Archive for November, 2006

El Salvador

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

woman with flowers. El Salvador

[Jeff took this photo of a woman near where we kept the boat; she was waiting for the bus.]

For having the Time Machine in El Salvador four and a half months, I’ve said embarrassingly little about it, blogwise. I guess I didn’t really know how to cover all that was going on around us every day, because it wasn’t just one thing to describe or one event where I may have made an ass of myself that I needed to tell everyone. There were so many things. And so many different ways I made an ass of myself.

If I had to sum up the whole of the country with a few words, I’d have to say the thing that struck me the most was the unbelievable friendliness of the people. However, I’m generally not one for using only a few words. And, I know I say this about everyplace we go: Oh, the people were SO nice, blah blah. There is a huge class divide in the country: the very rich and very conspicuous consumers and then the very poor, which of course is by far the majority of people in El Salvador. Most we met lived in tiny houses built out of scavenged parts, had swept dirt floors, and had wood-fire cooking hearths. It has been only less than a decade since the civil war ended (it went on for around twelve years) and clearly economic and political tensions remain. And yet nearly everyone we met was courteous, nice, extremely helpful, and genuinely curious about what the hell we were doing there.

Libertad Sign. San Salvador, El Salvador

In San Salvador, a city cram packed with people on the streets, people being moved around in diesel-spewing ex-American school busses, and just major mayhem almost everywhere you look, we frequently were approached by random people to chat. Many of them just want to know where we are from because they have a relative or some connection with the States (it is assumed generally that we are Americans) and they love to list off the names of the US cities where a daughter or a cousin lives. Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago. One woman who started talking with us was all but scandalized when she found out we were staying in such-and-such a hotel. She got out a pen and paper and wrote down her home address and telephone, then the telephone and address of her work, also a number of some friend where she might also be if not at home or work, and finally a schedule of hours where she should be at all times of the day, just in case. If we looked confused at any time on the street, some lady would approach us and ask if we needed directions or help. Immediately four or five women would crowd around, and every one of them would have an encyclopedic knowledge of the convoluted San Salvadorian bus schedules and they would all argue over which route was the best, since there seemed to always be about a million different ways to do everything in that city.

Buses were also awesome for people watching as well as actual people interacting. One guy, a schoolteacher on the Puntilla (the end of the land near the entrance of the estuary where we kept the boat), struck up a conversation with us. “Elvis,” he said, “Graceland,” and he nodded giving us a knowing look. This of course came out like, “Ale-vees” and “Gros-ay-land,” and it took us a minute to figure it out. He said he would very much like to visit the US if only so he could visit Maim-feece. He showed us his notebook, which had Elvis on the cover; on the other side, he had pasted in an image of Marilyn Monroe. Another time, on a packed bus, a young girl was standing in the aisle outside of the seat where Joshua and I were sitting. She stared at us for a minute or two and then pointed at Joshua’s shirt and said, “shirt.” Then smiled. She then went on to list our surroundings, “Woman, bus, red, tree, music,” while we repeated the words and others in Spanish. “Bye,” she said when she got off. Usually, I ended up sitting next to older women who would always ask me whether I had any children, and how old I was. Once they confirmed that Joshua was indeed my husband, they would always let me know that it of course wasn’t too late, but that I had to get a move on. One woman even reached over and patted my belly when she told me this. It wasn’t only the women who were concerned at my lack of offspring; men would also be sure to tell me so as well; it wasn’t just some woman thing.

