Saturday, October 6, 2012

Summer of 2012


Welcome back to perhaps the worst blog on El Salvador ... since very little seems to be about this country. I have been traveling a bit and Malta was nice. 
Chris and Tracey enjoying the deck at the Blacksheep in Wakefield Quebec

Then to Toronto where Fatima joined me and we did Ottawa to visit Tracey and Chris, Owen Sound, and the Kawarthas to the cottage.

Had another Zakuski. Note the pickled Russian garlic!

YS holding court at Sushimoto. Did we eat two sushi boats?

With Chris and Janet at Congee Queen

 For me, nothing beats summer in Canada. Probably because the winters are so long and horrible that everyone and everything comes alive in the spring and summer. Lots of shopping, lots of dinners at Sushi Moto, lunches at Congee Queen, and lots of visitin.

No way can you fit that whole thing in your mouth Tracey.

Made it up to Jeff and Kath’s cottage a few times for some really hot and sunny days. 


Jenny and Noel in the canoe.
Back on dry land.

Lots of time in the lake and lots of time cooking and eating. Noelski who is working and studying in Ecuador came up with his lovely girlfriend Jenny. Lots of cigars on the deck.
Usain Bolt winning the 100 m gold in London. Watched over a combo iPad cell hub thingee.

Foodies start their young ... young. Lily mixing a salad she helped make.

Then back to San Salvador and off quickly to Havana for business. As usual, Matt and Jana were kind enough to host Fatima and myself. We did the usual but the usual is actually quite a lot of fun. 
My table setting at Atelier

At Atelier with the Havana gang.

We had a big dinner party at Atelier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXdzVzpqVko&feature=plcp. Then went to hip lounge bar on 1ra around 42 in Miramar called Melen. The great thing about these hip bars is, you can go in and have like 20 drinks and the tab will be $50. Then the lads tried to execute the rest of the very poorly planned “boys night out” by heading to the den of inequity that is Don Cangrejo, a former seafood restaurant turned into a giant outdoor rave-like nightclub.

In Barrio Chino with Hetor, Delia, Jacqueline, Jose and some random CD vendor.

We also made it to Tien Tan for some excellent Chinese food. It was very very slow so the chef was outside smoking so I had a chat with him and asked him to send out 8 dishes of his choice. Got some really nice ones like lamb with cumin and great breaded shrimps. Also made it to Carboncita on 3ra and 38 a few times for the excellent pizza (although he was out of prosciutto and good salami) but the grilled octopus was great as was the porchetta (although it was hard ordering it from the ladies as I kept saying porchetta instead of porketta). 

Having lunch with Chukin at Dona Eutimia.

Made it to Habana Vieja for a meeting and then called Matt of Cuba Absolutely for a last minute recommendation and he told us to go to Dona Eutimia off of the Plaza de Cathedral which we barely found as I heard it with Matt’s English accent off a bad cell connection so I kept asking for Dona Udania. Anyways, I have known about that paladar for maybe a decade but never bothered going in figuring it was a tourist trap with crappy food. Wrong! It had great Cuban food in a beautifully and tastefully decorated little dining room at the front of big old airy house.


Crab, lobster and octopus served in crispy boniato cups with cold Cristals.


Went to a very interesting lunch meeting of a group of young Cuban entrepreneurs. They meet once a week at one guy’s place who is busily converting his house to a paladar including a huge multi burner range, stainless steel counters and a gas burning paella pan 4’ in diameter. You have to hand it to Cubans – this guy hired a designer who put together a 100 page book of designs for all the rooms, furniture and fixtures. He found out that I was a foodie so sat in the kitchen with him and some of the other early birds to talk food and watch him cook. He made a great garbanzo lobster dish with curry flavours, a crab salad, a cole slaw (in Cuba, cabbage is lettuce), and a delicious lobster salad with enough garlic to surprise this garlic eating Korean. He came up with an idea of making boniato (white sweet potato) cups, freezing and then deep frying them to make a serving platform. Delicious. I hope his paladar is open when I go back. I plan to bring him some nice food ingredients like good wasabi, paresan cheese, and truffle oil.

Jose and Claudio getting ready to eat 10 tacos each.

Also did a taco and domino night at Delia’s, went to visit Hanoi at the Hotel Raquel, went to visit an artist and a gallery. Ended up buying three paintings from Jurgen this time but his agent was off in Barcelona so her assistant was in charge of the visits and then the paperwork which got really screwed up the next day. I was supposed to have the paintings delivered to Matt’s place at 2:00 pm, an hour before my departure for the airport, with the export seals and papers. Instead, I get a call from Jurgen at 1:00 saying that they couldn’t get the paperwork done and asked if I could come pick him up. I told him that I had no car and no time and he had to take care of it. Now he is an excellent painter but his agent is supposed to handle the paperwork. He ended up getting his Dad (nice guy) to drive him, carrying the paintings in a 1.9m tube, on the back of a motorcycle to the airport where he waited for me. Had to speak to two different customs offices before I found Gustavo at Taca who was willing to go through the immigration area to the customs/patrimony people to see if they could come out to pre-authorize the paintings before I took the risk of walking through and running into problems. 

