Critter Cam and other Scenic Delights! Yellowstone and Teton

As our mountain adventure continues, we remain awed by the boundless grandeur of this land we call home (we actually call Happy Dance home, but hey, I’m waxing poetic here!).  We’re talking purple mountain majesty on a huge scale, intact ecosystems (my new favorite science term) that live and breathe and change and excite; it’s all an unending series of oohs, ahhs, and – whoa, stop the truck I need a photo!!!

No elk were harmed in the taking of this photo.

Our time in Yellowstone and Teton National Parks was incredible.  We walked our little legs over many miles of trails and turnouts, scenic vistas and wildlife views.  Granted, there is so much more to explore, but on this, our first foray into the parks we were able to grasp at least some of the wonder and wildness of these great national treasures.  As one of the Park Rangers said; “as American citizens we all own a piece of these parks”.

One of our favorite hikes in Yellowstone was our hike along the South Rim of the Yellowstone Canyon.  Along the way we were treated to the classic views of lower Yellowstone Falls, as well as some pretty stunning panoramas of the entire canyon.  As we hiked along the edge we could look straight down to the rushing river, a mere 800-1,200 feet below us.  A few steam vents dotted the sides of the canyon to remind us of where we were, and the trees were hanging on by the tiniest of root holds in a very thin layer of topsoil.

The vast caldera that is Yellowstone, the rugged peaks of the Tetons, and the incredible geological history that is displayed throughout the west left us with a sense of how complex the earth is and how short a time man has been here.  For instance, in the Tetons “the granite on the summits of some of the peaks is more than three billion years old, which makes it some of the oldest rock in North America. But the mountains themselves are the youngest of the Rocky Mountains.  Only 12 million years old, they are mere adolescents compared with the rest of the 60-million-year-old range.” *

One of the Rangers helped us to visualize just how vast a history it is; hold out your arm and consider that to be a timeline of the earth beginning at your shoulder, then try to picture where the formation of the Tetons 12 million years ago occurred along that timeline.  Well, it’s out at your fingertips!  When you place human history along that same timeline we are just the tiniest of slivers out at the tip of your fingernail.  It’s pretty mind-boggling try to reconcile our place in the silent majesty of the Tetons with the thought of massive blocks being pushed up as the earth split along a north-south fault line to create the mountains and valleys.  Okay, enough, enough of the geology lesson; but it’s fascinating!

Mountain Majesty

Okay, so the mountains are beautiful, we get that, but what about those critter cams you promised?  Yellowstone provided lots of critter watching of antelope, elk, deer, bears, cranes, osprey, white pelicans, eagles, swans, coyotes, and of course; tatanka**.  One day we were sitting in our chairs enjoying our lunch while watching the herds of bison in Hayden Valley, when a huge male bison wandered down the hill, across the road (causing much confusion), right by our truck and down into the valley.  It was so funny to see this grand shaggy beastie stopping traffic and basically just saying; “out of my way, I own this place”!

Near our campground in Teton National Park we were once again sitting in our chairs enjoying lunch (do you sense a theme?) while watching four bull moose and one moose cow munching on their own lunch and cooling off in the river.  It was so fun to watch these big mangy moosekateers as they totally ignored the sound of cameras clicking from the other side of the river!  However, once they crossed over to our side the river we decided it was time to pack up and go!

We hope you’ve enjoyed more escapades of the not so rich and not so famous.  We continue to roam where the deer and the antelope play, and where the skies tend to open up in some pretty awesome cloud bursts!

*History: How the Tetons Were Formed

**In the Lakota language, the word “tatanka” is translated as “buffalo” or “buffalo bull.” However, according to native Lakota speakers, the literal translation is something more like “He who owns us.”

Pine Trees on the Moon (Yellowstone Nat’l Park)

It seems we’ve departed planet earth and landed on the Moon.  The vistas looks vaguely familiar, with pine trees and wildflowers, but everywhere we turn there is some strange upside down waterfall, or a hole in the ground blowing steam high into the blue sky.  Pools of boiling water in all colors send steam high into the morning sun creating rainbows and eerie, ghostly views.  Sometimes we find mud burping out of a smelly pit, creating big muddy bubbles on the surface that blow in the wind, with overwhelming smells, and steamy sauna winds.  What is this place?

