Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sundays in San Salvador, a day of rest

  Sundays in San Salvador are the best!  A day of tranquility, a day of rest, a day to catch up, and a day to reflect.  Many salvadoreñans have to work Monday through Saturday, so Sunday is the one day when they can be home with family.  Church plays a big role on Sunday. (I can hear organ music in the background as I type.)  Both Catholic and Evangelical churches offer services throughout the day so that everyone who wants to go has options to fit within their schedule.  For the retailers and restaurant workers who work on Sunday, a Saturday evening service is offered.  Whether church is a place to express and share devotion, or a place to connect with family and community, it is a big part of salvadoreñan culture.
  My husband and I choose to show our devotion to the gods and goddesses of health and wellbeing by going to the gym on Sunday.  There is no scramble to secure a spot on the treadmill or in front of the barbells.  There’s plenty of room and the energy is calm and focused.
  I remember the first time I ventured out of our apartment here on a Sunday to the grocery store.  It was around 10am and the streets felt desolate.  What a contrast to the usual hustle and bustle!  Since then, we’ve made it a day to explore the city and go to new places.  Traffic is usually quite intense with cars weaving in and around you at varying speeds, honking now and then for good effect, but not on Sunday.  It’s the one day I can navigate the roads with confidence.
  I am grateful for this day of respite.  It’s a break from the usual frenetic energy that is San Salvador Monday through Saturday.  Places throughout the world have incorporated the “need for rest” on Sunday.  We all need and deserve a break, whatever that ends up looking like for each of us.  Happy Sunday Everyone!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Las Playitas, La Union with an insider’s view

  As a visitor, it’s always interesting to see a new place with the help of someone from that place.  Recently, we had the opportunity to visit la Union, in the east of El Salvador near the border of Honduras and Nicaragua.  Along with three el salvadorenan professors from San Miguel, my husband and I were accompanied by our new friend from Conchagua (a small town near the city of La Union) to Las Playitas.  I love the beach so I was in heaven.  The water was warm and mellow with some small waves.  There were a few families wading in the water and the whole scene was relaxed and calm.
  My husband and I were the only foreigners, but with our “local guide” we felt comfortable.  How terrific to be able to see a new place through the eyes of an insider.  How wonderful to feel at ease, just because we’re with someone who knows their way around.  Traveling alone is just fine, but there is usually a level of stress that comes with visiting a new place.  Will we get lost?  Is it a safe place to be?  Where should we eat?  What should we do?
  When we get the opportunity to visit a new place with someone who knows their way around, we jump at the chance.  We also enjoy being the local guide for our friends and family when we get the chance, knowing just how special it is.  My sister will visit in May and I’m excited to share “my El Salvador” with her.  And if our friend from Conchagua found his way to Oakland, I’d be thrilled to share “my Oakland” with him.
  Como visitante, siempre es más interesante ver un nuevo lugar con la ayuda de alguien de la localidad.  Recentemente, tuvimos la oportunidad de visitar La Unión, en el oriente del pais cerca de la frontera de honduras y nicaragua.  Con tres profesores salvadoreños de San Miguel, mi esposo y yo, nuestro nuevo amigo de Conchagua (un pequeño pueblo cerca de la ciudad de La Unión) nos acompañaron a Las Playitas.  Me encanta la playa entonces yo me sentí en el cielo.  El agua estaba tibia y había algunas familias bañandose.  Todo estaba muy tranquilo.
  Mi esposo y yo éramos los únicos extranjeros, pero con nuestro guía local nos sentimos cómodos.  Y eso es de lo que estoy hablando.  Qué maravilla poder experimentar un nuevo lugar con la seguridad y comodidad que uno siente cuando tiene alguien que ya conoce y le gusta el sitio.  Sí, es interesante visitar nuevos lugares solos y sin ayuda, pero como viajeros, siempre hay un nivel de estrés – ¿Vamos a perdernos?  ¿Es un lugar seguro?  ¿Dónde debemos comer?  ¿Cuál lugar es bueno?
  Entonces, las oportunidades de tener un guía local o simplemente alguien que conoce un lugar mejor que tú son grandes.  En mayo, mi hermana va a visitarnos.  Estoy emocionada por compartir con ella los lugares de el salvador que yo ya conozco y me gustan.  Y si nuestro nuevo amigo de Conchagua viniera a Oakland, vamos a tener el placer de compartir nuestros lugares favoritos con él.

  From Las Playitas you can see the island in the Golf of Fonseca called Conchaguita. Desde la pequeña playa se puede ver una de las islas en el Golfo de Fonseca, 
se llama Conchaguita.

  Delicious seafood soup with a poached egg on top, called Mariscada.  
Sopa Mariscada

Fishing nets hanging from a tree near where we ate.  
Makes me think of the artist Eva Hesse.

The Comfort Inn around the corner from the Port in La Union IS very comfortable.  The pool is lovely, and there’s a nice view of the Gulf too.  As we were leaving, we saw two birds called “torogoz”, the national bird of El Salvador.  If you look closely you can see the bird’s signature tail.  El Comfort Inn cerca del porto de la unión ES muy comodo.  Hay una piscina y vistas buenas.  Vimos dos torogoces, el pajaro de el salvador.  Aquí esta uno y puede ver su cola larga y especial. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guisquil Criollo, Guisquil Negro, and Perulero AKA Chayote Squash

  We have Chayote in California.  The kind I’m used to seeing is medium to large in size and light green in color.  I’m not sure why, but I never got around to cooking with it in Oakland.  Here in El Salvador, there are at least three different kinds of Chayote.  The dark green kind is called Guisquil Negro and sometimes has little “whiskers” on the bottom that are sharp and pointy.  The medium green kind is called Guisquil Criollo and is the most familiar looking to me.  The very light green, almost white, and smaller kind is called Perulero.  This vegetable has been cultivated since the Mayan times and it was about time I tried it.
  I was introduced to Guisquil at Mercado Merliot where we ate “rellenos de guisquil”, stuffed with cheese and then fried in eggs and served with tomato sauce.  So good!  I have yet to try making it at home.  What I have tried is dicing it into cubes and adding it to soups or pasta.  More recently, I tried stuffing and baking it.  After steaming the halves, I scooped out the seed, and then scooped out the inside, leaving the skin.  I cut the inside into small cubes, mixed it with cheese, tomatoes, and cooked bulghur wheat (yes, we can get that here!).  I put the filling in each half and finished with a shaving of parmesan on top (yes, that too!).  Then I baked them in the oven for about 30 minutes.  Delicious and easy, the recipe may make its way back to Oakland.

  Cocina Costariccense has 22 entries about Chayote, filled with different recipes and photos.  It’s in Spanish and is quite inspiring.  Cocina Costariccense tiene 22 entradas sobre Chayote.  Esta lleno de recetas y fotos bellas.  Cocina Costariccense Recetas de Chayote

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Getting Perspective

Happy Easter!  Happy Spring!  Feliz Semana Santa!
  It’s Easter Sunday and we’re back “home” in San Salvador.  We had a great week-long visit to Tampa, St. Petersburg, and St. Pete Beach, Florida with my husband’s family.  It was my first time there.  I was impressed by all the water (canals, beaches, waterways), and birds (herons, snowy egrets, great egrets, cranes).  Both were everywhere we went.
  We were able to stock up on things we haven’t been able to find in El Salvador, like almond butter, maple syrup, and natural toothpaste; things that will help us feel more at home.  We also got to walk outside, which felt fantastic.  Yes, you can walk in El Salvador, but with caution.  Where we live is very dense with cars and traffic and it just is not an enjoyable experience.  I’ve resigned myself to walking in malls and on treadmills.
  It felt good to be in the States, where they speak my language and where I feel more safe.  But it also felt good to return to San Salvador.  This was our third time flying into the Comalapa Airport and we were both struck by our level of comfort.  We knew how to navigate through customs, we knew we had a ride to take us into town, and we knew our lovely light-filled apartment was awaiting us. 
  I have always enjoyed traveling.  Seeing new things, having new experiences, getting “away from it all”, make the inevitable hassles of travel insignificant.  For me, perhaps the most valuable aspect of travel is the perspective I get from seeing different ways of living.  I return home from trips with a greater appreciation and renewed energy for my life. 
  So here I am, three months into our time here, with renewed vigor, grand plans, and great hope for what’s to come.  Below are a few photos from the trip.  Happy Easter!  Happy Spring!  Feliz Semana Santa!
Egret waiting outside Aunt's kitchen window hoping for food.

St. Pete Beach, lined with seashells and warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Family pretending to ride a vespa at Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg.  
We stocked up on cheese and cannolis.

Cool entrance at the El Salvador Airport.

Inside the airport is a mural by Salvadoreñan artist Rafael Varela 
"Tribute to Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero".