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Saturday November 20

Misael has a panga for deep-sea fishing out in the ocean, but he also has one outfitted as a tour boat to take clients on tours of the estuary.  We ask him if he would take us for a tour on the weekend.  He suggests we go to a stick restaurant in the mangroves for lunch.  We suggest we take the whole class and buy lunch for everybody.  Not all the adults are able to come along but EVERY ONE of the kids is wildly excited.

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Panga arrives to pick us up

This morning at 11:00, the panga stops at the end of Jan’s dock with a load of grinning, waving kids -- and grinning, waving adults!  We cruise down the estero, past the Bahia del Sol resort hotel and across the bocana, the open channel from the estuary out into the ocean.  Susan gets to see where I went on the jet-ski and also appreciate the beauty of the open ocean and the surf crashing on the beaches.  We pass along the side of Isla Tasajera and enter the twisty channels, lined with mangroves.  I am able to absorb the beauty and tranquility much better than on my previous trip through here – at 62 mph on the back of a jet-ski!

The sun shines over head with mare’s tail clouds painted here and there against the blue sky.  The twin cones of the San Vincente volcano loom on the horizon.  Large black birds, terns perhaps, soar using their wide forked tail feathers to negotiate the wind currents with a skill that leaves me in awe.  The water sparkles and the entrance to the mangrove channels is splashed with sandbars and stick buildings on stilts with palm thatch for roofs.  The chatter of the kids and the good-natured joking between the adults sets the mood for a wonderful afternoon.


After about 45 minutes, we arrive at a stick restaurant near the island community of Colorado.  A stick restaurant is just what it sounds like.  Poles stuck in the mud of the shallow channel support a rickety platform with a thatched roof.  In one corner, flat pieces of concrete on a bench provide a place for small cooking fires, griddles and iron skillets.  We tie up the panga to the flimsy steps and disembark onto the platform.  The family that owns the restaurant is delighted to see us  – 16 hungry customers.  As soon as our boat approaches, mother and daughters stoke up the cooking fires and start making tortillas.

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Susan’s tortilla-making lesson

A panga-load of fun

Stick restaurant


We peruse the menu: picnic coolers, holding a variety of fresh-caught seafood.  We are invited to select our lunch, but we have no idea which fish is which, so we ask our hosts to choose for us.   The owner crouches down at one corner of the platform and starts cleaning our selections, while the ladies heat up the skillets.  Susan tries her hand at tortilla-making – she could use a little more practice, but the end result is pretty good.

The dough is much softer than I expected and not at all sticky…but then it is cornmeal, not flour.  My first attempt has to be aborted but another quick lesson and I manage to turn out a reasonable-looking tortilla which I place on the curve of the U shaped “griddle” set over the wood fire.  The cooks turn them quickly and expertly with their bare fingers and in no time at all they delight in bringing me my steaming tortilla to eat.  It tastes pretty good and doesn’t seem to be too much the worse for wear for having been patted into shape twice…much more forgiving than pie pastry!!

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Mauricio and the parrot.JPG

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Our lunch in the skillet

Mauricio and the resident parrot

Lunch for the parrot


While we enjoy a cold beer, the cooks bring us a platter of conchas (clams) on the half-shell.  A pinch of salt, a squirt of lemon juice to make them wriggle and down they go.  They are something like oysters but more chewy; a delicious appetizer.
Felipe teases Bob that conchas are a proven aphrodisiac but I assure him that Bob doesn’t need them.  Much laughter and teasing follows that comment and I wish my Spanish were better!

Soon enough, our plates arrive.  Each one bears an entire fish, along with rice pilaf and fresh tortillas.  A plate of camarones (shrimp), too, just to make sure we don’t miss anything.  The seafood is wonderful and the ambiance beyond compare.  A large hawk repeatedly dives into the water near the platform trying to catch his lunch.  Small herons, egrets and terns fly back and forth. Various local citizens pass by in their cayucos (dugout canoes); some with small outboards, but many under paddle power.

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The Happy Gang

Facilities are a bit primitive

Cayuco under paddle power


Eventually, we settle up the bill:  16 hungry people enjoyed a fabulous fish dinner with clams and shrimp appetizers and beverages for a total of $72.50.

By this time, the tide is high and Felipe and Mauricio expertly guide us through twisty and sometimes shallow channels, some barely wide enough for the boat.  I peer down narrow winding offshoots of the main channels. It would be fun to explore some of these in a cayuco with a local and knowledgeable guide…I don’t ever want to be lost in the mangroves.  We scare up more birds along the way and take great delight in watching tiny little fish leaping and skipping over the water ahead of us.  Back out into the estuary, we pass a small group of pelicans rocking on the waves.

