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October 15, 2011

I used to think “rainy season” was just an expression.  Evidently not!  Although the rainy season normally lasts until mid-November, last year it never rained once during my visit.  October was sunny and very hot every day.  This year is making up for it.  It started raining a week before I arrived and has continued pretty much non-stop ever since.  Just fifty miles away, 405mm (16 inches) fell in one night, while here in the Costa del Sol, they only got 100mm.  There is water everywhere.  All the low-lying areas are flooded, the ditches are full and here and there, the water is running over the road.  Sadly, the low-lying areas along the road are where a lot of the poor people have their tiny houses.  Many of them are flooded out and the people are living in shelters, provided by the Municipality.  This morning, as I sit on the porch of my casita, it is raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock!  Francisco tells me that it has been ten years or more since they had this much rain and that it is affecting the entire country.  Unfortunately, rain is only the beginning of their problems.  The water saturates the soil and destabilizes it, inevitably causing landslides.  The news media warn every day about the danger of landslides, but of course, there isn’t much the poor people can do, except hope that it won’t be their house that is swept away or submerged in mud.

A curious sight is people fishing in water-filled road-side ditches.  They use the same cast-nets used in the surf and actually catch a lot of small fish.  I have no idea where the fish come from or how they get into the ditches, but they put food on a lot of tables.

water over road.jpg

Flooded vacation property.jpg

Water over the road

Ditches for fishing


Ditches for fishing.jpg

House of very poor people.jpg

Flooded vacation property

Flooded house of very poor people

I go to the Hotel Bahia del Sol to speak with Agostin, the manager.  He is keen on having me teach English classes again, but suggests we wait another week until the weather breaks.  There are very few guests in the hotel but many of the employees are away, dealing with flood-related problems at home.  I spend some time wandering around the resort getting reacquainted with former students.  One fellow, a security guard at the gate, peers at me incredulously, as I drive up on Francisco’s battered Chinese scooter, as if I have never been away.  Martin, the cook and Jose, the bartender, greet me like an old friend.  Sadly, Claudia and Sylvia, the two pretty girls at Reception have left for employment in the city.  Justo, their replacement, lived for many years in the U.S and speaks excellent English.  He appears to be rather more efficient than the girls, but not nearly as decorative!

I discovered last year that it is not always easy in this country to figure out what kind of a place you have to find to get a meal.  I once wandered into the comedor, next door to Francisco’s place, called Brumas del Mar (Mists of the Sea), but never did manage to convey that I wanted lunch.  Francisco introduces me to the people who own it and explains that I will be coming there regularly for meals.  So far, it is working out well.  The food is good, plain Salvadoreño fare; not much variety, but tasty and filling.  The menu runs heavily to tortillas, eggs, refried beans, plantain and a soft, white local cheese.  Vegetables are pretty scarce and I bet there isn’t a salad to be found for miles.  Every night of the week the Señora makes pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador.  For entertainment there are several unbearably cute toddlers that tumble about between the tables, along with several chickens and a few bony dogs.  The proprietor regularly rousts the dogs with a broom amid lots of shouting, but the dogs just quietly sneak in another door.  It never seems to occur to anybody that a door, even a half-door, would keep most of the livestock out.

So far, my life is pretty relaxed and not too exciting.  I am catching up on my reading.  Fortunately, I bought a Kindle e-reader so I have no shortage of books to read.  What a wonderful gadget to take along while traveling!  One advantage of the rainy season’s heavy cloud cover is that the temperatures are very comfortable:  22 to 24 degrees, night and day. 


October 28, 2011

English classes start on Monday and my life settles into a comfortable routine.  Like last year, one class runs from 6:30  to 7:30 am.  This is a class organized by Misael for his extended family and friends.  This year, at Francisco’s suggestion, we move the class to his place.  Misael’s house is on a busy lane, with lots of noise, traffic and many interruptions from passersby.  In Francisco’s yard, next to the swimming pool, there is a large rancho.  In this country, a rancho is a pole structure with no walls and a large roof of palm thatch.  It is cool and shady under the thatch and usually a light breeze blows through.  Francisco is a building contractor and this is his work yard as well as his residence, so the rancho is also used as a repair shop, machine shed and storage building.  Nevertheless, there is room for a large table, chairs and benches and a place to hang up a white board.  The yard is well off the street so it is quiet and free from distractions.  It is a very nice, if a bit unconventional, classroom.

our rancho classroom.jpg

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Our rancho classroom

A pleasant place to learn


At first, I wonder if there will be the same enthusiasm for my classes as there was last year, when, I think there may have been a certain novelty factor.  The first morning, there are only four students, but on Tuesday there are nine and by Thursday, eleven.  Thursday’s class includes Francisco’s teen-aged son, Ramon, and two of Ramon’s classmates from the local school.  They are dressed in the navy slacks and white shirts that all students wear to school and I strongly suspect they are cutting their first class to come to mine.  This probably sounds more flattering than it actually is, as several comments suggest that the quality of English instruction the kids are receiving is pretty dismal.  At any rate, my class is bright, enthusiastic and absolutely determined to learn as much English as possible.  It is a joy to teach them!

On Monday, we also start classes at the nearby Bahia del Sol Resort Hotel.  This is pretty much a continuation of the classes I offered last year.  The participants are various employees of the hotel, ranging from cashiers, waiters and bartenders to cooks and kitchen helpers, chambermaids, maintenance workers, security guards and laundry ladies.  It is very much a mixed bag.  The waiters and bartenders speak a fair bit of English that they have picked up from customers, but their grammar and pronunciation tend to be rudimentary.  Some of the older fellows have worked in the States (as undocumented aliens), but most of the time, they lived and worked among other Hispanics, so they rarely learned more than a few words of English.

 I am puzzled as to how to approach these classes.  Several of the students participated last year, but there are many new ones who are starting from scratch.  I finally conclude that most of last year’s students remember very little of what they learned anyway, so I am going to start over from the beginning.  I don’t think it will do any harm to those who are repeating and I promise to work with the ones who already speak a fair bit on an individual basis as opportunity permits. 

Agostin, the manager of the hotel, sets up an account for me, so whatever meals and drinks I consume on the premises are free.  Seems like a fair trade to me.  My classes are over by 10:30 am and I have the rest of the day free.  Most days after class, I go down to the restaurant by the marina, have an orange juice and try to read the local daily paper.  It is slow going, but with the help of my pocket dictionary, I usually manage to puzzle out the drift of a few articles.  Actually, I am very pleased at the rate my Spanish is improving.  I understand a lot more and my vocabulary is increasing rapidly.  I still struggle with irregular verb tenses but I hear myself using them more often without having to think about them first.  I think that is progress of a sort.  I was disappointed last year, because I expected to improve much more in the eight weeks than I actually did.  However, thinking back, I spent nearly five weeks on Jan’s island, in near isolation, with virtually nobody to talk to.  Now, I am in a 24 -7 total immersion environment where I communicate solely in Spanish nearly all the time.  I hope I can look forward to some measure of fluency by the end of this stay.

Repeating lessons, leaves me with less preparation and more spare time on my hands, so I approach the director of the local public school and volunteer my help, if there is anything I can contribute.  He immediately gets all excited and suggests I teach English to a class of forty-five adolescents.  Feeling like I just had my bluff called, I sheepishly explain that I am not quite ready to jump into the deep end of that pool, but I will be more than happy to go into class with the regular English teacher and help out in whatever way I can.  He thinks this is also a fine idea; so on Monday morning, I will spend from 9:00 to 11:00 …en una classe de Inglés.  I will let you know how that turns out.

My friend and host, Francisco, is a building contractor and carries out projects for wealthy owners of vacation properties in the Costa del Sol.  This morning, after class, he takes me along with him to look at jobs to estimate, check on his employees and show me various projects he has completed.  This is a rare opportunity for me to see behind the walls and security gates that shield the properties of the wealthy from the poverty of those who live along the road.  Many of the gates are manned by security guards toting vicious-looking 12 ga. shotguns.  Inside the gate, is a totally different world that appears more Miami Beach than El Salvador.  Beautiful houses, with elaborate swimming pools and manicured lawns; winding, unistone driveways, fountains, gazebos, and above all, HUGE boat houses containing ENORMOUS sport fishing boats.  One property even has its own heliport.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you El Salvador is a poor country – it’s just that the wealth is concentrated in a very few hands.

Francisco estimating a job.jpg

oceanside property right on the beach.jpg

Francisco estimating a job; to refinish this table

Oceanfront, right on the beach

a modest vacation house.jpg

Client's vacation house.jpg

“modest” little cottage

Lovely vacation property

a modest boat house.jpg

a modest fishing boat.jpg

“modest” little boat house

“modest” little fishing boat; 1050 hp


Francisco shows me many projects that he has completed over the years, including several impressive ranchos and other structures that he designed and built. We visit a jobsite where his employees are demolishing a deteriorating concrete boat launch ramp – the hard way – with sledgehammers, shovels and wheelbarrows.  Once the old ramp is removed they will pour a new one – the hard way – mixing the cement by hand in a small mixer.  The project is made even more difficult because the cement can only be poured within a two- or three-hour window at low tide and it  has to be cured enough to withstand the water by the time the tide comes back in.

It is a very interesting morning and provides me with a fascinating glimpse into a totally different world.

Rebuilding a boat launch ramp.jpg

jackhammer operator - note PPE.JPG

Demolishing a boat launch ramp

Note the safety boots!

Some miscellaneous pictures:

               Rancho designed and built by Francisco.JPG


A beautiful rancho designed and built by Francisco

A waif in the alley beside my house

patio of mi casita.jpg


The patio of my casita, where I spend most of my spare time

Dominic, the terror of the local comedor

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