Monday, July 10, 2006

the lempira mindfuck

so i just got back from a weeklong vacation that i hadn’t planned on taking, which was nice. it’s always nice to get away from home, but it seemed especially nice to get away after all the things that had been going on here in apaneca the previous two or three weeks or month i guess i should being sick, all the rain and mold, craziness at the school, etc. i was ready to get away and so when the opportunity presented itself, i kind of just stumbled into jumping on it. like i said in my previous entry, i was going to go back to molineros for dayana’s birthday on the 4th. that was my plan at least. the week before the 4th, one of the guys in our group sent us an e-mail saying something about some 4th of july party in honduras with some honduras peace corps volunteers. i didn’t really pay that much attention to it because at the time it seemed like such a long trip and i knew i was going to go to molineros for the 4th, and anna had mentioned something about having a 4th of july party on the 8th at her site on the beach, so i was like – whatever – when i got that e-mail. then i had an extremely tough week at the school...just frustrating...and by friday night was really not feeling good mentally. anyway, courtney text messaged me and asked me if i was going to the 4th of july party in san salvador the next day and i thought about it for a brief second. i didn’t want to go to that party because i knew it would probably be lame – just a bunch of embassy people and volunteers and it was at the sheraton hotel. and you had to pay to get in and i just thought – yeah, right. so i told courtney no and asked her if she was going and she told me no because she was going to honduras for the 4th party, then said that i should go to honduras. and then she called me and said there were only like 5 el salvador volunteers going and i should go because it would be fun. i seriously considered it and then realized that i should really go. it was a chance to see honduras and meet other people and just to get the hell out of here for a couple days. i figured i could go to molineros on the 5th for dayana’s birthday and stay there for a couple days – it wouldn’t matter what day i was there. dayana would just be happy to see me. so on saturday i decided i was for sure gonna go to honduras, so i had to run over to elba’s house and tell her and she was totally fine with it.

so saturday i was all excited about going on the trip and in-between going to ataco to use the computers at the cyber cafe there and returning to apaneca, some asshole stole my cell phone out of my bag. i’m pretty sure it was on the bus that it happened. antonio came to apaneca because we were going to go get pupusas and i told him my cell phone got stolen. anyways, we tried calling my phone from his phone and nobody picked up. so we went back to ataco just to make sure i didn’t leave it in the pupuseria. i had stopped there because it’s by the bus stop and since i know the people who own it, they always let me and antonio sit there if we’re waiting for the bus even if we’re not eating there. anyway, so we went back there and don gerardo said that he saw me put my cell phone in my bag at the pupuseria when i was talking to him and it wasn’t there. so we tried calling it again and then of course the person who stole it kept picking up and hanging up right away. asshole. i was supposed to call courtney to tell her i was going with her and that i was gonna be at her house on sunday. and i didn’t have her number written down of course, it was in my cell phone that somebody else had now. plus i had to call rolando (my program director) to tell him i was going to honduras and i didn’t have his number either. ugh. so antonio let me use his cell phone that night and back in my cuarto i found rolando’s # and had to call my other friend for courtney’s number. but it all worked out in the end. sunday morning i went and bought another cell phone in sonsonate (yeah, like i have money for this shit) and blocked the other number. seriously, what a hassle though.

