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,

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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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