Monday, November 25, 2013

Germany and Belgium

Maybe this has turned into a travel blog?  My dad called me at home yesterday to ask if I was still in Germany.  Of course, I said "yes."

My husband and I went to Germany last week.  We left Saturday and missed Bri's concert.  She is in the River's Youth Symphony and they played in WGBH's sponsored cartoon something at Symphony Hall.   So, that's a once in a lifetime event we missed.

We had a layover in Berlin so I signed us up for a 4 and1/2 hour walking tour.  It was so cold by the end I just wanted to go back to the airport and find an air vent to cuddle. Then we flew to Cologne for the night.  Monday we drove to Brussels.  We saw a couple of things bought a lot of chocolate and bought some lace for my girls to not appreciate.

Tuesday we drove to Ghent.  That is a very cool town!  We saw Gravensteen Castle, and climbed up a billion stairs to the top of a bell tower.  We stayed at the Marriott which had original building fronts.  They upgraded us because my husband has platinum status to one of the pained windows rooms at the front.

Wednesday night we drove back to Cologne because my husband had to work the next day.  We had a nice dinner with his European colleagues.  The next day I went to the Lugwig art museum and walked around the cathedral.  We had dinner with more colleagues. Friday I went to the NS Document Center because I like history.  We flew back Saturday and it took literally 3 days.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

I have a New Mantra

One of my friends said, "You are a little bit sasstastic."  I'm not sure what that means but I take anything this woman says very seriously because she is fantastic!  I mean it's not everyone who can go to law school at night, take care of their toddler during the day, have another baby, clerk for a state supreme court justice and study for and pass the bar while pregnant with their third child and end up as one of the two valedictorians. (Can you tell that this woman impresses me immensely?  Well, to be honest, she also makes me want to take a nap.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

President’s Day

The most appropriate President's Day I have spent thus far in my life occurred Monday February 18, 2013 at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston.  We listened to an Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses and Julia Grant reenactors.  

Boom – I am now way more patriotic that most people because 3 Presidents in one day!

Will sat through two films – one about JFK and one about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Even considering that he spend most of the Missile Crisis film sitting on the floor I AM DELIGHTED!  Because it is amazing because he hates watching movies in a theatre.  (Maybe he is fine if it’s a documentary?)

Elizabeth bought a plastic imitation of a straw hat because she likes to waste money.

The saddest part of the day occurred when we drove to Waltham to go a Chinese Restaurant that closes on Monday, urggg.  So, we were forced to close out our President’s Day with a more appropriate late lunch of Mexican food.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Partriot’s Day 2013

Yesterday Elizabeth and I went to watch the Marathon with the Raskells.  On Saturday they bought Elizabeth a “Marathon Cowbell” in Hopkinton so we rang it and yelled out the names of the runners.  We saw Jake’s middle school principal running and a family friend.

I decided about a half hour before leaving for the marathon to have a barbeque so we invited the Raskells and the Davis’s over.  I took Elizabeth and Davin to the store to buy hamburger and hotdogs then we went home to prepare.  The Raskells arrived and Tiffanie’s phone started ringing.  People asking if she was alright.  Don joked that the only injury we’d received was my sunburn.  Then we realized what happened.  Erin left the room to call her husband who was at work in Boston.  He was right there and heard both explosions.  He was on his way home.

We didn’t feel like celebrating anymore and watched the news rather than play games.  Then Rebecca threw up on my dining room floor which seemed to be an appropriate end to the day.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 6

Day 6 – Tues Feb 26, 2013 -- The Long Slow Road Home

On Tues I woke very early.  It wasn’t just the rooster, and the 4 am church bells -- the horse had been kicking the other side of the wall to our room.  Then my stomach rumbled and I discovered I really needed to get up to visit the banyo.  A whole week of eating in El Salvador, at all kinds of places, many without running water, and the one that gets me is the local high-end fast food, Pollo Campero (“Picnic Chicken”, literally, Camper Chicken).  It is the local clone of KFC that El Salvadoran’s love.  We ate there for lunch at the ritzy mall in San Pedro.   I had a chicken sandwich and cole slaw.   Bobby ordered a hamberguesa, and they brought him a chicken sandwich, and said ‘si, es hamburgeusa’.  [Pollo Campero got to Bobby too, we had to make a pit-stop between immigration and customs in Dallas.   “Pollo Campero” has now become a code-word euphemism between us.]

We packed the night before, so there wasn’t a lot to do.   However, our hosts kept giving us more stuff to take with us – more cheese, 3 bundles of frozen tortillas, bread, snacks, etc.   And of course there was breakfast before we left – beans and rice (cooked from scratch that morning), with sweet bread, fried plantains (picked the day before by Bobby’s uncle and then delivered to us).   Salvador had left at 4 am, as usual, and he returned promptly at 7:30 am to drive us to the airport. 

The last two dinners we have not eaten alone.  We’ve been served first as usual, but then Norberto, Salvador, and Salvador’s father have joined us before the meal was over.  We are now family, not just guests.   (Either that or Siria has been getting very hungry awaiting her turn to eat.)

The American Airlines rewards tickets I booked left us with an overnight layover in Dallas.  I booked a night at a Residence in Ft Worth (so we had a fridge, to cool down 60 lbs of cheese).    I thought we’d make the most of it and go see the Ft Worth Rodeo, however, there just wasn’t anything worth seeing on a Tues night.   We made a quick trip to the University of Texas to see a gallery of meteorites (I think I have different touristy tastes than Bobby).   It was cool.  Bobby liked the quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I’d rather believe that New England Professors lie, than rocks fall from the sky.”

We picked up some tacos along the way.   Mexican, and Tex-Mex, may look similar to other Central American food, but it is different.  And I realized that just a little Spanish brings a whole different response from the cook behind the counter.   I’ve been missing out on a lot as just another Gringo.

