[050509; 1858 UTC,
Estero de Jaltepeque y Rio Lempe, El Salvador
N 13 degrees
18.2/W 088 degrees 53.9]
On Friday May 6, 2005 we joined 13 others from the boats, Wayfinder, Encanto, Aquastrian, Comfort Zone and Gia aboard the panga “Mar y Cielo” (sea and sky) out of Isla Concincillo near here for an all day tour up the estuary. Aboard were Amadeo, a slight tall shy man, and his young son Ricardo and a guide, Santos; none whom spoke any English. We didn’t expect a guide (just Amadeo and his son). Normally Jan, an American who’s settled here, comes along as guide though she was involved with preparations for the wedding of a local man to be held on her boat, so she was unable to join us. Jan’s boat, the Quantum Leap, was reported to be the first cruising boat across the bar into this estuary.
A panga is an amazing workhorse boat common in Mexico and now here. This panga was built of fiberglass and roughly 30 feet long with 4 “ wide gunnels and freeboard that rises from roughly three feet at the stern to about four feet at the bow (“proa”). The “Mar y Cielo” is powered by a beautifully maintained 100 HP outboard engine and can travel at nearly 30 knots. This panga was specifically built for taking groups and had fourteen molded seats running up both sides, similar to a school bus. A full sun/rain cover over a sturdy metal frame, complete with scalloped edges keeps passengers shaded.
The Estero de Jaltepeque consists of a large area (about twenty miles along the coast) of tidal brackish water dotted with mangrove-covered islands barely above seawater. From where we are just west of the entrance bar, the estuary goes both east to the Rio Lempe and west to the towns of Costa del Sol near the coast and La Herradura to the north. The morning of our tour, we left the hotel’s gas dock and headed east crossing the entrance (inside of the bar) and entered one of the many tributaries of the Rio Lempe heading towards the village of La Colorada. Quickly we entered a narrow tributary and fought the outgoing tidal current of turbid (coffee with cream-colored) water, passing by many white egrets and the occasional little blue herons. Mangroves in this section of estuary are very mature and many are 10 inches or more in diameter. We passed many local residents traveling to town by dugout canoes propelled only by simple paddles or who were diving for freshwater clams or fishing for estuarine fish with simple round weighted nets.
As we settled in for the trip, Leslie went forward and began to talk with her limited Spanish to Santos, a medium built man with a full face and quick smile, who was eager to share information in Spanish and who told her that despite her hesitancy and her apologies that he could easily understand her questions. Our tiny Spanish dictionary was passed back and forth as we tackled words or concepts during the entire tour. After about a half an hour of steady motoring, with frequent moderation of speed as the panguero slowed the vessel for unseen shoals, we spotted a covered cement pier near a tiny opening in the mangroves where pangas were tied. Slowly we approached a set of stairs that led up to the platform where the panga tied off bow to, and Santos helped each one of us to climb over the bow and onto the stairs. Prominent at the top of the steps were three eight foot long hammerhead sharks that had been caught by the village fishermen sixty to eighty miles offshore. The children on our group were especially intrigued and intimidated by the sharks.
Slowly, slowly our party moved along the raised cement pier towards the village about 100 yards into the jungle. A muddy tidal inlet of pangas and dugout canoes, called “cayucos” here, served as the village port. Following us was a growing group of children who were out of school for a holiday for a futbol (soccer) tournament attended by the older children of the village. It was only during our slow amble towards the village that Leslie asked to confirm the name of our guide, who answered Santos. (It was well known around the bay that “Santos” was the one being married on Quantum Leap this weekend but we were quickly told this was “una otra Santos”.)
