Monday, June 4, 2012

Highlights of El Salvador

We only have a few more days here, so I thought I'd do a round up post with the highlights of El Salvador, in no particular order.

The weather

When moving here, I thought I would hate the lack of a real winter. People told me I'd get tired of the tropical weather. Well, they were wrong. San Salvador is perfectly situated. It rarely gets uncomfortably hot in the city, and you start to feel cold when the temperature drops below 65F. It does get uncomfortably hot at the beach, but that's what you expect. I dunno - being able to play soccer and go to the beach in February is pretty awesome. While working from home, I never got tired of talking to people in DC complain about the weather, since I'd just look out my window and see trees and blue skies. It never gets old.
Whenever someone would ask about my weather, I would send them this picture.  I know, I'm  a jerk.

Volcanoes

I am seriously going to miss living among so many volcanoes. They're beautiful, majestic, and all of them have their own unique characteristics. When I was talking to our maid about Israel, I told her I was gong to miss the volcanoes, and she seemed to be genuinely shocked that there weren't volcanoes there. She lives on one of the large crater lakes in El Salvador. She works in the shadow of another volcano. We've hiked up the following volcanoes: Santa Ana, Cerro Verde, Izalco, Picacho, Boqerón, San Vicente (Chichontepec), Volcán de Agua, Pacaya, Volcán Tajumulco, Mombacho, Masaya, Cerro Negro, and Guazapa. It's been awesome.
The view of Izalco from the peak of Santa Ana
Roasting marshmallows on Pacaya
Santa Ana's beautiful crater lake
From the top of Chichontepec 
The view from Volcán Tajumulco
Volcán de Agua
El Boquerón - 20 mins from home!
Volcano boarding Cerro Negro
Mombacho

Biking

The biking in El Salvador is surprisingly good. We almost didn't bring our bikes, thinking that it would be too dangerous. However, there is a huge biking community here - road and mountain. People get around the dangers of being robbed while mountain biking by riding in large groups. You can find a group of 10-20 people to ride with every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. Also, there are a ton of bike rides sponsored by bike shops. They usually cost $5-10 with transportation. You never get bored riding here because there's so much elevation change. Spectacular.
a waterfall along a ride

Hiking

Well, we did a lot of hiking on volcanoes, but there are also just normal mountains. We joined two hiking clubs while here, and it was as great way to see interesting and beautiful parts of the country. It was also a great way to branch out from the embassy community.
El Pital - one of the most beautiful places in El Salvador
A great waterfall in El Imposible National Park.

The people

Most people we've met in El Salvador have been extremely friendly. You end up saying a lot of "buenos dias," "buenas," and "con permiso." I can't remember when someone was rude to us, even when they had every reason to be rude to us. Sophie loves the local staff that work in the embassy, and I love the people that I've come to know over the past 2 years.

Beer

I know that many places in the world have much, much better beer options than El Salvador, but I'm jealous of the people that are just now moving to El Salvador, because they will have access to a much better beer selection than what here when I started. First, there's an importer in town that imports Paulaner beer. Due to him, local restaurants have started having good beers. He is also in the process of importing Brooklyn Brewery beers, which will be awesome. Second, there are two craft breweries opening in the San Salvador area. One is supposed to open in Zona Rosa, and another just opened in Playa El Tunco. ¡Que Chivo! I guess since there was a serious dearth of good beer in El Salvador when we arrived, I'm really anxious to see it get better.

The rain

To be totally honest, I had almost forgotten to mention how amazing the rain is here, and then, literally 5 minutes after I disconnected my UPS from my computer, a huge rain/lightning storm starts, and the power drops out for a minute. By and large, I have not found the rain annoying. To the contrary, I love the powerful rainstorms that we get. Seriously. It's just amazing how much rain can drop from the sky in a short amount of time. Also, since we live on the side of the San Salvador volcano, we get some amazing lightning storms that have a terrific echo from the volcano. It is dangerous and annoying when a tropical storm comes through and it rains for days on end, but that's only happened once each year we've been here, so it's manageable for us. Not everyone loves the rain. The torrential rainfalls of 12E last year and Agatha the year before wrecked havoc, causing much loss and heartache to those living in vulnerable areas. That said, the typical 20 minute deluges are magical to me.

The chaos

Living abroad, you really get a good idea at how orderly the US is. I definitely love the order of the US, but it's nice to mix it up a bit sometimes. Driving here is always interesting. People consistently exit a traffic circle from the inside lane. Buses act like they own the road. A guard with a big shotgun may catch a ride to work on the back of a friend's motorcycle, casually holding his shotgun as he darts through traffic. Buses full of people.

There may be zoning laws in El Salvador, but they aren't enforced. You may have been driving down the same road every day for two years, yet you never noticed that there's a great restaurant in someone's house along that road.

Basically, the chaos of El Salvador is exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. One day you may be cursing the fix-a-flat business that is in the heavily trafficked traffic circle, and the next day you'll be crowing about how easy it was to get your flat tire fixed.
Only in El Salvador would there be an orderly celebration that involves  people lobbing kerosene-soaked balls of fire at each other

Everything else!

We've had a great time here, and it's sad (yet also exciting) to move on. Thanks for the memories!
This pic from the Golfo de Fonseca aptly sums up the beauty of El Salvador

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Final Push

We only have a few days left in El Salvador. Our house is basically empty. I've been slow to mentally accept that we're leaving El Salvador, but it's hard to ignore with the deafening echo of your footsteps in an empty house.

The last month has been a good one. I spent a week in Costa Rica with my mom, since we both have time to travel, and I needed to go so I could say that I've been to all the countries in Central America. Hazaa! Costa Rica was great - we went to the beach, the cloud forest, saw volcanoes, and chilled in Manuel Antonio with a gaggle of monkeys. Costa Rica is a beautiful country and is definitely has the whole tourist thing down.
three wattled bellbird!
Sunset sail near Manuel Antonio
As much as I'd like to say that our final weeks in El Salvador have been a joy, it's hard to ignore the stress of moving. First, you start with giving away or selling those things that aren't worth taking with you. Then you have to divide up things into groups of air shipment, boat shipment, stuff to take with you on the plane, and stuff (like food) that you'll have to use up before you leave. On top of that, Sophie and I have completely different ideas on how to move. I like to think that almost everything can be done in a single all-nighter, but Sophie likes to spread the work out over a few weeks. Sophie confuses my model of moving efficiency with laziness... I have no idea why!

Our life in El Salvador is coming to and end. As much as I'd like to stay, we're looking forward to our home leave (2 weddings and a road trip) and then our new post in Tel Aviv!
I'm definitely going to miss all the beautiful volcanoes in El Salvador!