Tuesday, February 22, 2011

El Salvador - Part 1

El Jardin de Celeste
I'm still trying to process our recent trip to El Salvador. So much happened. We saw so many things and met so many wonderful people. We formed new friendships. We worked our butts off. We played. We relaxed. Hopefully, we helped. Definitely, we learned. Honestly, I don't even know where to begin!

So let's just start at the beginning. We left early in the morning on Friday, 11 February, flying from Charlotte to Houston and then San Salvador. Our first stop after we left the airport in our bus was at a pupuseria (a sort of restaurant where pupusas served - don't worry if you don't know what pupusas are right now, I'll explain in a future entry). A little girl, no more than eight or nine years old, wanted to sell us some nuts in plastic bags. At first, she wanted $2 per bag, but when there were no takers, she lowered her price to $1. She was just the first of several young entrepreneurs we'd meet during our 10 days in El Pulgarcito.

El Pulgarcito is the nickname for El Salvador. It means "little thumb." El Salvador is sort of shaped like the little part of your thumb. If you don't believe me, just bend your thumb a little, and then look at a map of El Salvador, and you'll see.

All along the road from the airport to San Salvador, there are these fruit stands. Some of them are right next to each other, and they all seem to be selling the same thing, so you wonder what the point is. The road to San Salvador is a good road (better than in Costa Rica, according to one of our group members) and it's impossible to stop looking out the window. As we got closer to San Salvador, we all started seeing familiar sites: McDonald's. KFC. Pizza Hut. Wendy's. Texaco. Exxon, or maybe it's still called Esso there.

There's a huge, modern mall near the highway in San Salvador, with a multiplex cinema and lots of shops. We didn't stop there, though. Instead, we did our shopping at the hardware store. On our list? Buckets, trowels, and shovels. We bought a bunch of them, and each person chipped in $10 to pay. (We would leave them behind at the end of the week.)

We spent our first night in a swanky section of San Salvador, not far from embassy row and the international schools. Our hotel was really more like an inn, and by that I mean that it was cute and quaint.

The hotel where we stayed the first night in San Salvador.
Friday night, we met Patty, our local volunteer coordinator. She took us to a nice restaurant called Típicos Margoth, where we had an amazing spread of food that included: yuca, plaintains, black beans, soft cheese, tamales, and the best tostadas in the whole wide world. Seriously.

The best tostadas in the whole wide world.
On Saturday, we traveled the Pan-American Highway from San Salvador to Santa Ana (where we checked into our hotel - the Hotel Sahara) and beyond to Ahuachapán. We stopped by one of the communities where Charlotte Habitat has a presence, and saw examples of both old and new homes.

This is an example of an older-style house that is made from sticks, mud, and occasionally plastic sheeting.
This is one of the newer homes built by Habitat. It's made of blocks and cement, and is reinforced with rebar (which is particularly helpful when you live in an earthquake-prone area).
We met some very friendly people in this community, including an elder who happily showed us the new community garden that will eventually provide the residents with a place to grow some vegetables. We also met a young family who received a micro loan to help them start a rabbit business.

After visiting the community, we headed up into the mountains toward Apaneca. Along the way is a lovely hotel and restaurant called El Jardin de Celeste. Here we were treated to another excellent meal (probably my favorite of the trip). I had something called a Plato Típico or "typical meal" of grilled beef, chorizo sausage, rice, salsa, soft cheese, black beans and sour cream. I also had quite possibly the best coconut pie in the whole wide world, which sadly, I neglected to photograph.

Plato Típico . . . YUM!!!
In the next entry . . . read all about our ziplining experience. Quite possibly, if I can figure out how to upload it, see (or at least hear) a video. And read about our relaxing day at Lago de Coatepeque, a volcanic crater lake. Coming soon!