El Salvadorisimo

From Thursday the 19th to late Monday the 23rd I was on a trip to El Salvador. It was the best vacation that I have ever had in my life. The reason I went is that an LETU grad, Lee Shaver, is in the Peace Corps there and this is the best chance that I will ever have to visit him. So we planned it all out, which bus I would take there, etc etc. This is the narrative of that tale.

🔗 The Beginning

Originally I had planned to take a bus to my first stop at 5:30 am, but the guy that I work with, Kenton, offered to drive me because he was going for groceries anyway. That was nice and made the trip better since I did not have to take that long, boring, cramped bus ride. After arriving in La Ceiba Kenton and his wife Saundi showed me a number of different things that are good gifts to give in the states. I will not enumerate said gifts because readers may end up being recipients of the gifts.

After Kenton and Saundi left I walked around the mall for an hour or so, got some breakfast and a smoothie, and killed time until about noon. Once it was almost noon I went out to where Iain told me that my bus would be and I waited. It showed up and I ran and got on (it did not actually stop since it apparently was not a bus stop.) At the end of the trip I arrived at some bus aggregation station which I still cannot locate and a taxi (I try to avoid taxis because they are expensive and generally unnecessary) whisked me off to my hotel of choice. On arrival I checked into the hotel for a single night, took a shower, dropped off my single bag, and hit the town. The main thing I was doing in the city was finding out where exactly my bus stop was the next day. I eventually found it and timed how long it took to get there once I knew where it was so that I would know how early to get up the next day. Taking a taxi would be a waste, right?

After that I decided that I needed to get food before it got dark, so I found a restaurant and got some tacos (more like chimichangas) and enjoyed an extremely filling dinner for less than three dollars. Afterwards, because of reading a large amount of Ray Bradbury, and having Chamberlain in my bones, I had to have some ice cream. I got a small amount of chocolate ice cream and headed back for the hotel, where I read for two to three hours and went to sleep, so that I could get up bright and early at 5:15 for the bus.

I got up in time to walk to the bus station and have breakfast on the way. Unfortunately I discovered that nothing in San Pedro Sula opens before 7:30; it was a mere 6:15 when I was looking for a place to eat. I decided that I might as well scour what parts of the city that I could for pictures before I had to go to the bus station. I finally returned to the bus stop and waited for the boarding of the bus. After the bus trip began we were fed numerous time and given drinks, movies, and comfortable seats. It was far better, and cheaper, than any plane ride I have ever been on.

When I arrived at San Salvador I decided that since I was three hours early I would walk around for a while and take a bus instead of a taxi. Lee had told me when his class would get out, and I did not really want to sit around for three hours anyway. So I walked around in San Salvador for about an hour and a half. Eventually I tried to find the bus that would get me where I wanted to go. Bus 7 was the one I wanted, and I got on it, but I got off to early because some lady told me that I was where I needed to be. Anyway, I decided that I might as well take a taxi to the Eastern Terminal. Lee told me that I cut my taxi fare in half with all of my walking, and I had a good time, so it was not in vain.

When I arrived to where I was supposed to be I saw Lee waiting for me and got off of the bus. We had a nice little reunion and decided to drop our stuff off at the hotel before we got dinner. It was probably 5:30 or 6:00 by then. We then left the hotel and went out to see about eating. Lee had looked into places to eat and had found two places already, but they were both closed. We were on our way back to eat at the hotel (there was a restaurant in the bottom part) and saw an open place and went in. We had a regular meal of beans, rice, and various kinds of meat. After that we went back to the hotel where we talked, read email (free wireless), and slept.

🔗 The Middle

We woke up the next day around 5:30 so that we could take a bus to the town where Lee actually lives (Verapaz) and have breakfast with his host mom. After arriving we went to her house and had a nice, very filling breakfast. After that we decided to talk to each other and catch up and what not. I practiced my not-so-great Spanish by telling Lee’s host mom about when Hank cut his foot open and whatnot. We ended up talking about God and Jesus and stuff like that and at some point we realized that we had missed the bus back. The next bus was in two more hours, so she decided that it would be best if she made us lunch since it would not be till after noon till we got to the bus. She made us a stew with chicken in it and we enjoyed it and then took off for the bus to San Salvador.

After arriving in San Salvador we took a smaller bus to the Metro Central, which is basically a very large, redundant mall. We went through it so that we could buy some of the things that Lee needed to purchase, and so that we could get to the other side of it. After arriving where we needed to be, we walked to our hotel and checked in. At the hotel we watched ridiculous sci-fi, listened to strange music (songstowearpantsto.com), and checked email. While checking his email Lee noticed that Raul Valdes, a guy we planned on meeting, and an integral part of the trip later on, was online. (Isn’t gmail great like that?) He told Raul that we had arrive and Raul said that he would meet us in a bit and we would take it from there.

We assumed that Raul would grudgingly take us somewhere for dinner and then just drop us off at the hotel and then we would probably spend a lot of the time in the hotel hanging out. It would be a nice trip where two friends would get to visit but that would be all. Fortunately, that was about as far from the truth as dayglo orange is from pink sparkling lipstick. Don’t think about that too much…

Raul showed up maybe an hour and a half later with his girlfriend Veronica and said we would go to her house so that she could drop off her car and then use his car for whatever. He asked if we were hungry or if we could wait. We really were not that hungry because our lunch had been so large, so he drove us around for a while. Then he and Veronica decided that it would be good if they took us to the Puerto de Diablo (or, Devil’s Door, for the linguistically impaired.) It is basically where two volcanoes grew up right next to each other and made a really thin valley in between, which is the said door. The view was amazing. It was a reasonable hike - Veronica broke one of her favorite sandals - but not such that it was tiring. You can enjoy a small number of pictures at my flickr. Sadly both Lee and I assumed that since we were only going to dinner we would not need to bring a camera.

Now, you all may be wondering who this Raul character is anyway, right? He graduated from LeTourneau Lee’s freshman year and was the Student Body President, often abridged to Student Bod. He lived on 2A, the floor beneath my floor, the Flooders. Lee was actually worried that he might be from AO or KZX the on campus societies, see Lee’s Flooder shirt, and ditch us completely. Fortunately, being a 2Aer, we had a refreshing camaraderie and lots of stories to tell each other.

After seeing our fill of the Devil’s Door, we went to get some Salvadorian cuisine: pupusas. Some say that the Hondurans invented it, but I have not had any in Honduras, so I think of them as Salvadorian and welcome you to do so as well. The pupusas were extremely good. They are basically a bunch of beans, rice, and cheese fried inside of something like a tortilla. It reminded me of potato pancakes, with delicious goo inside. They also had a few with other things, like pumpkin, inside. See a picture here.

Raul and Veronica drove the two of us around San Salvador for at least an hour, maybe two, more. He showed us where he worked, things he worked on, and other cool sites. It was a great night, but like a wise man once said, “every night has it’s dawn.” And before that dawn we had to get to bed for church!

After some more browsing of the good old series of tubes and watching some TV we hit the hay, as we had to get up bright and early for church, which would begin at 10:45 am. We woke up the next morning without alarms in plenty of time for church. Lee checked email and read on wikipedia about gremlins and I walked to the mall in search of that which I wanted as well as breakfast. I found both, and let me tell you, the donuts in El Salvador are far superior to the standard donut of the United States. I still think Tato Nut is the best in the planet, but the margin is slightly (slightly!) smaller.

After I arrived back at the hotel we decided to pack up our things since Lee would be moving out of the room soon because he had to be back at his house that night. Lee officially checked out and I paid for the rest of my time there and reserved a cab to take me to my bus station for Monday morning at 6:30 am. After that we sat down and waited for Raul.

He arrived and took us to his church, and then left to get Veronica. The church service was interesting, but I must say that I couldn’t help but let my mind wander since for the most part I could not understand it. I knew he was talking about the book of Timothy and that he had five points, but that was the majority of it. Later on I learned that the pastor was Honduran, and because of this, when he said bichos, he didn’t mean children like the Salvadorians do, he actually meant bugs, the literal meaning of the word. Good to know!

