Monday, March 30, 2015

Along The Road in El Salvador

As the sleek, air conditioned Mercedes buses with police escorts
whisk the international soccer teams to the stadium, this is their view.
El Salvador: Land of Contrasts.

Feliz Cumpleaños

A member of our fleet celebrated her birthday yesterday and "Happy Birthday" was sung in three different languages: English, Spanish, and French. If Rita and Antoon had been there, it may have been sung in Dutch too.

Happy Birthday  -  Feliz Cumpleaños  -   Bonne Fête

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Weird Things Cruisers Do

Your priorities change when you start cruising full time. It's just not the same as weekend sailing, racing, or living aboard at the dock. I saw a link on Seven Seas Cruising Association's site with a long list of weird things we all do and some of them made me laugh out loud. I picked out a few of my favorites and I'll try to explain them to my landlubber audience.

You've read 240 books in the past year and only bought one.
     This is because at every harbor there is a book exchange where you just take a few and leave a few. It works
     wonderfully well and allows you to try all kinds of books at no expense.

You anchor near the hotels in case they have free wifi you can pick up from on board.
     We have also gone to beach palapas and had a snack and drink just to get their wifi code. Then we go back
      to the boat and bootleg it with our booster. If I didn't do that, how could I upload these scintillating posts?

You haven’t heard the news in weeks, and don’t care.
      News, what news? Ask me what's happening in the fleet, though, and I've got that covered. 

You have friends whose surnames you don’t know and boat names you’ll never forget.
      You make friends quickly out here and what's important is their first names and their boat names and how much
      chain they have out.

The first thing you ask is, “Where is the supermarket, the laundry, and the chandlery? ”
      When you arrive in a new harbor after a passage, you need all those services and have no idea where they are.
      Luckily the fleet is happy to help, just as someone helped them when they arrived.
As cruisers we know we're weird, and probably smell funny, and lack a little in the personal grooming department, and schlep stuff around like sherpas, but we are loving this life and wouldn't trade it for anything.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Grocery Shopping in Central America

When we were back in the good old US of A, I didn't really enjoy grocery shopping, but had it down to a science. I printed my own shopping list with items arranged to fit the way my store was laid out. We mainly bought the same things every week, so I would just get one of my lists and circle what we needed. If anything special was needed there was room to write it in in the appropriate area. Then I would just go down the aisles tossing in what was on the list. Easy Peasy!

But down here in Central America things are WAY different. I rarely go to the same store more than twice, things are arranged differently, most of the labels are in Spanish, the packaging is different, and the selection is limited. Added to all that, we usually have to take a bus or taxi to and from the store and then schlep all our groceries down the docks to our boat. Consequently, a trip to the store is an adventure that often takes hours.

Above you see how lots of the products are packaged here. For people without refrigeration, these small squeeze packets with a re-sealable caps are a great idea. And they come in small quantities, so are probably used up immediately anyway.
Because it's so humid here, many things are packaged in plastic so they can't absorb moisture. Sugar, flour, salt, beans, pasta, cereals, and crackers all come that way. By the way, that pure cane sugar up there could have been grown within a mile of our boat. This area is full of sugar cane fields and frequently, when they are burning them off in preparation for harvest, it rains black ash on our boat. 
Other products come in these foil-lined boxes similar to the juice boxes you put in a child's lunch, but with a re-sealable cap. I really like these because they stack so neatly in the pantry locker, and can be folded flat when empty to take up less space in the garbage bin. (If I was Salvadoran, I'd just throw it out on the street, but that's a whole 'nother subject!) The milk is particularly brilliant because it requires no refrigeration before opening. WHY don't they sell this in America?
So, combined with the strange packaging, foreign labels, limited selection, difficulty of getting things back to the boat, and the cheap restaurant prices, it's no wonder cruisers eat out so often.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Peñafiel how I miss you

While we were in Mexico we stumbled onto these mineral water drinks called Peñafiel. They were perfect thirst quenchers; bubbly mineral water base, not too sweet, in refreshing flavors like orange, grapefruit, lemonade, strawberry, etc.
Now that we are in El Salvador we can't find them! We are in a dither. What to do? We have tried mixing mineral water with fruit juices, but it isn't the same. If you are coming this way from Mexico, could you bring me about a dozen of the litre bottle of Toronjo (pink grapefruit) flavor? Please?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Art of Net Fishing

We have seen several of these small boats around the marina since we arrived. They use weighted round nets to catch tiny silver fish. You can see the green basket full of fish in the bottom of the boat.
Today the El Salvador Rally arranged lessons for us in the art of net fishing. Our expert tutor, who has been fishing like this all his life, showed us how to arrange the net in our hands and how to fling it out just above the surface of the water. With every throw his net plopped into the water in a perfect circle.
 I went first and although I thought I did it just like Tito had, my net didn't unfurl and flopped into the water in a mess. However, I did catch two nice sticks.

Malcolm did a little better. He actually got the net to open nicely, but thrown too high, it didn't settle into the water in a circle. He did catch four sticks though! Several other cruisers tried it with varying results, but as Bill of the El Salvador Rally said, "The fish are safe from gringos with nets."


Here in Estero Jaltepeque, one often sees these black clam-like things in the markets. They are actually a kind of cockle called Anadara tuberculosa. Know here as Conchas, they are also called Concha Negra, Black Ark, or Mangrove Cockle.

On Monday we went on a mangrove tour where we happened to see a woman harvesting conchas. As she dug into the muddy banks up to her shoulders, her husband paddled their traditional dugout canoe. You can see two conchas on the floor of the boat near his feet. We were told that she will receive $1.00 for one hundred conchas. I don't know how long it takes to find one hundred conchas, but this just illustrates how poor some of the people are here in El Salvador.

After the mangrove tour we ended up at a restaurant (similar to the one shown below) built up 10' off the sand on stilts. When we arrived the water was 50' from the restaurant. When we left the tide had come in and the restaurant was surrounded by water.
When it was our turn to order, the waitress brought out a platter of fish to choose from. You could choose a $6.00 fish, a $10.00 fish, a $12.00 fish, or shrimp. We chose two $6.00 fish, which came with rice, salad, and those thick Salvadoran tortillas.
 A concha appetizer was also available, so the group ordered a couple of those too.  They were simply opened and presented on a plate with lime and hot sauce.

The captain ate some and said they tasted sort of like raw clams, but crunchier. Seeing as how these may have been harvested by the muddy lady we saw earlier, we truly have become locavores, haven't we?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Joya de Cerén, El Bouqueron, and the National Bird


Called the "Pompeii of the Americas", Joya de Cerén is an ancient village that was covered by a volcanic eruption in AD590. Joya de Cerén is one of the most important archaeological finds in Central America and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Combined with the beautifully landscaped grounds and the resident torogoz, this is a "must see" site.

The people must have had some time to escape, because no human remains have been found, but buildings, household items, food, and cultivated plants have been found. In the visitor center the treasures are nicely displayed and well described in both Spanish and English.



The excavated buildings are covered with metal roofs to prevent damage, but strategically placed skylights illuminate each structure. From the raised walkways, the buildings look unbelievably small. I know the Mayans were short, but I wished they had placed figures next to them to help us get a sense of the scale. Above is the shaman's building which was more elaborate than the others. The darker, angled buttress-like stuff is unexcavated volcanic debris that is helping to support the ancient structure.
 This is the actual sweat house.......
and this is a reproduction of the sweat house that you can crawl into. Similar to a modern sauna, it has a hearth in the center and a bench around the perimeter. There is a vent on the roof to allow excess heat to escape and a thatch roof to protect the mud walls.

 The national bird of El Salvador is the Torogoz (Turquoise-browed Motmot or Eumomota superciliosa) and we actually saw some at Joya de Cerén. My photo is on the left, and a professional photo of the bird is on the right. What a beautiful bird! Unfortunately, they build their nests in mud banks and the excavated ruins look like mud banks to them, so to keep them out wire screens surround most of the ruins.
We also drove to Parque El Boquerón which is at an altitude of 6000'. After sweating in the tropical heat for months, is felt wonderful to be up in the cool misty air. The path to the edge of the volcano was lined with ferns, pine trees, yuccas, and mangoes. The scent of pine needles was wonderfully refreshing and we enjoyed this site immensely.

