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...


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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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