After church Raul and Veronica took us to lunch to have a traditional Salvadorian meal: turkey sandwiches, aka panes con chumpe, or just chumpe. We also had refrescos ensaladas, which literally translated means something like salad drinks. It was basically fruit juice with some chopped up fruit floating at the top. The meal as a whole was delicious. It was not at all like eating bugs or anything else unusual like that. It was refreshing! One really cool thing is that, as many readers will already know, Latin culture is very focussed upon family. Everyone there was somehow related to Raul. He had his grandma, mom, aunt, uncle, two brothers, and I think a nephew. There were also numerous “chicas” and whatnot. Surprisingly almost everyone spoke English. There was one couple that only spoke French and Spanish, but I spoke enough Spanish that I could communicate the basics with them without a translator. It was a really fun time.

After we finished lunch Raul’s aunt invited us to go to her house and have dessert. At her house Lee and I played ping-pong (Lee won 21 to 11) and we all socialized. The dessert that we enjoyed was fondue (tropical fruits and chocolate with possible nuts and/or sprinkles in this case) and numerous types and flavors of - you guessed it - ICE CREAM. If I understood correctly Raul’s aunt owns an ice cream company and she even had one of the ice cream freezers in her house with all kinds of ice cream in it. Lee and I opted for the Salvadorian ice cream that was also a Salvadorian flavor, guanaba. I can’t imagine trying to describe a taste, so stop asking.

While we were at the house she told us stories about hosting events and whatnot there and I could totally understand how someone would host an event at her house. It was very well furnished and beautiful. Sadly I have no pictures of it, but I would like to go back and visit some day, so if anyone wants to come and is willing to fund such a trip, YOU ARE INVITED.

After we had had our fill Raul and Veronica took us to the crater of a volcano. It was really cool. See pictures here. One cool thing about the crater, which you may or may not be able to see in the pictures, is that people go down in it and there are a bunch of white rocks that they rearrange into their initials or whatever when they get there. It’s pretty gnarly! As we left the volcano we got some empanadas. They were basically plantains (like bananas) fried with sugar on the outside and milk or beans on the inside. Delish is the only word I would use to describe them (except for maybe also sweet and affordable.)

After that Raul looked at his watch and realized that it was already 5:00 pm and that we needed to drop Lee off soon and get back so that Raul could play in his weekly soccer game. We began the drive that for the first time seemed far to short to the hotel to get Lee’s bag. We then drove him to his house in Verapaz where Raul and Veronica met Lee’s host mom. We all got introduced and talked for a few minutes and then we had to go so Raul said, “Bueeeno.”

Interestingly, in El Salvador at least, when one says “bueno” softly and slowly it basically means, “I need to go,” in a polite way. Lee had explained this and a number of other things our first night together and seeing it in action was really exciting. Another interesting slang word used in El Salvador was “va,” pronounced, “mba.” It basically means word, or station. I won’t explain what those mean as that is a pretty big topic. And lastly, my favorite, “bolado” which means thingamajig, or whatchamacallit. I actually got to use this one. Bolado, or more often boladito, can also mean mistress, but generally context ensures that there is no confusion.

After that we all got up and said goodbye to each other. It was a sad time because I certainly question whether or not I will even see Lee after he returns from El Salvador, but we had had a great time together, so there was no room to complain. We got back into the truck and started to head back to San Salvador.

🔗 Denouement

On the way back to San Salvador Raul called a few of his buddies and a few of his buddies called him to confirm their weekly soccer game. Raul had invited me to play and I brought some shorts to play, but when I got there I mentioned that I was not really that good at soccer and he said the I didn’t need to play if I didn’t want to, so I didn’t. It was good anyway because they would have had to kept one of their players from playing if I had played. Anyway, it was while watching the game that I discovered that everyone in El Salvador (or at least all of the everyone that I associated with) has Facebook! When I expressed surprise that Veronica was putting pictures from the volcano in Facebook she said, “Everyone has Facebook!” Indeed.

After the game we went to some little restaurant to have dinner. It was past nine at this point so all three of us were pretty hungry and also a little tired. Raul mentioned that he was not feeling well anyway and he had a red throat as well. After finishing our dinner Raul asked me to bring the truck to the front of the restaurant so that he would not get wet (it was raining) and thus get sicker. After I brought the car and both of my comrades got in the car we were off.

…Well, not exactly. There was a pole pretty close to the truck and since no one got into the right side, no one saw it. When he pulled out Raul “grazed” the pole and did fairly significant damage to the truck. I felt pretty bad for him and wished that I had noticed it and said something, but sometimes there is just nothing one can do. They dropped me off at my hotel and I went to bed so that I could get up early the next morning for my bus ride back to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The next morning I took my taxi to the bus station and waited for the bus. The bus trip back seemed longer than the one down; I think it had to do with the fact that I was fairly cramped compared to the way down. It was still better than any modern airplane I have been on. After the seven hour bus ride I arrived in San Pedro Sula. I was not sure of whether or not I would stay the night in San Pedro (I like the city and wanted to stay but that’s expensive) or get to La Ceiba and stay at a hotel there or at a friends house in La Ceiba.

Since I did not know the answer to my own question I decided to just walk around San Pedro Sula and see if I could find the bus station that would have the bus that would get me to La Ceiba. Sadly, after walking around for a couple hours and asking directions I still had not gotten to my destination. I finally submitted to fate and took a taxi. He took me to a terminal of a bus station that was about three times as expensive as the reverse trip, but still only just over ten dollars. I bought a ticket and decided to go to an internet cafe where I would email Dr. Austin (I always do when I am on a trip like this) and check email and whatnot.

The first internet cafe had all broken computers, but the second one worked fine with lower prices. Unfortunately, at the second internet cafe I realized that I had left my wallet at the first internet cafe. Fortunately I was fast enough getting back to the first that I got me wallet back just fine and had plenty of time to email Dr. (Chancellor?) Austin and do other things. I grabbed a quick dinner and went to the bus station to get on my bus back to La Ceiba.

The bus to La Ceiba was even more crowded than the previous bus but still better than an airplane. On the bus I read, listened to music, looked out the window, wrote an outline that I did not use for this orderly account, and tried to not get too bored. After four hours we arrived at La Ceiba and a taxi man looked into the window at me a gestured that he was to be my taxi man. I figured that there would be no way he would take me to Balfate, but I would see if he would anyway.

I figured to myself that if the taxi cost less than 760 Lempiras it would be a deal, because a hotel would probably cost around 570, food would cost about 95, bus fair would cost around 57, and then there would be the time saved. So I got off the bus and asked the taxi driver if he would take me to Balfate, he said yes, I asked how much, he said a hundred. What a deal! More than three times bus fair but still a great deal. I even looked up the word he said (cien) to make sure I had translated correctly. I had!

He took me back to Balfate and on the way stopped at a really nice hotel and told me that it cost a hundred fifty a night and that it was extremely expensive. I was a little confused because the hotel I stayed at in San Pedro Sula cost 600 lempiras, but whatever. I just want to point out that this was the most frightening part of my trip; he was driving faster than anyone I have been with has so far on a really bad road in a smaller car than usual. It was a harrying experience. He took me all the way to the doorstep of the house I was staying at and I got out my wallet and handed him a 100 Lemp. note. He looked at me sincerely and said, “No. Dolores.”

BAD SIGN. 1 Dollar = 18.95 Lempiras. I had figured that 5~ Dollars was a great deal, but if I had realized that he wanted 100 DOLLARS I would have stayed in a hotel! I told him to wait outside and that I would go inside and see if I could find more (I did not and still do not have 100 Dollars in cash.) Sadly there was no more money, so I offered to have Iain meet him in town and bring in the rest of the money. He would not have it and said that we needed to wake up my friend.

We went to Iain’s house and I went to the door and before knocking Iain ask who was there. I told him it was me and what had happened and he helped me out with the remaining 800 Lemps. that I owed the taxi driver. The taxi driver drove me back to the house and I went inside, at 11 pm, totally wired.

Interestingly, at first I heard that the regular price for a taxi back from La Ceiba is 500 Lempiras, and thusly I would have gotten ripped off. Iain later told me that the going rate is between 120 and 130 Dollars, and that I really got a pretty good deal. That makes me feel a little better, but nonetheless I wish I had realized it at the time as I am completely broke now and still have things I would like to purchase.

🔗 The End

Overall it was a really good trip. I wish I had understood correctly what the taxi driver meant, but it is a good story nonetheless. The rest of the trip was vastly better than I had expected and indeed, the best vacation I have ever had (except maybe last Spring Break at Disneyworld.)

Posted Tue, Jul 31, 2007

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