Over a true Texas dinner at Smokey’s BBQ, Bobby and I reminisced about the trip and talked about real estate and taxes over a meal that contained more meat than we’d eaten the previous six days.   We couldn’t believe what we’d packed home – a lot more than we took.   But the best part for me?   I got to live like a local, and experience a different life for a few days.  It gives me a lot to think about.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 5

Day 5 - Monday Feb 25, 2013 -- A Trip to the Market 
(and how to pack 60 lbs of cheese in a carry on)

Today, we didn’t go ocean fishing as we had planned.  We had a good recommendation for a fishing guide from Guillermo and talked to him on Saturday in La Libertad.  I suggested that I stay in the car, so we “wouldn’t pay the Gringo price.”  After a few minutes, I saw Bobby waving to me to come in, so I opened the door (and set off the car alarm, as I was in a locked car, in a somewhat seedy area).   The guide was an American ex-pat, and a very decent guy, as the first the first thing he said to me was “the fishing is terrible right now.  Both offshore and in-shore.   You should come in the rainy season if you want to catch a lot of fish.  However, the boat ride is beautiful…”  His price was $300, which “includes everything but the beer”, which is actually a really good charter rate.  So we decided to skip the fishing and go to the market today instead. 

Today started not with breakfast, but with a 6 am ride with Norberto to the little town of Tapalhuaca, where he milks cows every morning.   After a pleasant hike through some jungle, past a banana field, around a mango tree and under a cashew tree, we came to the corral, and the milking ‘stall’.   Next to a small stream, there were two small trees, two short ropes, a bucket, a stool, and a large two-handled plastic jug.   Bobby’s uncle showed us how a local dairyman works.   You get a cow, put a rope around the horns and cinch it down, and tie the cow to the tree.  Then you get her calf out of the corral, let it feed for a few seconds, so the cow lets down milk.  Then you tie the calf to a nearby tree, get the bucket, your stool, and tie the second rope around the cow’s back legs, so it can’t kick you, or the bucket.  Then you milk the cow by hand.  When the bucket is full, you pour it into the jug.  When the jug is full, Norberto carries it down the trail and gets another one.  When the cow is empty, you untie the cow and calf, let them go graze and repeat the process.  About 30 times.  With no running water, soap, etc.   They sell milk for $0.35 per bottle (a quart, I think).  Each cow produces 12-18 bottles.   “Pasteurized milk costs more,” Julio told us.   A young dairy cow goes for $1100.  They are a mix of breeds – all different colors.  Few black and white Holsteins.

If you stay to the left, instead of turning through the jungle path, In the middle of nowhere, down a narrow dirt farm path, you come upon a flat spot with a full regulation soccer field, complete with concrete drainage.   It was the El Salvador version of Field of Dreams.

After milking was done, we went back to Bobby’s uncle’s house, where Bobby’s aunt fixed breakfast for the three of us.   Once again, guests eat first, while everyone else waits.   Scrambled fresh farm eggs cooked in butter with red peppers, sausage links,salty farm cheese, and rolls.  Very tasty.   The ceiling in the farm house had exposed beams – you could see the roofing tiles, and air gaps at the eves.  Bobby’s uncle rested in a hammock and chatted a little with us, while Bobby’s aunt put on some favorite music.   Boogie songs from the disco period.  No kidding – boogie woogie, BeeGees, Tina Turner mix CD.  Then on a walk through the kitchen she showed me the metate grinder that her mother used – a family heirloom.  This is the life.

After some visits to Bobby’s other relatives in Tapalhuaca (who live across the street, but due to a long-standing dispute of unknown cause, they don’t speak to each other), and programming a universal remote for Julio, so he could select the Spanish language on DVDs again, we went back to San Pedro.  We picked up Siria and Jose (the most active 2 year old you can imagine) and drove to the market.   On my shopping list – a hammock.   We needed a replacement for William, and they knew which were good quality.  And I had Siria, a local, who knew where to go and how to bargain (and she also speaks Spanish, unlike me.)  And I wanted to buy a melon.   Not to spoil any surprises here – I ended up with a lot more than one hammock.  Purchases I’m NOT bringing home include a watermelon, two Galicia melons, and a papaya – all of which were very tasty after a dinner of rice, arachara steak, and salsa fresca.    Lunch today was the local version of Kentucky Fried Chicken – Pollo Campero.    If you want to try it, there’s a chain location in Boston.

We then went to buy cheese.  50 lbs of it.  And 1 can of Coke. 

And then planning went a little weird, Latin style.  One of Bobby’s relative’s girlfriends (who Bobby’s never met) called, wanted to take us to dinner.  Bobby politely turned her down since we’re leaving tomorrow.  Then Nixon called – he and Roxanne had a package for us, and some cheese (which Nixon makes).  So after traveling ½ way back home, we met up with Salvador, traded cars, leaving one at a gas station.  Bobby and I were invited by Salvador to hop in the back of his pickup.  I did, but hesitated to sit down, as this was the greasy truck bed where the transmission parts were shuttled last week and I was wearing my tan shorts.  Sr. Salvador saw me hesitate, and got an old towel from the cab for me to sit on.   Then while Bobby and I enjoyed the scenery from the back, we made some detours, picked up some invoice paperwork, paid somebody wages, and then pulled into the main bus station.   As Bobby and I were in the back, multiple hawkers came up to us to solicit us to ride their particular bus.   Siria then got out with Jose, took the tomatoes that the bought, and rode a bus home.   We couldn’t figure it out – I think she just went home so she could start cooking dinner.   Everything happens, when it happens.   We eventually met Nixon and Roxanne, wandered a mall for an hour, ate some ice cream cones, and when parting were given another 12 or so lbs of cheese (not labeled for import, or at all), and a bag of other gifts and stuff.  And then were told that the highway was shut down for two hours in the direction we needed to go.   So we drove the long way back to the gas station, starting in the opposite direction, and through many side streets.

