My daughter, Jumper Girl, has been in El Salvador since mid-August with Santa Clara University's program in El Salvador, Casa de la Solidaridad. The Casa program invites parents to come to El Salvador for Family Week. JG's aunt Renée took me to El Salvador for the week. In the next post I'll have some more personal reflections, but I wanted to jot down what we did.
Where we stayed -- All of the families stayed at the Alacante Hotel, which is about 6 long blocks (10-15 minutes) walk from the Casa de la Solidaridad houses, all in the Antiguo Cuscatlan neighborhood of San Salvador. Here's my Trip Advisor review of the hotel.
Monday -- flew overnight from California to El Salvador. JG arranged for Salvador, a reliable taxi driver to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel, as she was engaged with her praxis site until late in the afternoon. We'd arranged for our rooms to be ready when we arrived, so straight to bed for a nap and then had lunch at the hotel. It's not a destination restaurant, but (for example) a lot better than Denny's or other hotel restaurants in the US. Then, we walked around the neighborhood and found La despensa de Don Juan (a local chain supermarket) about 3 blocks away. JG returned from her praxis site in the afternoon and we went with her to her residence, Casa Ita, and then to Casa Sylvia (down the block) for the usual Monday night dinner and announcements (planning for the week). Students in the Casa program aren't supposed to walk through the city after 9:30 in the evening, so the Casa arranged for us to have a taxi from the Casa houses back to the hotel.
Tuesday:-- JG was in Spanish-languages classes all morning so Renée and I arranged for a taxi to take us to the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace and the National Theater, all arranged around the Plaza Morazon. We wandered about a bit -- Renée is an architectural enthusiast --but mistook Iglesia el Rosario's exterior for a sports facility, so didn't walk over. My bad. I can only claim the heat (it was about 90). We joined JG for lunch at Casa Ita, and then seized the kitchen from Casa Ita's cook Franny to made preparations for the Thanksgiving meal on Thursday. I made stuffing from some mixes I'd brought from the US and local toasted bread. We had dinner at the Casa and then went with JG to "spirituality night", then taxi'd back to the hotel.
Wednesday:--the regularly scheduled bus, half-full of Casa students, picked us up at 7:30 am to take us to the various praxis sites. The first part of the morning was visiting with leaders at El Pueblo de Dios en Camino, listening to their experiences in the civil war and the country's journey since the Peace Accords. Then we walked up the volcano -- on a dirt road, but sometimes a stiffish slope-- to Las Nubes, which is the name of the community. My understanding of Las Nubes was inaccurate -- I thought there was sort of a central village. There isn't --there's a house here, a house there, all strung along the dirt road up the mountainside. Las Nubes has no running water, no electricity, no sewage service, no garbage service. At the several houses we helped carry water from the roadside delivery site to the houses. Thereafter we visited, or admired the larger cisterns the Dios en Camino community is helping to construct.
Then at mid-day, we walked back down to San Ramon to have lunch at Ann Greig's Nutravida. This innovative program provides low-cost, healthy cooked food for the San Ramon community, plus very low-cost supplemental protein/calories for children. The rest of the group visited other families in San Ramon, while Renée and I rested up from the hike at the home of Hector, one of the Dios in Camino leaders.
In the evening, many of the parents went to a social hour at the program coordinator's home....Renée and I were just too tired. At at the hotel (ok...but beefsteak isn't a national dish and I should have made a different choice) and early to bed.
Thursday: JG's taking "Issues in Economic Development" with Professor Carlos Gerardo Acevedo Flores...whose day job is President of El Salvador's Central Bank. In the morning, we visited the Central Bank as the guest of Mr. Acevedo, and got informal talks on the many fiscal and financial issues facing El Salvador, including insights into how El Salvador came to dollarize their currency. Then, we all bussed back to the Alacante. JG went back to the Casa, to help with the set-up for the grand fiesta, while Renée and I had lunch at a local Mexican restaurant (tasty!). We proceeded to Casa Ita. I made (no kidding!) a gallon of gravy, in four batches.
The Thanksgiving feast was amazing. The expected guest list was about 300, current students, visiting parents, and many many Salvadoreans, from UCA professors to the folks (vigilantes) who provide security around the student housing. There were tables spread around the courtyard, the entryway and the Peace Garden, all lit by candles. JG, Renée and I stationed ourself close to the entryway so met many people. After dinner, dancing!
Friday: We walked to UCA for an introductory talk at Unversidad de CentroAmericana UCA by Sr. Peggy O'Neill, S.C., who is teaching JG's class in Latin American Theology. JG's had a number of inspirational teachers, and Sr. Peggy is among them. We then went by bus to and then traveled by bus to Hospitalito de la Divina Providencia, the Carmelite convent and hospice where Mgr. Romero lived during his tenure as bishop, and in whose chapel he was murdered, while celebrating mass, on March 24, 1980. The sacristry where he lived has become Centro Historico Mgr. Romero. In the chapel, we heard a talk by one of the sisters (translated by Sr. Peggy) on Msgr. Romero's life and death, and then toured the Centro -- a photo essay by another here.
Lunch at Casa Romero, where we were introduced to the cooking staff, who are also an important resource for students on the difficulties during the civil war.
In the evening, we had dinner at a local pupuseria with all the Romero Program participants (Salvadoran students from the campo, the countryside, who are supported in college) and then walked to Casa Romero, where the students explained the Romero Program.
Saturday: In the morning the group of parents and students toured UCA's Sala (Museo) de la Martires (a photoalbum is here), which commemorates the November 16, 1989 murders of Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Amado Lopez - and of their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her daughter, Celia Marisela Ramos.
JG, Renée and I decided to take in some tourist sites in San Salvador: first, the National Zoo, which is a small and charming zoo. I realized I expected more on the wildlife of Central America than (say) lions and tigers. From there, we went to MUNA (Museo National de Antopologico), which I would say is more of a must-see early in your visit than, say the National Cathedral. We had a late lunch at the bistro next to the rather small museum gift shop, Bistro San Lorenzo. Highly recommended -- the most delicious meal of the week.
In the evening, JG took us to a crepes place (good enough of its kind) and then a concert at Casa Romero with Talticpac, which I enjoyed immensely (here's the website for the band's director, Benjamin Palomo http://benjaminpalomo.com/talticpac/)
Sunday: The program took us via bus up the volcano to brunch at Café San Fernando (the linked review also has other restaurants and venues on the volcano). After returning to the hotel, JG did homework while Renée enjoyed the pool.
We walked to dinner at the "fancy pupuseria", and then enjoy the lighting of the tree at Plaza Central (Iglesia de los Santos Niños Innocentes).
Monday: Revealed my lack of planning (see below). We ended up going to the village of Panchimalco. The church is much more impressive on the inside than the outside -- really beautiful, and then went back to San Salvador to another small museum, Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen, and then...off to the airport.
What we didn't do that I wish we had
Our primary focus was to hang out with JG and try to absorb her experience, so I didn't research much in the way of tourist opportunities before we arrived. This is a quirk of mine -- if I had had possible plans, I would have been disappointed if we didn't get there... What I wished we'd planned better:
- A day to visit Joya del Cerén (a UN World Heritage site) and San Andrés (pyramids) with an English-speaking guide (but I am an archeology buff, and JG and Renée, not so much).
- A day at the beaches, Costa del Sol with a kayak or other boat trip through the estuaries.
- Packing and attire:
- I wore long cotton pants and short-sleeved shirts, plus a skirt for the Thanksgiving dinner, and felt that I was attired appropriately.
- JG asked me to bring down some of her gently-used clothes, to share with students and other Salvadoreans.
- Hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and personal wipes. Bring lots and leave them with your student or for later students to use.
- I brought both a light wrap and a padded cotton coat to wear in the evening and used them both.
- Bug spray: if you don't like deet, shop ahead. It can be difficult to find in the fall.
- Don't forget a bathing suit and surf trunks if you plan to go kayaking.
So there you have it -- a week in El Salvador, accompanying my daughter. I'm glad I went. More on my experiences --reflections, rather than just travel--later.