Cutting Coffee vs Finding Coffee

Today was finally the day I got to experience the wonders of cutting the coffee that I love to drink so much.

This morning my praxis partner has once again acquired some parasites/fungi in her stomach and couldn’t make it, leaving me with 13 Spanish speaking kids to manage for our English class (normal school has just ended because it’s summer here now and school always gets out for the coffee cutting season, which lasts from November to January).  This is normally a huge problem but for some reason today they were extremely well behaved, I have no idea how this happened but we made it through all of the flashcards of shapes and vehicles with plenty of time to spare for coloring the sheets I brought with pictures of clothing items on them. the best part was when Emily, one of the 7-year-olds looked and me and asked “How are you?” Mind you this sentence was something we learned in our first week of class. Later on she also said “Thank you,” after I retrieved her hat she had dropped on the ground.  I’m so proud of that little girl.

After class 3 other women, little Emily, and I all trekked out to cut coffee.  They told me beforehand that I should wear pants,a hat, close-toed shoes, and a long sleeve shirt.  So there I was all ready to go wearing everything they told me to and 2 of the women are wearing tank tops and flip flops…always (over) protecting the gringa. Then the coffee cutting turned into more of coffee finding since we didn’t go to one of the more organized/cultivated coffee fincas.  Instead we were tromping across the side of the mountain looking for coffee trees with berries that were either yellow or bright red.  They were pretty sparse and for some reason no one brought a machete which would have made things a lot easier for navigation purposes.  And to be quite honest I don’t know how those women navigate the mountainside in their flip flops because the forrest/jungle floor was pretty dense.

Also, even though this appears to be the side of the mountain, people are aware of what part is theirs and what part is not.  At one point I found a particularly fruitful tree and went at it, grabbing the tall branches and bending them over so I can pick the good berries off and place them in the wicker basket strapped around my waist with a piece of rope and a towel (to keep it comfortable).  The coffee trees are thin and bendable, making it easy-ish to grab the berries off the branches.  The berries range in colors from green to yellow to bright red.  We wanted the berries that were mostly red, but yellow would suffice too.  We left the greens ones for a future group.  Next I go to walk to another tree, slip in a hole that was hidden by a plant with giant leaves, and spill around 2 cups of berries.  Emily comes over to help me retrieve them, and then a man walks over by the tree I just picked. I only get half the dropped berries before Emily tugs at me to leave.  Turns out that particularly fruitful tree was his. Yikes. I also half-thought that the women might be using my innocent-gringa-tourist image to get at more berries, like, “Oh, but she didn’t know, she’s just a silly gringa…you know how they are.”

We finished our first round of coffee cutting, put our berries in a large white bag, we probably had about 30lbs by then, and then I threw the bag over my back and started walking back uphill before anyone could tell me to stop because the women rarely let me do strenuous work.  I felt pretty Salvadoran at that point  After a short walk uphill we dropped the bag off to be collected later and walked back down the mountain by the river while Angelica, the main jefita at my site, called Isela to ask her to bring our lunch from the house.  Mind you Isela is 8-months pregnant and still doing everything as if she weren’t pregnant at all. We found a place to sit and then I watched as the women all set their baskets down on the ground and then proceeded to sit inside the baskets as their own personal seat.  I tried to do the same thing but realized too late that my basket was on a bit of a slope so I kind of tipped over while my butt was in this basket.  I imagine it was quite a sight. But then we ate some delicious beans, rice, and tortillas while overlooking the river and mountains of Tepecoyo.

After lunch we searched for more coffee, combined it with what we had earlier to arrive at a grand total of 40lbs of coffee, it was a slow day.  For all that work that bag of coffee earned us about $1.75 which could get you a few snacks from the corner store, or a couple pupusas. I think most people try to get around 100lbs but with the trees as sparse as they were I don’t think that was possible.  But people go out every day from early morning to afternoon to see what they can get anyways, I’m pretty sure there’s more coffee as the months go along, and people also go to more established fincas where it’s easier to cut larger quantities.

Sometimes I Get Lazy

And when this happens, I forget to post.

And then no one on the interwebs knows what the heck I’m doing.

And then next thing I know a week has gone by.

It’s not that rare that procrastination kicks in, especially when you’re a college student.  But the amount of guilt I feel for not posting is a tad bit higher than I had anticipated.  The purpose of this blog was to inform all of the many people I love and care about of my musings and daily life choices/stories of my time here.  And when I’m not doing that I’m trying to call people and give them updates. And trust me when I say that these stories lose a lot of luster the more times I tell them.  And by lose luster I mean the more times I tell them the less details they actually contain.

So here I go once again, trying to play catch up with my own posts.

Wish me luck, you guys are in store for yet another wonderful list of some of the things I did last week.

