Monday, April 30, 2012

Adios, El Salvador

                                           A Salvadorian country road

                              Well, we've come to the end of the road here in El Salvador.

                            Another country road in El Salvador, leading....where? Who knows?

         We say it at every destination: "Well, El Salvador is starting to feel like home. You know what THAT's time to move on."

                                   Another typically lush road here in El Salvador

                     So, the road gets narrower as we head ever southward.
                              And we are truly taking the road less traveled.

               Yeah, Jerry, we know. And you're right -- about MOST things.
                      But I'm not so sure you're right about THIS little thing...

                                      Another beautiful Salvadorian country road

                         But before we leave El Salvador, a few more images...

              This little girl on the bus personifies for me the weary, gentle way of the Salvadorians.

                       Here they are, my last two entries in the "Innocent Salvadorians
             who unknowingly wear mildly inappropriate or incongruous donated American t-shirts:"

                             Do you think this sweet lady at the bus stop knows what Playboy is?

               I started to try to explain to this nice Salvadorian fisherman who Al Franken is, but my              Spanish is far from proficient enough to say he's a "Jewish/Democrat/comedian/senator from Minnesota." So I just let it be.


                                                        Note to self: mud is slippery.

              I love how a whole herd of cows will suddenly appear out of nowhere here, ambling down the road. With no apparent owner or wrangler in sight. Same goes for pigs. And goats.

           We met adorable little Estefani in the tiny pueblo of San Marcelino. When we explained to her and her mother the Spanish translation of her t-shirt, they looked at each other, nodded their heads and laughed.   :-)

                       Estefani proudly introduced me to her clothes-less doll named Angelica.

                Salvadorian mile (kilometer) markers on the highway are in the shape of tombstones.
                    We couldn't help but wonder if this was intentional or not. I'm still not sure...

Three of the volcanoes which graced our mooring field and marina here in El Salvador

       We've had such fun here at the El Salvador Cruiser's Rally. Above is a scene from a
     competitive and very serious pool volleyball tournament we had a couple of weeks ago.

 It's been a great group of sailors here. But now we're splitting up and everyone is heading their separate ways.

Now THAT's the man I fell in love with... :-)

Chris encourages Mickey to make the shot

It's easy to see why my husband was consistently voted "Most Inspirational" on his sports teams in high school


The Doolittles of Knee Deep clown around between bumps and sets

We're very grateful that Hugh, skipper of Serendipity and king of the clowns,
will be heading south with us to Costa Rica

We sadly bid a fond farewell to the Doolittles, who are flying to the Bay Area for the summer.
 (sniff) This photo says it all...

         It's hard to put into words how much I'll miss JP and Mickey.  Having no children of our own, Chris and I realize that spending quality time with those of the pediatric persuasion is a vital component to a well rounded, happy life. So we'll really miss these little guys.


    So, the sun is setting on our Salvadorian adventure. Tomorrow we set sail for Costa Rica. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

New El Salvador photo round-up

The capital city of San Salvador rests in the shadow of the El Salvador volcano

Chris in the center of San Salvador

Another view of the volcano which looms over the city

The latest stop in our tour of Latin American "Costco" stores. This one was in San Salvador. And yes, once again, it looks exactly like the ones in the states. Freaky!

Salvadorian nuns enjoying the ever-popular Costco pizza and Coke

OK, this Spanish speaking San Salvador Costco customer was kind enough to model his donated American t-shirt. I admit, I have no idea what this means. The best guess we could come up with is this shirt was printed for Bay Area Notre Dame fans to wear on game day. Any other ideas? 

Yet another view of the San Salvador volcano looming over the city. I admit, I'm a bit obsessed with it, I guess. The next step for me will be obsessively building mud models of it, a-la Richard Dreyfuss in "Close Encounters." 

We toured the National Museum in San Salvador where we saw this giant Civil War mural. Note the thousands of graves in the distance on the left. Even more provocative is the murdered Archbishop Romero on the right, flanked by a cartoonish image of the Pope and a rather macabre looking Uncle Sam literally "sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong." Yikes. 

Yet another view of the volcano. This one is from the National Museum downtown. As I write this, I'm humming the "Close Encounters" theme in my head. Be very afraid... (LOL)

These two little guys live in the trees around the Bahis del Sol hotel.
 They happily come down for a visit when the locals feed them peanuts.

San Salvador has FIVE American-style malls. As you can see above, like Costco,
 it looks exactly like the ones in the states. 

