The $73.50 Weekend

Now you may think I’m going to say I did about 2 things for $73.50. That seems to be the trend while you are studying abroad. But boy oh boy was I in for a treat.

It breaks down like this:

$18 for Casa affiliated transportation via micro to and from Juayua.

$11 for a large dorm-style 5 person room complete with eclectic art at Hotel Anahuac.

$15 for dinner with an appetizer, entree, dessert, and 2 drinks.

$3.50 for a typical home cooked breakfast of plantains, beans, eggs, and a half of an avocado at the hotel

$20 for a 7 hour hiking tour, including lunch, that went through 7 waterfalls including repelling down one and swimming in another

$5 for a dinner of 2 pupusas, a zapote smoothie, and a chocobanana

$1 for a cup of coffee and a coconut galleta (cookie).

Travel Channel has nothing on this.

I couldn’t imagine a better weekend if I tried to be quite honest. We stayed at a rather hip and artsy hotel. The walls were covered with some obscure art, there were painting of windows, some that looked like they came out of nightmare before christmas, and of course one naked woman sitting on a stool with her bare but cheeks visible. Laughs were had over this one.

After checking in the hunger status of everybody was determined to be, or close to being, substantially hungry. It is important to note at this time that street names in El Salvador are pretty much never used. This is my kind of system usually. However, when you are in a new town, in a new country, things can get tricky.

And by tricky I mean walking around the streets in a pack of 8 gringos searching for a restaurant whose name was something like, but not necessarily, El Cadero. It turned out to be El Cadejo Cafe. So we were pretty close. Drinks were shared, laughs were had, the gringos made a spectacle, you get the gist.

The following morning we woke up to the hotel owner or manager and another woman who worked at the hotel cooking our breakfasts in the small hotel kitchen that we were allowed to use at any time. After eating the delicious breakfast and drinking some french-pressed organic coffee (sold by none other than El Cadejo Cafe) we began our trek towards the hike of 7 waterfalls.

The hike was breathtaking. We went up through coffee plants, down towards the waterfalls, through a few of the waterfalls, took some group pictures, repelled down yet another waterfall, stopped for veggie sandwiches for lunch (Hardboiled eggs, avocado, tomato, cucumber, onions, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper), then continued to visit 2 more waterfalls that were open for swimming. We were told that one of these waterfalls had a tunnel that went to another waterfall…

Neat! Cool! Sounds awesome!

Were our first thoughts.

We arrive at the waterfall, see a sort of aqueduct/large water pipe-thing but no tunnel.

No…that’s not it….it can’t be…

It was.

I would say it was the single event in my life that most resembled a horror movie.

Our guide assured us that it went through and was short but when you are in a single file line holding onto the person ahead of you for dear life in a small tunnel whose losing light to gaining water ratio makes you very uncomfortable, things can get a little panicked. But we made it. So no worries.

We got back from the hike, walked through the market in the middle of town through aisles of fresh produce, fried goodies, plates, shoes, clothes, and plenty of other trinkets before we grabbed some coffee and pan dulce to go.

Since nobody really felt like coking after such a long day we went to Senkali (a classy pupuseria) for dinner. I ordered 2 pupusas and one zapote smoothie (possibly one of my new favorites), making my total $4. Then for dessert we walked down the street to the center square that also has a giant tree-of-life sort of thing going on to a small vendor that sells chocobananas aka frozen bananas covered with chocolate.

Chocolate covered frozen fruit is a pretty big deal here, I’m not exactly sure why…but I assume the whole tropical heat thing is a big factor.

Anyways.

So at this particualr stand they sell chocobananas, chocouvas (grapes), chocofresas (strawnerries), and chocosandia (watermelon). What’s special about this stand is that you can pick TWO toppings, say whattt?

So I picked oreos and granola. In retrospect, my original thought process of granola being the ultimate package because it had oats and nuts was a poor one because the granola ended up being stale. But it didn’t really matter once we sat down at an outside table and got to talking. I’m already going to miss these nights once 3 more months is up.

But enough getting too far ahead of myself. This weekend will be spent with one of our lovely becarios. I have been placed with Norelby, a student at the UCA whose English is fairly good. Me and 2 other girls will be accompanying her to Gurajilla, a small campo in the northernmost part of the country. So be looking out for that post when I return.

PS If you are thinking to yourself “dang, how does this girl have free time to do anything?” Then we are on the same track. I can’t believe it’s been almost 6 weeks here. I also can’t believe that I only have 2 more weekends free of Casa-planned events. Plans on plans on plans.

I See You Coco Crispies

Note: This scene takes place in La Dispensa (our grocery store).

Puchica (translation: Dang) there are a lot of weird cereals here. What the heck is that mascot? Looks like a giant orange pom pom.

All of these cereals have so much sugar…

Ooo look at those coco crispies!

Maybe I’ll get them. They would be really tasty for breakfast.

Wait…When have I ever bought coco crispies in the US? So why would I buy them here???

Oh the throws of familiarity. The desire to get that little taste of home even when you have about 500 other options much more unique (but what I really mean is stranger) than the chips ahoy sitting on the shelf (which I actually ended up buying). It’s an odd thing but I guess sometimes you just have to give in and impulse buy that chex mix (guilty).

This week has been riddled with hints of familiarity. Chicken soup on Sunday, arroz con pollo and gummy bears on Thursday, and chili last night. It appears as though week 5 is the week to start missing home. On the other hand it has also been the best week EVER.

We had dinner with the becarios Tuesday night and I actually felt like I was part of the conversation in Spanish. Me and another student also practiced our hand stands for them, which is something that has been happening here a lot, do I know why? Nope. But it’s been a heck of a lot of fun and I’ve been enjoying, the becarios have as well. After that we had an amazing spirituality night on Tuesday involving a speed-date-like session where we were given 8 minutes to discuss questions such as: What does your God look like? What does being a man/woman mean to you? And who inspires you?

Wednesday was by far the best day at praxis. We taught classes by singing “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” drawing, and dancing, we had some delicious veggie soup whose broth was made with some sort of combination of pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, onions and chiles. My tortilla making skills are improving drastically which is a much bigger deal than you may think. We also made some jewelry with the women who have been working to start their own little shop. (I’ll be posting pictures of this soon in case anyone is interested!) Most of the beads are actually made of beans and seeds from the fruits and veggies used in the comedor, they just got in some red beans that are really vibrant, I actually bought myself some earrings for a whopping 35 cents.

Soccer on Thursday was just a tad bit more amazing than usual for no reason in particular. Pupusas were delicious. Conversation with the becarios was less painful (the best way to measure painfulness of a conversation is to note how many times you need to pull out your charades skills). Community night included delicious treats made by one of the girls in the house. Campo style pan dulce with nutella and rainbow frosting really made that community night.

This is also the week of expansion of the girls with short hair club! 3 more lovely ladies walked on down to the barber shop and chopped their hair off.

Needless to say, I’m proud.

And to top it all off we had a talent show last night. There was a play, a rap written about one of the guys in the program, Salvadoranity (a play on the insanity workouts), a martial arts demonstration, the 4 chord song, a slower song, a love song about pupusas, dances to Willow Smith (by 3 people with short hair), and some poetry reading. I was apart of the play, the pupusa love song (done to the acoustic version of Baby Got Back), and the poetry recital (The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll). It was amazing, and soon there will be pictures.

However, first I will trek over to the waterfalls this afternoon until tomorrow for a weekend of awesome-ness.

Be prepared for pictures of Desktop-Background quality.

 

Glossary

So since I am now becoming more familiar with the vernacular terms as well as continuing to use terms that people who have not read the blog from it’s very eventful beginning (shame on you), I have decided to make a glossary, here you will find terms that I use commonly but might be unclear for some.

Becario– A Salvadoran student under a scholarship. These students live in the houses with us and also have their own house down the road.

Biscuit- The super americanized super classy internet cafe around the corner

We’re Talkin’ ‘Bout Praxis

I thought I wouldn’t have been able to sleep from excitement, coffee, the speaker we just heard in History class, but I guess there’s just something about the hour-long ride to Tepecoyo that makes me drowsy. I always manage to wake up right as we turn onto the dirt road and continue down to Angelica’s house.

