Sunday, September 15, 2019

El Salvador: Getting a Better Look

Walking through the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I noticed a stand of trees with the first tinges of red and orange in their leaves.  I smiled thinking about fall being in the air -finally!- especially after suffering through such an incredibly hot Virginia summer. But my sentimental wanderings about the changing of the seasons and looking forward to crisp evenings and mornings were rudely interrupted by a noisy flock of little green parakeets flying overhead.

Oh, right. 
Fall isn't in the air. Fall is never going to be in the air. 
You don't live in the northern hemisphere anymore. The foreseeable handful of years will contain just two seasons: the wet season and the dry season. 

To be fair, these seasons are referred to as winter and summer here. Regardless of what the calendar says, in El Salvador now (September) we're in "winter."  Sure, if we were located south of the equator where the seasons are reversed, I could accept June through September being "winter."  But we're not.  As I understand it, the six months from May to November are winter because that's when it rains, not because it's cold. In fact, winter is the hot season.  Starting in November, we'll enter "summer" because that's when it's dry, even though these are also the cooler months.  So I guess that means what I'm feeling is... spring in the air?   

But here we are in Central America, so I'd better get used to it. The tinges of red and yellow on the leaves of the tree I saw are likely its regular colors, as everything is also more colorful down here. Two weeks in and all I can say is: so far, so great.  I can't say this was a pleasant surprise, however, because it wasn't a surprise. As soon as we got this assignment last summer November, we were hit with a flood of positive reviews about the country, city, embassy, neighborhood where we'd live, local staff colleagues and particularly the general morale at post.  Families love the place and those who can, often extend their assignments here. I'm starting to see why.  

Let me stop talking and show you what we've discovered so far and let you all see for yourselves:

First priority: Our new house gets a stamp of approval from Bridget and Seamus.

They proclaim the ant hunting here to be "superior" and have a courtyard dedicated to the sport. 

The coast is known for its excellent surfing (not my thing), but I can certainly see myself in THESE waves!

And no, we didn't arrive early to beat the crowds.  This was a Saturday mid-day, just 70 minutes from the capital city.  

Interesting flowers in the gardens.
Interesting creatures on the ground. (R.O.U.S.?) 

Interesting creatures in the trees.

Besides seeing the beach, we've gotten out into the countryside a bit, too. Within 90 minutes, we were nearly across the width of the country, which - by the way - is only 88 miles wide and 168 miles long, or just a bit bigger than Massachusetts.  Heading north towards the Honduran border, we visited the town of Suchitoto recently. Native son Alejandro Cotto (cinematographer and cultural "visionary" per local press) inspired and insisted upon the resurrection and preservation of the town's colonial architecture and cultural scene, thus creating a tourist destination and seemingly solid local economy. His home is now a museum to his legacy and the town theater he brought back from near rubble carries his name. While we didn't visit the theater, we did tour his house and grounds which gave weight, in my opinion, to the exaltive adjectives the town applies to his name.  The town also just happens to be situated overlooking the huge man-made reservoir Lago Suchitlan - so that helps attract folks, too. Suchitoto, in native Nahuat means flower-bird, or land of both, and that is certainly not an exaggeration. 

The landscape surrounding Lago Suchitlan

Lunch spot view over the lake and distant mountains towards the Honduran border. 

Alejandro Cotto's house and grounds. This picture shows about five percent of his courtyard, garden and water feature system. The man knew how to cobble a patio!

Kitchen covered in azulejos (tiles).

One of the many, oh 80 foot tall, trees shading Cotto's patios and gardens. 
Interior courtyard of house and museum.  Each room is separate and fronts this courtyard. 

Santa Lucia Church on the central plaza.

Obligatory gold-painted guy who comes to life for some change.

Local crafts and souvenirs. This town is crazy for cobbles; wear only flats, ladies. 

Pop into a cafe showing off its colonial architecture with high ceilings and a courtyard to the right. 

Or stop along the plaza for a cold drink or warm eat. 

Artisan and souvenir shop and cafe.
Before I leave you with only the rosiest of images, it shouldn't be overlooked that over ninety percent of the country is under continual menace by criminal gangs.  I'm still learning what this amounts to for the average Salvadoran, but so far it's clear that the level of threat one feels depends on where you live and what you do. This is still a predominantly rural country with a big section of the population living in great poverty.  My saying we have a comfortable and relatively secure life in San Salvador is like someone in Beverly Hills telling you how crime-free Los Angeles is. It's the reality for only a small sliver of the pie, for sure.  My goal is to show you that El Salvador is more than the headline-making refugees and gangs. The spirit del pueblo is strong, resilient and with time and effort - will get through this period.  I look forward to seeing at least three more years of such progress as we get to know the people and places. 

I hope to do a whole series just on murals and this is a prime example of the artistic spirit we see everywhere. 

Working lady heading home.