Here's a testament to how much Salvadorians love their soccer. The mob scene above was around an electronics store in the mall. It was a live televised soccer game, but the participants weren't from El Salvador or even Latin America! It was Spain vs. England.  I had to laugh when Chris gave an alternative theory for the soccer mania above: it was bored husbands stuck in the mall, looking for any diversion while their wives shopped. Ha! Some things are the same wherever you go! :-) 

Scene from the San Salvador mall food court: "Burger King: La Casa del Whopper!"

Notice how most of the popular magazines are American ones (only in Spanish). Evidence is everywhere here that American culture, for better for worse, is still the most admired and most aspired to for hipness and sophisticated style. 

Outside of the big city, it's a different story.  This caged monkey was right in the middle of a roadside restaurant in a rural area. OK, now THIS is not a scene you routinely see in the states!   

Nor is this sign on a small restaurant, which states: "Do not carry firearms here." (OK, we won't!)

This is an all-too-common scene in El Salvador. Someone's dream of a "Coffee Cake" coffee boutique fell on very hard times. The poverty is shocking at times.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Have you ever wondered what 75 knots of wind feels like?

Yeah. I know. Neither have I. That's 80+ miles per hour.

Well, be careful what you (don't) wish for...

It all started innocently enough.

It was last saturday night here in our little El Salvador estuary. Chris and I had just finished a nice pasta dinner aboard Espiritu.

Off to the north, a lightning storm flashed. We sat in the cockpit and settled in for the show, which happens many nights now that we are in the tropics.

    As often happens, the breeze gently rose as the squall approached the mooring field. There are about 15 sailboats out here. There are another 10 boats anchored, with the last 15 on the small dock at the marina.

     The wind rose to about 20 knots, and the rain began to fall. We figured the small storm cell was blowing through.

    And then...and then...the wind didn't back down. It picked up. Alot (By now, the sky was pitch black -- except for the lightning, that is).

    We started moving through the cabin making sure all of the hatches were closed. A moment later, we heard a voice on the VHF announce: "Hello, fellow cruisers, I just clocked 35 knots."

   Yeah, yeah, we know.  The wind, rain and waves all increased exponentially.

   After we were sure everything was battened down, we heard another female voice on the radio announce: "Well, we just clocked 45 knots. (silence) Oh God, oh God, OH GOD!!!!!!!!"

 Then silence.

  I rolled my eyes in frustration as did everyone else in the fleet. This wasn't helping.

  Suddenly Espiritu heeled way over.

Oh, so THAT'S what she was talking about!

  We popped out into the covered cockpit and observed the increasing pandemonium going on around us.

  Voice on radio: "Uh, OK, look out, everybody, because Sundancer has just blown their mooring. Blithe Spirit, they're heading right for you."

  We peered into the worstening storm and could see nothing.

   Only a few nights earlier another boat had snapped it's mooring and washed up on the mud after a teeny-tiny squall blew through, much smaller than this one.

Taking Flight on the rocks

       Voice on radio: "OK, I've got 55 knots, gusting to 75. Panache is dragging his anchor, and so is Tolerance."

       I popped out into the cockpit again to assess the situation. We did not appear to be dragging YET. Our dinghy and motor had flipped over, but as it was still attached to the boat there was nothing to be done about that right now. Too dangerous.

    "OK, Santos' catamaran has just lost his mizzen mast." someone muttered on the radio, sounding a bit in shock by this time.

     I peered out into the now hurricane force storm to look for any other boats which might be hurtling towards us. I was shocked to see a darkened Talaria hurtling past us into the blackness.

   I jumped onto the radio: "Talaria, Talaria, are you on board?"   No answer. I didn't know where Rick and Deena were -- if they were ashore or even on their boat, which was now careening towards the mouth of the estuary as far as I could tell.

  Another voice assured us that Rick and Deena were indeed aboard Talaria, but they were unable to answer the radio, as they were too busy trying to save their freaking boat which had sprung it's freaking mooring in a pitch black hurricane and was now heading almost out to sea!

  Good Lord.

  Molly from Knee Deep came on the radio and calmly announced: "We've sprung our mooring and we're now motoring." Considering she and Ben have two small boys on board, their steadiness under pressure was impressive, indeed.

  The hurricane force anarchy continued outside.

   This was so surreal. Only 10 minutes earlier we were relaxing in our warm, dry cockpit in post-prandial bliss. And now this.

You know what was going through my mind during the worst of it?  "Nobody's going to die here. We can all swim. Worst case scenario, a boat sinks and the occupants swim to shore. There may be damage, but nobody's going to die."

   Sounds crazy, but this little mantra actually HELPED.

   Another voice came on saying: "Uh, the dock is coming apart. We've sprung 3 out of 4 lines and are only holding onto the dock with one line."


   Finally, finally, the chaos began to ease. It was passing, thank God.

  Later, since we don't have any Fritz Coleman or Johnny Mountain out here to help us with the weather, we all put our heads together and theorized that this was a microburst.

 The crazy thing is this: the locals swear nothing even remotely like this has ever occurred here. Ever. No hurricanes. No nothing.

    Later, we compounded the damage:

1) Talaria collided with Hotspur after bursting their moorings -- they both suffered severe damage to their hull, dinghy davits, lifelines, stanchions and solar panels.

 2) It's a funny story about Panache: the skipper Zach was having dinner aboard Bella Star in the marina when the storm hit. He, Aaron and Nicole watched in shock and horror as his boat (and floating home!) dragged right past them during the worst of it. Just when they feared it would drag all the way out to sea, Panache stopped and the anchor caught, right next to the marina;

 3) There was much ripped canvas, dozens of shoes and gas cans lost overboard, power lines were knocked down, hundreds of trees fell, and Santos' mizzen mast was lost;

4) A fishing boat flipped in the storm, and some brave sailors rescued them in their small inflatable dinghy;

5) The marina dock here was destroyed in parts. It held together, though!

 6) Tolerance, which dragged it's anchor, smashed repeated against a cement piling, and is now a complete loss.

Tolerance was broken down and sold for scraps after the damage incurred during the storm

   As for Espiritu, all we lost was a shoe which flew out of our capsized dinghy/motor. We were very, very lucky.

  My thoughts after the storm went to the locals who live nearby and on the island in the estuary. These people live very, very simply -- without electricity or running water.

 I've been volunteering at the tiny school on the island during my stay here.

       They are so grateful for any help and attention that we give them. It is pure joy to spend time with them and to help them with their basic math and language skills -- or just to play and laugh with them.

         After the storm, I asked them about the "tormento" (Spanish for "storm" -- great word, huh?). They fell silent, and their eyes were as big and shimmering as fresh plums.

   I asked about their homes. A tree fell through the roof of one of them, but the villagers replaced the palm frond roof the next day. Noone was hurt.

        The thing about these children -- and about the Salvadorians in general, is this: they're resilient.

Which is interesting, because "resilience" is something I've been in search of for myself. It's a muscle I've been working to strengthen. And the island children teach me by example every day.

 When you live simply, without many expensive material possessions, and when you are part of a community that helps one other, when natural disasters strike, unless someone gets swept out to sea it's usually not a big deal.

  The homes are simple, so they're easy to rebuild. And everyone helps one another.

  It's enough to make a gringo THINK, you know?


Friday, April 20, 2012

Wild kingdom, El Salvador style

                       Well, we're knee deep in the wilds of Central America now.

 We were relaxing in the outdoor bar/restaurant at the hotel when this gigantic flying creature entered the patio area. He bobbed and weaved through us as we gringos leapt up, awestruck, at this amazing sight:

           The beautiful and gigantic Owl Butterfly is named for the large eye on his wing, which
         resembles an Owl's eye.  He rested on Mick's hand for several minutes while a few of us
                          approached in silent wonder. His wingspan was several inches across.

                                                     Welcome to Central America!

                       Zach the toad whisperer corralled this little (or not so little -- he was about the size of a Double Whopper with cheese...) guy from under a bush and carried him around for awhile as his adopted pet. It is unknown whether Zach licked him or not. Only Zach (and the toad) knows for sure...

      These Soclal Flycatchers are as ubiquitous here in El Salvador as sparrows are in the states.
   We love them because, as their name entails, they help keep the bug numbers down. Bless them!

                        This super-cool and stealthy fleet of Bat Rays sailed in near perfect precision
                          under and around our boats in the Chiapas marina for several days

          Lastly, during our last passage we tripped upon a large school of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins.
      As their name implies, these polka-dotted Flippers only hang out down here in the tropics.
                             So it was a special treat swimming amongst them!

That's it for now on the nature front. But I'm standing by, binoculars and camera at the ready, and will be reporting back as we discover new and exciting wildlife here in Central America!