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?

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