1. The Sunday after vacation week we had our own little Halloween party. I dressed up as an albino on strike.  The party was complete with a tableful of deserts and goodies, games, an apple bobbing contest (I got 2nd), and some great costumes.

2. Monday we returned to our praxis after vacation week and all I wanted for lunch was bean soup, rice, and tortillas.

And do you know what we had?

Bean soup, rice, and tortillas. And event he special surprise of avocados too!

After I told Ana that this was possibly my favorite meal we eat in praxis, her face lit up as she made sure I was telling the truth. And then do you know what she did?

She packed me some to go. That way I could eat it on another day. What a kind woman.

3.  On Monday we also went to Ana’s farm to harvest beans.  After we stuffed a large white bag with the bean stalks, I hoisted it over my head and carried it back to Ana’s.  Sure it was only a little over 5 pounds. And sure the walk was only 10 minutes.  But I felt so supremely Salvadoran so I’m going to count that as awesome.

4. We watched the Presidential Election results together while laying out in front of Kevin and Trena’s (the directors of the Casa Program) TV.  It kind of looked like we were a bunch of little kids watching a movie.  But instead we were wearing red, white, and blue party hats, eating a fruit tart, and exclaiming every time another states projected results were revealed.

5.  Wednesday at praxis I learned how to make cards using rolled paper.  Mine turned out so good that no one believed me when I said I made it.  And the women at praxis told me I was “demasiado creativo” (too creative).

6. We had some community bonding in the form of finger painting and movie watching. On Thursday all of us in Casa Romero broke out the finger paint to make one large poster of our handprints that is now hanging on display in our patio/courtyard area.  Then on Friday we watched James Bond Casino Royale using the Casa program’s projector.

7.  I went and got 2 new piercings (yes, my mom knows).  A group of us all hopped in a taxi and drove to Weezle’s to get them done.  Don’t worry, he knows the Casa directors, it was legit.  Anywho, I now have a nose piercing on the left side and a cartilage piercing on the left ear.  The piercing process was a lot different than the usual process of going to Claire’s in the mall because Weezle pretty much just shoved a needle through my nose rather than using  a piercing gun which is actually not that great for piercings.  There are pictures of this process somewhere.  I will try to find them.

8. During the weekend we went to visit our cook’s in their houses.  Sarita is the ultimate pan dulce maker so we were lucky enough to reap benefits of her magical cooking abilities (normally we only get pan dulce on Friday). She lives in a very small apartment-like complex in a room that seems roughly the size of a normal family room containing the family room and the kitchen and the dining area.  I guess there was also a small bedroom attached, but we couldn’t navigate to that with all 15 of us in the apartment, so we just sat and enjoyed our coffee and pan dulce. Next was Lydia’s house for dinner, she lives in a more suburban area with a house that is probably 3 times the size of Sarita’s apartment.  There we enjoyed fried fish, casamiento (a mix of rice and beans), guacamole, cantaloupe, fresh hot chocolate, and quesadilla (which is actually another type of pan dulce and not a tortilla stuffed with cheese).

9. I had previously suggested that we all go see a movie in theaters.  I had no idea what was out but I figured it’s something we haven’t done in a while and it could be fun.  So I researched the movies, decided on Skyfall since we had just watched the other Jame’s Bond movie, and organized the interested students.  We walked 20 minutes to the theater and I was shocked to see that the theater was in an outdoor mall type place that looked exactly like those in the States.  It was extremely weird to see all of the upper class Salvadorans walking around stores such as Nike and Steve Madden in their brand name clothes when we have only been encountering middle to lower class Salvadoran life.

At least last week wasn’t all that action packed. But that could also be because it’s also almost halfway through this week and last week is already kind of blurry in my memory.

Also, I will be writing about my praxis day Monday because it was something much different than usual.  I need to spend  a lot more time writing it than usual so hopefully that will be coming up before the week is over.

The Long and Winding (and slightly bumpy) Road

Good news.  I made it back to El Salvador.  It’s quite the achievement when you consider the fact thatI had to cross the Belize border, get on a ferry to Guatemala, cross the border into Guatemala, drive through Guatemala, then cross the border from Guatemala into El Salvador.

I’m sure this seems very complicated, but trust me, this was actually the easiest way to do things.

So, on to the rest of my time in Belize. I believe (note: I have typed belize now before I typed believe 4 times, can’t shake the puns) the last update was after making the trek to Lydia’s in Placencia.

So we spent the next day in Placencia as well.  It was Halloween as well as let’s-relax-because-yesterday-we-were-running-all-over-the-place day.  I don’t know if I had mentioned this before, but up until that morning, I had not eaten very many fruits and vegetables.  We were living on a budget in Belize and food was considered more of a luxury.  Not to say that I didn’t eat, but I did bring a considerable amount of food in my reusable World Market (shout out!) bag. But just in general, Belize doesn’t seem to be too big on fruits and veggies. Knowing this, you could imagine my excitement when I was strolling down the street (yes, there was actually only one) of Placencia and I saw a fresh fruit and vegetable market.

While most people were eating candy on halloween, I was munching on some delectable fruits.  I actually bought a large bag full. It was heaven.

Besides that the day included laying on the beach, going to a Belizean thrift store, making a dinner of eggs, peppers, onions, and some beans on the side in the community kitchen offered at the Hostel we were at.

Next up was San Miguel and the Back-a Bush guesthouse.  This was a very different side of Belize.  The house is owned by a Dutch couple who wanted to give travelers a cheap way to see a different side of Belize.  It certainly lived up to it’s name.

It started out with the awkward situation of the house being under construction so we technically didn’t have a place to stay when we got there.  But there were mattresses, and some tents we could use, so we ended up camping on the farm that surrounds the property. So we crammed 3 people in a 2 person tent.

You could say it was cozy.

You could also say it was like sleeping in a sauna.

Keeping in mind that we were sleeping on a farm….the food was AMAZING! More fruits and vegetables for my very eager stomach.  To be completely honest, I could talk about food for just about forever.  I’ve considered making this blog entirely devoted to food, but that just wouldn’t be enough about El Salvador.

So back to a quick recap of what we ate:

1. Peanut satay sauce, sauteed veggies (eggplant, carrots, onions, all kinds of stuff), some omlette-ish eggs, white rice, baked bananas with cinnamon, fresh lime juice, really tasty coffee.

2. homemade sunflower bread, butter, jam, some peanut butter, eggs cooked with chaya (same family as spinach) tomatoes and onions, fry jacks (think homemade flour tortilla but fried a little), more cofffee, papaya, and fresh lime juice.

3. Rotini pasta cooked with tomatoes, chaya, carrots, other tasty things.

I was so excited for all of this food I actually forgot the specifics of it.  Al I know is that it was the best food we had eaten, and in the largest quantities, over the entire trip.

But other than eating we also walked around the town, played with the owner’s puppies , went to some mayan ruins (the one where they found the crystal skull), saw the Earth ship (a house they are building using cement, glass bottles, and tires), and enjoyed the scenery in the rain.  It was an excellent break from the tourist town of Placencia (although Placencia was beautiful).

And here I am again, writing on and on and seeming to be leaving out important parts, but not wanting to write a novel/not having ample time and internet access to do so.  It’s a vicious cycle.

But I will say this.  Belize is awesome.  the culture is like a huge mix of Creole and Indigenous and somehow some Chinese got in there too and it’s so diverse.  The bus system is easy to navigate, it’s safe to take at night, the food is awesome, the people are carefree (sometimes a little odd), traveling in and out of the country are more expensive than being in the country itself, and tourist season normally starts at the end of November. We really had an adventure by traveling there when it wasn’t tourist season and also in Southern Belize, which is not usually the hip-and-happening place with the tourists.

But hey, all 11 of us made it.  It’s taken me way too long to write this because there are so many things to say and so much food to talk about but I just can’t fit it all in one post.  I blame this mostly on the fact that I no longer have internet access 24/7. It’s certainly a blessing anad a curse. And now I’ll just end by saying that sooner or later I will have pictures up, it’s a bit of an abrupt ending but there’s really no other way to do it without launching into another elaborate story.

Hasta luego.

Unbelizeable

So let’s start with an image for y’all:

3 gringos (2 tall white Washingtonian guys and I) racing down a flat 4-mile dirt road with tall grass and palm trees to one side, an orange grove to the other desperately trying to get to the main road to catch a bus that may or may not be coming within the next hour.
That’s how the middle part of the day turned out.
Note: at this point the 11-person group has split up and I am in a group of 3.
We started out the day in Dangriga, where we had spent the previous day walking around and taking in the town, it’s not technically tourist season yet so activities are limited, but the relaxation was wonderful. We ate a wonderful complementary breakfast of waffles and coffee after staying the night at Val’s Backpacker Hostel. Dana, the women who runs the hostel, did not hesitate to wake up early to prepare our breakfast before we trekked out to Bocawina National Park for a long day of hiking. She even let us keep our stuff in the hostel for the day even though we wouldn’t be staying the night. She was a real sweetie that Dana (pronounced dawn-ah).
We hopped on the 8 am bus with 5 pb&js and some other snacks on hand and almost missed our opportunity to tell the bus driver to stop because it took us a while to figure out exactly where the park entrance was in the first place.
In order to save money, we opted to walk the 4 miles to the entrance of the park. The road was flat and the scenery was amazing so we just trekked on in past the orange groves and palm trees and other sorts of exotic plants that I don’t know the names of. We finally reached the entrance after being passed by a couple resort vans taking in their travelers and probably wondering who the crazy people walking all the way to the park with hiking trails were.
We chose the antelope falls trail first which turned out to be quite the thigh master as we ascended somewhere around 1,000 feet to the top of the waterfall with a breathtaking view of Belize.
Breathtaking partially because it was so beautiful, but mostly because you finally got to rest for a second.
As if it could get better, there was a postcard picturesque pool under a smaller waterfall that we could swim in. That was also breathtaking because the water turned out to be quite chilly.
We had heard the bus drove last the entrance to the park at 2, 4, and 6. But considering it gets dark here around 6 and we had planned to catch the 6pm bus out of Dangriga to a small beau town named Placencia. The moment of realization went some like this:
So we need to get to the road before 4?
Yeah.
And it’s 4 miles to the road?
Yup.
What time is it?
3.
WHAT?
We’re going to have to run this….

And then we were off! But never fear, we made it, flagged down the bus, and got back back to Val’s with time to spare. So we chit chatted with Dana for a little more, had some coffee, some more food. And then back on the bus to Placencia, where we are now staying at Lydia’s guest house.
There’s really not a whole lot I can say about Placencia at the moment considering we arrived after dark and only wandered a small bit to find a place to stay. But the beach is less than 100 feet away and there is Internet and hot water here.
Therefore I am completely and utterly content.
And also ready to just sit on the beach and do absolutely nothing tomorrow.

You Better Belize It.

Good news, we all made it alive to Belize after leaving at 4:30AM Saturday morning, driving for 7 ish hours, and taking an extremely fast water ferry. It was quite the adventure.
Everything after this has pretty much seemed like an episode of some sort of travel channel show. Here’s why:
1. We made some local friends, asked them where to go.
2. We checked in to a hostel that more or less looked like an art project due to it’s haphazardly put together walls and floors.
3. We went to the local restaurant, saw some of the same people from earlier (we were pretty much on a first name basis at that point) ate some tasty creole inspired food and drank the local beer Belikin.
4. We found a local coffee shop owned by a woman named Jill who has maintained (or not maintained, however you put it) dreadlocks for 25 years or so. They kind of looked like they were taking over her head but she cooked some tasty vegan food including some sort of bran muffin, a super green food called chaia (pronounced chai-ah, I don’t actually know how to spell it) and some of the tastiest coffee beverages made with local espresso and fresh cacao I have ever tasted.
5. We jumped off a dock into the carribean after we saw some locals doing it. It was a lot harder to get out than it looked so I actually ended up being lifted out by a local guy who only needed to use one arm to do so.
6. We went to a local soccer game and tried to understand all the creole that was being spoken around us. We didn’t get very far with that.
7. We ate dinner with our local friends and enjoyed live drum circle music and some guitar.
8. To top it all off, the restaurant had a little dock over the ocean and the moon is almost full so everything was reasonably bright and you could see the stars in the sky and the ocean spread out in front of you and the drum circle going on behind you.

I guess the best way to sum it up is to say the cultural experiences have been amazing and it’s only been 2 days. Next up is dangriga. Here we go!

iAdios Bichas!

No, that was not an offensive term.

Yes, that’s actually a word and a phrase that I’ve heard.

But alas, I am off to Belize for vacation week.  It really snuck up on me and the other students.  You can tell by the the frantic planning and shortness we have had with each other while planning all of this.  It’s been real fun.

This week was also particularly hectic because it’s my group’s turn to cook dinner for everyone this week.  We planned the menu (which I can’t post yet because it’s a surprise and I don’t want anybody to read this before dinner and then have the secret get out), gave the CC’s our ingredients that are really just guesstimates because that’s how real cooks do it (I think? Actually probably not). Everybody was scrambling to do homework and make it through the pre-vacation slump which is actually just post-praxis week slump just mushed all into one.

But tomorrow afternoon we will be free for an ENTIRE WEEK *confetti and streamers* *that noise made by those weird party favors that look like you’re sticking our you’re tongue* During this week, 11 of us will be making the voyage to Belize.

So here’s the plan:

  1. Get on a bus at the ass crack of dawn on Saturday morning.  The good thing about this is that there are enough of us going that the ever-trusty Samuel can drive us in a micro all the way to the border of Guatemala.  Much better than public transportation.
  2. Get from that point to Punta Gorda, a city in Belize, this involves some sort of water taxi.
  3. Stay overnight in Punta Gorda to prevent over-committing to travel and getting on each other’s last nerve as a result.
  4. From there, take a water taxi to Dangriga, a city with a name that sounds like a combination of gangrene and dengue.
  5. Get to a hostel.
  6. Have adventures.

 

I apologize in advance for the ridiculous amount of pictures I will be posting. But there’s good news! The hostel is supposed to have internet so I can post tidbits from my phone (possibly). It’s going to be quite the vacation.