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About 6:30 pm on Tuesday, October 12, I step off the TACA flight from Dallas-Fort Worth into the heat and humidity of Comalapa International airport.  Jan is there to meet me and drive me the 50 or so kilometers to the Costa del Sol. 

In 2001, Jan was one of the first cruisers ever to brave the challenging passage over the bar at the entrance to the Jaltepeque Estuary.  Once through the surf that breaks at the entrance, her sailboat, Quantum Leap, entered the beautiful refuge that is the Estero.  Since then, word of this well-protected anchorage has spread among the cruising community and dozens of boats have been tempted to stop and visit El Salvador, instead of hurrying on to Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  So appealing did Jan find this area that she has never left.  For the first six years she lived on the boat, but then she bought a piece of property on Isla Cordoncillo, a small island in the estuary, and built a small house.  Last year she built the casita and this year a lovely permanent home is under construction.  The sailboat is now for sale – she has “swallowed the anchor”!   

My first couple of days are occupied with getting my bearings, acclimating to the heat and humidity (a process which is helped by ice-cold beer and frequent siestas) and making plans for my classes.  It would appear that I am going to be working with two separate groups.  One group is employees of the resort hotel, Bahia del Sol, and another group is workers in the local tourist industry.  This second group is being organized by Misael Molina, a local fellow who operates a panga (boat) tour business. He is providing room in his house for our lessons, as well.  

Of course, everyone wants their classes to be early in the morning before the busy part of the day begins.  At 6:00 am, Jan’s handyman, Eduardo, will ferry me across to the mainland.  Misael’s son, Felipe, will pick me up at the landing and drive me to their house.  We will have a lesson from 6:30 to 7:30.  Then Felipe will drive me to the hotel, where I will teach from 8:00 to 10:00; one group Mondays and Tuesdays and a second group Wednesdays and Thursdays.  There is no shortage of enthusiasm for learning English, nor will there be any problem filling the classes. 

I am writing this on the shady porch of the casita at 5:30 pm.  The sun is setting and the intense, 35°C, heat of the afternoon is mellowing into a more comfortable 28°C, or so.  The humidity also drops in the evening, making it the most pleasant time of the day.  During the middle of the day, it is righteous hot, yet the construction workers labour on through it. 

Jan’s property of about five acres has coconut palms along the beach and a variety of banana, lemon, mango and lime trees scattered about the rest.  Some bright yellow and grey birds are providing entertainment with their aerial acrobatics and squabbling over some tasty morsels in the grass.  I think I’m going to like it here. 

If you open Google Earth and navigate to 13°18’ 27.12 N   88° 53’ 57.83W, you can see Jan’s property and the surrounding area.  The red roof of the casita is clearly visible and Jan’s sailboat is anchored just off the end of her dock.

The casita

My accommodations


Quantum Leap.JPG

Jan’s current house

   New house under construction

Jan’s sailboat:  Quantum Leap.  An Ocean 71


Thursday October 17

On Thursday, I go with Jan on her weekly shopping expedition to the capital city of San Salvador, about 80 km away.  It is a very pleasant drive through the lush countryside.  Now, at the end of the rainy season, everything is green and fertile.  This country is noticeably more prosperous than Guatemala, the only other Central American country I have visited.  I had the impression that El Salvador was a desperately poor place but quite the opposite is true.  The parts of the city we see are bustling and modern with shops and malls the equivalent of any in N. America.  We don’t have any reason to go into the older, central part this trip.

On the way home, we stop at the small town of Olocuitla for some pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador.  A pupusa is a small, round tortilla, made with either corn meal or rice flour and stuffed with cheese, refried beans or shredded pork; or you can order revueltos and get all of the above in one pupusa.  For some unexplained reason, Olocuitla has literally hundreds of pupusarias and people come from all over to buy them here. A pupusaria is a little open-front shop with a griddle and a couple of tables and chairs in the back.  They are lined up, side by side, up and down every street in town.  I am happy to report that pupusas are every bit as tasty as their reputation promises.

pupusaria in Ocuitla.jpg

pupusaria griddle.jpg

Ah, to be 25 again!.JPG

Pupusarias in Olocuitla

Pupusas on the griddle

Ah …to be 25 again!


Arriving back at the hotel, we have a meeting with Agostin, the manager, to confirm times and schedules for my classes.  He shows me the classroom I will be using.  It is a large, air conditioned conference room with tables I can move around and two white boards.  Perfect!


Sunday October 17

Over the weekend, I help Jan with some projects to finish the casita and spend a considerable time trying to convince my netbook computer to talk to her Canon printer/scanner/copier.  I need to download a driver from the internet and the only way we have to connect is a USB modem that (occasionally) works on cell phone signal.  To power up the printer, requires that the generator be running.  To download the driver requires that the modem be connected.  So far, I haven’t been able to make all of the above happen at the same time.