We spent a lot of time on busses in El Salvador, also. Curiously, everyone we met NOT in El Salvador said of the place, “Oh, El Salvador is so dangerous. You, being a foreigner, must really be careful. Don’t ride busses, especially—those are the worst.” Well, maybe we were just lucky but we never had any problems unless it was getting correct change back from the cobradores (the money-taker dudes). Almost always the cobradores were helpful and not only sure to tell us if we had the right or wrong bus, but would often lead us around to where they could point out where to stand to catch the right one. Busses were almost always decommissioned school busses from the US, often downright antiques. They were always fitted with a bar running the length of the ceiling over the aisle to hold onto, plus extra seats were added where they could be, like in front next to the bus driver or on top of the engine hump. Usually the outsides were decorated with fancy mud flaps, chrome paraphernalia, or painted with Dios slogans. The insides were always, always decorated. The most popular themes being large shiny stickers of cartoon characters (generally Warner Brothers) with twee sayings like, ‘Even though you may be far away, remember that I will always love you and hold you close to my heart;’ dangling stuffed cartoon characters (also usually Warner Brothers—I’m talking Tweety and Yosemite Sam and the like); and those spring-loaded hair clips things—I have no idea why—like, dozens of them clipped all around the rear-view mirrors and up and down the window frames and stuff.

The bus driver always has control of the music situation and would either play reggaeton (a latin combination of reggae and hip-hop with an omnipresent beat) or thee schmaltziest, most painfully awful early 80s lite rock ballads. And they always play it loud. Hits like “She’s Like the Wind,” “Cherish the Night,” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Plus a LOT of Bryan Adams, “I Do it For You,” or whatever that one is called—by far my personal least favorite song in the entire planet, particularly the live duet featuring some Celine Dion clone, a most nauseating version.

The cobrador’s job is to collect passengers and then collect their fares. We figured they must be paid some sort of percentage of what they take because they all but jump out of the moving bus and grab people off the street to fill the bus. Wait, actually they DO do that. They hang out of the open bus doors as it barrels down the street shouting and whistling while the bus driver honks all over the place. The bus will always stop for a passenger and while it is still braking, the cobrador is out the door in order to hustle the person onto the bus as fast as possible. The moment the passenger’s foot touches the bottom step of the entry, the cobrador slaps the side of the bus twice and the driver hits the gas. The cobrador swings on like a monkey as the bus roars off using an elaborate system of bars that have been welded around the doorway. They are true artists of brinkmanship and prefer to wait until the absolute last moment to snag the bar and swing back onto the accelerating bus. I always secretly hoped I’d see perhaps a green one get left behind and would imagine him running behind the bus yelling, passengers staring. Sometimes they would slap the bus and swing not into the front door but wait until the bus was almost past to snatch up the rungs outside the back door. I never saw one left behind. Once on the bus, it’s up to the new passengers to keep themselves from flying headlong down the aisle no matter if it’s a little old lady or a mother carrying a kid or what. When it’s time to get people off the bus, the cobrador does whatever he can to facilitate this exit, snatching up luggage, market baskets, kids, and depositing them swiftly on the side of the road.

young girl vendor on the bus. El Salvador

Then there are the bus vendors. They congregate in certain towns and at major crossroads and all load up on the bus with their plastic bins of pupusas, sodas, coconut water, candies, fried fish, sandwiches, chips, oranges, cut-up veggies, bags of plums—pretty much everything. They all have their own calls: “Quiere pupusas!” “Quesadillas le doy!” “Naranjas dulces!” Sometimes they would get on the bus and deliver an entire sales speech; one guy had wallets and keychains with lights in them and he went ON, detailing all the kinds of things you could put in this wallet. Another particularly successful salesman always had some crazy Japanese treat—gummy pops of anime characters or something—and he would go on about all the delicious flavors and how they were all colors of special and when he got around to selling them, he would sell them all. Every time.

There are only a couple things of note regarding El Salvadorian costume. In general, they dress pretty normal, similar to what you might see elsewhere in Central America or Mexico; we never noticed any specific regional dress like you see in Guatemala, for example. The men seem to favor soccer shirts of their favorite teams (soccer–“football”–is huge, as it is everywhere in the world outside of the US). Women (younger, that is) don’t seem to dress particularly modestly; for example, tube tops seemed to be popular—especially with the larger set. Market and street vendor women always wear these elaborate frilly aprons with bows and ruffles and pockets across the front. The aprons are longer in the front where the pockets are and wrap ruffles all the way around the waist. I’ve never seen them elsewhere and every single women involved with food vending wears one. One more thing: El Salvadorian women, particularly the older women, do not travel anywhere without a towel. They always have one slung over a shoulder, which they use to cover baskets, wipe sweat from their faces, pad their head if they carry stuff, etc. Douglas Adams would be proud.