Until now I had only seen Tepecoyo during the day, but at sunset it was beautiful.  It hasn’t been too cloudy or rainy here the last couple days (which you would think would be a good thing but it really means that all the rain is just going to come in one large pouring) and you could see the light reflected off the trees and creating silhouettes, it was an excellent welcoming present.

First up on the agenda was pupusa making.

Quick Pupusa 101 for those who don’t know what they’re missing out on.

A pupusa is a round disk, probably around 4 inches in diameter, made of corn or rice masa that is stuffed with a variety of things.  These things include, but are not limited to: cheese, beans, chicharron (pork), cilantro, jalapeno, lorocco (an edible flower), spinach, and I even tried a ham and pineapple one. The possibilities are pretty much endless, kinda like with pizza. So I guess it may be easier to just think of them like a perfectly circular calzone made of masa.

Sidenote: In an article I had to read for class, pupusas were described as a bacon and cheese pancake.  Umm…..what?

So, here’s how the process goes:

  1. Prep stuffing ingredients. In our case it was lorroco, cheese, and beans.  We cut the lorroco by picking 5-6 small buds, bunching them together, and then slicing them as you would a scallion. We then mixed the cut buds in with the cheese, which was kind of like pladough consistency (playdough you could eat that is).
  2. Get some bowls for the ingredients and separate them.  We had one bowl of masa, one of beans, one of the cheese/lorocco mix, one with water to put on your hands so the masa didn’t stick, and a small one with oil to rub on so the outside gets crispy when you cook it.
  3. Grab a palm’s worth of masa.  Form it into a ball.
  4. Hold that ball in your right hand and press it against the knuckles of your left hand to form a bowl in the masa.
  5. Fill bowl with beans and cheese/lorocco mix.
  6. Close dough by pressing masa together once, then turning ball of masa and pressing it one more time.
  7. Start pinching together the ball. Twist a little as if you were wrapping a small bag as a present.
  8. Tear of the little extra piece that forms at the top.
  9. Continue with ball as if you were making a tortilla.  This just involves pinching and rotating the ball to form a disk and then flattening the disk out.
  10. Rub some oil on it.
  11. Put it on flat top griddle-like thing and cook.
  12. BOOM! You have yourself the most delicious Salvadoran delicacy ever created.

 

And let me tell you, after all that hard work of making pupusas, you’ve got a pretty big appetite.  So we sat down and enjoyed our mountain of pupusas with some freshly blended salsa (Note: salsa here is more or less the same consistency as bottle hot sauce, it’s not as spicy, but the deliciousness can’t be denied).  I had also baked some oatmeal cookies complete with walnuts, dark chocolate chunks, and coconut as a thank you for my praxis family so I whipped those babies out and shared them with everyone, they were a huge hit.

We were in bed by 9:30 and woke up at 7 to a breakfast of refried beans (of amazingness), eggs, and instant coffee. I don’t know what it is about those refried beans, but I’m pretty sure they are the one thing I would want to eat for the rest of my life…I’m salivating a little now just thinking about them.

Ok. Focus. Back to the activities.

It was independence day so after breakfast we walked into town for the parade.  A lot of the schools organized marching bands with baton girls, and fancy outfits, and little children dressed up in fancy outfits, and dancing, and lots of make up, and trumpets, and just a whole lot of parade-like things.

But I’m just going to talk about the baton girls outfits for a second.

Picture this:

So there’s a 12 year old girl who gets to be a baton girl for the parade (yippee! oh boy!), and all the girls get matching outfits, they are sparkly, and pink, and glittery…

and also involve very little fabric.

Shoulders were exposed, midriffs were bared, and legs were displayed with skirts that somehow all managed to find the exact spot where your but would not be exposed. Also there were calf-high, heeled, black or white boots involved. And this outfit pretty much applied for all ages.

The skies were still clear, meaning the sun was still blazing hot so we stopped at a street vendor and got choco-watermelon.  And that was just about the most refreshing thing that I could have ever hoped for. Frozen slices of watermelon covered in chocolate and coco crispies have a beautiful relationship.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of us watching The Proposal (in Spanish with English subtitles), relaxing, coloring with some kids, relaxing, eating a little, and more relaxing.

You could say I’m pretty relaxed right now.

Sunday we had a small pancake breakfast. They cooked the pancakes on a separate griddle pan on a burner and not on the flat top they grill tortillas on, so that was confusing, mostly because the flat top is prime time for making pancakes at large pancake breakfasts. With it Angelica made a large pot of hot milk (most milk is powdered here) with some sugar in it.  It was a new thing for me to try and I liked it, I liked it a lot.

Then, to top it all off, after watching a local soccer game and eating fried yuca (really wish they sold that at soccer games in the states) Angelica made us chicken and vegetable soup.  And if I felt nostalgia a few weeks ago it was nothing like the nostalgia I felt at that point.

The soup tasted exactly like my mom’s chicken soup at home. So it was literally a taste of home that was much needed.

Overall, the weekend was as much a reminder of how much I missed home as it was a reminder of how I am supposed to be here.

 

And if you made it through all that describing and retelling of my weekend then I say kudos to you. I wish there was a way I could give you a pupusa.  If you didn’t make it through then you’re probably not reading this now so I can say bad things about you…just kidding.

Note: New Page!

I have added a new page on the header titled “Glossary” to make a common page for words that I use a lot in posts.  Just in case you have forgotten or weren’t paying attention, refer to this page when there is a word you don’t know.  And if it’s not on the page then please leave me a comment or email me at rmurillo@scu.edu so I can add it! Chances are there are a lot of other people that don’t know what the heck that words means either.

Rebecca Murillo is now in a relationship with El Salvador.

So last weekend was our first free weekend since being here.  With so much time you think we would want to go out and see the sights or go to the beach or something mildly exciting.

So what did we end up doing?

Sleep (kind of).

And eat (obviously).

It was the first time I’ve gotten to sleep in until….wait for it….8:30 in who knows how long. It was quite the luxury.  It’s also possible I would have slept longer if we didn’t live adjacent to an auto shop.  The sound of sheet metal being cut isn’t an Alarm tone for a good reason.

I caught up on laundry which turned into a 2-hour arm workout since half my clothes smelled of must from being rained on the last tim I did laundry. The rest of the weekend was more or less a blur of walking around the streets and adding more reference points to our mental navigation system.  Apparently just because streets have names doesn’t mean they are used or even known, most of our directions start with

“So it’s on the way to the UCA…”

Or,

“It’s right by Biscuit (the swanky internet cafe around the corner)…”

We ended up drinking juice blends, aka smoothies minus the dairy products, eating ice cream, and most importantly going to one of the few mexican restaurants in the area.  Andale is known for having large burritos, which we were all extremely excited for since we hadn’t had any sort of mexican food for over 3 weeks.

No chips and salsa, no tacos, nada, nunca, cero.

Good thing the al pastor Andale burrito gets served on a cookie sheet and is approximately 1.5 feet long.

This is my kind of mexican restaurant.

But the weekend went by faster than expected, with less homework being done and more food in my stomach.

Monday, we were back at our praxis sites, and I finally got to walk to Zone 3 of Tepecoyo.  I was told that the higher the number of the zone, the higher the level of poverty is, the rougher the quality of life is, and to be much more careful when we visit.

But honestly, it’s beautiful there.

The streets were much cleaner and flatter.  Instead of being constructed of rocks and littered with wrappers and bags from snacks sold in small stores/rooms of peoples houses the roads were just compact dirt.  They were a bit slippery form the rain, and every time I looked up at the multitudes of trees I ended up slipping just a little bit, never falling though.  We visited the house of a boy named Sergio who has infantile paralysis.  Sergio is 12 years old but had the mental age of a 2-3 year old.  All 3 of his sisters have dropped out of school to help around the house since their mother died a few years ago and their father now works in the fields all day to help pay for their food.  It was difficult to see Sergio, and it was even more difficult to start up a conversation with his sisters.  What do you say to a family who has given everything up to keep Sergio healthy?  I don’t even know how I would approach the situation with an English speaking family. I left feeling guilty, already thinking of questions for next time.

The rest of the week went by in what felt like a second.  Praxis, class homework, running, laundry, praxis, choir praxis for our Mass with the becarios, class, soccer, more laundry, Mass with the becarios, and next on the agenda is praxis weekend.