At the gas station / transfer stop (which I know well – we’ve seen it nearly every day I’ve been here), we again traded cars.   Salvador spoke up to the young, shot-gun toting security guard – I heard something about “banyo?”  Essentially, we were told, nah, you don’t have to go inside – you can all go pee on that wall over there… I’ll keep an eye out for you.  So we had protection, while the four of us relieved ourselves by the back wall behind the gas station.  And I thought the guards were there to keep people from peeing on the back wall.  Silly gringo.

Now, back at Salvador’s casa, after dinner and a shower, and removing one tick, Bobby and I are puzzling out how to pack up 60+ lbs of cheese (some legal to import, some not), hammocks, pottery, 6 pairs of sandals, various gifts, chocolate, horchetta mix (plastic bags of off-white powder), bags of stuff we were given to take back, a 2-foot long machete, 16 lbs of dry beans (a gift for Sis. Herrera, hand-picked by Norberto), and one Ayote squash, given to me by Salvador’s father (which I’m trying to find a polite way to leave here).  Salvador very helpfully offered that we should just go to sleep, and the women would pack our bags for us in the morning (we’re leaving before 7:30, and I’m certain there will be a breakfast cooked from scratch before we go).

Maybe, that is.  I just saw the weather on a news segment.  Dallas is in a blizzard, with forecast for a lot of wind and snow tonight.  “Do NOT travel,” the weatherman said.  Seriously?  Dallas only gets a blizzard once every few years.   And it’s tomorrow?  At least the cheese would be cold.

So… maybe we will be here a little later in the morning than planned.  I’ll let you know.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 4

Day 4 – Sunday Feb 24, 2013 -- A San Pedro Sunday, with a Hint of Danger

Our host, Sr. Salvador, works 6 days a week, often leaving by 4 a.m., to work with his 12 buses and 6 trucks.  Sunday is his day off (sort of – we made three weekly delivery slip pickups today – at a “barrio” where one of his dump truck driver’s lives, at a gas station near his truck parking lot, and once by the side of the freeway).  Though I had wanted to go to church to experience that in a foreign country, today was the one day Sr. Salvador had to spend with us.  He had plans and wanted to show us some things.  Today all the men were going to the horse races.  His brother has horses, and they gather on Sundays in various locations with other horse owners where they compete in feats of horsemanship.  They also wanted Bobby and I to ride a horse.   I tried to beg out of it – my way of thinking is that riding a horse is more dangerous than a motorbike.   If I wreck a motorbike, I did something wrong.   The horse adds a new variable that I don’t control.  So when I said “no, but thank you, I haven’t ridden a horse I was a child (nino),” they suggested I at least sit on one and have Bobby take a picture.  So I said OK, and climbed on.  And then they led the horse around the riding area on a lead, with Norberto walking the horse, like I was a nino getting a pony ride.

We watched the first event, where the horseman raced down a road and under a rope with ribbons hanging from it with rings that were about the size of a quarter.  The goal is to put a thin spike through a ring as you ride under the rope, and if you spear the ring, you win a prize.  Sr. Salvador’s brother was the first to ride, and he speared a ring and won.  While we were there, we had noticed our hosts were jittery, keeping an eye on us (they always do), and keeping us close by.   They later told us that they ‘didn’t like the crowd today.’  Some gang-banger looking guys were hanging around (actually, to me they look like skaters or high school kids in the USA), but there was one with tattoos all over both arms who spoke clear American English.  (Bobby told me that no one gets tattoos in El Salvador – unless they are in a gang.)  They were eying us – not obviously – so was everyone else, so it’s hard to tell.   Then a little kid came up to Bobby with a big grin.  Almost immediately, Sr. Salvador said, “OK, let’s go.”   And so we left.  Later in the car he explained that the gangs use kids to approach foreigners to determine if they have money, and are worth robbing.  It could have been innocent, but I really don’t think it was.  We were being targeted.   In the evening, Sr. Salvador’s brother said that he was going to suggest that we leave, then he saw we already had.  Several times our hosts have kept us out of ‘bad areas.’  They are constantly aware.  Yesterday we were told that Sr. Salvador pays $600-900/month of protection money a month for his business so he has ‘no problems’ with gangs robbing his buses.

So we went to lunch.   There’s a little joke that started yesterday… they asked me if I want pupusas (which I later learned are evening food), and I say “porque no? (why not?)”  I said I was fine with any kind of food, because it has all been very good.  Sr. Salvador wanted to go out for a nice meal, so we stopped in the nice area of San Salvador for Chinese food.  And I had the most expensive meal in El Salvador, and the first meal that was, well ‘meh’.  Bobby ordered egg rolls (which are called ‘Taco Chinos’ – literally Chinese Tacos), and we had a whole deep fried fish in sweet & sour sauce, pork fried rice, and beef with vegetables.  It was OK.   For our hosts it was something new – they had never had egg rolls before.  And the whole fried fish was good and a little different.   After lunch, we made a few quick business stops on the way home.  Then Salvador showed us the herd of cows that he and his brother keep.  He wanted us to feed them salt from our hands.  So I did, under the shadow of an enormous mango tree.  They are very tame dairy cows, well, except for the cow that charged Bobby.  Plus one very docile hornless bull.

While all the men went to the horse races today – the women and baby stayed at home.  Gender roles are very defined in El Salvador.   Women have the traditional roles.  Men do not cook, clean, buy food, do laundry, change diapers, etc.  The women in the house also do not drive.  I think Senora Salvador (Siria) was a little taken back today when I told her that I sometimes cook crepes at home.   This has caused me a dilemma – I want to buy a local melon while I’m here.  I’ve learned enough Spanish to know how to ask, but I’m always in a car driven by the men.  How can I ask to pull over to a roadside fruit stand?  Ugh, the challenge of traveling 3000 miles to eat a local melon, and holding back because I do not want to do something locally considered really odd.

Guests come first in El Salvador.   Siria cooks breakfast every morning, and sets two plates, and she serves Bobby and I, and we eat the meal before anyone else eats anything.  There is no ‘family dinner’.  Come to think of it, I have never seen Siria eat, except for the first night we arrived, when we went out for pupusas at a pupusaria on the drive home from the airport.  This morning Siria’s mom (who also lives in the house, takes care of the new baby, does laundry, etc.) started the day by chopping the top off fresh coconuts with a machete, to make Bobby and I a coconut milk drink for breakfast (you carve the top into a cone with a small hole at the top, and drink from the whole coconut).  Breakfast today was ‘pancakes’ – very much like crepes, cooked in fresh butter.  You put raw honey on them, not syrup.   It’s like eating a crepe drenched in honeybutter.  Heavenly. 

We had a few minutes before we left today, so Sr. Salvador gave me a tour of his bus that was parked out front (the one he drives).  It’s a former school bus from Virginia, that’s been modified for local use:
·         A second door was added in the rear (similar to the swinging doors in the front, but with hydraulics to open it – you can see where they cut and welded and modified the bus body to fit the second set of doors)
·         A very sturdy steel luggage rack was added above both sides, to hold bags, baskets, tools, chickens – whatever you are bringing with you, and to provide handholds for the standing passengers
·         The seats were cut down so they are narrower, and then recovered.   This way each side sits two passengers (not American sized), now with room for 3 to stand in the widened middle aisle
·         The bus is painted a beautiful signature blend of colors (Bobby has a picture), with photos of his departed mother and brother where the back windows used to be, and slogans, LED lights, new horns, chrome bumper, etc.
·         Fins and a spoiler were added on top (for looks, not performance, he said)
·         There is a killer sound system, with really good acoustics, for the enjoyment of passengers.  The speakers are mounted in cardboard tube sections (pieces of concrete forms) – very smart, cheap way to make bass-boost chambers

Salvador wants to replace one of his buses with a newer, bigger one.  He said when the bus is too slow, you don’t get a full load of passengers (100+ capacity - the fare is $0.85, for a 45 min ride into San Salvador, sitting or standing).  He’s been asking me how much the used buses cost in the USA – he wants to buy one direct and drive it back.

The 80’s (and 90’s) soundtrack continued today – with Men at Work, ABBA, Billy Idol, the Ghostbusters theme (with video), Flashdance, Pet Shop Boys, etc..  After 9 am it switched to 90’s with Backstreet Boys, some early hip-hop, and so on.  Everyone here wears American t-shirts and listens to American music.  They want their children to learn English too, but there are not a lot of local options for classes.

I’m ready for a quiet evening.  It’s been a hot day.  Tomorrow we’ll go to the market, and to a cheese distributor to pick up the 50 pounds of cheese we came to buy, for import. 

Is there anything you want me to pick up especially for mi esposa, besides queso?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 3

*My husband was unfortunately lost in the Jungles of El Salvador and just barely got home.  

Day 3 - Saturday Feb 23, 2013 -- Touring like Che Gueverre

Remember how on Day 1, I said that I would NEVER drive in El Salvador?  Well, I lied.   I not only drove on all kinds of El Salvador roads today, I did so on a motorbike.  Which I’d never ridden before.  That had a broken starter, so I had to roll it down hill and pop the clutch after I stalled it – which I did a lot.  I’m pretty good going forward, it’s the transition between stopping and going that’s hard.  At the end of the trip I realized I did all this for over 7 hours without my driver’s license.  Or even my passport.  All I had was a couple of phone numbers in my pocket – no, on second thought, I didn’t even have that -- I left that paper in the car.  No way to identify me whatsoever.  And no way for me to even call anyone local.  [Oops…]

After a tasty breakfast (really good red beans, a string of chorizo balls, fresh rolls and tamales from the Saturday morning street vendors who roam the neighborhood, garnished with a big pile of cream (at first I thought it was mayo – no, a mound of fresh cream with the same consistency), then a brief morning walk around San Pedro, we met Norberto for the drive to the focal activity of this whole trip – the motorcycle tour.   After a few missed turns to find the moto tour place, we went down a dirt road lined with some dried up banana trees, and pulled up to a big open shed, full of motorcycles (half of them in some state of dis-assembly), with an outhouse, and a couple of other open buildings without doors.  We met Guillermo, the owner, a long time native who went to the Univ. of Texas in Austin many years ago to learn to speak English.   That was a real bonus for me.  So we suited up – in knee & shin protectors, riding pants, boots, shirts, gloves, helmet and goggles – all of which had seen better days.  My gloves had some holes, and my boots had a broken latch and one sole that was coming off.  But I felt lucky.  Bobby’s boots were held on with duct tape.

I told Guillermo I hadn’t ridden a motorbike before, just a scooter and a mountain bike – he set to work teaching a first-timer.  He put me on a somewhat lower to the ground hybrid dirt/road bike, and gave me simple instructions for the brakes, clutch, accelerator and gears (which I never succeeded in doing exactly correct the first time – it took a few tries).  Then he had each of us make a couple of rounds around a little bunny hill that he used to test your riding skills.   Norberto and Bobby proved they knew what they were doing, generally.   Me?  I stalled the bike twice (Guillermo’s assistant Miguel had to push start it), then went around the loop OK, but had trouble stopping the bike when I returned to the courtyard.  I muffed the clutch (thought it wasn’t in gear), spun out right there and laid the bike over on me with the accelerator cranked, engine revving and back tire spinning rapidly.  Doh.   Guillermo shut the bike off, lifted it off me, I shook of the dust and said I was OK.   I knew what I did wrong, and we both agreed that it was good that this happened so early.   Then I promised “I will not do this again.”  

