Sunday, May 12, 2013

Off the Beaten Path: Church-Hopping in San Vicente

Catedral de San Vicente
Our strategy was to navigate by heading toward the churches.  As we left the central square, we crossed the street and headed into our first church of the day, the Cathedral of San Vicente.  The church was constructed in 1943 and suffered a nearly complete collapse in the 2001 earthquakes.  The sanctuary was reconstructed in a style to fit the original facade.  It was very cool and peaceful inside.  We sat for a little while.  St. Vincent Abad, the community's patron saint, was killed in the 7th century for defending the beliefs put forth by the Council of Nicea.  The plaque on the wall indicates that though his body was beaten, his soul was lifted to heaven by the angels.

The faith of believers, that they will be lifted up and carried to heaven by angels seems to be woven into the souls of those who live in the shadow of the San Vicente volcano.  I thought back to a few short years ago when tropical rains brought a torrent of boulders and mud roaring down the side of the volcano of San Vicente.  People were crushed.  People were swept away.  We walked with families who were grieving, yet their faith was strong, bolstered by the miracle stories of a wife and children being carried along the top of the mudslide safely into the second story of a house and of a grandmother lifted by angels who deposited her and her wheelchair safely into the top of a palm tree.

Stones and relics and treasures from the original cathedral dot the walls and the altars of the new interior, concrete reminders that God is always busy resurrecting God's creation.

We quietly left out the side door, and found ourselves stunned for a moment by the bright sun, the heat of the day and the rush of people around us.  We decided to walk uphill, toward a church we had seen in the distance.  This route took us straight through the marketplace.  The streets were lined with shops which were completely hidden by the rows of outdoor booths which sold everything from motorcycles to plastic toys to shoes.  Of most interest were the women selling underwear.  Some had a few panties laid out on the sidewalk, seemingly shocked that we would pass up such great bargains as we politely said "no, thank you."  Some were covered from head to toe with their wares - well, "under-wears".  Bras in all colors hanging off of one arm, nighties and slips on hangers looped over their shirt collars and apron strings, heads covered with sombreros made from twisted towels with undies hanging off of every side.  If we could have taken a photo of this without being disrespectful, we really would have.  We gulped down the giggles and politely said, "no, thank you."
Note the oncoming bus...

One good tip for market-goers:  look out for the buses.  It's difficult to express in words or in photos how really narrow these streets are.  The Salvadorans were very good at warning us to step to the side (we were the ONLY North Americans in town that day -- so we attracted our fair share of attention and guardians).  When you see a bus up the road, the best plan is to find a clothing stall with some bare pavement beneath the hanging clothes, and dive in.  Then wait to get up close and personal with a big bus wheel.
Object is actually CLOSER than it appears!

We meandered through the booths and a few of the shops before finding our way to the indoor market.  This was an unexpected surprise!  The indoor market was HUGE!  The first few stalls near the entrances sold toys, candy and small items.  Further in, we looked at each other with one question...WHAT IS THAT SMELL?  A little more exploring revealed the answer - meat juice smeared around by flip flops on hot concrete.  Raw chicken sat in its natural juices dripping onto the floor.  Raw red meats oozed their own aromatic red liquids. We tried to be cool, nonchalant, non-horrified-gringas.

We did ask if it was OK to take a photo.
Soon we came upon literal mountains of dried fish fillets.  "Did you catch these yourself?" we asked one of the vendors.  He was an older guy with a good smile and jolly attitude.  "Yes, I did, me and my wife."  We talked a little bit about fishing and thanked him for sharing his story with us.  Beyond the raw meat rows were small restaurant counters where people could order and eat prepared foods.  None of it seemed very appetizing, and really there were not too many local folks checking it out.  Deb and I agreed that of all we saw (and smelled), the dried fish held the most promise.

Photo taken by Deb
We were happy to exit the indoor market, but happy also that we had experienced it and learned a little bit more about the struggles which Salvadoran families have in finding healthy and safe food.

After exiting the market, we headed up past a residential zone and quickly found our destination - another church!  Iglesia El Calvario (Calvary) was built in 1784, although because it was closed, we could not learn much about the current structure.  From the steps, we looked back upon the way we had come, and could see the clock tower in the distance.  We decided to take a different route back toward the town square, where we would find a place to eat lunch.

Calvary Church

Typically, small cities and towns have several good lunch spots near the municipal buildings off of the town square, and San Vicente did not disappoint.  We checked out the menus at a few places, which consisted of walking past the different items on the grill or being kept warm near the griddle.  We settled on two important criteria for lunch:  availability of bottles of cold water and good vegetarian options.  We chose a spot, sat at an outdoor table, and the kind staff brought us our food.  The food was absolutely heavenly -- relleno de ejote (green beans nestled in cheese, covered with an egg coating and friend).  We watched the midday world go by as we relished the warm cheesy goodness and drank two huge bottles of water each.
Relleno de ejote

After a good lunch and a good rest, it was time to head off into a new direction.  This time, we headed downhill, hoping to find the church of the Virgin of El Pilar.

to be continued...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Off the Beaten Path: Start at the Clock Tower in San Vicente

The "Off the Beaten Path" stories have been numerous lately -- a result of a recent month in El Salvador with free time to wander, and a desire to share some of the amazing sites in different parts of the country.  Thanks for sharing your experiences and questions as Linda's El Salvador Blog spends a little more time exploring the country and culinary treats of El Salvador. 

The approach to the clock tower...friendly old
guys and friendly officers.
My friend Deb and I were dropped off along the edge of the town square.  "Meet back here in about six hours."  Six hours to seek out every nook and cranny in the town of San Vicente.  "We'll be fine!" we reassured our Salvadoran pastor (who left grinning and shaking his head).

Our pre-visit internet search suggested we begin our tour by climbing the clock tower in the town square.  Since the tourist office/cultural house was apparently under construction, this seemed like a great idea:  climb the tower, pinpoint the landmarks from above, and then walk around without getting lost.

The tower was built in the late 1920's, although local folks like to trace its history back to 1700 Spanish construction.  It was damaged quite severely in the 2001 earthquakes, but has recently been restored.  We began our assent, realizing pretty quickly that in the middle of the day on a Friday, the tower serves as a popular make-out spot for young couples.  We stopped at each level, admiring the spiral staircase and old tile floors, pausing to look out over the railing to see if the clouds had lifted to reveal the San Vicente volcano.  I'm not sure exactly where we were in our climb when the bells started to chime.  These bells were seriously LOUD, and we decided not to be beneath them for the chiming of the hour.

The bells in the tower
We made it to the top, and like little kids scrambled quickly from side to side to side to side to see what we could see.  We looked down upon the arboles de fuego (fire trees, named for their red flowers) and the old guys hanging out on park benches near the statues of Cipitio and cartoon ducks.  We looked out to see the volcano, green trees and agricultural fields.  Between the green in the distance and the green grass below us on all four sides stood the buildings of the town.  "It seems small," we thought, "easy to navigate."  We made a plan to walk straight out from the town square and then back again, aiming for a different church in each direction.
San Vicente Volcano

After taking plenty of photos of the views in the distance, we trained our eyes once again on the park below us.  Old men on benches.  A few men playing checkers.  One man with a collection of cardboard.

As we descended the steps, our points of view changed, and suddenly we were back in the park and others were gazing down upon us.  "Buenos días. Buenos días," we greeted the men as we walked past them and the cartoon statues.

Cathedral of San Vicente
We crossed the street and started our journey ... here we come, San Vicente!

To be continued...
We saw many people.  We met several people.
We remember this man.
Men in the Town Square
Statues like these are common in many town squares...we
understand the presence of Cipitio, but what is with the ducks?

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Little Curtido on the Side

Take two big slices of whole grain bread; smear cream cheese on the insides; lay down a slice of salty cheddar on the cream-cheesy side of the bottom piece of bread; pile on the curtido, top with another slice of cheddar; put the second piece of bread on top; fry the sandwich on both sides in butter, and what do you have?  A Wisconsin-style pupusa?  Evidence that this girl will put curtido on just about anything?  Indeed.

I had to adjust my refrigerator shelves to accommodate the perpetual presence of the large plastic jar with the screw-top lid.  When the six inches of vinegar is left with only a few random pieces of cabbage, carrot and red chili floating in it, I chop up another cabbage, shred another carrot, toss in the onion and oregano and refill my jar.  It ferments for a few days on the kitchen counter, but then back it goes into the fridge - always ready for my next Salvadoran or near-Salvadoran cooking adventure.  Cheese and refried beans in an omelet with a little salsita and curtido on the side.  Eggs ranchero with beans a little curtido on the side.  Yes, I also really love beans.

We recently had a family night and made pupusas  and pasteles (semi-circle seasoned masa pies filled with chopped carrot, potato and meat).  We definitely need to improve our technique, but we had a lot of fun trying to get our food to look and taste authentic.

I was meandering through some photos from my last visit in El Salvador, and discovered that one third of the photos I took in San Salvador were of food.  I can remember myself thinking, "Ooh, I should take a picture of this so I remember how to make it."

There is something very sensual about squeezing warm water into the dry masa (corn flour) with my fingers, about breathing in the scent of simmering beans for long hours as it permeates every corner of the house, about watching the bubbly egg coating becoming golden brown as rellenos sizzle in the pan and about tasting the tangy bit of curtido with each bite of melty cheese pupusa.  Who knows what tomorrow's recipe might be.  Whatever it is, I am ready with a little bit of curtido to serve on the side.

Pasteles made by Alma in El Salvador
Pasteles made by Linda in the US