Around 4PM today we will head out to our praxis sites until Sunday afternoon and I’m actually really excited, I’ll be making pupusas, playing soccer, learning a heck of a lot of Spanish, and most importantly celebrating independence day tomorrow!

 

I’ll certainly have updates and plenty more pictures coming up after the weekend.  Note: tomorrow also marks my one month anniversary in El Salvador, so I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.

I Love Nostalgia

The power went out a couple nights ago (although it has already happened a handful of times) for a couple minutes. I was right in the middle of  doing homeowrok and thinking about whether it was very bad timing or very good timing. I still haven’t really decided.

We grabbed our flashlights (correction: everybody else grabbed their flashlight and head lamps because I happened to forget mine) and set up our reading on the kitchen table, candles and everything.  The power returned and I walked over to one of the other houses with a friend for a short study break.  When I returned I saw that the candles were still being used as the primary source of light around those doing homework at the kitchen table.

I don’t know why, but for some reason doing homework by candlelight was actually very appealing.  It was simple and not as distracting and it made me nostalgic even though I have never had to do homework by candlelight before.  Odd feeling that nostalgia is.

We have been busy once again. I barely even realized that it has been over a week since I last posted, que triste! There has been a serious lack of reading material out there because of this. Because of this delay, some things will have to appear in list form…Here we go!

  1. The amount of sugar and butter I have consumed is insane.  Mostly in the form of pan dulce. But also in the form of the delicious soy milk we continue to make at my Praxis site and then add a hefty amount of sugar to.
  2. Telling poop stories. Shit happens in El Salvador. It’s casual.
  3. Visiting some Mayan Ruins, although here they are more politely referred to as Sanctuaries (which always reminds me of Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Disney movie). It was really great to see how archaeological sites are preserved here as well as imagine what life in the little city would have been like.  I must say that the location was in the middle of a suburb-like area and a little out of place, but I guess people don’t stop building houses nearby just because there’s a large Mayan Sanctuary across the street.
  4. Visiting Lago de Coatepeque and jumping off a tall dock into the water with the becarios (the Salvadoran students that stay in our houses with us and take classes at the University).  It was so scenic and wonderful and a great way to relax after cramming what seems like 2 months of activities into a couple weeks. There was a large area of grass that we played soccer on and did headstands (something I have found myself doing a lot more frequently) and enjoyed the view of the lake that was probably more than 4 miles around/in diameter/whichever way helps you visualize best.
  5. Supporting the local economy by making a lot of purchases at an artisan shop at one of the praxis sites.  Many gifts were bought.
  6. Memorizing the order of car alarm noise and making dances out of them.
  7. Eating pizza for the first time in almost a month.  Once again the crust was almost pure butter, which also meant it was pretty much pure deliciousness.
  8. Meeting some long-lost family members.  I had been informed by my Aunt that I had family here and to give them a call sometime but I hadn’t gotten around to doing it yet when one morning I got a call from a Doris. Thankfully she spoke English and we were agreed on lunch plans. It was so nice to finally connect with her and she reminded me a lot of my family back home. We went to lunch, shared about our lives, and planned to meet again soon after I figured out my busy schedule.
  9. Seeing the SCU Immersion Delegation.  It was great to see some familiar faces and figure out what was going back home.  I was also reminded a lot of what I was feeling last year when I was on the immersion and how far I’ve come since then. It also marked a year of having short hair (woot woot!).
  10. More praxis visits! But with my partner this time. My Spanish is getting a lot better and sometimes I can actually speak at a normal pace (sometimes even rapid fire) and people will kind of be able to get what I’m saying, if I’m lucky they’ll even understand it.
  11. Another praxis note, I taught my first English class today! I had a morning class, an afternoon class, and a small session before lunch with 3 7th graders where we just talked.  They went better than I expected considering my Spanish is limited, I mostly just used phrases I remember hearing in my Spanish classes (gracias Profesora Lisses).  As if I needed another reason to love my praxis site, the kids were so eager to learn and wonderful and amazing and smiley and I could barely believe it.

Puchica! (Dang!) This is a long post, I will plan on being more efficient if the future so people will actually not feel burdened when reading these posts.

PS More pictures will be up tomorrow!