Although Santos and youthful Ricardo led the way, it felt odd to us as we descended upon the tiny village (“caserio” in Spanish) built in the shade of mango, cashew and mesquite trees with homes assembled seeming randomly around a well or “pozo”. Homes here are small and modest, built mostly of mixed materials including small tree trunks and cement blocks and corrugated tin. The dirt amongst the houses was swept clean and the children were healthy and curious. We stopped at first home we came to where a woman named Jenni Virginia Reveho came to meet us, her small hijas (daughters) eager to meet the young girls of our group. We understood after a short time that the school was closed for the day but that Jenni, who is the “presidenta” de la escuela, would take us there to show us. We shared with her our gifts of school supplies that we’d been advised would be gladly accepted. Meanwhile the little girls of our group, encouraged by their parents to try to speak in Spanish, began to communicate with the village girls and to run about and play together.
From the well and Jenni’s home, we walked up a lane towards the school bordered by a fence of sticks and barbed wire that kept the cows (“vacas”) in their place, passing a small brightly painted church in a small clearing. A grandmother (abuela) sitting beneath the trees in her neatly swept yard, waved to each of us and smiled broadly. As we traveled inland towards the school, the shady grove gave way to open land of dry grass and we came to a gate and sign introducing the school.
The school, an open air cement block building of three rooms decorated with painted Disney images, is used to educate about 80 children, ages six to fourteen. A dedicated well stands nearby while open air baños (bathrooms) sit on the perimeter of the small playing field. The children of the village quickly began to show the girls of our group some of their learning materials before everyone got bored, a soccer ball was produced and the children began a kicking the ball around. Later, the girls played tag, singing in Spanish as they held hands and went round and round before breaking apart and running.
A few of us talked with Jenni about the school, as Santos helped us when our understanding broke down. Eventually when pressed, Jenni asked us if we as cruisers would be willing to buy fabric to make uniforms for the children who didn’t have them. She was very intent on this and promised to visit our boat Carina on Monday with swatches of fabric and specific numbers of yards of material required. Our plan is to shop for the material in San Salvador when we visit this week. Others of our group said they would be willing to contribute and we’ve spread the word amongst the fleet of roughly 45 boats here for additional contributions to this “tela” (fabric) fund.
After talking for awhile with Jenni, she graciously invited our group to a local “Fiesta de la Madre” on May 19 when the townspeople will be enjoying games (such as foot racing while balancing a can of sand (“lata con arena”) on your head), dancing and food including fish and pupusas. We feel honored to have been invited and have already made plans with the crew of the “Mar y Cielo” to take us back there on that day.
On our return to the boat we spotted a tree with large grapefruit sized green fruits in a small clearing. Santos explained that these fruits, called “morros” were used for medicinal purposes in particular for throat maladies. While standing looking at the tree and talking, they also pointed out carapaces shed by cicadas that were clinging about eye level to the tree trunk. Cicadas are called “chicharras” here.
Finally saying our goodbyes and slowly getting ourselves back to the panga, we proceeded to the mouth of the River Lempe, where we clamored out of the panga as our guides tried to steady the boat in small surf. Climbing over the small sand dune to the Pacific side, we were greeted by a steep beach of pounding surf that none of our group wished to tackle. The tide was coming in fast though and a couple of times while not paying attention to the surf while to trying to speak to the guides in Spanish, we were surprised by waves that nearly knocked us off our feet. Back in the panga, Amadeo wove back and forth very, very slowly through shallow shoals to a swimming spot marked by the traditional aids to navigation, small sticks sticking out of the mud. Here the few brave amongst us (including Philip) waded out and took a short swim in the river. By this time especially the children in our group were getting hungry and were eager for our next stop, a restaurant run by Manuel and Maria on a stick platform over the river.
As we approached the palapa platform built of trees about four inches in diameter barely one foot above the river, we noticed plastic tables and chairs with coated tablecloths set up along one edge. A hammock hung near the front and a platform along the back side built on sticks with what must have been stone or cement slabs held a wood fire and grates for cooking. A narrow raised walkway of similar sticks led into the jungle to a baño consisting of a hole in the platform with three larger sticks set in a triangle, presumably for resting your cheeks as you use the facilities. The restaurant is owned by Manual and Maria, who along with their three children and an older woman prepared and served a lunch (“almuerza”) of fish, rice and tortillas for our party of fifteen plus the three guides. Manuel brought cold beer and sodas from a cooler to everyone including one popular soda called champañia, described by the kids as tasting like “bubblegum” and the adults as similar to cream soda. “Jicates”, a small plum-like fruit, and fresh local mangos were served for desert.
Maria and all of her hijas were strikingly beautiful women with soft features and large almond eyes that accented their high cheekbones. The children, Lorraina, Edith and Reina, were presented by our group with a few gifts of stuffed toys and crayons and Barbie pencils which brought warm smiles especially from the infant Reina. After a satisfying meal of local fish pan fried and all the trimmings, we all thanked them for their hospitality and again clamored back into the panga for a trip through some narrow passages back to the Bahia and our boats.
Another interesting adventure was our visit to La Herradura on Saturday in search of their market to acquire fruits and veggies since the nearest town with a grocer (Zacatecoluca) is an hour and a half away by bus. A convoy of dinghies meandered through the mangroves to the west of the anchorage, taking a number of false turns before arriving at the beach landing at La Herradura. A group of miniature entrepreneurs in the form of little boys descended upon us, arguing amongst themselves for control of a particular boat to care for; all for a small fee of course. The landing was bordered on two sides by outdoor restaurants built over the estuary and offering fish and chicken (“gallina” or hen). From the estuary a narrow paved road mainly traveled by bicycles and decorated local buses traveling way too fast led inland towards town. Interestingly, three bicycle shops, one with dozens of shiny new bikes lined the road that was mainly filled with tiny, dusty tiendas. The public market consisted of two narrow alleys leading into a building lined with stalls selling mainly fruits and veggies but also supplies such as cleaning products, toothpaste, and vegetable oil, cans of tuna, shampoos and hair clips. This market was the poorest and dirtiest we’ve yet seen, though if you looked hard and selected carefully, you could get some good produce. We stopped ourselves from buying carnes (meats) or chicken though, not wishing to take a risk with our intestinal health.
The cuisine from what we can tell so far is not particularly spicy or imaginative in El Salvador, though very hearty and mostly inexpensive. Not far from where we are anchored is an open air restaurant called Mar y Sol (sea and sun) built on pilings over the estuary where you can get Pasteles de Pollo (deep fried crescents of mashed potatoes with chicken broth) for 15 cents each and Pupusas Revuelta (scrambled, with cheese and frijoles or beans) for 45 cents each. A fish dinner is sold by the price; you can get a $4, $5 or $6 or $8 fish cena or dinner, served with rice and salad on a platter sized plate. A $5 fish feeds two.
Today, Monday, as promised, Jenni showed up in a panga with samples of the materials required for the uniforms and a list of the number of yards required. She had prepared a sheet listing the materials and showed us each as we trimmed her samples and stapled them to her list. One cruiser has already pledged one hundred dollars to the kitty, so it shouldn’t be hard to fulfill the order that we’ve promised to bring with us when we return to the festival. Jenni and her panguero escort, Carlos Ramirez, came aboard Carina and we gave them a tour of the boat and struggled to talk with them in Spanish about the boat and fishing, etc.. They complimented that the boat was “muy linda” or very pretty and were intrigued by how well she might handle big waves (“olas”) of the Pacific.
This country seems still to be emerging from years of war and the devastating earthquake of January 2001 as is evidenced by the significant poverty of its country people. Too, there’s evidence of continued unrest as armed guards watch over children frolicking in the hotel pool while casually swinging sawed-off shotguns. After getting comfortable with the relative safety and prosperity of Mexico, this seems in stark contrast.
Sus amigos del velero Carina,
Philip, Leslie & Jake the cat
lying at anchor outside Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador