Smile; You're in El Salvador

Trip Start May 12, 2009
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Trip End Sep 29, 2009


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Flag of El Salvador  ,
Saturday, August 8, 2009

Companeros,
    At Copan, I met a man from El Salvador who was heading back home the next day. We struck up a conversation first about cameras and photography, then about life and whatīs for dinner. We talked about work and politics, and he offered me a ride into El Salvador the next day.
     Carlos, a civil engineer, lives in San Salvador and drives a 2007 Honda CRV. He has traveled widely and related stories about the time he experienced a performance of Vivaldi in Venice, Vivaldiīs home city. He told me about American movies I had not watched. He played a cd of tango music from 1920īs Argentina. It was very memorable to be driving comfortably through the steep fairytale hills of northeastern El Salvador while listening to "Por Una Cabeza", a popular tango you would probably recognize if you heard it, about a horse race lost by only a head. There is also a tango that tells the classic story of tradgedy- a man so heartbroken that his woman left him, and then even the dog she left him, left him!

    We went through Guatemala on the way to El Salvador because the best road goes that way. It was interesting to see how borders are crossed with a car. For a citizen of one of the C-4 countries (El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala), the answer is very easily. He simply flashed his El Salvador driver license- just as easy as it is for a US citizen to enter many military bases.
         He treated me to lunch at a spot by the side of the road. I told him I loved licuados and would certainly miss that about Cen. Am. I have tried the standard varieties- Strawberry and papaya, a thick mixture like a bite of fruit. Cacao and strawberry, just like a chocolate-covered strawberry. Banana and milk with vanilla, thick and filling. Pineapple, orange juice, lime, kiwi, and lemon tastes just like an island drink from Jamba Juice. Roasted coconut sounds better than it is in a licuado. Apple juice and strawberry puree is very nice and mellow. Watermelon licuados tend to be thin and.... watery. Honeydew melon and milk are nice for an after-dinner treat. So, I asked to try something different. He suggested something an old buddy came up with- pineapple juice, a Pilsener beer, milk, and vanilla.
    It tasted like a pina colada.
    We enjoyed those with platanos frito, thin slices of fried platano covered in lime juice with chili powder.


    In El Salvador, the people are very friendly and optimistic. It seems they think of the world in terms of "Why not make today a great day and smile?" In Honduras, people certainly had worries about the political situation and the economy. While talking to Carlos, I quickly picked up on his humble and warm attitude. He chose to experience life pleasantly.
     The sun is warm, and huge cornfields roll out under the wide blue sky of El Salvador. It is amazing how different the land is in little El Salvador. In Nicaragua, the land was flat and dotted with volcanoes. The fields were large, but not lush. In Honduras, the climate was tropical to sub-montane in most of the inland areas. In Guatemala, the plants take on a deeper shade of green and it feels distinctly different, more mysterious. Here in El Salvador, the sun feels just a bit warmer and the towns feel more comfortable. There are steep hills covered in pine trees and dairy cows grazing out in emerald fields.
    The thick cornfields of El Salvador play a part in its prosperity. It means that agriculture is well and the land is productive. A key economic issue in Central America is the amount of food they import- it represents a large amount of money flowing out of the economy. In Nicaragua, I definitely could see the under-utilization; I also met Peace Corps "ag" volunteers working to assist with development. This is August, and the corn is ready for harvest. Yesterday, I happened upon the Maize Festival in Suchitoto.
    They were celebrating maize, the productivity of region, and talent of the local chefs in cooking with maize. However, the food vendors in the central park didnīt get the memo about cooking with corn: they sold warm yellow yucca with curtido (cabbage and various vegetables stewed in vinegar), potato and bean dumplings, pupusas, papas fritos, yucca and platano chips, candied tamarindo, and bars of coconut covered in cocoa and chicharron (pork fat derivative). There were chocolate-covered grapes, watermelon, bananas, and mango chunks on a shish-kabob stick. There was pudding pie and canoas (a mashed and baked thick slice of ripe, sweet platano filled with rice milk and raisins, dusted with cinnamon), peaches with honey, and all kinds of steak from the barbecue. I enjoyed a small fish from the nearby lake for just $1.85.

    When I think I have the hang of Central American food, there is always still something new!
    Back in Honduras, the thing was baleadas. Baleadas are always, always, always made fresh. Itīs simply not a baleada if it is more than a few minutes old. The woman at the baleada stand will knead the dough with lighting-quick hands and cook it just until tender and warm. Liquefied black beans (frijoles licuado) are poured inside, then it is sprinkled with goat cheese. You can order it with chopped vegetables (like pico de gallo, yet I have discovered that if I ask for pico de gallo no one knows what Iīm talking about), scrambled eggs, or meat. Baleadas run you about 50 cents each. I canīt count how many I had over my two weeks in Honduras!
   In Nicaragua and El Salvador, red silk beans are preferred. And theyīre never liquefied. In Masaya, Nicaragua, I asked for black beans with my breakfast, and the senora running the soda simply refused to give them to me. Black beans are for the poor, she explained. Red beans are tastier, and she would not serve inferior food to me although I could see them on the stove. I like black beans better, I countered. No use. Red silk beans sell for slightly more than black beans. I was happy to have black beans again in Honduras, where they zealously seek to differentiate themselves from their eastern and southern neighbors, instead preferring negro frijoles licuado.
    Pupusas are a big deal here in El Salvador. Pupusas are made of maize-based dough then stuffed with refried beans and white cheese then flattened and fried up. It is best enjoyed with cabbage soaked in vinegar and chili powder. Theyīre greasy little things! While also popular in Honduras, I heard that when a tourism board in Honduras tried to promote Honduras as the originator of pupusas, an international conflict was touched off. The newspapers in each country covered the issue, giving thorough explanations of why they were the proper home of the pupusa. Honduras backed down from their claim, content to be the creators of the baleada. Thatīs true enough- I havenīt seen a baleada since Honduras.
   Itīs now noon, a great time to go search for a pupusa and sopa de īelote (creamy corn soup with cinnamon sticks to sip it through!)!


Cheers,
y Buen Provecho,
 
Lisa
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