After leaving the park we walked along the road past these beautiful fruit/vegetable/flower stalls. We couldn't resist buying some strawberries and some tiny white onions. Then we walked up to an unassuming open-air restaurant and had the BEST Salvadoran meal ever: beef, chicken, shrimp and those tiny onions roasted over an open fire. Who would have thought we'd find this in El Salvador?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tropical Plants

We have seen so many beautiful, interesting, and strange plants here in Central America, I just had to share some with you.
Although not native to central America, cashew trees are quite common here as both an ornamental tree, and as a crop tree. The reddish part is called the cashew apple and can be eaten, but harvesting the nuts is tricky because of the toxic juice in the shells. 
We saw this pineapple growing in the jungle on our hike up to San Francisco Waterfall.
Just a pretty flower along the trail.
This is an immature cocoa pod. They commonly grow right on the trunk of the tree.
This flower was growing on the trunk of a tree at Izapa.
Just another beautiful flower. 
And a tree growing through a tree with aerial roots. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Empanada Lesson

One of the primary goals of the El Salvador Rally is to showcase the Salvadoran culture. There are tours of the area, demonstrations of local fishing techniques, and cooking lessons. Yesterday afternoon we got to make empanadas.
I thought they would be savory, but these were sweet empanadas. The batter is made from plantains that are cooked and then mashed with sugar, vanilla, and a little flour.
After greasing your hands, you put some batter into your palm and form a well. Then you add a spoonful of the "crema" filling which is a cooked mixture of milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and rice flour.
Now using a rolling motion, you gradually close the batter up around the filling. It should look sort of like a football. After deep frying and sprinkling with sugar, the empanadas are ready to eat. Although the chef called them a snack, they seem more like a dessert to me. Either way, we all enjoyed making and eating them.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Visit to San Luis la Herradura

About five miles up the estuary from us is the little town of San Luis la Herradura.  Late this morning (on the rising tide) we drove our dinghy up there for a little exploring, shopping, and lunch. On the way we saw these fishermen hauling in a net.

When we arrived at the town we were met by a nice young man named George who watched our dinghy for us. The cost is $1.00, but he really does watch your dinghy the whole time you are gone, and he helps you load your groceries too.

We walked up the main street to the "Dispensia Familiar" a local chain of supermarkets. We spent quite a bit of time familiarizing ourselves with how things are packaged and what's available because it's all so different here than in Mexico.

Across the street from the store, there was a sign painter working. He was using the "stencil" technique to paint this sign. I can't really criticize him for that because white doesn't cover well, but instead of a brush, he was using a rag to pat the paint onto the wall.
By the time we came out of the store, he had removed the stencil and was touching up where the paint seeped under. Malcolm and I had a good laugh remembering all the times we had set up scaffolding just like that to paint a wall sign. Except our scaffolding had adjustable wheels instead of chunks of concrete and scraps of wood. But the sign work looked darn good and we plan to go back in a few days to check out the finished product.

Back at the dinghy landing area we had a nice lunch overlooking the water and with the change of the tide we were on our way back to the marina.

San Andres, Tazumal y Casa Blanca

We went on an excursion yesterday up into the mountains above the capitol of San Salvador. Scott and Cindy of Velvet Sky rented a car and asked us to join them on a visit to Mayan archeological sites. The map above shows our route for the day.
Each site has a museum with maps, history, photos, and actual artifacts that have been unearthed there. Most of it is translated into English, thank goodness. Tazumal (above) also had a garden walk and a picnic area.
This statue reminded me of the Terracotta Warriors of Xian. However, it is not a mere mortal put there to guard the kings in the afterlife, but a god named Xipe Totec.
 Although I enjoyed seeing the ruins, my favorite stop was Casa Blanca. It has ruins too, but it also has an Indigo Workshop where you can dye a piece of fabric with actual indigo dye. There is a long history of indigo dying here in Central America. Leaves of the native indigo plant (indigofera suffructicosa) were traditionally mixed with urine to make the dye. Judging by the smell of this vat, they may still be using that process here; it reeked. At this stage the dye doesn't look blue, but more greenish. After massaging the fabric below the surface of the dye for three minutes, you bring it out and rub it to get oxygen into the fibers. Then the magic happens and the dye turns blue. After two more dying cycles, you are ready to rinse the fabric. 
The fabric is rinsed in plain water until the water runs clear, then the rubber bands are removed revealing the tie dye pattern. After a rinse in vinegar to set the dye, and a final rinse in fabric softener, your project is done. 
The pieces of fabric that they give you (free with the price of admission) are about 13" square. Perfect for a throw pillow or wall hanging and what a great souvenir.