21 January 2006

Companeros - Day 2

Up, and a breakfast of cereal, fruit and juice then off to La Palma in the northernmost state of Chalatenango. Just outside of San Salvador, we got stopped at a police checkpoint. It was just a random stop to check the driver for a valid license and the vehicle to make sure it wasn’t stolen.
In La Palma, we split into 2 shopping groups. Marcia, Randy and I were in charge of finding cross necklaces, ojo de venado (deer’s eye…a type of seed that is kind of like a very small, slightly flattened, oval-shaped buckeye. It’s considered lucky.) earrings and bracelets (if we found any we liked). Nancy, Kathy and Blair were looking for painted wooden things…boxes, nativities, crosses. We went store-to-store buying the various things and trying to spread out the purchases over all the shops in the little area where we were. We also picked up a Salvadoran flag that we thought would be good to have in our booth when we sell this stuff and the various festivals. Along the way I (personally, not for the group) got some of the nylon bracelets I like. They were $1 pretty much everywhere but no one had more than a few of them. I also got a couple of flask-shaped pottery things with Mayan images on them in bas relief and a hammock.
We loaded up in the van to leave and I realized that my seat buddy, Blair, wasn’t there. Alej was rolling, almost to the gate when I finally figured out how to say in Spanish that someone was missing. We backed up and Bob/Alej went looking for Blair. By the time we were all together again, we’d decided to eat at the restaurant in the little place where we’d shopped. All 8 of us had a nice lunch for $14.

I finished eating and wanted to walk for a bit. Bob was engrossed in a conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt so I asked Alejandro if it would be ok if I went for a little walk…5 minutes. I went up the street to try to get some street scenes, then back. Alej was at the gate looking for me but I was less than half a block away.

Back at Daniela’s, we had an hour or two to chill before heading to El Puerto del Diablo (Door of the Devil). We had pop/beer and sorted through all the tub-o-stuff goodies we bought in La Palma; repacking it more compactly for getting home. During this time we practiced a Wicked Spanish phrase that we decided to all learn and then use appropriately whenever Bob took off his shoes or something. The phrase being: ¿Acaso huelo una enchilada vieja? (Do I smell an old enchilada?)

Back in the van, we headed toward Door of the Devil. Bob left in his car to go home; we’d meet up with him there later for supper. And speaking of supper, on the way out of town, we detoured through a Camperos chicken place to pick up supper for Bob and Alejandro…who were not excited about the pupusas (the quintessential Salvadoran food…something like a quesadilla except that the filling is put inside the dough before the tortilla is cooked) that were on the menu for the rest of us.

Camperos is the McDonalds of El Salvador. It’s a chicken place…much like a KFC here in the US, except that they’re everywhere. And where you don’t see a Camperos, you see their delivery drivers. You can’t miss them. They’re the guys on small motorcycles with blaze-orange helmets, zipping insanely in and out of traffic. Of course, it also helps that there’s a large, plastic chicken-in-a-hat waving jauntily from atop an insulated box on the back of the bike.

Apparently, Salvadorans have an incredible attachment to Camperos chicken. Every time I’ve returned to the US from El Salvador, the plane has been filled with Salvadorans carrying large shopping-size bags overflowing with boxes of Camperos chicken. I don’t know whether they’re trying to lay in a “taste of home” to last them for a good long while or if they’re bringing it to homesick friends and family in the States, where Camperos doesn’t exist. Either way, a flight out of El Salvador inevitably smells (sometimes quite heavily) of fried chicken and fixin’s.
Since Bob wasn’t with us on this leg of the trip, I took escopeta (shotgun seat) and rode up front with Alejandro. He’s very patient with my Spanish and it was good practice for me. Besides, he’s a lot of fun to talk to. He’s got a great sense of humor and joyous spirit.

At Door of the Devil, Marcia and Nancy didn’t want to do the hike up the escarpment so they stayed down below. Kathy was pretty nervous about the height and precarious trail, but went anyway. Alejandro and I kept her between us for moral support.

It was much clearer than the last time I was there. We could actually see the lake (Lago de Ilopango, the largest lake in El Salvador), all the volcano peaks (including the one that holds Berlin) and the little village of Panchimalca nestled down in the valley below…home to the oldest structure in Central America; a 400+ year-old church. It was very windy at the top and I took care not to stray too close to the edge. It was hard enough to hold a camera steady enough for pictures. I wasn’t going to take the chance of a gust of wind knocking me off balance and over the edge. Kathy spent a lot the time at the top squatting close to the rock.

We climbed back down then went to the Door itself. I, of course, climbed on all the boulders and the little shelf at the back of the cave that makes up the Door. The views are fantastic but the history of the place is disturbing. It’s called Door of the Devil because, during the war, the army and death squads would bring people here to ‘dispose’ of them by dropping them over the steep and jagged precipices…maybe they were already dead, maybe they weren’t. The actual number of people who died there will never be known.

After the Door, we stopped at the pupseria to get pupusas for those in the group who didn’t get chicken. I had opted for chicken just because I’d never had Camperos before and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Then I saw that the pupuseria also had arroz (rice) pupusas so I decided to try one of those. Alejandro and I went up to place the order then walked around back to the other window to pick it up when it was ready. We wandered around the gardens below the restaurant terrace. There were cages with peacocks, pheasants, and ducks; a small, concrete pond without fish in it; lots of beautiful flowers and plants and a nicely laid-out path. We went back up to the terrace to check on our order and it wasn’t ready. Alejandro went to the bathroom and came back and it wasn’t ready. We stood around chatting about his wife and 3 kids, 9 dogs (all boxers), and several milk cows and it still wasn’t ready. Finally! The food was ready and we headed back to the van where Blair was heading toward us to see what was keeping us.

Bob’s place is way off the main road, up and down some very steep hills. His place is a palace!! He’s very proud of the garden and green space behind his house, too, but we couldn’t really appreciate that in the dark. It’s still a bit sparsely appointed, as he just moved in December, but it’s fantastic. We ate on his veranda then talked and lounged in hammocks until Alej said he needed to go. It had been a really long day for him and he lives outside the city so he not only had to take us back to Daniela’s but get home to his. And we also found out that no matter how long his day is, he gets paid $20/day whenever he drives.

Back at Daniela’s, some of us took showers in shifts around/between games of “5,000” until all were ready for bed.