All too soon, the panga returns us to Jan’s dock and our adventure is over.  Judging by all the big smiles and bright eyes in the boat, we weren’t the only ones who thought it was a wonderful day.

 

Thursday November 25

There is a major three-day fishing tournament taking place at the Bahia Resort Hotel, so my classes are cancelled for Wednesday and Thursday.  This tournament is not for poor people.  The target fish are marlin, tuna, dorado and sailfish.  Anything under two hundred pounds is catch-and-release.  Quite a slot size!  The boats are huge sport-fishers worth upwards of half a million dollars.  Flor de Caña rum is the main sponsor. The president of the company is here from Nicaragua with his boat, called appropriately, Rum Runner –  at sixty-two feet, a convincing display of conspicuous wealth.  This huge craft will get up on step and plane out at about 45 knots.  Imagine the horsepower that requires.  He also gives away free rum all through the tournament and brings along a bevy of more or less young beauties, who, while attractive enough, are not exactly the Budweiser girls or the Dallas cheerleaders.  Fortunately for me, I rarely drink rum any more….

Since I am essentially unemployed after my morning class, Misael suggests we go fishing.  By this he means fishing in the surf, on the beach, with cast nets.  I’ve never been much of a fisherman, but the surf is beautiful, the sun is hot and the sea temperature is around 80°F.  Of course, I have to try the technique and I receive careful coaching from Carlos and eleven-year-old José.  The net is a big circle 12 or 15 feet in diameter with lead weights all around the outer edge and a rope to pull it all back in again (hopefully full of fish.  You coil the rope up and hold most of the net in your left hand.  Then you hold one part of the edge between your teeth and flip some of the weighted net into your right hand.  Don’t worry – it is nearly as confusing trying to do it as trying to picture what I am describing.  The fellows allegedly can actually see the fish in the breaking waves but I never manage to see any.  On command, I run furiously into the surf and fling my net for all I’m worth.  It doesn’t seem to go very far and doesn’t settle into the water in a nice smooth circle like it should.  Besides, my teeth hurt.  Carlos says shyly:  “It casts better if you open your teeth when you throw the net!”

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The fishermen

Carlos demonstrates the technique

I receive instruction

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Poised and ready for my big moment

Throw!!!

No hay nada pescados!

 

I turn the net back over to José who does manage to catch one (very small) fish.  I just enjoy a couple of hours of tramping along the hard-packed sand, splashing in the warm salt water and watching the surf.  Pelicans fly along the surf line and then, just beyond the breaking waves, we see a pod of dolphins.  Judging by the excitement of my companions, this is an uncommon sight.  In the end, we catch enough fish for lunch and that makes it a good day.  The fish are called chimberas in Spanish.  They are about eight inches long, with a black edge on their tail fin and bright undersides that flash in the sun.  They are absolutely delicious!

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José and Reyes catch a fish

José’s catch of the day

Fisherman (and his dog) head for home

 

Friday November 26

About five o’clock, just before sunset, I go down to the beach with some friends, Steve and Maria, to watch baby sea turtles being released.  The beaches of El Salvador are prime sea turtle nesting sites.  Between April and November, the female turtles come ashore during the night, dig holes in the sand and deposit their eggs.  After some weeks, the babies hatch out and make their way into the sea.  Unfortunately for sea turtles, their eggs are delicious and there is a thriving black market for them.  One day a fellow came into Misael’s house offering some for sale:  Twenty dollars for twelve eggs!  That’s pretty easy money in a country where heavy physical labour earns you only a dollar an hour.  Various volunteer agencies are making efforts to increase the sea turtle survival rate by operating hatcheries.  These agencies pay people to collect the eggs and turn them over to the hatcheries, instead of selling them on the black market.  One of these hatcheries is located on the beach next to the Bahia resort.  So far this season, they have hatched and released 59,000 baby sea turtles.

The volunteers bring out a washtub with 85 of the little critters.  The babies are released on the sand several feet above the wave line and they immediately start scrabbling towards the water.  Some are lucky to catch a wave just right and get swept out as it recedes.  Others are less lucky and hit the water just as the wave is coming in and get pushed back up on the sand.  One way or another, they all eventually disappear out to sea.

The volunteers tell us that only one in a thousand will survive to adulthood; but that survivor, six or seven years from now, will return to this same beach and lay its eggs within feet of where it first entered the ocean.

The project director gives us a tour of the hatchery, explains the operation of the agency, its funding sources and some of its history.  Everyone is a sucker for a baby turtle story and he gets several substantial donations.

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Steve and Maria

Ready to go

Cute little critters

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On the sand

Heading for the water

Just a few more feet to go

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