Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Of Rotten Mango and Soaring Concrete

While multitudes of Guatemalans (et al) took the day off in protest in the US on Monday, that was standard practice here. Guatemala, like most countries, observes Commie Labor Day on May 1 with a national holiday. It was a perfect opportunity for your correspondent to tag along with some long-term visitors one last time. In this case, we all headed to lovely El Salvador.

Said long-term visitor spent a significant portion of her time working in a medical clinic near Lake Atitlan. She is just finishing up Med School, and is suffering the attendant crippling debt. In keeping with the budget of this financially insolvent do-gooder and her beau, your correspondent was forced to abandon the swim-up bars and turndown service to which he has grown accustomed on his seaside retreats. Instead, we crashed with a guy named “Chito.” The young doctor’s surfer beau had shared some gnarly waves with a dude up in California who owns some vaguely sea-side property near Sunzal beach, perhaps the finest beach in El Salvador. His caretaker: Chito; which is really not that odd a Spanish name, other than that it is homonymous with a famous American snack treat, for which we cannot find it in our hearts to blame Chito himself.

In any case, the place, it turns out, was not a private residence, but open for public rental of rooms. The grounds were filled with piles of rotting mangos (at one point, one of our party asked at a little store to purchase mangos, which are actually not for sale because everyone has a mango tree in their yard that drops more mangos than any family could eat, so there’s no market for them. This was expressed by the shopkeeper casting a bewildered gaze up at the trees and making a motion that seemed to express “mangos everywhere!”) In any case, the mix of free-range chickens, rotting fruit, and less-than-enthusiastically cleaned/maintained bathroom facilities gave the place a distinctive aroma. The rooms were concrete cells with two single beds, a rotting wooden table, and a circa-1958 fan. Both Chito and his lovely companion Marta had promised a “four-minute” walk to the beach, while neglecting to mention the trash-strewn path one followed to get there. While the price for these accommodations was reasonable, it was not quite equal enough to zero to make your correspondent anticipate a return trip; once was enough to relive the kind of bargain-basement suffering that 19-year-old backpackers would honor as a badge of authenticity of experience.

This could not detract from the fact that Sunzal is a fine beach, with water of ideal temperature and waves that are big enough to be fun but not so big as to make you seriously think you’re going to die as the toss you about and then pull you under.

In a more exploratory vein on Sunday, your correspondent and his team ventured to the fish market in La Libertad, then on to San Salvador, the capitol of our neighbor to the south, which is generally, and accurately described as “like Guatemala City, but smaller.” They have a nice Cathedral, which the prior archbishop suspended construction of in order to spend the money on poverty alleviation; when he was assassinated, they honored his memory by resuming construction of the Cathedral. It’s nice enough, but the crowning irony is that it is far outdone by the 1964 concrete architecture of El Rosario, a church a mere two blocks away, built of two giant concrete arches with the space between filled almost entirely with stained glass. It is certainly the most interesting and perhaps the most beautiful church your correspondent is familiar with, in no small part because of it’s non-traditional construction.

Also in San Salvador, we cruised by the Official Statue of El Salvador: "El Salvador del Mundo", ate delicious pupusas and beer in the downtown market, bargained for hammocks, and bought a produce section worth of veggies including the mysterious mami (which is like a mix between an avocado and a sweet potato).

The remainder of the day was spent in power-failure darkness in a serious thunderstorm in a beachfront restaurant. The following day was spent in vain search of sea caves, which even if we found would have surely been occupied by young lovers seeking a little solitude from the labor day beach scene in Majahual, El Salvador.

In all, the weekend was a grand success, and has precluded the necessity of any further trips to San Salvador or further evenings in sub-backpacker-hostel level accomodations, at least until we meet a guy named "Dorito."

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