pyramids.

Stay tuned. More later,

About the author

James James is a five time and current Microsoft MVP in Client App Development, a Telerik Insider, a past Director on the INETA North America Board, a husband and dad, and has been developing software since the early days of Laser Discs and HyperCard stacks. As the Founder and President of the Inland Empire .NET User's Group, he has fondly watched it grow from a twice-a-month, early Saturday morning group of five in 2003, to a robust and rambunctious gathering of all types and sizes of .NET developers.

James loves to dig deep into the latest cutting edge technologies - sometimes with spectacular disasters - and spread the word about the latest and greatest bits, getting people excited about developing web sites and applications on the .NET platform, and using the best tools for the job. He tries to blog as often as he can, but usually gets distracted by EF, LINQ, MVC, ASP, SQL, XML, and most other types of acronyms. To keep calm James plays a mean Djembe and tries to practice his violin. You can follow him on twitter at @latringo.

And as usual, the comments, suggestions, writings and rants are my own, and really shouldn't reflect the opinions of my employer. That is, unless it really does.

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