And I didn’t.   And I went around the bunny trail another dozen or so times, with stepwise instructions.  Then I rode for the entire day, and never biffed it again.   I did stall the biked a lot, and mostly restarted it on my own by rolling downhill and dropping it into gear.  But today I rode:
·         On dirt roads, dirt trails, gravel roads, very steep cobblestone roads, small village streets, jungle tracks, windy mountain roads with switchbacks, up an old volcano caldera side, around the rim on a road, then back down again
·         Through construction zones, coffee plantations, around trucks, front end loaders, buses, pickups full of people, a horse, a herd of cows, children crossing the road, and chickens that mostly decided NOT to and scattered
·         Through a couple of creeks, some deep dirt piles, loose gravel and rocks, some sticks and brush and vines
·         On a bike trail with a steep cliff off to the right, with a fallen log or two blocking the trail
·         Past old ladies balancing laundry on their head, old men walking with canes and machetes, and children on bikes, carrying each another
·         With two dogs nipping at both feet, while I was trying to climb a dirt road with a lot of holes and loose rocks.  Really, they pick me?
·         Past a man with a machete who was cutting in half a hollow log that had a hive of bees in it (they were pouring out of the cut end, and the spot where he was chopping), while his son watched.  Really?  I take it these were not ‘killer bees’. 
·         I was like Che Gueverre… well, if he was not a bearded young radical single communist guy, or a revolutionary, but a pale gringo just learning to ride, with helmet and full safety gear, plus some duct tape.  OK, so maybe not anything like Che. 

Today had an ‘80’s soundtrack.  Saturday is a day for music.  The TV was on during breakfast, tuned to VH1 Classic.  Breakfast was accompanied by Queen, Madonna, and Kiss.  And this theme continued all day, with early Michael Jackson, Beegees, more Madonna, Alan Parson, Asia, Boston and various disco.  Norberto likes the music I listened to in high school.

Interesting things I saw today:
·         Produce sellers combing the neighborhood, like the ice cream man.  Without going to the market on Saturday morning, you can buy all your produce, tortillas, bread, tamales, etc. etc.  They just come to your door.
·         Guillermo and Miguel, busy cleaning a carbuerator in the back of the open air restaurant while we waited for our lunch.  Can you imagine doing that in Chili’s?  Or Outback? They also patched a tire while on the road today.
·         A man in pressed dress slacks, a new belt, and nice shoes, shirtless, walking down the road with a big unsheathed machete.  Going to some important function, I suppose.
·         An El Salvador style ‘strip mall,’ with a greasy black transmission repair shop right next to (sharing the same wall as) a bakery / tortilla stand.
·         I realized this morning that I had seen dozens of stray dogs, but had not yet heard one bark.  They are remarkably well behaved.  It’s like they understand they are the last step on a fragile food chain.  (Then I learned that this is only true of city dogs.  On dirt roads in the country, they chased me.  Several times.)

Used to be an odd sight, but now so common it’s just background:
·         Women cooking over open fires in makeshift stands by the roadside.  Often they have a fire in an old automobile wheel rim on a stand, with a griddle or pan on top of it.   Apparently the air holes and round shape of a wheel rim are ideal to reuse as a fire box.
·         People carrying a large cluster of bananas (not a bunch – a whole cluster, like 150 or 200 bananas – 3 feet of banana bunches
·         Cows being herded down the street by a boy of about 9 years old, with a reed or a stick
·         Chickens – tiny, scrawny, skittish chickens.   They don’t have any of the attitude I’ve seen from chickens in the USA.
·         Rusty corrugated sheet metal, as the universal construction material – roof, walls, siding, fence, etc…

Good food I ate today:
·         A frozen choco banana, as a snack while riding – very tasty.  So much better than a popsicle.  Not sure how much it cost – 3 of them plus two Pepsi’s came to $0.70.
·         A hamburger, 1/3 lb at least, and better than most I’ve had ($2.75, with fries).  I hadn’t planned to eat a hamberguisa, like a typical Americano.  It wasn’t my first choice, or second, but I gave up after my first two menu choices were unavailable.
·         A light green skinned watermelon, fresh cut, with seeds (not easy to find in the USA anymore).
·         Enchiladas – what we would call a tostada – crispy tortilla, with beans, boiled egg, avocado, tomato, cheese and sauce.  Yummy.
·         More papusas (we’ve eaten them every night).  Cheese and ayote (no translation – it’s a vegetable with apparently no English equivalent).  $1.25 for my two.  Pupusas just get better.
·         Hot chocolate – dark, sweet, and with a unique complex taste – like fresh ground cocoa, yet more subtle.  I gotta get some of this to bring home.  It was addictive. ($0.65)

There will be more of me when I come home.  This is a gastronomic tour, with some other activities between meals.

I’m sitting here, gently swinging in a bright colored hammock, with a gentle breeze, listening to really large firecrackers from somewhere around the block.  We first thought they were gunshots, but nobody in the house seemed to even notice them.  Just someone celebrating for some reason.

FYI, after a long hot, sweaty, dusty day, I’m not looking forward to taking a shower.   It may be 80 degrees, and I have a slight sunburn where the helmet didn’t cover my neck.  But this house has a one-pipe plumbing system – only one choice of temperature – lukewarm.  Time for me to stop putting this off, and steel myself for the cold splash.   (I’m not complaining, so you know.  The other place we might have stayed didn’t have plumbing.)

Mi vida es importante por quarto ninos y uno esposa.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 2

Day 2 – Friday Feb 22, 2013 -- Living the Vida Localisto [Living like a local]

I will NEVER own a rooster.  After the 5 am wake up, I try to drift back to sleep and find myself dreaming of throttling that bird in the middle of an uhr-rr-hurr-[grkck-hck-gasp…].
My bed is surprisingly not uncomfortable, just very lumpy.   It’s not soft – I’m used to American beds that are spongy on top. 
After breakfast we catch transportation this morning (our host Sr. Salvador’s brother in his extended cab pickup) to go to Joya del Ceren (the ‘Mayan Pompeii’).  Both brothers own bus companies, where former school buses are painted bright colors and used for local bus routes.  There were three stops before we went through San Salvador, the capital city during morning traffic: the middle of the road when passing a bus (to give the driver a baggie of bills and coins – his ‘paycheck’), down a side street to tell a bus driver (who was sleeping in one of the seats) his changed route for the day, and to make a payment for something at a high-walled compound.  Everyone talks on their cell phone while driving. 
We then stop at a gas station, and back up to another pickup, bumper to bumper.  A disassembled bus transmission and assorted parts are slid into the back of our ride, and then we switch rides.  Sr. Salvador now takes us to Joya del Ceren.  We are supposed to meet Nixon & Roxanne (Louis Tobar’s oldest daughter) there, but Nixon hasn’t finished making his daily batch of cheese yet… so we do the tour of the museum with Sr. Salvador. 

At Joya del Ceren – a peaceful little park – I again pay the Gringo rate (the entry sign says “foreigners - $3, locals $1”).  Sr. Salvador thinks it’s really strange that there is a different price for foreigners.  He asks the ticket agent why Gringo’s pay more. “Because they have more money” is the simple response.  (As a pricing professional, this makes perfect sense to me.  It’s the simplest form of price segmentation and a ‘pricing fence’ that I can think of.) 

We skirt past the school classes and tour groups and walk through the site by ourselves.  The museum is cool, with interesting pots and artifacts and diagrams.   The place itself is an archaelogical treasure – a very well preserved ordinary small Maya village from 580 A.D.  But the interpretive signs are too much.  “…a ceremonial hall where village elders gathered for important events, possibly involving a beverage drank for mystical enlightenment” – give me a break, that is just the village bar.  It’s an unimpressive bunch of small Maya mud huts that were buried by a volcano.   But still cool to see how the other half lived.  In some ways, little has changed.  Less than an hour later, we get a call from Nixon and go to meet him at a gas station, to transfer rides.

We go to lunch, at another archaeology site (a small Mayan temple, but a site that was occupied since Olmec times, and part of a large Maya settlement).  There is a great energetic guide who gives an impromptu tour of the museum.  And it’s educational – I mention the altar of sacrifice at the top of the temple, and when Bobby translates, it is apparent that Nixon’s family didn’t know it was used for human sacrifice.  When we tour the museum, they see the ceremonial knife used to kill the winning team on the ball court, the box used to burn the heart and blood of captives, and a large statue of a warrior wearing the inverted human skin of a sacrificed captive (no, that isn’t armor on those Maya warrior statues – think how that smelled after a few days).   They didn’t know any of this about the Mayas.  I find that odd –I’ve known about human sacrifice in Central American cultures since before high school.  Maybe I just had different interests from my peers…

After hiking around the temple, we take a ride through the mountains, coffee plantations, stop in a relaxing little mountain tourist village for some shopping, and dinner overlooking a volcanic lake at sunset.  A very pleasant day.  Then we meet Sr. Salvador at a mall for another hour-long ride home, stopping of course, for some pupusas along the way (porque no?}

And I learn several times that my Spanish guidebook has led me astray – words that mean nothing here, or are wrong (example: they’ve never heard  the Spanish word for ‘shrimp’ that’s in the guidebook).   This little book is staying home manyana.  I’ll use my ears.

Today was all about eating.  Well, with some driving and sight-seeing in between.
·         Breakfast: served local style (our host says “it’s ready,” serves you a plate, and then leaves to do other things.  Bobby explained that sit-down meals are not a local custom.)
o   Two fried eggs, with salsa, with refried beans, tortilla, fresh cheese, really good juice and rolls
·         Snacks at gas station: Pan dulce (sweet bread) like a maple-frosted croissant-donut hybrid, with a surprise raspberry filling ($1), with a really tasty pina colada juice drink ($0.35)
·         Early lunch: yucca with chicharrones (like sticky mashed potatoes with bacon chunks), and pupusas on the side
o   Pupusas are the local staple: like a stuffed pancake– shape of a tortilla, 5 inches or so round, but filled like a tamale.  Corn or rice dough with cheese or meat filling, flattened and cooked on a grill.  $.50 (bean or cheese) - $1.00 (for meat filling) each.  Served with a mild red sauce and shredded cabbage & carrots soaked in vinegar.  Eaten as finger food.  Mui bueno!
·         Afternoon munchies: green mango chunks (25 cents a bag), really good gelato ice cream cones ($1), and a fresh coconut with the top cut off and a straw to drink it ($0.60)
·         Early dinner: ½ carne plate (I wasn’t that hungry after drinking a coconut) – a small grilled steak, chorrizho sausage ball, pickled cabbage/cole slaw, with rice and black beans, fresh cheese, avocado slice and a tortilla ($3.50)
·         Late dinner: 2 cheese and meat pupusas, with a big pina colada frappe ($3.20)

I’m still full.  And so is my wallet.

After a day in El Salvador, the following sights have become so common they are no longer a surprise – just to be expected:
·         Many people walking along the roadside.  Sometimes women might have a basket, or sack of rice, balanced on their head.   A man may be leaning forward with a bundle of firewood on the back of his neck, or a machete slung from his belt.
·         Trucks so overloaded they tilt backward, often with several people riding on top of the load
·         Small pickups – Toyota, Datsun, Nissan, Mazda…  often with a dozen or more people standing in the back (there is a metal railing installed about chest high, to keep them from easily falling out)
·         Road side vendors.  You can’t go five minutes in any direction without finding food offered for sale.  USA residential neighborhoods must feel like a wasteland – where’s the food?
·         A private security guard at every gas station, with a pump-action ‘street sweeper’ shotgun slung at the ready
·         Private security squads, in full military gear with M-16s, around the banks and government office buildings
·         Barred windows, high walls, razor wire and steel doors on the haciendas and village entrances

The following sights were still a little startling:
·         Old women wielding machete’s to chop wood
·         A guy on a scooter in the middle of the capital with a new lawn mower on the back rack
·         A pickup that was so out of alignment you could see all four tires clearly when behind it as it side-windered down the road
·         Odd low-built carts, piled high with firewood, being ridden down the mountain road like a BigWheel trike
·         A large pile of mannequin parts in one market stall in a busy street maket
·         A mural, with very good black-line pictures, that simply read: Marx, Lenin, Mao, Che
·         The San Salvador LDS temple, an oasis of calm with splendidly clean grounds, new, and wealthy, a bright light amidst a sea of thriving poverty

And then there are Bobby’s comments each day about how he recognizes immediately the ‘scent of El Salvador’: It’s a slightly pungent mix of aromatic wood smoke, road dust, and flowers, with a hint of burning garbage.  He’s right – it’s distinctive.

Today I am left with something to ponder: our hosts don’t know me, they work 6-7 days a week yet they drop everything and take a day off to drive Bobby and I around to see the sights.  They also insist on paying for us - always for the first meal with us, and often for everything else.  We have to work to pay our own way.   Would I do the same, if they came to visit me in Boston?

Tomorrow… moto tour.   Viva la vida commo localisto.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 1

My husband has started his El Salvadorian vacation.  Hopefully he will email me everyday about his adventures!  I admit that I'm amused that he is trying to learn the profanity first because my husband doesn't usually swear.

Notes to My Wife from El Salvador
There And Back Again, a Week’s Vacation; Motorcycle Diaries; Living La Vida Commo Localisto; or simply “Six Days of the Gringo”
 (with translations, introductions, cultural interpretations – the entire trip– thanks to Bobby)

Day 1 – Thur Feb 21, 2013 -- A Day of Travel
[I was unable to connect or validate my gmail account without a cell phone, but I was able to access a Yahoo email account that I never use. Yes, it´s me.]

We arrived.   We hauled two mongo black duffle bags as checked luggage full of _?¿_.  So I´m a courier, of some sort.  Extra clothing I am told. 

Highlights of our day of travel:

·         Delayed 7:30 am flight out of Boston; I’m so very glad we didn´t try for the later one.
·         I graded papers, estudio hablo espaniol.  Bobby makes friends with the Mexicano who lives in Boston who shared the aisle seat next to us. Uneventful flight, save a little turbulence.
·         Four hour layover in Dallas airport... enough to complete a counteroffer on 25 Warner St (really?  I’m buying investment real estate during an international layover?).  We eat some BBQ, I synch email and clear my inbox, and grade papers...
·         and we lose Bobby´s luggage... we boarded our flight, as I hoist my carryon into the overhead... Bobby says, "where did I put mine?" He bolts from the plane...leaving his backpack behind.
·         "Boarding group 4...." 
·         I decide to turn my cell phone back on, just in case.
·         If he doesn´t come back, do I get off the flight?  I think so....
·         Bobby returns, with his bag. The pilot is waiting for him. 'Heard a report about some guy dropping a backpack and running from the plane...´
·         The pilot decides to let us stay.  [He was really a cool guy, actually.]  Bobby later tells me his bag had been left where we were eating BBQ – unattended for over two hours.  [He didn’t mention that detail to the pilot.  Contrast this with Boston airport, where the police approached us in Dunkin Donuts and demanded to know if the bag two steps behind me belonged to me.]
·         The flight takes off. Bobby corrects my Learn Spanish guidebook - it has a Castillian lisp throughout, and Bobby says all the phrases in the profanity section are wrong.
·         After the other passengers start giving us odd looks, we end the discussion ofEl Salvadoran profanity.  I go back to grading papers.   Bobby finds an empty row on the half empty plane for another siesta.
·         We land. We drag (literally) the mongo bags through immigration and customs. Easy so far.
·         I pay a $10 gringo tax at immigration and get a Visa sticker in my passport. No one else does. Bobby's never been charged. I decide it's my personal fine for 'no hablo espaniol.'
·         As we drag our luggage through immigration, Bobby inhales deeply.  “Ahh… it smells like El Salvador.”  I sniff, and smell burning ditch bank, or maybe the slightly acrid smell of the cooking fires from a South African shanty town.
·         Bobby's cousins are waiting for us. We greet... and I give them blank looks in response, then muck up the minimal Spanish greetings I’d been practicing.  They realize I literally speak no Spanish. They look puzzled.  Shocked, actually.  It is a little odd....I suppose.
·         Ahhh... it´s 80 degrees at night, with a soft breeze. I take off my long sleeve shirt. Roberto says that it´s cold tonight.
·         We pile in the transportation (6 people in a SUV). It’s a comfy squeeze with all the bags in back.  It’s luxury, I realize, as we pass small pickups with a dozen people standing in the bed.
·         Bobby shows pictures on his cell phone of 2 feet of snow, to illustrate Boston (his cousin Roberto has never seen snow). Roberto says he will take us to milk cows tomorrow.
·         I will not drive in El Salvador. Ever.   I try not to watch.
·         We stop for a snack.  Papusas are tasty. Like pancaked tamales. Even the cheese ones with the green herb Loroco (not available in the USA) are good. The horchata (like fresh rice milk) goes well with them.
·         Stray dogs wander by as we are eating, skinny ones with ribs showing.  They are timid.
·         We stop 3 times for Jose (2 yrs old) to pee by the side of the road on the ride to la casa
·         We finally arrive around 9 pm (Central time). Greet Bobby’s great aunt, and watch some futbol.

I’m now comfortably settling in under the dresser with the Winnie the Pooh poster, in the guest bedroom/ nursery.   Ready for Transportation tomorrow at 7:30 am (Latin time). Livin like a local.

Friday, February 8, 2013


Our realtor asked us if we were planning to watch the Superbowl.  I asked, “Is that today?”   My husband said, “I’m in marketing.  The commercials are what we watch.”  But apparently my family watched some of it because my husband started calling Bri Briyonce after she started mock dancing during halftime.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The kind of vacation that my husband would naturally plan

My husband is going to El Salvador in about a week with a friend to ride motorcycles in the jungle.

The only problem I foresee is that my husband doesn’t actually know how to ride a motorcycle and today he informed me that the tour starts in the capital city.  (Perhaps I can check out a book on motorcycle riding for him from the library.) 

