Monday, December 6, 2010

What's been going on

Me and the Brahva beer girl at the market

Wow, this is the first entry in about 5 months. I wonder if people are still reading this. I know that I get ticked when I am following a blogger who never blogs.

So I haven’t posted much on El Salvador ... because I have been mostly stuck in Toronto for that time period.
I was in San Salvador for a few weeks but am now in Toronto for a few more months.

We entered the dry season but we were still getting the occasional rain. No surprise since this has been a very, very wet rainy season.

It has been a bit of a crazy summer with the gangs escalating the bus ransom violence. That was in reaction to new legislation going after the gangs and it seems that they have backed down a bit. Mauricio Funes, once thought to be a communist stooge to his party and the scourge of good capitalists everywhere, has been doing a good job, especially considering the poor global economy. His popularity ratings are extremely high and everyone seems to like him, even grumpy Americans. It is actually quite amazing, really, that he has done such a good job considering he has little money to work with. How did he do that? Mammoth IMF loans? His party is stealing less than the last one which means more money for actual programs? Better management? Who knows but I am hoping for the latter two.

Other news? My buddy left his job as manager of Nvy (night club) so I guess I won’t be going there very much anymore. I was introduced to the new guy (who probably won’t remember me) and the doorman likes saying no to me (even though I have given him a bunch of good Cuban cigars). The Cuban restaurant Tumbao has closed and a new lounge/tapas bar called Likwid has opened at Multiplaza. As I am not young, beautiful or rich, I wasn’t invited to the opening so I cannot give you a report.

Dan set a nice table for Thanksgiving dinner

We went out to Playa Dorado to celebrate American Thanksgiving. This made it three turkeys for me this year. Went well except a had a gas oven minor explosion at home when I was toasting the croutons and another one at the beach house when the gas went out unexpectedly and then relit as I was checking on the baking stuff.

A beer canned toikey

We cooked a beer can turkey on the gas bbq, mushroom and sausage stuffing, beer and cheddar corn pie, candied carrots, roast brussels sprouts, and a lovely can of cranberry jelly.
We had 3 Salvadorans, 2 Cubans, 1 Canadian, and an American!

Waiting patiently for drinks at Remala.

My friend Minh moved his great Vietnamese/Thai restaurant from way above Escalon down to the Zona Rosa. He is just down from Alo Nuestro and Republic in a great new property. He is also across the street from Remala which is this great lounge housed in a gorgeous huge mansion on a large property. Hmmm, how the wealthy live behind big stone walls. Remala is owned by a French dude who inherited the property from his mere. Nice bar, great couches and some very groovy house/chill music (although better on the nights with a DJ). The cocktail list is pretty good and the drinks may actually taste good when the bartenders learn how to make all of them properly. I had a good apple martini and then a complete joke of a Manhattan (whiskey and vermouth poured over crushed ice in a martini glass) but they came back strong with the chocolate martin. A buddy asked for a Daiquiri and was expecting a lime based drink but they gave him a strawberry one as a surprise. We also went with our friend Claudia who was visiting town to check on her NGO

Beer and free (loud) accordian music

Took Claudia to my favourite lunch spot at the Mercado Merliot where we got trapped by a 5 piece band. I ordered the sopa de patas but Claudia is so gringa'ized that she couldn't stomach the thought of eating tripe.

The girls bumpin' at 4

The economy in general seems to be improving. Remittances are up from last year. The empty businesses in the Zona Rosa are starting to fill in. Mario's is back at the Code nightclub building - they specialize in 80's music and it is a lot of fun. The King Crab restaurant closed (who on earth thought they could serve small portions of freezer burned crab and charge $20 ... ate their once and that was enough) and they opened up a club (called "4") and a British Pub called the Red Lion.

Smoking a stogie at the Red Lion ... great music - Thompson Twins,
Culture Club, Human League, Simple Minds

The Pub ... is decorated nicely and I did have a bottle of Bass Ale but nothing on tap. They play only British music which is a nice change from frickin' reggaeton.

Frank with a bottle of the good stuff.

Frank the bartender is recently here from LA and speaks perfect English. Then we went next door to "4" which has the same owner. There was a private party downstairs so we went to the upstairs karaoke lounge. Pretty cool place, especially since no one was singing, with a nice decor and a drum set and guitars on the karaoke stage - I guess if you want to do more than sing. The V-Jay was taking requests and the girls got up to bump to Beyonce. I was smoking a big cigar which prompted the bartenders to turn on a giant fan built into the wall beside the bar ... I got the signal and left soon after. I think I saw them serve a beer to a kid who looked to be about 14.

Dan blasting out of the rough on the par 5 7th hole at the empty Veraneras course

The Veraneras golf course seemed to have survived the rainy season quite well. They added some drainage channels that helped with the heavy rains. One thing they don’t have is ... golfers! They seem to have reacted to this by raising their prices but I am doubtful that this strategy is going to work. On the helpful side, they have reduced the prices of their drinks and they let me suspend my membership while I was stuck in Canada. I was out golfing with my buddy Dan last Sunday and there were only two golfers in front of us and two behind us ... that is a total of 6 golfers for the entire day. The Canadian tourists coming down on Nolitours and staying at the Royal Decameron aren’t coming soon enough! We like having the course to our selves but don’t want the place going bankrupt.

I heard that a new new course is being built in the Libertad area by the guys who built the nice course in neighbouring Antigua, Guatemala (La Reunion Course?). They are going to charge $25,000 to join but that will be waived if you buy property in the club. I hear they are going after the wealthy Arab/Salvadoran market that is currently being shut out of the Campestre course (which is only 9 holes and costs $50,000 to join). This is a shock to me since there are already 4 courses in San Salvador and apparently only about 400 golfers. Plus another course or two are being planned. So either people really like owning golf courses (even if they are losing a ton of money) or they think they can grow the number of golfers (like has happened in North America) ... but good luck doing that since there are so few pros in the country and the courses don’t seem to like having middle class people showing up.

So far, I have a group of 9 coming down to visit me and a lot of people who came last year want to come again. I have been looking on the Internet for some rental properties and there are quite a few in the popular Costa del Sol area. They run from about $100 to $200 per night - the higher range includes places with 4-5 bedrooms, usually sleep over a dozen, a/c, a pool, and on the ocean.

Ooh, I can see the ocean from here

We did find one beautiful place out at Costa Azul (which is in the far west of the country, between Acajutla and Barra de Santiago, accessed along the coastal road that goes to the Guatemalan border). Very unique in that all the walls, floors, siding and terrace are all wood. The living room and dining room are completely open with just a big roof covering the whole area. It has been decorated very well by someone who had both taste and money (a happy convergence). All wood paneling and floors and a kick ass wooden deck. More than twice the price of anything else I have seen but may be worth it.

I think I am going to base my first beach house on this design. I want to have the property abutting the beach end of the property with a big deck and an infinity pool on the end. I think I’ll want to enclose the living area but maybe two garage doors (3 cars wide) can be put on the end so you can just open up the wall facing the ocean.

I have not had any luck finding a reliable contractor and I’ll think I’ll stop looking. I’ll hire an architect/engineer to do the plans, then my friend Dan (who has been a GC before) can do the construction planning, and I’ll get my brother-in-law (who is a civil engineer) to be the site manager. I’ve got the land picked out already ... just need to get some money!

The Emerald is ready for guests

A woman from Canada has just finished her property and is ready to rent it out. On Playa Dorado in front of a decent surf beach break, it has 5 bedrooms and the biggest pool I’ve seen on the coast.

Another interesting bit of law and order in San Salvador. The city centre (El Centro), where the National Theatre and some of the big cathedrals are located, has become more and more dangerous over the years. The streets have also become choked with sidewalk vendors who have built wooden kiosks on most of the major streets. They sell everything from fruits and vegetables to shoes and clothes to kitchen goods, cell phones, bootleg DVDs (including porn), and also drugs.

The nuisance is that you’ll have a three lane road that is effectively shrunk down to 1 ½ because of businesses on either side. This is despite the fact that there are numerous large (and often half vacant) purpose built indoor markets where people can set up their kiosks and be protected from the elements and be able to secure the goods overnight. Also, the street markets harbour a greater criminal element and contributes to a general lack of police supervision and control.

I have heard that the license fee on the street is about 50 cents a day while it is about $1.50 inside. So why don’t they all move into these nicer buildings? I have heard that there is more traffic outside so the vendors prefer to be there. I have also heard that the maras (gangs) control and extort from the people outside and have made sure that the vendors challenge the government when they talk about cleaning up the streets.

But the mayor of San Salvador, Quijano, decided to go in with a huge force of riot cops who started cleaning up the area street by street. They encountered some resistance in the form of rocks and fire barricades but they were able to reclaim the area. I just hope it lasts. I have been in the market a few times but generally with a Salvadoran friend. We park the car (in a very modern and guarded parking lot with a ticket machine and cashier), then walk very fast through the streets to one of the markets, we buy what we came for (usually polo shirts), and then walk out fast. No loitering, no eye contact, and nothing valuable on us. I have also been to the National Theatre to see Fatima dance but there was no security problem with that so it isn’t all bad. It will be nice to go there more often - I hear that there is a good market that sells artisanal souvenirs.

Okay, I am going to post this before I delay any longer. Cheers all.