so i made the 4 bus, 5+ hour trip to courtney’s site in dulce nombre de maria in chalatenango on sunday and that night we decided that we were gonna go up to honduras without meeting up with york, eric and mark the next day. they wanted to leave el poy, the el salvador town that is one of the honduras/el salvador border crossings, at noon. and we were thinking that we would be on the bus the entire day and not get to gracias (the name of the town in honduras we were meeting these other people) until night and be all tired when we got there. so we called those guys and told them we’d just meet them in gracias. so at like 5:00 a.m. on monday we left courtney’s site and headed on up to el poy. it was about a 3 hour trip to el poy and once there we decided to get breakfast at some comedor. i had to go to the bathroom really bad so i asked the woman there if they had a bathroom and she said yeah and pointed at this door with a curtain in the back. that’s the thing about places here...unless you’re in a chain establishment (like pollo campero, something similar to kentucky fried chicken) most places are run out of people’s homes. so using the bathroom in a comedor means you’re just using the family latrine or bathroom in their house. so i go through this curtain and i’m now in this family’s home and i walk through and there is this other woman sitting on this bed with no shirt on or anything – she’s just sitting there, boobs and all, and i’m like “um, buenos dias” and walked super fast out the door in the back of that area. seriously! what the hell?? so then i’m out on this patio and i’m guessing the bathroom is somewhere on the other side where this other “room” is and then i hear this kid yelling in spanish that i have to wait a minute because he needs to pour water in the toilet. that’s another thing – lots of places here don’t have running water, so to flush the toilet – if there even is a toilet - you have to pour a couple guacals of water in there to manually flush it. so finally he comes out of there and i go in and it reeks big time. there’s not even a door on this “bathroom” – it’s just a cinderblock room with a toilet. whatever, though. what an ordeal. i felt like it took an hour to get that whole thing overwith. anyway, so back in the comedor i see the woman that i had seen shirtless on the bed now behind the grill cooking tortillas and beans and i’m like – how weird is this?

so courtney and i left there about an hour later and headed for the border crossing and after some confusing directions were finally in honduras. we exchanged our money – i exchanged $60 and got something like 1,100 lempiras – the honduran money – back. which was fine because before we got there i did the math and it’s like 18.50 lempiras to $1 (el salvador uses the u.s. dollar as its currency – that’s another story altogether...seriously, how can another country have money that says another country on it??). so we found the bus for nueva ocotepeque which was the town we needed to catch the bus for santa rosa copan, and from there another bus to gracias. so on the bus ride we’re like – so how much is this bus ride. and it’s like 15 lempiras or something and we’re thinking – is that right? you should have seen us. it was like the most difficult math problem – i don’t even know how to explain how confused we were. and it got even worse when we got to nueva ocotepeque because we had to buy tickets from this office for the bus to santa rosa copan and that ticket cost 50 lempiras. then i bought a gatorade and it was 20 lempiras. and it felt like we were just throwing these huge amounts of money away. it was such a psychological thing because it was like we couldn’t get around thinking that 20 lempiras was 20 dollars. the entire trip to santa rosa copan and on to gracias we were so preoccupied with whether or not we were going to have enough money to get back to el salvador. because in courtney’s travel book the hotels that were in there – backpackers places – were like “rooms are 250-350 lempiras a night” and even though we each had around 1,000 lempiras, it seemed like 300 lempiras a night, for two nights, was going to be a lot. then our bus ride from santa rosa copan to gracias was like another 30 lempiras. and we were so freaked out. but it was super hilarious at the same time. so when we got to gracias we walked around and found this hotel and the guy said he would give us a room with two beds for two nights for a total of 360 lempiras...and we were like “huh?” so like a bunch of idiots we finally just said “we just need to count our money” because it was hard to figure all that out while the guy was standing there. and once we sat down and counted our money and looked at the value of the lempira in dollars it was ok. because it was basically $20 total for two nights. i just had to look at the 100 lempira note and think of it as $5.00. and they don’t really use coins there – i mean, we saw a couple people with coins, but things are all even lempiras. something doesn’t cost 1.50 lempiras. it’s all in even amounts – like 20 lempiras or 100 or 50. but talk about a psychological issue – it was such a simple thing to do, because we knew the exchange rate, and it all added up, but it was so hard not to think in terms of dollars. i’ve traveled to other countries before and used other currency but it was always similar to the dollar. like the british pound and the euro – it’s easy to figure those because they are along the same lines as the dollar, even though they are worth more than the dollar. this lempira thing took some serious thinking and the more we analyzed it the worse it was to figure it out. i felt like such a dummy, using my calculator on my cell phone every five seconds to try and make sure we weren’t getting ripped off. so stupid. i’m sure it’s totally easy for other people, but for us we were totally dumb.

so after that whole thing, we decided to walk around and try to find some food or something. it was around 3:00 p.m. and we knew york, mark and eric wouldn’t be there for a while because it had taken us almost 5 hours or something to get to gracias. plus honduras is an hour ahead of el salvador (so is’s not daylight savings time or anything. york explained it to me, but i didn’t really get it. i guess they go an hour ahead because of the length of the day and tiendas can stay open later or something...but i don’t know why el salvador doesn’t observe it. i guess they do this every three years here in central america – not sure about the rest of the world...i know, a crappy explanation, but once i get a better grasp of it, i’ll explain it better). so courtney and i are walking around just checking out the place and this woman is walking down the street selling cookies and courtney decides to buy some and the woman says they are 10 lempiras. so courtney gives her a 20 note and then we walk away and we decide to sit down on this curb and eat them. then i ask courtney if they were 20 lempiras and she says they were 10 and i said that i didn’t think she got change. and courtney was like – yeah i did. and she checks her pocket and she didn’t get change. and she’s like “i just walked away from her didn’t i?” and we were dying laughing because after all that preoccupation with not having enough lempiras, courtney’s just “throwing lempiras away.” ha. so we walk around more and find this place called “don quixle’s” or something like that. we go inside and it’s small, but kind of cool – like a normal bar in the states or something. it had all this cool latin memorabilia and photos on the walls. you don’t really see many of these types of places in el salvador (other than san sal). i asked the woman working there if they had food and she said yeah so courtney and i took a seat at this table. we were the only females in there except for the woman working there. there were two tables of honduran guys and courtney and i were like “well, this is interesting.” so we ordered a couple of beers and food and waited. at one table of guys i think they were having some kind of drinking contest. there were like, i swear to you, 50 empty beer bottles lined up on the table and the guys there were totally wasted. then at the other table, there were probably like 6 guys and they were talking really loudly. and on the television were these old 80’s american videos – like huey lewis and the news, a-ha, madonna, michael jackson, toto, etc. courtney had to go back to the hotel to get something and so i sat there feeling really weird waiting for her, but thinking – what the hell ever. so she gets back and after being back for like 2 minutes she realizes she left her phone at the hotel and she’s waiting for mark to call her when they get to gracias. so i tell her i’ll go back this time because i wanted to get more money. so i walk back and come back and there’s like 6 beers on our table, courtesy of the hondurans. then our food came and it was overwhelming because it was this huge plate of rice, fries, carne de la plancha, chimol, avocado, tortillas, queso, and we had all these beers. then the woman working there keeps bringing us more beers. courtney and i are like – seriously, this is so funny. the whole scene – the crazy 80’s videos, being in honduras, these crazy guys. the nice thing though was that these guys weren’t harassing us. in el salvador it would have been a different story.....guys in el salvador would have been totally trying to talk to us or whatever, or being totally vile. here, though, the guys were just buying us rounds and totally leaving us alone. i think the only thing one of them said to us was when he asked courtney if he could bum one of her cigarettes. so later, courtney told them that she wanted a picture of them with us because they were nice in buying us beers. then they were all chatty and wanting to pull the tables together. so we did that and it was funny. we had a super good time, but in-between all this craziness, mark had called and we were supposed to meet them in the park at 9:00. at that point we were kind of drunk, but knew where the park was and all that. so we went to leave there and i asked about paying for our food and the woman said that those guys had paid for everything. oh, and we also found out that one of the guys was the owner of the hotel we were staying at. so a couple of them walked with us through town to the park and i think they were mad we were leaving. so i told them we’d call them the next day or something. so we met up with mark, eric and york and took a mototaxi out to this hot springs where the first party with the honduran volunteers was.

it seemed like forever before we got out there, but once there it was really cool. they have about six or seven natural hot springs and at first courtney and i didn’t go in because we didn’t have swimsuits – i didn’t know we were gonna be swimming at these parties. but after a while we decided it was dark enough that nobody was gonna see us if we just wore our underwear and shirts in. it was sooooo nice and tranquilo in the hot water. i didn’t want to ever get out. there were some honduran families there too, and we met these two girls – they kept saying they were cousins – but one was chinese and the other honduran. they could speak english really well and told us they went to some english school in honduras. and the chinese girl could speak english, spanish and chinese and we were like – way to make us feel stupid. then the chinese girl said her dad or mom or someone in her family owned this chinese restaurant in gracias and she kept telling us to go there the next day. and we’d be like “well, we don’t know if we’ll have time.” and she’d say, “so i’ll wait for you all day. i’ll be there all day long.” and we’re like “no, you should play or do homework or something.” it was funny. we ended up being there until like 12:30 in the a.m., which is super late for rural latin america. that chinese/honduran family were leaving when we were and that girl was still yelling “see you at the restaurant tomorrow!” we got a ride in this pickup back to gracias from this dude, and i don’t know how it always works out this way – but i always end up sitting right where the stick shift is and i end up having to sit with my ass half in the air for most of the trip. ugh.

the next day we basically just got up in time to meet the guys in the park at 11:00 and head out to the second party which was at this hotel which was a little ways out of gracias. while in the park we kept seeing all these kids dressed in traditional indiginous clothing. it was the coolest thing. i think, though, that it’s something they do to keep the town interesting for tourists. i don’t think people normally where these clothes in their homes or whatever. but in any event, the clothes were traditional style, and at least they are embracing their cultural roots, unlike almost all of el salvador. the park there in gracias was really pretty too. it had this relatively new structure in the middle of it – kind of like where a gazebo would be – and several really interesting statues. we ended up having to walk all the way out to this hotel and it was god awful hot. when we finally got there and saw it had a pool, i was damn jealous of everyone who had their swimsuits. the first thing i did though was eat a hot dog. these were real american hot dogs and were woefully smaller than the buns that jamie (the honduras volunteer that invited us salvadoran volunteers, and whose site is in gracias) had had a honduran woman make for us. but they were real american hot dogs, with ketchup, mustard, onions, relish and all that good stuff. that with a beer was like the best thing in the world under the hot, hot sun. we hung out playing frisbee and listening to music – i felt like i was at a college party actually – for a while. then i decided to go over to the pool and at least stick my legs in. then megan and maria showed up so there were more of us salvadoran volunteers there. the cool thing about meeting the honduran volunteers was that there were about 5-6 of them from our staging back in washington, d.c. in september. the volunteers from el sal and honduras had staging together. then the honduran volunteers left a day before us. so that was the last time we saw all of them. so it was cool to get to see some of them again and find out how things were going with them. everyone seemed pretty cool and i met some really nice people there. we had fireworks and lots more beer and then megan, maria and i decided to leave to go get something to eat in gracias. we got a ride in a pickup back to gracias and during the trip, at some intersection the driver stopped really fast. we were standing up in the back and when he stopped, i kind of fell down and slammed my wrist on the side of the pickup and damn did that hurt. it’s super sore even now....that totally sucked. anyway, we found this place to get really good food and we got the most amazing chocolate and banana con leche licuados. you really can’t go wrong with a licuado here in latin america.... well, i suppose you can, but damn they are good. then we met everyone in our group at this other restaurant. then we went to he park around 9:00 and headed off to some other place that was lame and then back to the same restaurant we had just been in. that was where the party kind of ended, i headed back early with megan and mark. mark walked us both to our hotels and i crashed. courtney came back and we were up for a little bit and she told me she gave a cigarette to the night watchman at the hotel. ok, whatever. then when we were both about ready to go to sleep, we heard this dude talking outside our door and he was saying that he was the night watchman and he wanted another cigarette. and courtney’s telling me in a low voice that she’s scared. and i’m just like – what is going on. so finally i was like “no tengo más cigarillos” and he was like – oh, ok. and left. and we were freaked out. so we pulled this table in front of the door. we were like, well if he tries to get in, at least we’ll have a little bit of time to get up. duh. but i was too tired to worry about it any more and i was out like 10 minutes later. it had been a long couple of days.

the next morning courtney and i left on the 6:00 bus headed for santa rosa copan. i was totally not looking forward to the day because i had to go all the way back to molineros. i slept most of the way and when i finally made it to molineros i was dead tired. i had such a good time hanging out with my family though. it was so tranquilo there, even if it was a million degrees. you don’t even understand how damn hot it is here. just a sun that seems to be a hundred times more powerful than in the states beating down on your face and head, and seeming to go through the roof and walls of the house. it’s crazy. that night i was drifting off during one of ana’s telenovelas and finally i hit the sack around 8:00 and had the best sleep of my life. i’m sure there were bats and insects and whatever else flying all around me all night, but i wouldn’t have noticed if they had all bit me in the face. i was so tired.

the next day i woke up at 9:30 and i had to take a bucket bath over at mama viviana’s house because apparently molineros hasn’t had water in like 25 days or something. i kept asking why and everyone just kept saying that the water tank doesn’t work. yeah, and???? and it’s like they just accept that they don’t have water. mama vivana has a well, so she has water. but everyone else who has chorros has to fashion some kind of system on their house to direct rainwater into the pilas. and if it doesn’t rain, well then their screwed. so i go over to mama viviana’s house with dayana that afternoon and i realize i have to pretty much bathe out in the open. mama viviana tried to string up these blankets and stuff so that i was shielded from the people on the road next to and in front of her house, but it was like there was no way to be completely shielded. so then mama viviana brings out this old white nightgown that she says i can use. so i quickly pull this thing on and of course, it’s white, so it doesn’t even matter that i have it on. once it’s wet, i might as well of had nothing on. but then i was like – who even cares? so people see my ass or whatever....what’s the big deal. i think one of the most tranquilo things though is taking a bucket bath under that hot salvadoran sun. seriously, it sounds like it’d be so uncomfortable, but i’m telling you that sun is so’s so refreshing taking a cold shower or cold bucket bath around noon or so in el salvador (well, except for maybe in my site where it’s definitely not as hot).

anyway, the rest of my time there in molineros was as relaxing as ever. the only thing that was troubling me was the fact that san salvador was a mess at the moment. there were all these protests on wednesday and some police officers got shot and killed during the whole thing. when i got up on friday they were still continuing. i was planning on leaving my family’s house at 9:30 a.m. and before i did, i got a message from someone from the peace corps saying that we weren’t supposed to travel into san salvador that day because of the protests blocking all the roads leading into san sal. so i ended up staying a bit longer, but thought it’d be ok to leave on the 12:30 bus because usually what happens with these protests is they are all fired up in the morning, but then lunchtime comes and then everyone’s tired after lunch, so the protests kind of fizzle out. so i chanced it and went into san sal that afternoon and there were no problems. i ended up staying there because i didn’t feel like riding buses again. san sal was the same as and muggy and dirty. but i did finally get to see that movie “crash.” it’s weird here how they have movies here – sometimes they’ll have movies in the theaters here that are relatively new in the states as well. and sometimes it’s months before a movie comes here. anyway, that’s about all i did in san sal.

back in apaneca i pretty much chilled out on saturday, and on sunday went to juayua to eat food. i’m feeling way better now, the only problem is that i think my stomach shrunk. i don’t even know if that’s possible, but it sure as hell feels like it. i’ll have this huge appetite, like i’ll be starving....and then when i go to eat, i can only eat a little bit. and i’ll be all bummed out because i want to eat more, but i can’t – i’ll feel literally stuffed, like i just ate three plates of thanksgiving dinner or something. so i was bound and determined to eat a ton of food in juayua. i told antonio that i didn’t care if i felt full because i was craving mexican food and juayua is pretty much the only place you can get authentic mexican food around here. on the weekends they have the feria gastronomica which is food from around the world – argentina, mexico, colombia, brazil, france, sweden, the u.s. – everywhere. it’s more expensive than normal food from a comedor...$3.00 - $5.00 a plate as opposed to $1.50....but every once in a while it’s worth it. so first i go to the mexican food stand and get three tacos and nachos with frijoles and guacamole for $3.00. i scarfed those things down man. then, antonio didn’t want to eat there, but wanted to go to this comedor called “laura’s” because they have a television and it was the final game of the world cup. (also, everytime i’m in juayua with someone and we see that place they’re like – “look, it’s called laura’s...hahahaha.” and i just roll my eyes and say “yo sé.” like, seriously, so it’s called laura’s and i have the same name, what’s the big deal???) so we go there and they had some good lookin’ carne and chimol and i was like – i can’t turn this down. so i totally got a plate of that and i’ll admit, it was hard to eat it all, but i worked my way through it as we watched italy vs. france on this television, with the bee gees playing on the stereo in the background. yep. so by the end of the normal game, it was a tie and we decided to leave there and i felt like i had to be rolled out of there i was so stuffed. then we found this tent where some tables and chairs were for people eating at the feria gastronomica that had a television, so we sat outside and watched italy beat france in overtime penalty shots. seriously, i think that’s a dumb way to end a game. it really doesn’t even show who played better or anything – it’s all about luck there i think. anyway, so italy’s the champion. i can’t believe france beat brazil. that was a real shocker. and it deflated everyone around here. everyone loves brazil because brazil has ronaldinho who plays for barcelona all other times. ronaldinho is a really friggin’ good soccer player. anyway, it’s stupid though because during the first rounds of the world cup, when the united states lost, people would say to me “what happened to the united states? why don’t they ever win?” and i’m like “i don’t know, why don’t you tell me what happened to el salvador’s team? they’re not even playing in the world cup.” it’s like people here don’t even make that connection. they think because they all like ronaldinho then it’s automatic to like brazil and in turn that makes them all brazilian nationals or something. i asked antonio about this and he’s like “tiene razón laura” (i’m right) but it still doesn’t explain why people here don’t root for they’re home country. i wonder what would happen if el salvador did have a good enough team to play in the world cup. i wonder if people here would root for el salvador or if they’d continue to root for brazil and ronaldinho. that’d be really interesting. i don’t have any grand reason for not rooting for the u.s. in soccer.....i just don’t root for them. maybe because soccer in the u.s. was virtually non-existent for half my life. i don’t know. i’m not gonna pretend i’ve got a really good reason for rooting for argentina. i did tell someone here that, well, i’m living in a latin american country and argentina has one of the highest german populations outside of germany in the world, so maybe that could be a reason since i’ve got a lot of german in my family. they’re a latin american country with a bunch of germans living in it. whatever.

so anyway, back to me stuffing my face with food in juayua. we walked around juayua a while and then decided to get ice cream...mmmmm. after eating that we walked around some more and looked at stuff in the market. some couple of hours later, i decided that i hadn’t eaten enough food that day and we ended up going to this mexican restaurant and i ordered more tacos with guacamole. antonio wasn’t that hungry so he ordered a quesadilla and café and i was like “it’s not the same kind of quesadilla as in el salvador.” i explained that quesadilla in mexico is a tortilla with cheese and onions and whatever else. quesadilla in el salvador is type of bread or cake. it’s made with cheese, but it’s like cake and it’s really friggin’ good – especially if you get a thin piece. antonio’s like “yeah, it’s fine.” so after the waitress left he’s like “explain to me what the difference is again?” and i’m laughing hysterically because he still thinks he’s getting the salvadoran quesadilla. but he ended up liking it anyways. as for me, i was absolutely beyond help stuffed. i can’t believe i was able to eat that much food. i think i was just excited that i was able to eat without feeling that i was gonna get sick from parasites again. and it was mexican food, my absolute favorite in the whole world.

anyway, to end this long post – i’m going to guatemala this weekend! (i think...we´re still trying to make plans....) it would just be for three days or something, but i think we’re going to the beach, antigua and lago atitlan. i just hope figuring out the quetzal won’t be as mindboggling as the lempira!!!

adios amigos!

here are some pics of honduras....i have more of my family and stuff, but it takes forever to upload the here´s what i have for now...

little girl in the central park in gracias

this may look like just a normal pool to you, but to a bunch of volunteers who live in rural central america - it´s like gold

york and mark

courtney and mark doing the whole 4th of july thing

megan and maria

me, some honduras volunteer whose name i forgot and courtney

the el salvador volunteers - maria, mark, me, megan, courtney, york and eric

piñas in nueva ocotepeque

a mural on the side of a building in la palma, el salvador

a park in a pueblo in el salvador

NEW PICTURES (posted august 17, 2006)

me and courtney with the crazy hondurans

me trying on the fmln hat

me and courtney (that crazy looking guy on the side turned out to be the owner of our hotel)

me and one of those crazy smart girls - who was there with her family - we met at the hot springs

mark, me, york and some girl from the honduran group

these and most of the rest are of the kids dressed up in traditional clothing

the church in gracias at night (the neon cross seems to be a popular latin american thing on the catholic churches)

honduran house

view from the bus as we were leaving honduras