Dusk is short, it's dark by dinnertime and we have just a single votive and a small lamp on a post nearby to light the table. Whether January or July, the consistently pleasant weather here allows us to eat outside with the only consideration being the mosquito population. Tonight it's not too bad, despite being the middle of the rainy season. Tilting the menu to be best lit by the dim light, my husband and I make our selections and give our dinner orders to the young waiter at the hotel's restaurant, and then sit back to take in our surroundings. The dining areas are spread across two courtyards (one poolside and the other surrounding a central fountain), a more formal inside room, and the wooden rooftop balcony we've chosen overlooking it all and over the northern edge of the town. It's the 4th of July in Suchitoto, El Salvador. This year the American holiday falls on a Sunday, which means the Embassy is closed tomorrow and we'll have the day off. Whenever we have an American holiday on a Monday, and the rest of the country will carry on like usual, we head out for a Sunday overnight and generally find we have whichever town, hotel and restaurant to ourselves. Tonight would be no exception.
|The view north past Lake Suchitlan.|
|Hotel Los Almendros de San Lorenzo.|
|Beautifully restored interior courtyard.|
|Suchitoto streets are lined with classic adobe houses with arched doorways and shuttered windows.|
|Row houses from tradtional to formal.|
View over Lake Suchitlan.
A weeknight in a tourist town, or during the off-season when few visitors are about, lets residents regain possession over their streets. Neighbors hang out on front stoops chambreando, watching the kids and dogs play outside and generally letting their hair down after the work day. Women sit on stools and snap peas, a cat or older dog at their feet, and keep an eye on who and what is passing by. There's usually a TV on in the front room, its watcher swinging silently in a hammock strung up corner to corner by heavy hooks sunk into the plaster walls. Family photos hang above the camelback sofas, themselves covered by crocheted throws. A few framed pictures proclaiming a favorite team, celebrating a recent graduation or stating a religious conviction decorate other walls. Three boys kick a soccer ball under a weak street light and the smell of dinner drifts out onto the street.
We step off the curb and into the street to pass a cluster of people in front of a small restaurant. The owners keep the doors open after closing time because in all likliehood they live just above or in the back, so it's no problem to hang out a bit longer. A waitress wearing a short, frilly apron over her jeans leans against the doorway and the kitchen staff have joined a group for a few drinks and lively conversation after their shifts. Two teenagers are entwined into each others' arms on a bench in the shadows just out of sight of parents or aunties. The heat of the day has passed; it's time to relax and just sit outside, catch up with neighbors and get ready to do it all again tomorrow.
Seeing small towns like Suchitoto when they're not "on display" for visitors lets me experience the authentic place. Walking after dark or early in the morning can feel a bit like peeking through the curtains and seeing the town in its undershirt, before it has smartened up for company. It's the best way to get to know the routines and repeating rhythms of how daily life passes and appreciate places and people more honestly. So I think I'll keep doing it.