On the positive side his friend is fluent in Spanish.  They are staying with his friend’s extended family who are planning on chauffeuring them around.  And if someone isn’t available they can call “transportation” and for 15 bucks they can ride in the back of a pickup anywhere within 2 hours!  Hopefully they will be the first two picked up and will therefore get the prime seat over the wheels.

My husband’s friend’s wife Jackie has requested that they return with fifty pounds of cheese*. 

My biggest regret is that I am not going because I believe that this vacation will be very entertaining. 

*Apparently the cheese is very good.  I also requested some cheese to try; however, I specifically said that fifty pounds was too much as I worried that they would be unable to go through customs with two suitcases full of 100 pounds of really good El Salvadorian cheese!

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 1

Riding Motorcycles in the Jungle Day 2

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Retainer

"Mom, Bri is so lucky!  She gets to wear a retainer!

“Oh, Elizabeth … maybe you’ll be ‘lucky’ and get braces then you’ll get a retainer too.”

“Do you hope so?”

“No, because braces cost about $6,000.”

“Maybe Bri can give me hers after she’s done with it.”

“No because it won’t fit your mouth.”

“Are you sure?”


Should I be worried that Bri will misplace her $500 retainer again?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Raising Her Right

Elizabeth was playing around in my bedroom.  She had a plastic pirate sword in her hand.  “Mom,” she said, “I'd like to get better at sword fighting. When I get better can I get a sword for emergencies?  To use against zombies or orcs."

You will obviously want to hang with us during the zombie apocalypse.*

*Ok, well maybe not with Will because he and I will be eaten.  (I already told my husband that Will and I will leave the rest of the family to give them a better chance of survival.  He is after all as Eagle Scout with mad 1980s survival skills!)  But between Jacob who has thought a LOT about surviving a zombie apocalypse and Elizabeth’s plastic sword skills clearly they have a better than average chance of survival.  Unless they are World War Z zombies -- the ones from the movie not the book.  Because those zombies are fast!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Official 2012 End Of Year Sum Up


I liked 2012.  It treated us just fine.  2012 was full of kids, travel and spending two months painting the outside of our house green (possibly a little too green but I’m not going to repaint it!)


Costa Rica:  I was my husband's plus one for his “work” trip to Costa Rica and was able to check deep sea fishing and doing a zip line off my bucket list.

France and Spain:  We took Brianne, Jacob, and Elizabeth to Europe for two weeks because my fantastic nephew David flew out to watch William!  I thought about taking Will but decided that he would hate flying, waiting in lines, going to museums, walking and eating non-preferred foods; and forcing him to go would result in multiple sets of bloody arms.  So, David took Will to the beach, New York, 6 Flags while we were gone.

Surprisingly someone figured out we were tourists in Paris and picked my husband’s pocket but thanks to a man we caught him and he went to jail, and we got to ride in a speedy police car with sirens blaring through red lights.  This was actually Elizabeth’s favorite thing about Europe.  Our favorite city was Taragona Spain which had fantastic Roman ruins.  Unfortunately, we might have scared my children for life when we took them to a beach because I forgot the whole “clothing optional” part of European beaches and I got some wide-eyed distressed looks from my children and I spent a lot of time apologizing and telling them to look in a different direction.

Jacob’s view of Europe can best be summed up by his comment that he would have rather paid someone to paint our house and not have gone.  However, we discovered that he likes escargot.

Husband:  2012 cut his travel budget by 20% which I thought was completely acceptable.  He is no longer a Scout Master and thus will spend 11 fewer nights sleeping on the ground.  Since he is old I think he’s ok with that.  He loves fishing and plans to do a lot more in 2013.

Me:  Quit the Special Ed board in June because I got a big calling at church (I can only assume that everyone else they asked said “no.”)  I still volunteer at the Y teaching two pre-school enrichment classes.  I spend as much time as possible reading and watching Love it or List it.  I foolishly thought painting our house would not be a big deal because my dad had us paint our house twice while I lived at home.

Brianne:  Turned 16!!!!  Now she can drive to school which makes her mother ecstatic!  She is taking violin and has improved a lot in the last two years.  She is doing well in school and joined the Key Club (maybe?) and the Human Rights club.  She doesn’t have as much time to read this year which makes her very sad.

Jacob: Is now in high school.  He is taking piano lessons, hopefully will progress in scouts and wants to be a video game designer.  He ran cross country this fall and will probably do outdoor track in the spring.  He is working on improving his grades but strangely seems to prefer to doing other things to studying.

William: Is big, blond and adorable!  He likes school, reading, writing stories, playing on his iPad and watching TV, previews and looking at the scene sections pictures on movies.  We signed up for cable and I think whoever designed the DVR thought “how can I drive the parents of autistic kids crazy?”  “Oh, I know … I’ll design something that they can rewind over and over again.  Because, come on, doesn’t everyone need to hear the opening song to a TV show again and again and again!”  Designer of the DVR – actually the answer is no.  Will has also recently decided that church needs a little more applause and has started giving standing ovations when people pray or sing solos in Sacrament Meeting.  And about half the time he sings his own lyrics during hymns.

Elizabeth:  Is super cute (I am possibly biased).  She is in the 5th grade.  She is doing really well learning the flute and has played twice at church!  This is fantastic because she gets nervous so her flute teacher and I bribe her.  She likes basketball, riding her bike, playing games, Legos, going anywhere and helping her dad fix things.  She is a great sport and is doing a lot better this year doing her reading and homework.  (Now if she would only start sooner than 8:30pm life would be better.)

Kitty:  Continuing her career as mass murderer.  (We have only seen 10 squirrels in our yard in two years and we don’t have mice in our shed anymore.)  However, the children adore Bri’s cat because she waits for their buses in the afternoon and walks them to the bus in the morning.  We recently installed a cat door in the garage so she can kill animals more conveniently.

We hope that 2013 treats you well!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...