Friday, November 26, 2010

Back to earth

The last two weeks in El Salvador were beautiful. We spent the weekend at Lake Coatepeque with a few friends. The lake is gorgeous and we had perfect weather. It was a nice way to spend the last weekend in El Salavdor for a while.

I returned to Tennessee this week to be the "caregiver" for my mom as she undergoes a stem cell transplant (used to be called a bone marrow transplant) to hopefully cure her MDS. She'll start chemotherapy on Dec. 9th to prepare her for a transplant on the 17th. It's amazing that somoeone out there is giving up their day to donate their stem cells to help out someone they don't even know - my mom. If you haven't already done so, you should join the marrow registry so that you could improve make someone else's day. Anyway, she'll have to be in Nashville for 100 days after the transplant.

We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic... she has a "10/10" match with a non-related donor, she's been in good health, and she doesn't have leukemia. However, the statistics are pretty grim, and even people who are "cured" still may have to live with chronic "graft versus host disease," a disease caused by the donor's T-cells ordering the other white blood cells to attack the host's organs. This is treated with immuno-suppressants, so there's a good chance of having to be on these drugs for years.

I hope to keep posting on here, but it won't be about El Salvador for a while. However, this is what many other foreign service officers and EFMs deal with every year, and I am so grateful to be able to return so easily and do what is needed for my family. I can't imagine trying to do this from farther-flung places on the earth. I am also grateful to work with people who are understaning and accomodating. I have much to be thankful for this year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Life in the Tropics

The weather here is perfect.  I played soccer twice and ultimate once this week.  In the middle of November.  In shorts.  You really can't beat that.  I guess I'll use that as a reason for why I haven't posted in a month.  Life here has gotten to be pretty normal and relaxing - it's nice.

So, what's been going on over the past month?

Well, we've had a few good weekends of getting outside.  On the 18th of October, I joined a group of Salvadorans on a ride from San Salvador to La Puerta de La Libertad, a town on the coast.  The ride was what I would call a typical Salvadoran ride.  Lots of biking on a dirt/gravel road through tiny villages, beautiful vistas of the surrounding mountains, rounded off by riding through some private fincas.  Then, to top it off, we ended at the beach, where we got tamales and beers.  Not bad for a Saturday morning!  The real treat, though, was riding back to the beginning in the back of a cargo truck.  Awesome.

We signed up for an adventure race for the following weekend at Bahia de Jiqilisco - bike, run, kayak.  Sophie and I were supposed to be on the same team, but Sophie hurt her knee by crashing and burning on the pavement while playing ultimate, so it was just me and 2 Salvadorans.  Our team name was Team USA.  We hadn't thought ahead, so we didn't have a place to stay for the race, but the bike shop owner let us stay at the cabaña that he had rented, so we got to meet his wife and stay with them and other bike shop employees.  My Spanish is really not that great.  At one point, one of the employees was telling a story and everyone was laughing, including Sophie and I, and the bike shop owner turns to us and says " means naked."  Apparently we had been listening to a story that involved nudity and we were completely oblivious.  Oh well.  Se la vie.  Team USA didn't do that great, but we had a lot of fun, so that's all that matters.  The bike course was pretty flat but really pretty.  The run covered the same trail as the bike.  The kayak was in the bay, which was gorgeous.  After the race, we relaxed with some beers before taking a free pontoon ride around some of the islands in the bay.  Paradise.

A lot of friends here are involved in a 'pedometer challenge.'  People are in teams of four competing against each other to see who can 'walk' the farthest in 3 months.  Everyone has a pedometer, and then there is a conversion chart that you can use to convert your 30 minutes of strenuous swimming into a step equivalent.  I think it's pretty silly, but a lot of people have gotten into it - perhaps a little too much so.  Anyway, with that in mind, we decided to climb the Santa Ana Volcano once again, this time with a newcomer.  It was a gorgeous day - most days that we've gone to Santa Ana, we haven't been able to see the volcanoes until we were relatively close.  With the weather now, it's pretty easy to see them once you get about 10 minutes outside of Santa Tecla.  Anyway, we had a great hike with great views right up until we got to the top of Santa Ana, at which point it turned into a bit cloudy with really high winds.  It was pretty intense.

On the hike, we met an Austrian woman that is around our age who is working for the Inter-American Development Bank.  We invited her and her coworker to join us at Playa Sunzal the following day before their flight left for Honduras.  45 minutes after picking them up, we were on the beach, sipping beers, looking at the gorgeous beach.  The last time we'd been to Sunzal was probably in September, when it was still raining a fair bit.  Now that it doesn't rain that often, the ocean has calmed down, and the sand has returned to the beach.  What used to be a tiny beach with lots of rocks was now a nice, black sand beach with a good bit of sand.  The water was also just about right - you didn't feel cold when you got in, but you also didn't feel like the water was too warm.  Perfecto.

This post is getting a little long, so, I'll wrap it up.  The past two weekend have involved another trip to the volcanoes (this time to do Izalco again), a trip to the beach (surfing at Sunzal), karaoke, oktoberfest, and an 80s dance party.  Fun stuff.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Summer is here

Living in El Salvador, you quickly realize that there are only two seasons -- invierno (winter) and verano (summer).  Newcomers are always confused, though, because Salvadorans say that October-April is summer.  This all makes sense now.  After having about 4 months of almost daily rain, the weather has now changed to sun & wind.  The wind is incredible.  At night, all of our exterior doors and windows rattle and it sounds like our roof is being ripped off.  It hasn't come off yet, though.

I went on my first serious road ride last weekend with a group of riders from one of the local bike shops.  We rode 50 miles from San Salvador to Santa Ana.  The ride was awesome - there weren't that many cars and, when there were, we had motorcycle police to stop traffic.  Pretty awesome.  It was cool riding through lots of small towns outside of San Salvador.  Every block had a woman on the sidewalk making her pupusas for the day.  After a few hours, we arrived in Santa Ana, where we got a ride back to the bike shop.  The Salvadorans in the car tried to talk to me a bit, but, I found out that my Spanish listening skills aren't very good with normal Salvadoran Spanish.  Lots of new words.

When we got back to San Salvador, we were surrounded by people on their way to the celebration of 30 years of the FMLN, the leftist political group who were the 'rebels' during the civil war.  The celebration was going on at the circle that is close to our place, so, Sophie and I walked down to see what was up.  We tried to listen to the speakers, but, rapidly spoken Spanish heard through a loudspeaker isn't the easiest thing in the world to understand.

This week has been beautiful.  Mid to high 70s with tons of sun every day.  If only I weren't cooped up in my office, hacking away by my lonesome.  hah!  Sophie and I signed up for an adventure race next weekend - a kayak, mountain bike, and run race with teams of 4.  We got paired with some random Salvadorans, so, we'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back to El Salvador

After a great trip to the States, I'm excited to return to San Salvador.  I'm currently sitting in the Atlanta airport.  I arrived here last night and somehow talked Delta into giving me a hotel room for a few hours so I could sleep.  ¡Qué suerte!  As I type, I can hear Spanish being softly spoken around me.  I'm looking forward to going back to speaking Spanish!

I had a great week with my parents in Chattanooga - we kayaked on the Tennessee River and biked on the River Walk and Brainerd Levy.  Since I work from home, I was able to easily transport myself 3000 miles without missing anything, although my coworkers kept asking if I had changed camera angles when I came on the videoconference with a different backdrop.  Ha!

I then spent 3 days in DC where I mostly worked, but, was able to celebrate my birthday in DC with everyone there.  What fun!

Finally, I went to Moab, Utah for a few days for biking.  Highlights of the trip include 'The Whole Enchilada' trail, which started at 10,600' in the La Salle Mountains, climbed to over 11,000' before turning to downhill for most of the next 30 miles.  We rode from the high alpine, through aspen trees with yellow leaves, to the barren desert slickrock that defines Moab.  Pretty amazing.  Karl and I were able to bike another 2 days, after which we did a hike out to Double-O arch in Arches.  We were caught in a fierce rainstorm within a mile of the parking lot and were forced to run through it to keep ourselves warm since the rain was very cold and the wind was strong.  Such is the desert, I guess.  On our drive out from Arches we were treated to... wait for it... a double rainbow all the way(yes, we have video)!  After changing into dry clothes, we went to "Pasta Jay's" in Moab for some pizza.  Everyone around us was foreign, which was surprising.  The table next to us was speaking either Italian or French - I couldn't tell which - and their waiter was trying to speak to them in their native tongue.  They then started talking about his language skills and asked him how he learned it and he started evangelizing Rosetta Stone.  He rattled off all the talking points about what makes Rosetta Stone great.  It was interesting to watch and exciting to see someone using the software that Karl and other Rosetta Stoners have written to interact with someone from another country.  Of course, the diners had some grammatical corrections for him, but, he didn't seem fazed.

Adios, Estados Unidos.  Estoy emocionado para regresar a El Salvador y ver mi esposa!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back in the States

After 3.5 months in El Salvador, I'm back in the States for a 2.5 week whirlwind tour - Chattanooga, DC, Denver, and Moab.  Right now, I'm in the Atlanta airport waiting to catch the 30 minutes flight to Chattanooga.  Immigration and customs was incredibly efficient today - who would have guessed?  It is a little weird being back.  I said hola and gracias to the waitress as she gave me my sweet tea and bacon hamburger.  I also found myself "translating" some signs into English, even though they were already in English.  It's all very confusing, but, I think I'll get by.  I have to say, though, that it is amazing how connected we are these days.  For $10 I can get airport and hotel wireless for the month.  With that internet, I can make phone calls to land lines for free using Google Voice - I can even call Sophie in El Salvador.  Incredible.  I think tomorrow my parents and I are going to go kayaking on the Hiwassee River.  What a wonderful world!

Fun & Family

My sister, Kit, arrived on Friday the 3rd.  She's done a lot of travelling, but never to Latin America - ¡Qué lástima!  So, we were determined to show her a good time.  Since it was the weekend of Labor Day, we had a 3 day weekend to wow her with El Salvador.  We decided to head to El Imposible National Park in the western part of the country.  We'd been there before, but, we had entered from Tacuba in the north.  This time we were going to enter from the south.  Sophie drove us the whole way and did a great job driving the last hour, which was on a dirt road going up into the mountains.  We stayed at the Imposible Eco-lodge, which is the only place you can stay there.  We got a cabin, read some, had dinner, and headed to bed.  The cabins were pretty nice - they had solar hot water and solar lighting.  It's also in the middle of the forest, which was nice.

The next day, we entered the park and hired a guide to show us around.  We decided to take a hike down to the confluence of two rivers, where we could take a swim.  The beginning of the hike was through a nature tour area, so, the guide told us all about the trees in the park.  The hike was gorgeous and the guide's Spanish was very easy to undersand.  We saw lots of birds, cool trees, leaf-cutter ants, butterflies, and an iguana on the hike.  The river was perfect - it reminded me of swimming in North Chickamauga creek in Chattanooga - clean, crisp water with great scenery.  The hike out wasn't too bad and the guide took us back through the campsites that are in the park - we'll definitely be returning to check those out - gotta use that tent for something!

After the hike, we hopped back in the car and drove the hour back down the dirt road and then another 30 minutes to Barra de Santiago, where'd we'd spend Sunday night.  We stayed in the same hotel we had before - Hotel Capricho - and were treated to another great time there.  Sophie was super excited about the prospects of seeing sea turtles laying their eggs, so, we called up Julio Cesar again to get him to take us on the beach to find a turtle.  No sooner had we left our hotel, it started raining, hard.  We walked for about 45 minutes in the downpour before arriving at the turtle hatchery sponsored by USAID.  They pay people $2-3 per dozen turtle eggs to try to encourage people to not eat the turtles.  There were lots of buried eggs there, but, nothing was really going on.  Feeling like we'd, yet again, walked in the rain for nothing, we trudged back.  Within about 5 minutes of getting back to the hotel, we finally found what we were looking for - a sea turtle.  She had just left the ocean, so, we had to take cover in a random ranchero while she found a suitable spot.  While we were waiting, we were treated to a spectacular and scary display of the awesomeness of lightning.  Huddled up in the ranchero, our eyes were blinded for a solid minute due to a close lightning strike.  Luckily, the lightning subsided by the time the turtle started laying her eggs.  We rushed over and watched as the turtle released the eggs into the waiting hands of someone who was collecting them.  It was pretty cool.  We were able to touch the turtle, touch the eggs, and then were treated to a show as she proceeded to cover up the hole and then use her body to bodyslam the sand in an attempt to tamp it down.  Very cool.  Eventually the show ended as she made her way back into the ocean.  Turtles are such weird animals!

The next day was pretty relaxing - we basically just laid on the beach and surfed.  Rough life!  My surfing abilities are not any better, but, it's still fun.  We then headed back to San Salvador to return to the real world - the world that requires you to work.  Kit went to Playa El Tunco - a beach that is about 45 minutes from El Salvador for the rest of the week while Sophie and I worked.

For the next weekend, we were determined to do something new.  So, on Saturday, we drove out to Suchitoto - a small town to the northeast of San Salvador that has an artistic flavor and is on the edge of the largest lake in the country.  The town was pretty nice - it definitely has a colonial feel to it and felt more like Guatemala than the El Salvador that I'm familiar with.  We shopped around, bought some gifts for people, and had lunch at a random restaurant.  The restaurant showed off what makes the tropics great - from the outside, it looked like a house, but, you walk in and then you enter a little courtyard area that is open to the elements and filled with large trees and plants.  The temperature was cool and the food was good.  After lunch, we wanted to check out the waterfall that is close to town, so, we started walking there before someone stopped us and told us to get the police to go with us.  We're unsure if the police were really necessary, but, at the very least it saved us from walking a pretty long way on a deserted road.  So, that's how we got to ride in a PNC tourist police SUV down to the waterfall.  The waterfall was really cool, mainly because the rocks behind the waterfall look like they were placed there by man since they're so blocky.  Very cool.  We headed back to San Salvador that night and went to bed on the early side of things to wake up for our adventure the next day.

We woke up early to start our mountain bike ride to the top of the San Salvador volcano - Picacho.  The ride started from Grand Via, went for 6.5 miles on the road as we went to the other side of the volcano, before starting up a dirt road for the next 7 miles of uphill.  The climb was good - it was a constant climb, but, not very steep, so, you got used to it.  After the dirt road, the final 2-3 miles were on a nice concrete road.  Once at the top, we realized a few things.  First, we didn't actually go to the top.  Second, there was a parade going on right next to the bike shop's tent.  Third, that the parade blocks the signs telling us to turn onto a trail for the downhill.  Instead of turning, we just followed other Salvadoran riders who we thought were in the know as we flew down the volcano on the road.  We'd been down this road the last time we had mountain biked, so, I knew that at some point, we probably wanted to turn off.  However, the Salvadorans didn't turn off, so, we followed them down, hoping that they knew where they were going.  By the time we realized that they knew as much as us, we were at the bottom of the volcano and completely missed all the downhill mountain biking.  Sucks.  We made our way back to Grand Via where we met up with all the other riders and got some post-'race' goodies - beer, pizza, and photos with the Thule women - 2 women who were dressed in Thule branded spandex.  Awesome.  We then went home, showered, and made our first visit to the Merliot market, where we picked up some new fruits and tried some local fare, like sopa de pata (foot soup).  Yummmmmy.

The week after the ride was uneventful, except for the independence day celebrations.  Kit and Sophie went down to watch the parades and celebrations and were treated to a parade by school children and a parade by the military.  Who knew that the Salvadorans have so many bazookas?  It sounds like they had a wonderful time and were able to purchase some awesome masks that are apparently worn by fans of the Salvadoran soccer team "Selección."  Kit's time in El Salvador ended with a night out in San Salvador, which started with happy hour at a Cuban restaurant and ended at a new dance club named RED.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Bolas de Fuego

"Yea, I got a ball of fire in my hand.  So what?"
On Wednesday, a few of us went to Bolas de Fuego, a celebration somehow related to an explosion of a volcano nearby that didn't destroy a religious statue, or something.  Anyway, somehow a tradition started of celebrating the explosion every year by trying to recreate it with kerosene soaked flaming balls of fire.  Sounds like a great idea, right?  We took the 30 minute trip to Nejapa to check it out.  I had watched a few videos online of what to expect, but, the videos don't really do it justice.  When you're there, not only are the flaming balls flying by, but you also hear the flames and smell the kerosene.  It was pretty awesome.  I made a (terribly edited) video from my camera that you can watch.  Surprisingly, we didn't see many fights break out, even though there were a lot of people and the high possibility of someone getting hit with a flaming ball of kerosene.  When I was in high school, we thought we were cool because we had bottle rocket wars every summer, but, this really takes it to a new level.  I'm going to chalk this up as an experience that you will never get in the US.

Back to normal life

The last 2 weeks has been back to 'normal' life, since we haven't had any visitors.  Normal life means that I work at home until 3:30 or 5 and then head over the embassy to pick Sophie up and do something.  We've been here for a little over 3 months now, so, I'm starting to really wish my Spanish was better.  I know it has improved, but, since I don't talk to many Spanish speakers every day, it could definitely be better.  My grand plan is to get into a biking group and speak Spanish with them.  So, I decided to try my hand at road biking here.  I woke up at 4:30am to get to the bike shop at 5:00am to start the ride and hopefully finish by 6:30. so I could have time to shower before work at 7.  I went with the same guy as last time, from Bicimania.  He's super nice and doesn't speak any English, so, it's perfect, really.  We got a late start, but still rode for an hour and a half through the south western part of the city.  There weren't many cars on the way out, but, on the way back, it was pretty busy.  Most of the ride was on really nice roads that weren't well traveled, so, we got to ride through some really pretty areas with only a few cars to bother us.  Very, very nice.  I made a map of where we went - man it's hilly here!  I'm looking forward to riding again, but, it takes a lot to get me motivated for that early of a ride!

The weekend after the ride, we went to a beach house owned by one of Sophie's coworkers who has been in the foreign service most of his life.  When I say it's a beach house, though, I really mean that it's like a beach complex.  They had like 4 or 5 villas with rooms for people, a ranchero (covered dining area) on the beach, and a pool with a submerged bar.  Awesome.  We had great weather.  A highlight for the trip was their dog, Oso, who wanted to play fetch with the frisbee from 7:30 in the morning to 10 at night.  Crazy dog.

Anyway, another week of work with poker night in the middle.  No winnings, but, I'm still up overall since  I've been here.  I'll continue to point out that I'm up until I actually lose money, at which point I just won't talk about poker.  That's the way it is.  Sophie was working in Honduras for work, so, I was home alone hanging out with friends or playing way too much Starcraft 2.  I'm not much of a gamer, but, Starcraft is an exception for me.

Finally, last weekend we had another 2 visitors, albeit for a short time period.  Dave and Michelle were on their way back from an awesome trip to Peru and had a 6 hour layover in San Salvador, so, we went and picked them up and brought them back to San Salvador for food and to catch up.  Good times.  If anyone else is flying through the area, let us know and we can do the same - visit the beach, visit San Salvador, or just get some pupusas.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Volcanoes

There are a lot of volcanoes in El Salvador.  21 according to the Smithsonian.  So, it's natural that many of the things to do revolve around volcanoes.  Sophie and our friends hiked the Santa Ana volcano on Tuesday.  It's the third time for Sophie, but, it really is a beautiful hike.  I have a feeling it's going to become like Old Rag to us, which is not really a bad thing.  After their hike, they got pupusas at Cerro Verde and then got pupusas at Margoth in San Salvador before going to dinner.  ¡Qué rico!  On Wednesday, Alex left and Sophie and I were both working, so, Beth spent a good part of her day at the spa.  Tough life.  After the spa, Beth and I discovered that three pupusas was a little too much to have in one sitting.  So much for feeling great after the spa, right?

The view from Izalco
Dan arrived on Thursday and we whisked him away to Esperanto for dinner.  Another delicious meal.  On Friday, we bade farewell to Beth and then set out to hike Izalco, another volcano that is right next to Santa Ana.  Izalco was formed in the 1770s and erupted almost continuously for about 200 years until 1966.  In those 200 years, it grew to 2100'!  The contrast between the jungle of Cerro Verde and the moonscape of Izalco is pretty awesome.  However, the hike up there is not the most fun in the world.  Imagine hiking down and up a giant, 2100' V and then returning.  However, it was pretty cool.  At the top, we were accosted by flies and locust-like grasshoppers.  The grasshoppers flew around and had pretty red wings.  We tried to get pictures of them flying, but to no avail.  Also at the top, there are a lot of vents with steam coming out of them.  Unfortunately, there were a good bit of clouds up there, so, we didn't have fantastic views, but, it was a cool experience nonetheless.  When hiking back up to the parking lot, we hiked behind a British traveler who was on month 7 of her year long trek around the world.  She was determined to make it to the top without stopping, so, we didn't stop, which, was all the better.  Stopping while climbing the equivalent of a 200 story building just gives you time to feel the pain.  There was an ice cream guy at the top selling ice cream out of a homemade, insulated cardboard box.  Where there is a need, someone will fill it!

The Brit was going to catch a bus back to Santa Tecla, so, we decided to give her a lift.  On the way back, we stopped at Lago de Coatepeque for a little food and Jet Ski action.  Once again, we had great food followed by an awesome time on the jet skis.  I don't think I realized how much I missed the lakes in Tennessee until I got here and was reminded about how sweet lakes are.  The lakes in Virginia are just too far away from everything.  We dropped the Brit off in Santa Tecla, never to be seen again.  We got back and made some dinner before calling it an early night.

The next day, we awoke at 5am to get to the bike shop at 5:30 in order to go mountain biking.  The guy who was going to take us didn't show, so, another bike shop employee graciously agreed to take us.  From the bike shop, we rode about 1km on the road before getting onto a dirt road.  It became obvious that our guide didn't know the trails that well, but, he wasn't afraid to ask directions.  After a bit, we found a group of about 15 Salvadoreños and started riding with them.  Originally, we had thought that we were going to ride to La Libertad from San Salvador - as in, all downhill.  However, this trip turned out to be anything but.  We climbed for a solid hour or hour and a half up the side of the San Salvador volcano.  We went through Parque Espino before ending up on the road up to El Boquerón.  It was a gorgeous ride.  We then bombed it down the volcano.  Sophie and Dan were the only ones with V-Brakes - suckers!  We essentially ended up in Santa Tecla, so, we made our way back to where the other bikers were going (near the embassy) before heading back to Bicimania.  Riding on the roads was an experience.   If you want to see where we went, I made a guess on a google map.

After the bike ride, we all took a nap before rallying for a Brazilian steakhouse at the Intercontinental Hotel.  Another delicious meal of all you can eat meat for like $30 each.  Sweet.  We then went back to a friend's house where I proceeded to "test" the friendships I've made here over the past 3 months.  It's still unclear how that will play out, but, here's to hoping for the best :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Piernas Sexy

Sophie's sister left on Wednesday, so, we had ample time to recover before our next guest arrived on Friday.  It's been pretty quiet here due to Agostinas - a 4 day holiday for Salvadorans.  There are only a handful of friends around.  On one day, Sophie and I joined the Mile Swim Club at the embassy by swimming a mile.  We also had some neighbors over for an impromptu dinner which lasted for a while - even though they had already eaten.

Before we could blink, Alex from college arrived.  He got in kinda late, so, we didn't do too much the night he got in.  The next day, Beth arrived, making for a muy bueno mini-reunion.  Our first stop from the airport was Sunzal, a beach past La Libertad on the coastal highway -- probably about 30 minutes from the airport.  We were having a great time in the car and then we happened across a town where tons of children accosted our car.  We immediately wondered why people were so excited to see us.  Was this road not very well travelled and they were just excited to see someone (unlikely)?  Were they just looking for a ride on the bumper of our car (it happened, but, unlikely to be the reason)?  Did they just really love our Rav4? The suspense was killing us.  It slowly became clear what was going on.  The main bridge across a river had been washed out and was being reconstructed, so, no cars could cross it.  Luckily, the kids were willing to show us another bridge we could use.  Sophie asked if this other mode of crossing was dangerous and was assured by the kids and a lone adult that it was perfectly safe.  We ambled up the dirt road before getting to the crossing.  If you've ever played Oregon Trail, it was kind of like you had the choice to ford the river, go around, or hire an Indian guide.  These kids were anxious for us to choose the Indian guide and pay them to literally help push our car across the river.  The water was about knee level, which, made me wonder what would happen if the car decided to start floating downriver - would we drown?  would the kids be crushed?  We decided to forgo these questions and turned around and just went back to San Salvador.  ¡Qué lástima!

Back in San Salvador, we made another trip to Las Brumas, the restaurant on the side of the volcano with a view of the city.  After another amazing meal there, we tried to go to El Boquerón, but turned around when we got there in thick fog and rain.  

We decided our next course of action was to make some margaritas and go to the karaoke bar.  However, the karaoke bar was closed, so, we decided to instead head to a Salvadoran dance club.  After about 5 minutes there, Beth struck up a conversation with some Salvadoreños, which was interesting to watch because she knows very little Spanish.  Her attempts at speaking were sufficient enough to act as a catalyst for Salvador/US harmony.  The dance floor was empty until we headed to the floor with our Salvadoran friends and within 5 minutes, the floor was packed.  Overall, it was a great night in San Salvador!

Sophie rockin' the rodilla
I took Monday off, so, we wanted to make use of me being free Sunday and Monday, so, we decided to go to the beach for the night.  We mulled over returning to Barra de Santiago but decided to go somewhere new.  That somewhere new turned out to be the Decameron Resort in El Salvador.  It was an all-inclusive hotel for $40 each that had the feel of what I imagine a cruise ship would feel like.  It was actually really fun and the weather was great, but, not really what I had expected.  The highlight of the stay there was probably when the water aerobics class started in the pool we were at.  Suddenly 10s of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Americans were gyrating with guidance from the incredibly fit male instructor.  After the aerobics, there was an impromptu "sexy legs" competition with 4 seemingly random women judged by 4 seemingly random men.  It was entertaining.

We ended our Monday night by going to Citrón once again.  This time we tried their ice cream for desert - avocado, basil, and banana sorbet for me.  Who knew avocado sorbet would be tasty?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

International Travelers

It's been a good few weeks here in San Salvador.  Since we've had visitors in town, we've been traveling around with them some and been enjoying the area.  For their 2nd weekend here, we all went to Barra de Santiago.  It's about 2 hours from San Salvador in the western part of the country, on the coast.  It was beautiful.  We stayed in a hotel for about $50 a night and a couple from the embassy that joined us stayed at the semi-inclusive resort next door, so, we got to see how luxurious the hotels can get.  Our hotel was great - simple rooms and hammocks on the beach.  You can't ask for much more - unless you're asking for hot water, pool, bar, gorgeous rooms, and kayaks - in which case, the other hotel was made for you.

We started our trip by going to a beach restaurant that wasn't much to look at, but, had some great food.  They went out and "caught" our food after we ordered it - I say "caught" because they could have just taken a boat somewhere else to buy it, but, regardless, they showed off the (dead) lobsters and shrimp before cooking them.  I've eaten a lot of seafood since being here, all of it relatively cheap and all of it delivious.  After lunch, we went back and talked to a guide about surfing, seeing sea turtles laying eggs, and going into the mangroves.  Sophie and I surfed for a bit.  We're not very good, but, hey, we were able to get up on the board.  The guide didn't speak any English, so, it was fun learning the 4 words you need to surf - subirse, agarrar, levantarse, and nadar.  I knew all of these, so, I got to show off.  After surfing, we read for a while, ate, and then went on a 2 hour (!) walk on the beach with the guide in search of sea turtles.  We didn't see any.  There were a lot of other locals out searching for sea turtles because a hatchery in the area (I believe with funding from USAID) pays $2 for 12 eggs.  Our guide was onto something, though, because he discovered that he could take some gringos on a walk and charge much more than that, even if no eggs were found.

You talkin' to me?
The next day, we went to the mangroves and walked around in the mud.  Crabs were everywhere and our guide was not afraid to dig them out of their holes and then try to make the crabs battle each other.  Different crabs had different ways to defend themselves.  One tried to dig himself into a hole and got everything in except for his huge claw.  Others would raise their claw up and make it look like if you stepped any closer, he would attack you.  Still others just ran.  It was all good fun on a beautiful morning.  After the trip, we lazed around the hotel before heading back to San Salvador.

Every three weeks at work, I have to lead my team in planning for the next three weeks.  When everyone was in the same office, this was a full day affair, complete with free lunches.  After half the team moved to India, we woke up really early (4am) in DC to maximize our time.  Then we started to get later in DC, like, 6am.  Now that I'm in El Salvador, that's 4am for me, so, it was pretty grueling.  This past week, we tried splitting the planning into 2 days starting at 8am in DC.  This helped my sanity as well as the sanity of my other coworkers.  It's nice to be able to tweak it so that it works out best for everyone.

Anyway, back to traveling.  Sophie's sister got into San Salvador on Thursday and we had been planning to go to Copán in Honduras from Friday-Sunday.  However, to get to Copán, we needed to drive.  Unfortunately, our license plates only allowed us to drive inside El Salvador, so, Sophie spent a lot of the week trying to figure out how to get there.  Rental cars that cross the border are extremely expensive.  The embassy vans (which are pretty cheap to rent with a driver) can't leave the country.  So, we resigned ourselves to paying a lot of money to have someone drive us in his 10 passenger van.  Bummer.  Since it was a per-day fee, we decided to just go for the weekend and spent Friday hiking the Santa Ana volcano again.  It was a gorgeous day with patchy clouds in the sky.  Last time we went up, we weren't able to see much once we got to the top, but, this time we were able to see into the volcano and see all the volcanoes and lakes around.  It was awesome.  While hiking back to the parking lot, Sophie received a phone call telling us that our plates had arrived - so, goodbye driver, hello Sophie & Case driving a full car for 10 hours!

The drive to Copán was nice - you drive across El Salvador, then through the mountains in Guatemala before crossing into Honduras.  At one point, we diverted to Esquipulas, where we walked around a nice basilica that contains the famed "Black Christ," who apparently performs miracles.  Unfortunately, everyone wanted to receive a miracle, so, we opted for the replica of it rather than wait in line.  We had diverted to Esquipulas due to a horrific accident with a tractor trailer and a large cargo truck.  Seeing the wreck really highlighted the dangers of passing while going around a curve - we were told that 3 people were killed in the wreck.

Once we got to Copán, we settled into our hotel, which was very nice.  We had a triple room with 2 doubles and single, so, all five of us fit in there for around $100.  It was a steal - the place had flowers in the courtyard, a pool, a hot tub, and a free breakfast.  Copán itself is quaint and touristy - cobblestone streets, three-wheeled mototaxis, and craft shops.  It was a shock (and mildly annoying) to go everywhere and have people speak English to you.  The next day, we went to the Copán ruins.  They were pretty extensive and pretty.  After having visited Tikal and Machu Picchu, though, it didn't feel as magnificent as I think it should have felt.  There were some cool stone carvings that were better than the other sites, but, it didn't have the allure of being in the middle of a jungle like Tikal and we weren't in the Andes like in Peru.  But, I'm not saying that it wasn't beautiful.  There were tons of absolutely huge trees that had roots that were probably 20-50 yards long, and the views of the surrounding hills and mountains were great.  The museum at Copán also had some cool things to show off.  We ended our time in Copán by eating pizza.  Yum.

Now we're back in San Salvador.  Our two guests left yesterday, so, Sophie, her sister, and I went to Costa del Sol, which is near the airport.  We were surprised by how sandy the beach was and will definitely be returning.  It was $0.90 to get access to the beach and a pool.  Pretty nice.  None of us got severely burned, either, which was a plus considering how freaking hot it was there.  Life in the tropics is rough.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Busy, busy

Time is a-flyin'.  I can't believe we've almost been here for two months already.  Here's a little recap of life in the past 2 weeks.  After July 4th, I started back at work with a bang - meeting at 4am!  It was, in a word, horrible.  I wasn't the only one that was tired, though, so, at least I felt like I could commiserate with my coworkers.  That being said, I'm not doing that again.  The early morning set the tone for the rest of the week, unfortunately.  To make matters a tad bit worse, I must have touched some poison ivy while in the woods, because, I got a pretty wicked blister on my leg from it.  I would post a picture, but, it's a little too gross.  It was the size of a quarter in diameter and pretty tall - it's only now starting to disappear.

The week ended with a bang - toga party at the marine house for one of the marines who was leaving.  My famed truck sheets from my childhood hadn't arrived yet, so, I was forced to wear stylish-but-boring-with-high-thread-count white striped sheets.  I didn't win the toga contest, which, maybe was a blessing, since that meant that the pictures of me in a toga didn't make it into the embassy newsletter.  On Saturday, Sophie, a friend, and I went to Playa Sunzal.  The weather was great as we sipped beers and ate shrimp while watching surfers do their thing.  Then, at the end of our meal and right before we were planning on laying on the beach, the torrential rains came.  Oh well - such is life in El Salvador.  Beautiful days that fade into rain showers.  The beach is pretty close to San Salvador, though, so, 45 minutes later we were back in San Salvador.

This past week was a stark contrast.  Work was great, and we got all of our stuff and our curtains on Wednesday, the day before our first visitors were supposed to arrive.  We're now awash in stuff.  We brought almost everything with us - maybe we'd seen The Day After Tomorrow a few too many times, because if El Salvador ever has some days close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, I'll be ready with my down jacket.  I pity the fools who aren't prepared.  Seriously, though, I have no idea how our stuff used to fit in our place in DC.

Our first visitors arrived in San Salvador on Friday!  One of them was supposed to get in on Thursday night, but, she missed her flight from Buenos Aires (it runs in her family).  Everything worked out, though, and yesterday we took a trip to, supposedly, one of the best pupusarias in the area and got some amazing pupusas.  10 pupusas, 3 bottles of water, and a beer for $7 - can't beat that.  After the pupusas, we lazed around before eating dinner and heading out to a friend's place for drinks and dancing.  The club was fun - a nice mix of American club music and hispanic club music.

Today, we dropped our friends off at Lago de Coatepeque - a gorgeous crater lake west of San Salvador.  It is really pretty - sorry I don't have pictures.  Their hostel has a dock on the water with hammock chairs and other great amenities.  It's also right next to a restaurant on the water which was full of Salvadorans enjoying their Sunday.  One interesting part of the restaurant was the 'pool', which was really a large rectangular hole in the dock where you could swim with a wooden floor.  Very interesting.  We had a great lunch there before renting Jetskis for 30 minutes.  Awesome.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

4th of July in El Imposible


The embassy had their 4th of July party last Friday. There were a lot of people there - Americans and Salvadorans. Sophie had to work the ID line at the North Gate for an hour and a half. She says it wasn't too bad - unlike some other (State) people, who had to work the VIP line. One of Sophie's coworkers got yelled at by a Salvadoran because the important Salvadoran in the car didn't want to show his ID and she didn't recognize him as a VIP. ¡Qué lástima! It was an interesting little party, complete with American companies who had business in El Salvador. The food was a big tented area with mostly American company food - I had some Papa John's pizza and a Nathan's hot dog, washing that down with Sam Adams. You'd never guess that we were in another country.

That is, of course, until we arrived in Tacuba the next day for our hike in El Imposible - one of the best national parks in the country. It's a 2.5 hour drive from here and is close to the ocean and Guatemala. We stayed at a hostel called Mama y Papas. The hostel was very nice - it had a courtyard area with ducks, parakeets, and even a baby armadillo. The food they made was also awesome, and relatively cheap. The other travelers there were also a fun bunch. We had an older couple from New Jersey who were in El Salvador to have dental work done (1/5 the cost of the States) and two Canadians on a 2 month vacation before going back to school.

The next day, we left the hostel with Manolo (the son of Mama and Papa) on our hike in El Imposible. We rode in the back of a pickup truck for about twenty minutes through some other small, mountain towns. It was a fun experience. We started the hike on the top of a ridge where we had a great view of the valley below and a distant volcano. We started by going down through some coffee fields for about an hour before arriving in the park. The coffee fields are pretty - the plants are very waxy and they are all arranged into square areas surrounded by sturdier trees. The sturdier trees act as a wind break so that the beans don't fall down before they can be picked.

We hiked for another 4 hours through thick jungle-ish forest, seeing eagles, turkeys, other birds, and insects along the way. The guide cut a 'mangrove of the mountains' fruit in half and used it to put flower imprints on everyone's shirt sleeve. The design looked similar to the Lotus paddling company's logo. The trail was pretty overgrown - we had a person in the front knocking stuff down with his machete. It was great.

After 5 hours of hiking, we arrived at a huge waterfall that had a big pool at the bottom. We all went for a swim with some muchacos that arrived there at the same time. The pool had a lot of large logs in it, so, we had a grand time paddling around on the logs, trying to stay upright. The temperature was perfect, the weather was beautiful - it was paradise.

Then came the hike out. The hike out only took 2 hours. The first hour was straight up the side of the mountain. I was pretty glad that it wasn't raining because that would have been pretty scary. It was good, though. The guide didn't hike too fast and stopped a lot. Eventually we reached a dirt road and walked on that for 30-45 minutes before arriving at the truck. It was a great trip, although I probably could have done without feeling saddle sore from sitting on the side of the truck bed! Dinner that night was also delicious.

The Canadian couple was going to the beach the next day, so, we decided to give them a ride there. We took the Ruta de las Flores to the beach, which took about 2.5 hours. Along the way, we bought a sweet hammock chair and got a little lost in Sonsonate. We got to El Zonte, a small village on the coast, and dropped off the Canadians at El Dorado, a Québécois owned surf hostel. The waves were huge, but the beach was beautiful - even though there was little sand there - mostly rocks.

It was a great holiday weekend that, unfortunately, ended when I had to wake up at 4am to lead sprint planning for my development team. Haven't quite recovered from that yet!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Independence Celebrations!

This week started out with a lot of rain. Very hard and very strong for the beginning of the week. But, now, it's gorgeous, if not a little hot. When I say hot, though, I don't mean DC hot. I hear Tennessee and DC have been having hot days, and that must suck. In El Salvador, 90 degrees is a hot day. It's normally between 75-85. Today it's 90. It's the perfect day to sit by our pool. Ok -- enough of that.

Does anyone know when Canada Day is? Well, if you must know, it's on July 1st. I will never forget this because we went to a Canadian Embassy Canada Day celebration at an art museum... a day early. We didn't know many people going, so, we got to the museum and didn't see the car of the person who we knew that was going. So, we did what any aspiring diplomat would do... we decided to drive around for 10-15 minutes until they got there. After said time, we sent a text to our friend asking when the party was and then entered the museum. We were directed to a theatre, where a French movie with Spanish subtitles was being shown. Odd, but, Québécois speak French, so, what the hell. After we sat down, we got a text from our friend saying it was at 7... the next day. ¡Qué lástima! So, we went last night. It was fun. The museum had a lot of Inuit art on display. We then had dinner at a restaurant attached to different art museum. ¡Qué rico!

Tonight is the US embassy Independence Day party -- should be a good time. Voy a chupar mucha cerveza y voy a emborracharme. Not really, but, it's fun to use slang, isn't it? I'm looking forward to it.

We're going to be spending this Independence Day weekend going to El Imposible National Park, where we're going to frolic in the woods and play under some waterfalls. This is our first solo trip out of San Salvador, so, we're really looking forward to it. We have some visitors coming soon, so, we need to get out there and find out what else there is to do outside of the city!

Fútbol!

Soccer! Last weekend, we watched the US lose to Ghana. At the time, I think I was definitely wrapped up in the US advancing, but, as time goes on, really, we didn't deserve to go on. I will say it is the first time I've ever watched anything in a TGI Fridays -- who knew that I'd be watching the US play in the world cup in a TGI Friday's in San Salvador? It was still a fun game to watch, and all the other games have been fun to watch. The games today were especially entertaining. Brasil's spectacular self-destruction and man was Ghana robbed! I've never seen a game where a team was poised to score TWO goals in the last seconds of time. Poor Ghana. Oh well -- they'll be back in 4 years with an even better team.

Many people have asked if people are soccer crazy here. I'm sure they are, but, I haven't seen anything that is different from, say, people excited for the super bowl. At the mall, there are tons of people with Brasil or Argentina jerseys on. No one here cheered for Honduras -- there's a history of disputes between the two countries, including a war that was sparked (not caused) by a world cup qualifying game. Everyone is interested in what's going on though, so, it's fun to be in the know. I'm really looking forward to the Argentina/Germany game tomorrow (if I can watch it)!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Continuing On

It's hard to believe we've already been here for 4 weeks! Crazy! So far, so good. Work is going well for me, and Sophie has been able to go on a lot of site visits. She was supposed to go on a helicopter ride last weekend, but, there were too many people for the helicopter, so, alas, she had to settle for scuba diving again. ¡Qué lástima! We finally got our car last Thursday and it's been pretty nice to be able to drive around. On Saturday, we went to the lake again and discovered that our camera was lost/stolen. We accidentally left a bag at the lake the week before and we got the bag back, but, no camera. No pictures were lost, but, sucks... We returned to the same spot from the previous weekend, but this time we saw a ton of little catfish -- very cool. We got to do a nitrox dive, which means you have more oxygen than normal air in order to stave off the bends. The tanks were only at 25% oxygen, though (normal air is 21%). If we were really doing a nitrox dive, it'd be up around 36% oxygen. Oh well.


On Sunday, we drove up to El Boquerón, which is the crater for the San Salvador volcano, which is really close to our house. Getting there should have been easy, but, we managed to find our way onto a half-finished divided highway which abrubtly ended without warning. So, not only did we have to drive the wrong way down the highway (which no one was on), but, we also found a good place to go running, if you like nice big roads with absolutely no traffic. El Boquerón is very pretty -- they've planted a ton of gorgeous plants at the top of the crater and you have some great vistas into the crater itself. We grabbed a bite to eat at a random, out of the way restaurant that was situated on the edge of the crater. We contemplated hiking down the 1600 vertical feet to the bottom of the crater, but, we'll save that for another day. On our way back into town, Sophie bought a few more plants for our place and then we ate at a great restaurant with a nice view of the city.

This week has been pretty busy, or, at least, it has felt busy. I don't know how many of you watched the US v. Algeria world cup game but good god, it was awesome. I was glad that my neighbors didn't knock on my door after my piercing scream after we scored the goal to break the deadlock 2 minutes into stoppage time! Wow! Can't wait for the game on Saturday!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Santa Ana Volcano & Diving

Last weekend, we went hiking starting at Cerro Verde heading up the to the summit of Santa Ana. We went with our social sponsors and a friend they had met from the Peace Corps. We were aiming to get there at 11, because that's when the guides with escorts leave, but, along the way, we had the sidewall of the tire of their Rav4 blowout. What is it with us and road trips in Rav4s? We changed the tire and put on the partially deflated spare tire. We got to the mountain at around 11:15 and were able to find some guides (the police :) ). We started out the hike going through the woods in a mist of a cloud. Once we left the forest, it started to clear up a little bit. At some point, we got above treeline and were surrounded by small shrubs and crazy cacti. We had a great view of el Volcán Izalco, which is a very new volcano that sprang up over the course of 200 years ending in 1958. (We'll hike that later). The top of the Santa Ana volcano was pretty cool -- very moon-ish, probaby due to the sulphuric smell of the place -- I dunno. There was a lot of fog, so, we were unable to look into the caldera of the volcano, but, apparently there is a lake up there as well. Our hike down seemed pretty quick. It was a gorgeous day going through lots of different climates -- very cool. In all, the hike took around 4 hours. On our ride back to El Salvador, we saw a lot of road bikers riding along the Pan American highway between San Salvador and Santa Ana. We'll have to try that soon.

When we got back to San Salvador, we went to a 30th birthday party for some new friends from the Embassy. The embassy life is kind of like college, if you want it to be. Plenty of great reasons to grab a few beers. We played some rounds of Thumper and flip cup before retiring for the night early, due to diving.

We caught a ride to Lago de Ilopango for another day of diving at 6:40am. Yikes! The weather wasn't quite as nice as our first day diving, but, the dive site was pretty sweet. Our dives were around an island in the middle of a lake that barely sticks out above the water and has a cross on top of it (and another at 25'). We saw more fish this time and more crabs. This was our deep dive for the advanced certification -- 100'! Unfortunately, neither Sophie nor I got narced. Overall, the diving was pretty good - the ocean still has more stuff to see, but, getting out and going underwater is pretty fun.

Work this week has been pretty good. I can't complain. Soccer every Monday is pretty nice. Last night we got pupusas with some of Sophie's Salvadoran coworkers -- que rico!

Pictures from the past few weeks!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Working from Home

Working from home is going surprisingly well. It's a little quiet with no one here, of course. Yesterday I forgot to eat until 3pm in the afternoon. It's pretty easy for me to get absorbed in what I'm doing and just not think about getting up. It's pretty terrible, really. It's definitely nice working with a bunch of great people who I have gotten to be good friends with over the past year and a half.

One thing that sucks about working from home, though, is that you never leave work. I have this terrible habit of just getting into something and spending way more time on it than necessary because I get into it. In DC, at some point Sophie would call, wondering where I was and I'd head on out. However, here, work is 15' away. Kinda scary.

Last night we went to a pretty awesome restaurant in Zona Rosa. Ceviche and ceviche-ish fish sticks for appetizers, tuna for Sophie and some delicious fish for me. Our friends had ox tail - not sure if that was a good choice or not - I didn't try any. The place reminded me of dinners out in DC with Chu and Beth - the feeling that what you're eating is probably nicer than you should be eating. haha.

The weekend is almost upon us. We'll be hiking up the highest volcano in El Salvador on Saturday before heading to a party. On Sunday, we're planning on diving in Lake Ilopango again. Fun stuff!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Diving in a Crater Lake

Sophie and I signed up for an advanced open water class with one of the marines. Our first day of diving (and probably all of our days...) was in Lake Ilopango - a lake formed in the 5th century by a massive explosion. The lake is big and beautiful. We dove around an island in the lake, which was fun, but, not the greatest amount of marine diversity. Next time, I think we're going to go to a dive site that has some vents in it -- so, you can feel the hot water. Should be pretty awesome.

Much to my chagrin, I got thoroughly burned, even though I had put on sunscreen -- but only once. On the way back, the van we were in had it's transmission go out, so, we got lucky and hitched a ride with the divemaster back to our place.

Once we got back, we sat by our pool and read before heading to the embassy luau party. Rough day in San Salvador!

 
 
 
 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Estoy aprendiendo español

So, I've been taking language classes this week. 4 hours of class in the morning and then a private tutor in the afternoon. I've only done it for 2 days and I am completely exhausted. I did pseudo-well on the placement test, due in large part to me knowing how to conjugate, so, they put me in the advanced class. Yikes. They put me in an easier class today, so I am happy to not be scratching my head for hours as they go over the many tenses of the subjunctive mood with a bit of conditional thrown in for good measure. The school in the morning is pretty interesting -- they put a high value on learning about Salvadoran history and politics, which makes learning Spanish more interesting. It's not like high school where we read about el corregidor while my teacher tried to teach us how to say 'aquella' by holding a fake shotgun and cocking it while saying "I kay ya". Oh Señor McCall, how I miss thee.

All the pain of high school Spanish is coming back to me as I'm reminded that this stuff is hard! I just wrote a story about the future where I had to make sure that I used a sprinkling of present subjunctive where necessary. Let me know if you want to read this gem :) I may improve on my Spanish while here, but I am getting used to the fact that I will most likely still be a bumbling idiot after our tour -- although I'll be able to bumble more effectively.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Weather

It's been raining heavily for the past few days due to tropical storm Agatha. Guatemala seems to have gotten most of the tropical storm, but, El Salvador definitely got a fair share of the rain. On Saturday, we ventured to the beach and passed over a few places where the road was flooded and a place or two where a hole in the road had formed. Luckily, we didn't run into any of this. Last night, while watching TV, we saw President Funes interrupt everyone's TV to tell them that the government was doing everything it could to protect the people from the mudslides and other rain issues -- pretty interesting.

Anyway, the weather in San Salvador is now pretty nice -- it hasn't rained since yesterday and the sun is peeking out. However, if you were to believe Weather.com, you'd think we were going to get 2" of rain today. Apparently, Weather Underground knows what's up -- today's going to be a beautiful day :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

End of the first week

Today is the end of our first week in El Salvador. Well, it's only been 4 days, but... So far, so good. Today I had my first class with a private tutor. She's really nice. I signed up to do classes every day next week and then see what happens when work starts. I need to expand my vocab and continue progressing in Spanish - something that I hope this forced learning will help with.

It was hard to talk today after an all out night last night doing karaoke. A bunch of people from the embassy went to the karaoke bar to belt out some tunes. I think the highlight of my singing was Enter Sandman, but, that destroyed my voice -- too much guttural noises. Just a note to anyone who wants to do Self Esteem by Offspring on karaoke - don't do it. You may think that by singing along in the car to it that you have a grungy voice, but you probably don't. Just FYI.

Tonight is the first night with nothing to do for Sophie and I. Our sponsors have been freaking awesome about taking us out and helping us meet people, so, we've had little time to rest at home. Or rather, Sophie and I have had little time to rest at home -- I've had plenty :) We're also supposedly getting our TV and internet hooked up this afternoon. No more stealing internet!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A few pictures

I have a lot more pictures, but, blogger only lets me post 4, so, I chose 4 that would make people jealous. Enjoy :)

 
Den -- waiting for parties

 
Dining room table

 
Our absurd closet

 
The patio

In San Salvador!

We arrived into San Salvador under overcast skies yesterday at about 1. We were greeted as we got off the plane by Sophie's sponsor, his wife, the DLI coordinator, and the driver. I was expecting to have some time to find a bathroom and then wander through customs until we saw someone, but, instead we were escorted through the dip. line and taken outside. While we waited for the van to show up, it started raining a lot. Welcome to the tropics, I guess :). The airport is near the ocean, so we had an uphill climb to reach San Salvador, which is around 700m up. We were dropped off at our townhouse, which, in a word, is awesome. I think I could get used to the diplomatic life! Furnished, three bedroom, two stories, huge closets, back porch that is partially covered -- awesome. Our sponsors stocked us with some food, which included a 6 pack of beer, which the receipt says was $0.80. Wow.

After we settled in and showered, we went out to a bar that has a great view of the city and isn't far from our place. Rum and cokes with garlic cheese bread was the special. I haven't had a rum+coke in a long time -- they're much better than I remember. After drinks, we went to Citron, which is supposedly one of the nicest restaurants in town (probably no relation to Citron in DC...). The restaurant was nice -- very modern vajilla. However, the prices at this place were more similar to DC than a developing country. That being said, the food was awesome. Sophie and I both got camarones encrustado en coco (coconut shrimp). We ended the night by going to our sponsor's house and playing a board game. Apparently they're pretty into board games -- haven't seen such avid gamers since the Sibleys.

Currently, I'm stealing our neighbors internet until ours gets set up. Today is going to be filled with lunch at the embassy and food shopping. I'm going to need to get over my disdain for taxis since our car isn't here quite yet :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On our way!

we're on the plane in Miami, about to head out to San Salvador! We've had a great time in Miami. Got to visit with my grandmother and aunt and uncle. Yesterday we laid out on South Beach, which was surprisingly beautiful. Yesterday was also our two year wedding anniversary, so we celebrated in style at a restaurant at the Ritz Carlton.

Anyway... here we go!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Leaving DC

It's our last day in DC. Crazy! It's been weird how many people from El Salvador live in DC... turns out our property manager at our apartment is from El Salvador, as are a few of the cashiers at my work cafeteria.
The last day at work was interesting... a farewell that wasn't really a farewell... plans of finishing up the code rollout before I left not working out... attending an employee satisfaction roundtable... and finding that you can buy "Mexican coke" with real sugar. All made for an interesting day. Now we're just hanging out until we catch our plane to Miami tomorrow. Fun fun!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Final Weekend in DC

What a weekend in DC! We had a fiesta in Adams Morgan -- hosted by friends and complete with El Salvador flag colored streamers and leis. Not only were we able to hang out and party with our friends, but we were also able to unload a lot of alcohol on our unsuspecting friend and party host. Beth -- we brought that 99 Bananas because we just know you like it!

The rest of the weekend has been gorgeous! Mid 70s and nice out. Disc golf, bocce, throwing the frisbee in the park, watching South Park, grilling out... what else could you ask for? and Sophie bought comforters for the guest beds. What a day. haha.

Now we're just packing up -- awesome.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tickets Bought, Car Gone, Now The Waiting Game

We received our tickets to El Salvador yesterday -- so, now it's kind of official. Hah. Also, our car is now on its way to El Salvador -- so, we're carless for two weeks. We'll be stopping through Miami on the way to see family and lay on the beach before heading to El Salvador. Exciting!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tennesee, Tennesee, There Ain't No Place That I'd Rather Be...

We're now officially Tennessee residents again! We got our driver licenses, registered to vote, and gifted our car. My parents are so happy that we're now living with them again -- on paper. haha. Only in the south would the DMV worker tell you "Welcome back to Vol country" when receiving your license.

We said goodbye to our immediate family and Sophie's extended family -- but, it's really kinda strange. It's pretty much like we're moving to LA, as far as how far away it is. It even has some of the same gangs as LA.

We're still waiting for pictures of our place -- apparently we may not be in the apartment complex I posted before. Instead, we may be in townhouses that are in the same area.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pack out date and housing

We received our 'pack out date!' This is the date that the moving people are going to come to our place in Clarendon and pack it all up for shipment to San Salvador. It's May 20th... so, we'll be leaving some time after that. We're still waiting to get our travel authorization, which will give us an exact date of departure.

We also got our housing assignment -- I'll be posting some pictures soon enough, but, I believe we'll be living here (link removed).

The car's still in the shop -- needed a new transfer case. Nothing like spending $2700 on car repairs!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fun with Differentials

Well, glad we have one potential disaster out of the way. We bought a 2002 Rav4 about 3 months ago off of Craigslist for a great deal -- the minor dents were an added bonus for us. The guy had a CarMax report saying that it checked out OK, and, I believe him. Anyway -- we're on our way to West Virginia to have one of our last full weekends outdoors and we start to feel a little vibration, like it's rough road. Then it gradually gets worse, so, we pull off to the shoulder. The engine's smoking and there's a terrible smell. The T1000, Eric, Sophie, and I all look at the engine, as if it's going to have a sign saying what's wrong with it. So, we did what any clueless person would do in this situation -- we started the engine up -- sounds great -- and then we tried to move. Terrible noise. We should stop.

While waiting for the tow truck, Ryan called the number for Jackass Amusements (found by GPS) in Hagerstown to see what amusements that had in store for us. Rather than hang up on him (like I would have) the woman on the other end had him repeat his story for why he was calling before telling us that city park in Hagerstown would be a fun place to go.

After lots of waiting, we found out that we needed a new rear differential, which, is not a simple task. So, gracious Whitney picked us up and took us back to DC.

If there's a lesson to be learned here... it's that you should always break down where there's an outlet mall nearby. Otherwise, you may never buy that Lodge cast iron skillet you've had your eye on. And you should probably get your differential oil levels checked regularly.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Su español es mejor de que mi español

Sophie passed her FSI exam today, paving the way for us to get our move out date! We should hopefully find out next week when we're heading out.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Time's Getting Short

There could be as little as a month left until we leave for El Salvador! With that in mind, we decided to get a feel for what we're getting into by attending a Spanish church service for Easter. We both set off with the expectation that this would be fun, but, I quickly found myself utterly lost about 1 minute in. My head was racing as I drifted between moments of daydreaming and moments of complete confusion as the preacher and congregation burst into song or prayer at (what seemed like) a moment's notice. Man do I need to learn Spanish better -- traveler's Spanish just isn't going to cut it. If only I had studied Spanish full time for the past 5 months :)

Tomorrow I'm getting a rabies shot. My mom asked if I expected to be bitten by a dog. That kind of makes me wonder why I'm getting a rabies shot. Oh well -- if dogs are chasing me, I will now have one less thing to worry about.