On her property, Jan has a really interesting innovation, called a “banana ring”.  The grey water drain from the house runs into a pit about six feet in diameter by a couple of feet deep.  A ring of banana trees is planted around the pit.  Banana trees use a tremendous amount of water so they suck up all the moisture from the grey water and grow like crazy.  The grey water disposal problem is solved and lots of bananas are produced as a bonus.  I wish we could do that at home.


Monday October 18, 2010

I get up at 5:30 am for the trip across the estero.  Felipe is waiting for me at the landing and whisks me into his Toyota pick-up for the short drive to the family house.  They have set up a space for our lessons on the roofed-in patio area of their house.  I suspect plastic chairs have been borrowed from every house in the neighbourhood and they have also driven a couple of screws into the wall to hang my whiteboard on.  A hot coffee is waiting for me, as promised.  I am expecting ten to twelve adults.  Imagine my dismay, when I find over twenty – half of whom are children, between eight and eleven!  I have never taught children before and have no idea how to go about it, but these kids are all sitting with their pens and notebooks ready and big smiles on their faces -- dead keen on learning English.  What can I do?  I came prepared to teach adults so I just soldier on and treat everybody the same.  The children follow the lesson and participate in the exercises just as well as the adults (maybe better).  Perhaps I can teach children after all.

A new student wanders into class

Who could resist?

This picture is for those who think  I am not doing any real work down here


My approach to teaching ESL, learned in the CELTA course, depends heavily on photocopied handouts.   Too bad!  There doesn’t seem to be a functioning copier anywhere in the community.  Having little choice in the matter, I abandon most of my lesson plan.  I’m not sure how my CELTA tutors would have graded my lesson, but this time, they aren’t sitting in the back of the classroom, busily typing my evaluation into their laptops.  Judging by the enthusiastic response of the students, they at least, seem to think I do OK.  I certainly have fun!

As soon as the class is over, Misael’s wife emerges with breakfast for the teacher:  a piping hot tortilla, refried beans, a fried egg and a large dish of seafood ceviche – the local specialty: fish caught early this morning, marinated in lime juice and served with chopped onions and other herbs. 

Breakfast over, Felipe loads me back into the Toyota and delivers me to the hotel in time for my next class.  A dozen employees of the Hotel Bahia del Sol show up in the conference room.  A few of these people can communicate in basic English but some of them are right at the beginner stage.  I teach for two hours with a break in the middle.  This is my second time through part of the material so I am a bit more comfortable with it.  A few new people come into the class at the break and that is always a bit disconcerting.  One older lady, in particular, has no English at all and seems to have a lot of difficulty with even the most basic words and phrases.

After the lesson, I wander out to the restaurant by the marina, sit in the shade and have a large glass of orange juice while I wait for Eduardo to pick me up.  A short ride across the estero in the dinghy and I am home.  The afternoon is spent doing chores, eating lunch and working on lesson plans for tomorrow.  Pretty nice life!  


Thursday October 21, 2010

I’m nearly done my first week of teaching and I am beginning to relax and get into the rhythm.  Attendance at the hotel classes seems to have stabilized, but new faces appear at Misael’s house on a daily basis.  It is challenge to deal with new students who have missed the earlier lessons, and bring them along without boring those who have been there from the start.

One of my better students.JPG

Mauricio, 8

It is absolutely delightful working with students who are so keen to learn – the kids as much as the adults.  I ask one little gaffer today:  “Quantos años tienes?”  “Ocho años” (8 years old), he replies.

After class, while having breakfast with the family, I look over in a corner of the room and there are three of the kids sitting in a group, practicing the words they just learned.  Today, at the end of the hour, I say:  “That’s it for today.  Thanks for coming.”  There is a collective groan of disappointment from both children and adults that the lesson is over.  Even the nursing students I used to teach (who were pretty keen) were never THAT enthusiastic.

After classes at the hotel are over, I usually stop at the outdoor bar and have a glass of juice and relax for a while (Even I can’t drink beer at 10:00 am.)  I meet a couple of cruisers who are long-time residents here and sailors are always a good source of stories.  One of them, known hereabouts as Deaf George, has been here for about three years.  He once had a large 42 foot sailboat until it hit a rock on the coast of Costa Rica and sank.  George got into his plastic kayak and paddled to the beach with not much more than his wallet and his passport.  Back here in the Estero, he bought a Pearson 31 for $3,000. and is now trying to get it refitted.  At the moment, he is saving from his monthly pension checks so he can buy a new engine.  At the rate he is going, he might be here for several years more.  He is a congenial fellow and, apart from having to yell so he can hear you, he is good company.

Tomorrow, I just have a one-hour class at Misael’s house as there are no students available at the hotel on Fridays.  This will give me a chance to get working on lesson plans for next week.  Surprising how short the days are, really!


Thursday October 27

It’s been awhile since my last report because I managed to come down with a dose of food poisoning.  I rarely suffer from traveler’s tummy, but this has all the symptoms of E. coli contamination.  Last Friday after class, I went with Jan to the nearby market town of Zacetocoluca.  It’s a pretty town with branches of major banks, an excellent supermarket and most importantly, an ATM which likes my debit card.  I thought I was feeling a bit off-colour during the day and by the time we arrived back home, I knew I was in for it.  The worst symptoms lasted about 36 hours and I was lucky it was the weekend as I wasn’t able to get more than 12 feet from my bathroom.  By Sunday, I was pretty much my cheery self again, although I still feel a little “delicate”.

This turn of events did allow me the opportunity to conduct an extensive survey of public and private washroom facilities in the small nation of El Salvador.  I am happy to report that this, so-called underdeveloped country, scores exceptionally high on the bathroom scale.  Every one I visited (and there were many), even including the public washroom in the supermarket, was spotlessly clean.  Not only that, each bathroom had an intact toilet seat (a great rarity in neighbouring Guatemala) and every one had toilet paper!!  Furthermore, the quality of the paper was all one could wish for – not the unbleached wood pulp with knots and twigs in it that I have encountered on other travels.  Is this a great country, or what?

One of the cool things I did this week was to acquire a cleaning lady.  I know, I know, it wouldn’t hurt me to sweep my own floor and clean my own shower and toilet but I did want someone to do laundry once a week.  Eduardo’s sister, Imelda, applied for the job.  Imelda looks like she is thirteen, but apparently she just turned 20 and has a child.  She comes each Friday for three hours, does my laundry and cleans the casita.  For this I pay her one dollar an hour!   I am embarrassed, but she is delighted.  It is the going rate and she is happy to find work on the island, right next door to her home.  Jan pays Eduardo $40 per week for 40 hours and he does ALL the heavy lifting.

My classes are going along nicely.  I’m starting to be more relaxed and not quite so uptight about having enough material prepared for every minute of the class.   I find that I can stretch out exercises to give students more time if need be and it seems there can never be enough drill.  The classes at Misael’s house are my favourite.  The kids are just a joy to work with and the adults are also very keen and highly-motivated.  I finally have access to a working photocopier, so now I have handouts and exercise sheets for them to work with.  One day, I said:  “Do thisw exercise for homework.”  The collective response was: “Yaaayyy!”  I bet not many teachers can honestly say that has happened to them.

At first, I worried about having children – ages 8 to 11, or so -- mixed in a class with adults, but it hasn’t been a problem.  The kids are bright as can be and race through the exercises.  I do ask each adult to work together with one or two kids and that seems to help a lot.  I’m not always sure who is helping whom, but it really doesn’t matter, does it?  After class, when I am trying to eat my breakfast, I am surrounded by a cluster of kids, asking:  “Como se dice … in Inglés?”

Its not as if I couod ask the kids to leave....JPG

New student walks into class.JPG

Makes me wish I was an artist and could paint them.JPG

Araceli and Carmen

My classroom

Part of the class


Unfortunately, I have a couple of students in the hotel classes who are having extreme difficulty.  There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to get the ideas across.  Even asking other students to explain the instructions and show them how to fill out the exercises doesn’t seem to help.  I am pretty sure that one lady is illiterate even in Spanish.  When I try to get her to copy even very simple words, I just get a blank face and no noticeable response. 

Jan’s house is coming along nicely.  The roof is nearly complete and after that, they will finish pouring the floor.  Once you have a floor and a roof in this climate, you pretty much have a house, as you don’t really need much more than that.  The amount of physical labour invested in a project like this is staggering.  The cement has to come from the mainland in a panga.  Once at this side, three guys carry five 90 lb. bags at a time about 70 yards up to the house.  One fellow loads the second bag on each of the other two.  He only takes one bag himself, because he has to RUN to be at the house in time to help the others unload their two bags when they get there.  It makes me sweat like a firehose just watching them.

Life is settling into a rhythm, the palm trees sway in the breeze, the weather is beautiful every day and there is cold beer in the fridge.  What can I say?

panga that brings the cement.JPG

The panga that brings the cement – and the roofing sheets, the gravel, the sand, the crushed rock – everything that is needed to build a house has to be hauled from the mainland

Everything has to be loaded into the boat by hand and then unloaded and carried up to the house the same way

Four X 90 lb. of cement heading up the trail.  The fifth one is behind me, running to catch up.

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