04 September 2009

Arrival in San Salvador - Sept 4

Got up at 3:30am, was showered and out the door @3:42. Alan got me to the airport about 4:00 and Lynn was already there. Michael was the next arrival. He’d printed his boarding pass at home and had no checked bags so he was ready to roll. Lynn tried to use the kiosk to check in but it didn’t like her passport…she had a name change amendment stuck in the back so the strip reader wasn’t reading the current (valid) name…only the old one. But the kiosk worked fine for me and Jane, who arrived while we were messing with it. Alisha arrived around 4:30 and we all got checked in and had no problems with security or boarding. The flight to Atlanta was smooth, quiet and mostly dark. I had a window seat but not on the sunrise side of the plane so I didn’t have much of a view. I started (and finished) Where’s My Jetpack?.

On the 2-hour layover in Atlanta I picked up breakfast at the food court and dug my other book (Wyrms, a sci-fi sort of thing by Orson Scott Card). The flight to San Salvador was uneventful. It’s just over 3 hours. On one plane walk-about, Alisha and I were brainstorming yoga stretches we could do in the aisle. It helped.

At Customs, I got pulled over for inspection and everyone else in the group was given a pass. I’d filled out my Customs form to say I had some non-personal luggage stuff because I had one whole suitcase that was full of children’s clothing that some woman had made and donated as well as bottles of children’s vitamins that were also donated. The Customs agent searched all my bags and then chastised me for filling out my form incorrectly and gave me a new blank form to fill out. I completed the new form, which I handed to him, and he sent me on my way.

We met Kathy and Alfredo (driver) outside the airport and loaded up to head to Los Pinos, the guest house where we were going to spend the night. We dropped our bags in our rooms and then headed out to Puerto del Diablo (Door of the Devil).

As always, the heat and humidity of arrival in San Salvador is oppressive. That first step out of the airport is like being wrapped in hot, wet, wool blankets. The first day is just miserable but it gets better after that as you sort of get used to it. It also helps that we generally head to Berlin which is higher up in the mountains and not quite so hot.

So it is in this oppressive heat/humidity soup that we go for a hike. Puerto del Diablo is a natural area…not officially designated as such but the sort of thing that would be a national or state park here in the States. It’s not a huge area but if you hike up to the top on a clear day you can get an amazing view of the ocean off to one side, lake Ilopango to the other and the city of San Salvador behind you.

Today is not a clear day. It’s the wet season so there is a lot of haze/fog in the air (humidity you can see!) but we could just make out breakers on the ocean shore to one side and the lake to the other. Since the last time I was here, they’ve added rappelling from one of the rock outcroppings. For $5 you can strap in and lower yourself over the edge. Also new to me is the cable ‘handrails’ along the route up/down the rock face. I put handrails in quotes because for the most part they were worthless…sagging down to the ground or with the support posts actually lying on the ground. However, up at the top, I saw a guy actually using them to good effect. He was sitting out on the edge of the bluff and had wrapped his arm around the cable. I thought he was being unusually safety-minded for a Salvadoran but then he was joined by a couple of his buddies and they all got on the other side of the cable. I just couldn’t look…I went back down.

There are a number of hiking trails but by the time we’d gotten up and down the big one, in the heat that we weren’t used to, we decided we’d had enough. There were a number of vendors plying their wares around the parking lot. I got a leather bracelet, a couple other people picked up some shirts, and Michael got some food and a bottle of water.

We headed back to Los Pinos to degrunge and regroup for supper. The last food I’d had was a breakfast burrito at the Atlanta airport. Once I cooled off a bit, I was starving.

We walked up the street to a place called El Sopón Típico for supper. Most of us had the pupusas (traditional Salvadoran food) we’d been craving, a few had beer and we also ordered a plate of gorrobo (iguana) because none of us (except Kathy) had ever tasted it.

I can now say I have eaten iguana. I can also say that I don’t have any plans to order it again. It wasn’t bad…very bland (even moreso than chicken), dry and kind of chewy. We had it fried, so maybe there’s another way to prepare it (with flavorings or sauces maybe) that would make it more appealing. But it’s relatively expensive and there are other things I’d rather eat.

On previous trips, I’d seen the people along the Pan-American Highway holding up iguanas for sale. Kathy said that those are wild-caught (and illegal). The ones served in restaurants are farm-raised. We ordered the smallest size they had and it was $9 for the plate. Ones sold along the highway (alive but with toes broken so they can’t get away) would sell for $25.

Checking out at the restaurant, they gave us these wrapped candies made from sugar cane…they looked homemade, not commercially made. They were filling-pulling sticky/chewy and tasted sort of molasses-y. I chewed off small bites with my front teeth and sucked on the bits instead of chewing it. Alisha popped the whole thing into her mouth and then found it vile…she had to step outside to get rid of it. I kind of liked it.

The bill for the entire meal (including 3 bottles of beer, the iguana plate and tip) for the 6 of us came to $50.
We left the restaurant and walked a little further along to Pops for ice cream. Pops is a 31-flavors kind of place with scoops of ice cream, sundaes, banana splits, etc. We all got single cones (I had mango!), some of them dipped in chocolate, for $5.96.

We walked back to Los Pinos and divvied up our kitty money into envelopes for the various things we’d have to pay for during the week…translator, driver, room/board, etc. We chatted briefly then everyone scattered to rooms for the night. It had been a really long day.

I took a shower. There was no hot water but even the cold water isn’t really cold so it felt good. I finished the shower and discovered that I’d somehow managed to not pack either a comb or brush. I had to make do with fingers and put “buy comb” on the list of things to do first thing when we got to Berlin.