Morning solitude…ahhh

Well, it’s a strange and somewhat unsettling place known as roche jaune*.  It’s a caldera, it’s a hot spot, it’s a crazy place!  It’s amazing to think that you’re walking around a very active and lively hot spot and that the volcano below you is still changing the surface and is only just sleeping.  Shhhhhh!

Mammoth Hot Springs

This is our first time to Yellowstone National Park, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!  We avoided the masses of selfie snapping tourists and their stinky buses by getting up at the crack of dawn and entering the park before the Rangers had even arrived at the gates.  By starting early we were able to see incredible sunrises through the steam rising off the rivers, and wildlife that was calm and well, wild.  It was the best time of the day.

We’d head of our chosen destination, park the car in a nearly empty parking lot and start off on a hike to somewhere.  We usually missed all the crowds with the exception of getting back to the truck and getting out of the parking lot.  Some days we just plunked ourselves along the edge of a valley with coffee and our comfy chairs and watched the elk and the buffalo roam.  We did a fair amount of people watching too, a.k.a. laughing at the Johnny Jackasses as they parked in the middle of the road, sometimes even jumping out of their cars to get a photo of some critter along the road.  It was fairly amazing.

We loved our visit to Yellowstone, and may return again someday, that is if the caldera doesn’t blow by then!

Here are a few of the gazillion photos we took…enjoy!

First….the upside  down waterfalls…a.k.a. geysers.

The hot springs…

And of course, the boiling pools and mudpots…

* Near the end of the 18th century, French trappers named the river Roche Jaune, which is probably a translation of the Hidatsa name Mi tsi a-da-zi “Yellow Rock River”.

Wows (Glacier Nat’l Park)

Wow…definitely the most used word after we entered Glacier National Park.  Once our senses went into overload our vocabulary deserted us.  Everywhere we turned there was another Wow!  For anyone who has been to Glacier National Park, you won’t be surprised or impressed with these inadequate photos and descriptions, but if you’ve never been to Glacier, let me just tell you it’s…WOW!!

For the first half of our visit, we camped in Fish Creek Campground on the west side of the park, next to Lake McDonald.  We grabbed the last available back-in site in the campground which as luck would have it included a charming 45-degree turn around a lovely tree, making the site barely long enough for our little Murph.  Marty and I shared a few exhalations of exasperation as the tree kept jumping out of line and getting in our way while we (Marty) proficiently and patiently parked the Murph while somebody (Sue) gave perfect hand signals.  Ahhh, Murph was soon settled in, and anchor beers were our reward.  Oh look, there’s a squirrel!

We’d been given plenty of reading material upon entering the park, so we set to work figuring out “the plan” for our week in this stunning area.  The next morning there was a Ranger led hike that sounded just about right for our stubby legs and creaky knees.  We met up with Ranger Randy at the appointed time and place and introduced ourselves to about twenty other hikers who ranged from the very young to the young at heart.

We’d chosen the hike to Avalanche Lake, which we later learned is the most popular of all the hikes in Glacier.  Since we wanted some Glacier education as we got our bearings (not the furry kind), this hike was the perfect start to our adventures.  The trail traversed some wetlands through a pocket of huge old growth cedars and black cottonwoods (a new kind of tree for me!) then we started climbing along Avalanche Creek through some colorful rock formations.  Ranger Randy explained how the glaciers carved the mountains and canyons in the area and how the green and red argilite (yay, we remembered!) rocks were formed.  At one point we stopped across the valley from the path of a recent avalanche, but the wow part was seeing the swath of full-grown trees broken off about 20-30 feet up and blown UP the mountain on the side of the canyon away from the avalanche.  Some trees were even pulled out at their roots, all from the blast of wind created at the leading edge of the avalanche.  WOW…the force of nature!

Avalanche Lake is gorgeous, ringed by steep cliffs with glacier-fed waterfalls pouring in to create the beautiful aqua color of the lake.  As we learned about the glacier’s role in the creation of Glacier Park, we also learned that the glaciers in the park are quickly disappearing.  There are only a few dozen glaciers left of the more than 150 that covered this area 100 years ago.  It’s estimated that in 12-15 years, all the glaciers in the park will be gone.  Avalanche Lake will become a seasonal lake driving immense changes to the environment that it now supports.  Sad wow…consider all the ecosystems that must adapt.

While enjoying our week in Glacier we took two other hikes, a boat ride and a trip up to Logan Pass in one of the historic red buses.  Our trip from Lake McDonald up Going to the Sun highway to Logan Pass in the red bus was great.  It was hot and sunny when we left the lodge and Marty and I scored on getting the last row in the bus all to ourselves.  We prairie-dogged (stuck our heads out the top) at all the great photo stops, laughed at our driver’s bad jokes, and ooh-ed and ahh-ed at all the incredible views.  As we neared the pass the clouds started rolling over the peaks and at Logan Pass we couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us; we were in a cold drizzly cloud!  Oh well, just another summer day in Montana!

In the middle of the week we moved to a campground that was at the south end of the Park.  The drives through Blackfeet country were probably some of the most beautiful.  It was also interesting (disturbing?) to read up on a bit of the history of the park and the ongoing disagreements with the local Indian tribes.

While on the southeast side of the park we took one of the scenic boat tours on Saint Mary Lake.  The boats are old restored wooden boats and the guides are fun college kids who come up for the summer to wow all the tourists with factoids and beauty.  During our stopover in the boat we hiked along St. Mary’s Lake up to the falls and back.  It was in an area that had burned about three years ago, so the area was going through a big change.  The scorched black tree trunks are still standing, surrounded by a zillion wildflowers…wow.  It was definitely a scenic boat tour and we loved it.

Our last hike was from Two Medicine Lake up to Aster Falls and the Aster Park Lookout.  This was a great hike to end our Glacier visit, walking through fields of wildflowers and marshy meadows, with rocky peaks soaring all around…definitely more wows.

We were extremely impressed with Glacier and not only for the beauty.  We were impressed to learn that it is an intact ecosystem and that the focus is to keep it that way.  Glacier is clean, well-organized, the volunteers and Rangers are all excellent, and the Park is maintained in such a way as to minimize the impact of the 2+ million visitors.  Sadly, it’s also being drastically affected by the changes in climate.  So big, so beautiful, so wow…

So, there you have it…Marty and Sue’s visit to Glacier.  I’m sure everyone who’s been there is remembering their own wow moments, and if you haven’t been there, go get your own Wow!!!

 

Coulee Country

Catastrophists unite!  We’ve been hiking and exploring the sights around Grand Coulee, and in doing so we’ve become believers in catastrophism as it relates to the creation of the Grand Coulee.  A self taught geologist named Harley (J. Harlan) Bretz in the 1920’s came up with the idea that the massive scale of the coulees, the scab-lands, the wide-ranging disbursement of boulders and moraines, and the rippled land forms could only have been created by catastrophic floods.  It took many years and the arrival of aerial photography and satellite imagery to get anyone to take him seriously, but his ideas were finally vindicated.  In 1979, at age 96, Bretz received the Penrose Medal, geology’s highest honor. He later reportedly told his son: “All my enemies are dead, so I have no one to gloat over”.

I was born in Omak, which is only about 50 miles from the coulees of eastern Washington, yet I still had to do some googling to learn the definition of a coulee.  I’ll make it easier for you though; “As a geological term, coulee means a ravine or deep gully, usually dry, which has been cut by water”.  In this area the water that cut the Grand Coulee is on a scale that is mind boggling.  We stood on the top of Dry Falls looking down the cliffs into the gorge and tried to imagine the flood waters from an ice dam bursting far upstream that swept water 300’ over our heads at a speed of 60 mph.  Yes, I guess that would carve some coulees!  I won’t delve into all the details, but if you’re interested you can google it for yourself; it’s fascinating history!  We’ve been ooh-ing and ahh-ing for the past week as we’ve hiked through Northrup Canyon, toured the dam, and camped along the shores of Banks Lake and Roosevelt Lake, and driven through miles and miles of rippling wheat fields high above the Columbia.

When I was little my friends and I would build dams in the gutters to create lakes and rapids for our leaf boats to float down so I guess it’s only natural that I should be captivated by the massive scale of Grand Coulee Dam.  It’s one of the largest concrete structures in the world; 550 feet above the bedrock, and 500 feet wide at its base.  It’s beautiful, functional, it put 1,000’s of people to work in the depression, it continues to provide clean electricity to millions, it provides irrigation over an area the size of Delaware, and it provides flood control.

All that being said, I’m still a tree-hugger at heart and I tend to sympathize with the cultures of those who came before us, so my heart is saddened by the loss of the salmon run and the destruction of the Indian culture that depended on it.  Yet, here I sit on the edge of Lake Roosevelt enjoying the view out our door, watching the fishing boats and house boats on the lake.  It’s the old “betterment for the masses at the cost of a few”, but sometimes one has to wonder and take stock of the sacrifices of those “few”.

We’re learning the art of camping in our new little land yacht, and we’re now moving east toward the mountains of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.  Along the way we always seem to gravitate toward the water, whether it be a river, lake, or creek.  We’ve stayed at “Bob’s Lakeside Hideaway”, my brother’s property on Lake Osooyos, where we had a great visit with my brother.  We got to pound a few nails and drink some margaritas with my sister who lives on the other side of the lake in the house she and her husband are building.  From there we moved on to a campground in Grand Coulee, right above the dam, and then went to nearby Steamboat Rock, a gorgeous State Park on Banks Lake, which is a reservoir created from water piped up the hill behind Grand Coulee Dam.  Now we’re about 100 miles further north on Lake Roosevelt, enjoying the mountains and pine trees around Kettle Falls.  Marty is learning how to relax (he’s a slow learner), and I’m loving the smell of pine trees and sage.  It’s just another version of our floating happy dance!

Beaches

We’ve visited 100’s of shorelines in the past five years, but the beaches along Puget Sound will always be home.  There is a particular friendliness to the sound of smooth round stones being jumbled over themselves in the waves.  The water is crystal clear and triple-gasp cold, the snow capped mountains float over the pine tree horizons, and the friendly green and white ferries continue on their invisible paths back and forth between the islands.  Yep, I’m home!!

But wait a minute!  How did we get back to the beautiful Pacific Northwest you ask?  We flew, but not until we’d had a few more adventures in El Salvador.  In our last few weeks in El Salvador we’d been exploring inland and enjoying time with our new cruiser friends.  One day a group of us went to the annual Mango Festival that is held in the nearby town of Zacatecoluca.  Think of any food or drink you could possibly make from mangoes and they had it.  It was a YUM fest, with the whole population of the state seeming to be there enjoying the day.  It was funny to be the only gringos in town, and people would stop us just to talk and practice their English.  Everyone is so friendly, it’s really a great feeling.

We also made a quick trip to El Zonte, a popular surfing beach near La Libertad.   We enjoyed a few days with our cousin Jim in a house we rented that was right above a long sandy beach where the huge swells rolled in from the ocean in wave after wave.  It was the perfect place for some chillaxin’ and we spent a good amount of time just gazing out at the ocean from our hammocks and listening to the booming waves.  Not being brave enough to tackle the surf, we settled for happy hours in our private pool watching sunsets over the ocean…I know, it’s a tough life we lead.

After spending time enjoying the sights and sounds, pupusas and mangoes of El Salvador, we put Happy Dance to bed in Bahia del Sol to enjoy the rainy season on her own, and then we started our trek north by land and air.  As we made our way to the Pacific Northwest we took care of a bit of car selling, truck and trailer buying, and soon found ourselves on the doorstep at Three Tree Point being welcomed by my Great Aunt Peggy and having a week of fun with family.

We had a wonderful stay at Hemlock Cottage, the house that my great grandfather built on Three Tree Point, just south of Seattle.  Unfortunately, my cousins were on their own adventures in Alaska, but that meant we had the added bonus of being able to sleep in “the bed with the view” next to the windows looking down to the beach and out to the sunsets over the Olympic mountains.  It was like being a kid again when I used to sleep in the same spot, albeit in a different bed!  (When I was little I always slept tucked away in the top bunk of the bunk bed that was wedged into the corner at the end of what was then, the sleeping porch.  My grandmother’s bed was just below me and it wasn’t unusual for me to wake in the morning on her bed, having fallen from the top bunk to a soft landing.)  I loved having the huge windows open so that we could listen to the waves on the beach and hear the early birds welcome the dawn.  Every part of me seems to utter a deep sigh when I return to Three Tree (Thanks Barb and Gene!!).

After my trip back in time at Three Tree we headed to another memory lane and another beautiful beach, this one in Coupeville on Whidbey Island where Marty and I first met!  Along the way to Coupeville we picked up our new land yacht, affectionately named, The Murph and we were parked on the shore at Fort Casey.  It was a busy week, as we unloaded “the shed”, our final link to a home base, and we sold or gave away a whole lot of history, aka “stuff”.  I was kind of surprised at how hard this final purging was, but once done there’s always a sense of lightening the load; less is definitely more.  Thankfully we had some time to walk the beach, watch the ferries come and go, and enjoy some awesome sunsets with Mt. Rainier floating in the distance.  I collected a few more beach rocks, because really, can you ever have too many rocks?

So now we’ve left the beaches of the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound behind for a few months as we begin our new adventure of traveling the U.S. and Canada in our land yacht.   We’ll be roaming around in The Murph for a few months, without a plan, just a goal to explore and see new terrain.  Along the way I’m sure there will be plenty of beaches to put our toes in the sand along the lakes, rivers, streams, and maybe we’ll even have time to find the world’s largest ball of twine!  Once the hot, humid, rainy season ends in Central America we’ll park the land yacht wherever we end up and fly back to Happy Dance to float our way to Panama.  So, stay tuned for possible lake shore beach-capades and travels to twirled twine, in the ongoing adventures of Marty and Sue!

 

Suchitoto

Our latest El Salvador adventure has been a 3-day trip to the historic town of Suchitoto, giving us a peek into the resilience and national pride of the people of El Salvador.

The Spanish settled this region in the early 1500s, followed by wealthy Salvadorans who added more elegant, traditional structures to the town, which flourished from the indigo trade and agriculture.  The modern history of Suchitoto has been more turbulent with earthquakes, a massive hydroelectric project, and the civil war, yet the historical charm and traditional buildings of Suchitoto survived.

In the Náhuatl language Suchitoto means a “place of birds and flowers”, so named for the hundreds of species of birds that live or migrate through the area.  The town is set in the mountains 25 miles north of San Salvador, at about 1,000-foot elevation.  In the center of town is the Parque Central and the Santa Lucia Church built by the Spanish in 1853.  Man-made Lago Suchitlán, is below the town, where the locals take tourists out to see the migratory birds on the various islands in the lake.

Before heading up the mountain to Suchitoto, we stopped at the Fernando Llort Gallery, El Arbos de Dios, in San Salvador.  Fernando’s son runs the gallery and talked to us about his father’s life and his art, which is often described as “naive” (i.e. childlike).  I would describe it as very colorful, and it reminded me a bit of Picasso.  He’s known as El Salvador’s National Artist and for teaching the citizens of the small town of La Palma, how to make a living through art.  We couldn’t afford an original, but we now have a lovely tea towel that shows one of his paintings (suitable for framing)!

When we arrived in Suchitoto, we immediately understood why the El Salvadorian people go there to get away from “el estress”, the stress of hectic San Salvador.  Suchitoto is peaceful.  It’s full of colonial architecture, cobbled streets, art galleries, and restaurants.  The shops open when the owners feel like it, the square is surrounded by outdoor cafes, and everyone greets you with a smile.

Our group of 11 stayed in the Los Almendros de San Lorenzo Hotel, one of the best hotels in El Salvador.  The hotel has beautiful rooms of all sizes in a meticulously restored 100-year-old house, with an eclectic art collection, a lovely pool in a quiet garden, a great restaurant, and is run by fascinating hosts; Pascal, an ex-French fashion executive, and Joaquin, a former El Salvadorian ambassador to France.  After checking into our rooms (plenty of oohs and ahhs…) we went on a walking tour to see the sights, then returned to our hotel for a swim and an evening by the pool with wine and pupusas.

The next day a few of us went to learn the art of “añil”.  We spent a few hours in the workshop making a scarf and learning the history of indigo dyeing.  Indigo, or añil, is a natural colorant extracted from the Xiquilite plant and was a very important element for the Mayans.  When the Spanish arrived in El Salvador in 1524, indigo became the new source of wealth in the region.  Then in the 19th century, the indigo economy collapsed due to the discovery of synthetic colors in Europe.  Now, indigo is making a comeback and there are organic indigo farms around Suchitoto as well as a number of workshops and art galleries selling beautiful indigo crafts. Being that my favorite color is blue, I was happy to play in a big vat of blue dye!  I’ll need a bit more practice before my “art” is famous, but it was fun and was well worth having our noses above a stinky 8-year old brew of añil.

After arts and crafts it was time for lunch.  We were looking for a taste of authentic El Salvadorian food, so we walked a few blocks from the central square to a restaurant overlooking the lake, called La Posada de Suchitlán.  Marty and I shared a sampler plate, along with a yummy El Salvador version of tortilla soup.  We had chorizo, some fried yucca, cheese and spinach stuffed yucca, an El Salvador version of an enchilada (think tostada), red beans, and a fermented cabbage salad.  It was all very tasty!

After lunch we walked around town some more, visited the Peace Arts Center, walked through the church, and of course did a little shopping.  I bought an indigo blouse made by a cute lady named Ada.  She and her husband have a little store on the square and she sews the clothes that they have for sale.  When I asked if I could try on the blouse, she directed me into their living area that was separated from the store by a piece of hanging fabric.  She said not to worry, there wasn’t anyone home except the dog!  I quickly tried on the blouse in their kitchen, avoided the sleeping dog, then stepped back into the store for Marty’s approval.  Sold!  Ada gave me a hug and we were all smiles.

Dinner that night was provided by Pascal and Juaquin at the hotel, and it was fabulous.  El Salvador beef is a whole different world from Mexican beef!  We enjoyed a sirloin steak with a rich mushroom gravy, veggies, and rice, followed by passion fruit cheesecake.  Yum.

On our last day we took a morning walk down (way down) the hill to the lake.  The lake is very low at the moment, but I’d guess that once the rainy season begins it will fill up again.  Along the way we enjoyed some great views, and we even saw our first turquoise-browed motmot, the national bird of El Salvador!

When we got to the bottom of the hill we had to go through a gate and were told that there was a dollar per person entry fee.  We had no idea what we were paying for but bought a ticket anyway and walked down to Puerto San Juan.  In the main tourist building of the port there turned out to be a food court set on the bank of the lake, with six or seven different food and beverage booths to choose from.  There is a malecon, and you can walk down to the dock and pick up a tourist boat to go out on the lake.  There’s even a ferry to take you to the other side of the reservoir, which is the largest lake in the country.  We enjoyed a cold beer, watched the tourists (we’re the only gringos in town), and enjoyed some time by the lake before heading back out to grab a mini-bus back up the steep hill into town.

We thoroughly enjoyed Suchitoto.  The relaxed feel of the town is a nice change from busy Zacatecoluca and San Salvador, plus it’s a town with an amazing history.  In the late 1980’s the town was on the verge of extinction, mostly because of the civil war which raged all around it.  Now the town is a “wonderful miracle”, a tribute to El Salvador and her people.

Tidbits from El Salvador

We’ve now been in El Salvador long enough to have experienced chicken buses, hot pupusas off the grill, a local soccer game, visits to unique towns, tide travels in the estuary, and even a small earthquake!  So here you go….a little bit about our first impressions of this complicated country.

First off, a mini history lesson about El Salvador.  Being the smallest and most densely populated of the seven Central American countries, with a population of approximately 6.34 million, El Salvador was traditionally an agricultural country, heavily dependent upon coffee exports. The service sector now dominates the economy and the government is trying to open up trade and expand manufacturing.  However, the country continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and crime.  They’ve had a tough road to recovery following the bloody civil war that ended with the 1992 peace accords; just as the country began to recover, they were devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and by a major earthquake in 2001.

I mention this brief history in order to address everyone’s question when we said we were coming here; “is it safe”?  I guess the real answer to that is “mostly yes”.  Yes, there are gang and turf wars in parts of the city, and locals are forced to navigate through the invisible gang borders, but as gringos we’re pretty isolated from that, and of course we limit our travels only to safe areas.  The people we have met are hardworking, honest, friendly, and sadly, very poor, yet they consistently greet us with smiles and helpfulness.

So, on to the fun stuff…our latest adventures!

Chicken buses…

Bus travel here is not a relaxing experience.  It’s a constant jostle for space, with minuscule leg room pushing the average gringo’s knees up to chin level. That’s if you’re one of the lucky few who manage to get a seat at all. Otherwise you’ll be in the aisle, hanging on above the flow of vendors and the conductor, leaving you bumped and bruised by the time you reach your destination. Chivalry is not dead however, and the older women are usually given seats, then they put other peoples’ babies and small children on their laps.  Pop and salsa music is played at full volume, with the drivers’ favorite CDs left on a loop.  We happened to have the same bus driver coming back from town as when we’d gone in, and the same CD was playing.

Referred to as chicken buses, for the squawking chickens that might be stashed in the luggage rack, these buses provide not just transportation, but a virtual community on wheels. There is a stream of buskers, freaky looking clowns, and soap-box orators, as well as snack sellers forcing their way down the aisle at every stop. Any time of day you can buy individual sweets torn off a long strip, little packets of peanuts from a clever basket that attaches to the hand holds, taco chips and cashews, plastic bags full of fluorescent drinks, ready-peeled oranges (which are sucked for their juice then thrown, like everything else, out of the window), pizza slices, chips, hot dogs, and of course, pupusas complete with chopped salad and chili sauce.

Considering the average travel time in this tiny country is about an hour, I was confused as to why everyone was eating everything that came along. I was told by one of the expats here that the locals eat on the bus because it’s cheap!  In a country where a high wage is still only single digits per day, a 25-cent pupusa is a good buy.  Add the dollar for the bus fare and voila, dinner is served.

Then there is the tireless ‘cobrador’, usually a small and wiry man chosen for his agility to worm his way through the bus, hissing and clicking his tongue for fares, and hanging out the doorway, shouting out “Avisa, avisa!” for more customers to pile on board. The running joke in El Salvador is “how many people can you fit on the bus”…”one more!”

The language…

We’re having a hard time getting used to the differences in the Spanish spoken here from what we were used to in Mexico.  In other words, we’re lost.  Everything is spoken faster (if that’s possible), the words are shortened (Buenos Dias is just Buenos), and there are quite a few different words for things.  More to learn!

The food…

El Salvador is known for pupusas, a traditional dish of a thick corn tortilla stuffed with a savory filling such as cheese, beans, or meat.  They are typically accompanied by curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage relish, and tomato salsa.  We like them served hot off the grill…awesome!  We’ve also enjoyed some great grilled steak, huge local prawns, and fresh fish that is cooked whole.  All yum!

The earthquake…

We were aboard Happy Dance one day when the boat started shaking.  While it’s not unusual to get rocked a bit from boat wakes or the current, this was a different feel.  It was as if Happy Dance was floating in a bowl of water with someone banging the sides making ripples shake us from all sides.  Weird!  There wasn’t any damage that we know of and it wasn’t a big one, but it was a new sensation for the Happy Dancers.

Drinking water…

Since we’re in an estuary that is very silty from the tidal changes and mud bottom, we’ve pickled the water maker and have to rely on local water sources.  The dock water isn’t an option, so we have water delivered by one of the locals who pulls it out of their well.  The delivery was a new method for us and was pretty funny.

A few boats ordered water at the same time, so the panga arrived with six 50-gallon strategically placed open barrels.  We put out our fenders and the panga tied alongside and started pumping water up to us.  He had made a pump by wiring a battery to a bilge pump and sticking the hose into our tanks – genius!

Soccer tournament…

We dingied over to the island one day to watch the local soccer teams play and share in the local scene.  Even playing on a rocky, dusty field these guys were serious about their soccer!  Marty enjoyed yakking with the local kids who took the field during a break, and we also enjoyed pupusas off the grill.  Everyone from the island came to watch the fun, and fun it was!

San Sebastian…

This is a small town located approximately 30 miles northeast of San Salvador and it is known for high quality, colorful, patterned textiles, that are made into hammocks, purses, tablecloths, blankets, etc.

Traditional “telares” or large wooden looms are used to weave the cloth, just the way it has been done for over two centuries.  We visited three different workshops and watched the weavers at work.  Only men work the big looms as it is a strenuous process, and they are paid by the yard, earning two dollars for each four yards of material made.

It’s a much larger process than what I learned from Gran when I was young!  She and I used to warp (the warp are the long threads on a loom) her loom together with me handing her the next thread one at a time to pull through the heddles.  These men are winding on miles of warp from a huge warping spool that turns like a giant rotisserie.  It was mind-blowing to watch and to realize the hours of work that goes into each hammock sold by the side of the road.

Illobosco…

Illobosco lies on top of a hill at 2500 feet above sea level, 35 miles east of San Salvador on the Pan-American road.  It’s famous for ceramics and is one of the oldest artisan towns in the country and in Central America. Some say the ceramic activity began sometime in the 1700s. Unfortunately (Marty might say otherwise) we didn’t have much time to visit the gazillion shops full of colorful ceramics, but we saw quite of few of the varieties of things they make here.

There are traditional types of pottery including griddles, pots, pans, and flower pots. The popular types are Christmas gifts such as catholic images: Saint Joseph, the virgin Maria, mules, ox, and the 3 magic kings.  My favorites were the decorative types with all sorts of original, colorful designs, and miniatures that represented daily life in El Salvador.  The artwork is quite detailed and original from artist to artist.

We also stopped for lunch, which cut into my shopping time, but it was sooo good!  We had grilled steak, chicken, chorizo, and hot freshly made tortillas while sitting out in a lovely garden area.  The tortillas here are thick like a griddle cake, not like the type we’re used to in Mexico.  Okay, so maybe that was better than shopping..ha!

The Jaltepeque Estuary…

We’re situated on a long peninsula of land called Costa del Sol that separates the estuary from the ocean.  There are large tides and strong currents in the estuary and sometimes the current running past the dock is more than three knots.  It’s been fun to drive the dinghy around as we visit palapa restaurants on stilts, the nearby island of Isla Cordoncilla, and soon we’ll take the dingy up estuary for some shopping at one of the small towns. It’s wild to see mangoes falling off the trees, and cashews growing wild.

One day we all piled in a panga for a tour of the estuary on our way to the Rio Lempa.  Along the way we visited a small fishing village on Isla Colorada, where the government built a dock to help the fishermen and to provide water access to the village across the long mud flat that exists when the tide is out.  The fishermen bring their catch to the dock and one panga collects it all and then is escorted by armed guard to and from the market.  The houses are each fenced and there is a walkway down the middle of “town”.

Isla Colorada is also where the local women create some beautiful beading and sewing.  A few years ago, a woman came to the village to teach the women how to sew and how to make jewelry and as a result of the success of the project the government provided money so that they could tile the mud floored hut, buy some sewing machines, and create a center where the local women’s group can work together.  This allows the women to earn money to help support their families.

After traveling by miles of huge mangroves, with lots of white egrets and smaller yellow birds, we arrived at the mouth of the Lempa River.  The Rio Lempa is the longest river in El Salvador and is approximately 240 miles long.  It enters El Salvador from Guatemala in the northwestern corner of the country and flows across the coastal plain to its mouth on the Pacific where we enjoyed lunch, a beach walk, and a nice swim!

So there you have it, all the news that’s fit to print!  We’re about to hop in the dingy for another adventure, heading to a palapa restaurant for lunch, followed by pupusas at a local’s house tonight…it’s all good in El Salvador!!