Our boat was anchored in an estuary (Estero de Jaltepeque) way down off this narrow point of land and there were no towns of any real size anywhere nearby. There were a number of local people who lived there but the majority of land was owned by rich San Salvadorians who had vacation homes, plus a few resort hotels here and there (also catering, it seemed, primarily to wealthy San Salvadorians). During the weekdays, it was dead quiet but on weekends, the hotels and vacation houses would fill up and people would arrive with their extended families to tear shrieking around the estuary on rented jet skis and cruise around in little power boats. The music would pump loudly out the loudspeakers at the hotel and at night you could hear off-key karaoke coming from somewhere near the naval station. During the weekends, our favorite restaurant Mar y Sol, which was located on a breezy dock stretching out over the estuary, would open and we would unabashedly eat there every meal.

Mar y Sol was run by a family and the spokesperson for the cruisers was Teresa, the cute, dimpled twenty-something daughter who waited tables. She had just started taking a weekly English class in San Salvador when we were getting ready to leave and would now and then say “bye” or carefully pronounce your bill in English, then giggle, embarrassed. She often charged us different prices for things and sometimes forgot dishes we had ordered but she was a sweetheart and very judicious with all the awful Spanish she had to endure when we talked with her. It was hard to stay irritated at Mar y Sol for anything because of her.

Living on the estuary in the boat was often boring and always incredibly hot. Mornings generally were still and the early sun would drive us from the cabin by 7am where we would sit in the cockpit crammed into the only shady corner squinting up and down the river watching the action (not a lot, usually). Luckily, the boat provided tasks right and left and we spent our days sanding, painting, sanding, repairing, and sanding. The river had at times several knots of tide and the boat often sounded as if it were underway with the rushing water. Aside from one day at La Paz where we were testing out the bote motor mount, this was the first time we really used the outboard on the dinghy. Rowing against a six-knot current is really tough. At night it was generally breezy and all the major clouds that had built up around the volcanoes during the day started flickering and moving around. During July, every night we got a major thunderstorm that came roaring up the estuary. All would be still and then within five seconds, the temperature would drop ten degrees as a blast of storm air hit, smelling of electric mixer and pine needles. The boat would vibrate and the rigging would scream. We would leap up from bed or eating dinner or whatever we were up to at the time and run around the boat, removing our shade structure lest it get blown to shreds, securing all our miscellaneous deck clutter, pulling the dinghy up onto the ama (lest it gouge a hole in the side of the boat with its evil rivets). Then we would climb below and listen to the noises and the pounding rain, peeking up periodically to make sure we hadn’t moved or to watch with fascination at Angel, George’s boat, flying around as if underway. The squalls lasted usually an hour and then everything would quiet down again. Sometimes there would be two or three per night; mornings were always clear and beautiful.

Bahia del Sol, despite the scary bar entry, turned out to be a really good place for us to keep the boat in a lot of ways. We were able to leave the boat on our own anchor the entire period (although moorings were available as well) and have Santos, a local guy, keep an eye on it when we were away. We could not have found a less expensive alternative anywhere else. The biggest drawback for us was the bar, which kept the estuary from being a place you could just enter and exit at leisure, and the curious and oftentimes uncomfortable political climate created by the “landed interests” (as one of the cruisers put it) clashing with the locals and each other. After the mysterious generator heist (which, upon investigation, turned up alleged ‘evidence’ pointing toward the conspiracy theory), we were ready to leave.

Estero de Jaltepeque aka Bahia del Sol, El Salvador

Why do I get the feeling I’m spamming my own website…

Monday, November 13th, 2006

We arrived in Bahia Ballena after a lengthy lull in internet activity and I have a number of back-logged posts.

Anyway, we took two overnight trips to get from Playa Tamarindo to the inside of the Nicoya peninsula. The first stretch to Bahia Samara was exceedingly irritating as we were beating up into the wind into a medium-sized swell, with steep wind-chop and a current against us. Night found us dodging rain clouds (a losing battle as there were too many to avoid) and tacking all over the place. Come morning, I swear we were still within eyesight of where we had been the night before when the sun went down. It took us 24 hours to go only around 50 miles and we had reasonable wind the entire time. We were pretty skeptical as to the quality of the anchorages of either Samara or the more popular Carillo because we had a south-southwest swell and wind direction, but we decided to nose into Samara and check things out; if too bouncy, we’d just head on. At low tide, Samara was fine and we stayed the night. Town was cute and packed with German tourists (easily spotted on the beach in their speedos).

As the tide rose and the swell washed over the reefs, the anchorage got bouncy and by the next afternoon, we were feeling very much ready to head on. We left at 4pm in order to time our landing in Bahia Ballena during the morning and set out right into a major rain squall, which happily had the effect of flattening the sea out a little and making the ride easier. The wind was again coming right from where we wanted to go and we again tacked back and forth. Naturally, each tack felt like we would make better directional progress on the other tack and so there was much activity during my watch switching sides, back and forth. Finally the wind died and we bobbled around until I couldn’t stand it anymore and started the outboard.

We arrived as planned in the morning to a large, well-protected bay; on the southern side is a small pier where they unload fish daily (so far the catch has been dorado) and two small villages. Across the bay is another small village and on the north side, a small white beach with a wrecked sailboat lying under the palms. We spent the first night over by the pier and then moved over to check out the wrecked boat.

As we neared the beach, we realized that the wrecked boat was a Jim Brown—possibly a 37 or 40-footer—and with one ama completely torn off, it was in pretty bad shape.

Pleiades wrecked Searunner 40. Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Pleiades wrecked Searunner 40. Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Pleiades wrecked Searunner 40. Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Pleiades wrecked Searunner 40. Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Pleiades wrecked Searunner 40. Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

The boat was a total mess with ants crawling all over it and wasp nests dangling from the cabin ceilings. We found molding charts from all over the world and soggy publications dating from the late 70’s, addressed to someone in the Physics Department of University of Oregon. We chatted a bit with a local guy on the beach and he said the boat belonged to a guy named ‘Heart’ who lived just up the hill above the beach.

The name ‘Heart’ rang a bell; Joshua’s dad once told a story about when he was building his Brown 40 in Gold Beach during the late 70s. One day a guy appeared in the doorway of the boat shed; he had long wild hair and a scraggly beard and was dressed in oilskins. Joshua’s dad said he looked like some kind of mountain man. The man introduced himself as Heart and had come by because he was also building a Brown 40. He had a bit of land and he started a commune on it; anyone who wanted could come and live there for free, they just had to help him build his boat. Heart had said he was an inventor, made inverters. The next day we went up to the house and discovered that this Heart was indeed the same man, with long white-blond curly hair and a beard. And he remembered Joshua’s dad and his boat in Gold Beach.

We found Heart in his office, surrounded by computers and parts and wires and piles of taken-apart inverters. “Oh hey! Let me just get some pants on here!” He told us that they built the boat on a commune near some tiny town in southern Oregon. They constructed it in three pieces since they were considerably inland—the center hull and the two amas—then when they were ready, they rolled them down the hill on logs from their property to a truck where they were moved to the Umpqua River. He then spliced the main strength bulkheads together making the boat one single piece and launched it into the Umpqua. Upon completion, they floated the boat down to the sea and set out around the world with three families aboard. Aboard were he and his wife and their four kids, another family who was pregnant and had a small child, and a third family with a breastfeeding baby. After a few years, they made it as far as Panama and decided to stop for a while in Costa Rica. And he’s been here with his family (nine kids in all) ever since. The boat was broken apart in a storm three years ago and he says he has plans to fix it back up but, “you just get to doing different things, you know.”

He runs Heart Industries (or whatever it’s called) out of Costa Rica, does R&D from his home on Bahia Ballena and he says they have a factory near San Jose. “What kind of inverter you have there on that boat of yours?” he wanted to know. We also met his wife, Honey, and his 17-year old son; their daughter Eden owns the Ballena Bay Yacht Club bar and restaurant across the bay. Honey is responsible for organizing the organic produce market held in the yacht club every Saturday, which sounded absolutely awesome—she went on about the beautiful herbs and vegetables and whole grain fresh breads and goat milk yogurts and homemade cheeses they always have. Oh man, I was decidedly bummed to have missed it.

We left the Heart home and wandered back down the beach to where our kayak was waiting underneath the remaining wing of the rotting tri. It seems odd and sort of sad to see it there and think about how much life went into that boat, both in building it and living and traveling on it. But maybe it isn’t, you just get to doing different things and Heart appears to be right where he wants to be, surrounded by his family with the Pleiades resting on the beach in front of his house.

Pleiades wrecked Searunner 40. Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica

Let’s Cooking: Joshua’s Pork Chop

Monday, November 13th, 2006

We used to prepare this all the time when we lived on actual land. Recently, Joshua’s dad Jeff visited us on the boat and after a week of largely vegetarian dinners, a general demand for MEAT was announced by the boys. We made Joshua’s Pork Chop and, as always, it turned out pretty darned good. We never had a recipe specifying exact ingredients amounts and so we’ve always winged it—a thing that sometimes brings out the bickering on my and Joshua’s part. I have always had little regard for precision in ingredient specifications and Joshua thinks he actually remembers exactly how much of everything he put in it the last time we made it. Anyway, that’s what the wine is for.

Ingredients, more or less
* Pork! Chops of pork! I make Joshua pick these out due to an irritating squeamishness on my part around supermarket displays of dead flesh. He usually homes in on the thick ones.
* Dehydrated wild mushrooms (like porcinis); or if you are lucky enough to have fresh ones, use those. Rehydrate in hot water or broth (don’t throw out the mushroom juice when you are done though).
* White wine, maybe a half cup (sauvignon blanc, or a dry sherry—not cooking sherry either, use something you wouldn’t mind actually drinking, like a fino or amontillado. We also used Spanish brandy once). In fact, pour yourself and your cooking partner a glass in preparation for the preparation.
* Onion, chopped.
* Much garlic, sliced into little garlic sliceys.
* Balsamic vinegar (or champagne vinegar, a substance I find tastes like acetone—and not in a good way—but that Joshua loves for some crazy reason so you’ll have to battle it out on this one out). OH! I have just now received confirmation from Joshua that “Sherry vinegar’s the best.” Definitive; there you have it.
* Scant spoon of sugar, possibly. It depends upon how much balsamic you put in and how sweet it is (you can adjust for taste near the end). You might have to sneak this one in as I do for Joshua because the combination of Pork and Sugar scrambles his brain.
* Bay leaf.
* Possibly a squeeze of lime or lemon juice—again, taste it and make your decision.
* Salt and pepper to taste.

Get out your best big frying pan. Joshua is in charge of the browning of goods because he is King of the Pork Chop and so I usually just humor him on this one. Heat some oil in the pan (we always seem to use olive oil because we’re cooking Neanderthals but something that has a higher burn point is obviously preferable) and proceed to burn the shit out of all the garlic I just spent all day slicing into cute, uniform little sliceroos. Swear vociferously and demand to be handed a slotted spoon with which to fish out smoking garlic chars while I roll my eyes in I-told-you-so smugness. Luckily I always chop four extra cloves and so the process gets repeated but with a more careful eye. This time, fish out golden, crisp garlic chippy-chips from the hot oil and set aside in an attractive auxiliary kitchen dish.

Now for the pork. You must brown the pork chop; or rather sear it—a task that is nearly impossible using an alcohol stove such as we have on the Time Machine but was a SNAP when we had an antique electric stove that had only two settings: lava-red and dull brown on only one part of one spiral. Browning the pork chop, again, is Joshua Territory. I stand aside and peer around his shoulder while topping off my glass of wine. Once the browning of the pork chop is complete (be careful not to cook it all the way through, yet), set it aside for the time being.

Now, add onions to the frying pan, chopped finely and uniformly by Yours Truly and whose perfection is scoffed at by Joshua, who is simply jealous that he is incapable of such mastery of the large-bladed knife. Fight over who gets to stir. Take several sips of wine.

Once onions are well browned, a task that takes all night if you let Joshua stir because he somehow feels that the cooking process is hastened if all onions are pushed to the outskirts of the frying pan rather than spread uniformly across the center, add the mushrooms. I have to backtrack a little here: While Joshua was pushing the onions all over hell and gone in the pan, one must take a break and wind down, for example by chopping mushrooms. Remove the mushrooms from the reconstituting liquid and chop finely (I do this because the mushrooms I use are often the Trader Joes “wild” mushroom mixture and so I try to marry random mushroom flavors as best as I can). Add this to the onions in the pan and let Joshua do what he will with them while you spring into action. SPICES! Chuck in a bay leaf! Pour in the remaining mushroom juice! Grind in some pepper! Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and tell Joshua it was his favorite champagne vinegar that you threw out four months ago! Toss your own glass of wine in the pan! Sneak a taste of the sauce so far. Distract Joshua’s attention (“LOOK! A condor!!”) whilst adding a smidge of sugar to the mix if it tastes a bit off; seize control of the wooden spoon to mix this around. I believe I’ve been known to add a pinch of thyme to this as well.

More wine. For you.

Now, add the pork chops back to the pan and reduce the heat to simmer. I generally see to it that each chop is carefully covered with a blanket of mushroom/onion mixture and that they are neatly arranged in the pan to finish cooking. This generally doesn’t take too much longer (five minutes, maybe) and while they finish up, you may cover the pan or leave it uncovered in order to reduce the sauce to an appropriate amount. Taste and adjust salt/pepper as you like. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice if it isn’t as tangy as you might like.

When they are finished (Joshua cuts into one and when the center is just a teeny bit pink, calls the cooking process done), remove from heat and serve, spooning the mushroom/onion mixture over the top with the juice. Sprinkle the garlic chips on top of this creation. We generally make a salad to go along with this. A Caesar salad, perhaps, using actual lettuce. Ohhhh. Good stuff.

Strange Fruit

Monday, November 13th, 2006

We bought this at one of the grocery stores in Liberia. I liked the symmetry of it and the shape of the stem and the lovely golden orange color. It is weirdly lightweight for the size.

Passion Fruit

Sliced open, it revealed a centimeter of pithy shell with an interior that can only be described as snot. Well, that’s not entirely fair; chunky snot.

Passion Fruit

You see that? It smells generally fruity in an unidentifiable way. We got up the nerve to taste it.

Passion Fruit

Glop on spoon. The snot-like interior is made up of many dark seeds glommed together with a gelatinous connective tissue, which is disturbingly difficult to separate into a spoon-sized bite. It reminds me of frog eggs, until you take a bite—not that I’ve tried a bite of frog eggs before.

And the taste is not unpleasant, sort of jasminey but with a little orange; neither flavor is particularly strong. The texture is something else: extraordinarily slimy and gooey but then the seed part is crunchy—exceedingly crunchy, like little dried beetles.

I’ve never tasted anything like it.

Samara, Costa Rica

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Time Machine checking in from the slowest internet connection on the planet. We had an annoying overnight upwind, upswell, upcurrent, upchop sail and were happy to drop our anchor in the lee of a rock here in Bahia Samara.

November 9th: ONE YEAR!! Wooo hoo!

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell