Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Semana Santa

After our trip to Panama, we had our next visitor, Kristen. She had been in Mexico with a friend, relaxing after taking her Professional Engineer's exam. It's an 8 hour exam that certifies you as a professional engineer. Once you're a professional engineer, you can sign off on official plans. Sophie will be taking her PE exam in October. The fretting has already begun!

Kristen got in on Thursday and left on Sunday, so it was a pretty quick visit. However, we got a lot packed in. Her and Sophie went ziplining and to the spa on Friday, and then we headed to the beach on Saturday. Of course, the big attraction in San Salvador that night was the Luis Miguel concert. For the 2nd time as a diplomat, I've been duped into attending a 'cultural event' that I probably could have done without (the first was Japanese Kabuki). Friends with Mexican heritage told us he was the "Michael Jackson of Mexico" as well as other, lofty comparisons. However, I think he's much closer to Frank Sinatra. I went in expecting someone like Ricky Martin, with stellar dance moves and an active crowd and instead got (in my opinion) good singing without much energy. Very few people in the entire stadium seating area were standing up, and I fell asleep a few times. Oh well. It was still fun going to a concert in El Salvador at an outdoor stadium, but not sure if it was worth the ticket price.

This past week was holy week in Central America. Many businesses, as well as the government, are shut down for the entire week. The US Embassy got Thursday and Friday off. My Spanish tutor was excited to be work-free for the week, and since she had lots of time and the roads were clear, we visited El Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, a small museum near the center of San Salvador that has some interesting exhibits on El Salvador's history. They had writings of Roque Dalton and Salvador Salazar Arrué, photos and quotes from Romero, and an interesting exhibit on the FMLN during the civil war, complete with a mock broadcasting room for Radio Venceremos, the rebel radio station during the Civil War. Overall, it was worth the trip.

Since Sophie had Thursday and Friday off, I took those days off as well, and we headed to Granada, Nicaragua for the long weekend. We woke up late on Thursday morning and booked a 4.5 hour kayak tour through Las Isletas, a peninsula with more than 300 tiny islands, most of them private. The islands are all really pretty and it was a relaxing tour. We told our guide to speak Spanish instead of English, which proved to be strangely hard for him, since he's so used to giving the tour in English.
Ridin' in style
On Friday, we took a trip to Mombacho Volcano, the large volcano that is easily seen from Granada. The volcano is surrounded by a cloud forest, so it was a beautiful 4.5 hour hike through the forest. The guide spoke Spanish to us the whole way, which was nice, although my head hurt the entire time. We saw tons of birds, salamanders, and howler monkeys. We also had some beautiful vistas of the surrounding countryside and got to see some vents on the dormant volcano.

We took another tour on Saturday, visiting Masaya volcano, the white city, Lago de Apoyo, and a pottery school. The Masaya volcano is huge and really active. A constant stream of gases was belching up from far below. They make you back into your parking spot in case the volcano blows, which seems like a good idea, except I'm pretty sure that if that extra thirty seconds makes a difference, you're probably already pretty much screwed. Around the volcano, there are lots of these good size hills that have apparently been growing, making scientists believe that the next big explosion will come from one of these new volcanoes. Pretty interesting stuff. We bought a bunch of crafts at a craft market in Masaya before checking out Lago de Apoyo, a big, beautiful, crater lake.

I should say that a big part of our vacation was taken up by reading. While Sophie read the first Twilight book in Spanish, I read the Grapes of Wrath. I had bought it on a lark and really had no idea what it was about, and found it to be probably the best book I've ever read. It has a great story and also has some fantastic, authentic dialogue. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

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