Drinking beers with Jurgen at the airport, waiting for something to happen.
So the right woman was found but she was at a different terminal so we had some beers while waiting for her. She shows up and luckily she knows the artist so she says no problems and I pay the balance of the monies to Jurgen and take this giant tube through. Happily they didn’t make me pull it out onto the floor and I helped the woman talk with some German girls who were carrying paintings without a seal (they were told they didn’t need them – wrong. Always a good idea to get the seal put onto the painting at the market which will save you time and money). I think I paid $21 for the three paintings and Gustavo let me board with this giant tube instead of paying the $100 or whatever for oversized baggage.
The painting we bought "Amelia" (I call it Fat Uma)

We are only keeping one and two are for a friend in Toronto who has very large empty walls. I had one of them framed out (just blocked onto wood) and it barely fit into the back of my Honda Pilot which I thought would fit anything. It was so tight that the frame had to be twisted to get in. Now it is on the wall of my dining room and it looks great and gives the room a nice pop-arty feeling. I’d like to help out Jurgen by selling some more of his work so let me know if you are interested. You can see more examples at and he works off of photographs and I think he will take commissions http://www.facebook.com/media/set/edit/a.10152114618245114.904197.875965113/

Trip was great even though there was dengue everywhere. Three friends of mine got it (all survived after a few weeks of pain and discomfort) and it was all over the city. We were very careful about not getting bit and left without a problem. On the upside, the avocados are great this year.

Avocado salesman in Habana Vieja

Okay, back in San Salvador and it is the tail end of the rainy season. It has been very light and I hope it continues like this for the rest of the year. We were almost out of it last year when that weird storm hit and we had a week of continuous rain which took out 57 bridges. There are Japanese engineers here who are rebuilding a bunch of them and they are doing a good job although the job is far from being finished – come on, 57 bridges is a lot. No one seems to be able to understand them but no one is disagreeing with their engineering decisions.

The golf course at Veraneras survived the season beautifully. In past years, they have had a foot of rain sitting on top of the greens for weeks making it impossible to play and impossible to groom. This year, not one day of closure and when I played in the past few weeks, not even any mud on the ground. I have also heard that the new Dye designed course, El Encanto, is going to open 9 holes in February. We are all excited about that. Heard that Dye wasn’t going to make it as hard as El Reunion in Guatemala which is crazy hilly and hard. Also heard that they were going to make the fees more affordable to the middle class (like me!) by dropping initiation from $25K to $10K.

One reason why I had to come back at this time was because I was at the end of my 90 day provisional temporary residency card. If I spent 90 days abroad, I would have to reapply which would mean that I would lose credit for the previous 4 years and you need 5 years total to apply for permanent residency. So I get back before the deadline and have my lawyer call them to see if my regular temporary residency card is ready and she is told to check back in a month but they may be up to two months behind due to a large number of applications being submitted in May. So just like Canada, they are way behind! Movin’ on up to developed country levels.

Things are pretty quiet and peaceful here. The city is dressing up the Zona Rosa with a median barrier with surprising large palm trees (how did they get those in there?) and lights. Amazingly not interfering with traffic – unlike the 6 month plan to resurface the highway down the hill at Los Chorros. You can get details at http://www.mop.gob.sv the Public Works Ministry website that is stressing transparency of governance which is a great step to reducing corruption and encouraging accountability. Oh, they almost have the other highway bypassing Santa Tecla completed to hook up with Blvd Jerusalem and then into the city. Salvadorans are amazingly quick and good road builders and I think we continue to have the best roads in Central America.

Hmm, traffic was also crazy bad last week when we had two demonstrations on the same day and they had to close the road in front of the presidential palace and the highway going past Gran Via. I was driving out to the airport highway and it took half an hour to clear the zone. Amazingly, I saw some cops trying to direct traffic but they didn’t really seem to know how to do it. Traffic jams like this produce incredibly selfish acts of gridlock. Like cars filling intersections blocking cars and not being to clear the intersection for two cycles of the lights. All this because people are trying to make left hand turns through the traffic further along and no one letting them in. On the positive side, having traffic jams like this makes the regular rush hour look not so bad.

Paseo del Carmen continues to flourish with lots of people and live music. Fatima’s friend opened up a place called La Brújula  which means “compass” in Spanish. She studied in NYC hence all the Brooklyn stuff around. They have an okay taster combo plate of Arabic food but their pizzas are quite good. Get the spinach mushroom pizza but ask for an extra thin crust and baked longer to get it crispy.

Have also eaten at the Faisca do Brasil Churrascarria at the Intercontinetal, Pabelion Coreano in Merliot, and Paradise which has a menu and chef for excellent appetizers that is cheaper and much better than the packaged crap at Chilli’s and Bennigans. They have good sliders and wings and excellent onion rings and popcorn shrimp. Their full on gourmet menu is also good with lots of steaks (I think they grow and age their own beef), lobsters and some old school classics like wedge salads.

Oh, one weird thing I heard is about some other former bloggers in El Salvador. There was a Korean American ex-punk rocker from Jersey who opened a cafe on the beach. I may or may not have sent her a message saying she shouldn’t put too much private stuff on her blog as that would give potential bad guys information to extort her – like we know your kid’s name and where they go to school.  Her blog just stopped one day and I wondered what had happened to her. Then another blogger opened a business nearby there and was commenting about the gangs and extortion demands being made of small businesses. Then very surprisingly, someone commented and said that the area had some prominent business people and if they didn’t think the new business was good for the community, they would have someone call and make a fake extortion play. Faced with violence, a lot of small businesses would prefer to close and move elsewhere. Now if this is true, this portends very badly for the future of this country. Extortion by gangs are really hurting the safety and commerce of this country and if wealthy business owners are using the same tools to fight competition, this country will never be able to turn itself around. I hope that I am wrong or these people stop this behaviour!

Hmm, no photos of San Salvador. Will try to take some to post. See you back here soon, I hope.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Week one in Malta.



My view of St. Julian's Bay


Quick week in San Salvador. Rainy season is starting of course and managed to get a few rounds of golf in. The golf course was even emptier than normal but still in pretty good shape except for the five billion gazillion mosquitoes. I put a thick spray of Off on but the mosquitoes bit through that. Read on-line that Off wears off after about 3 hours so next time, have to do another application.


Little Spinola Bay from my terrace.

Went to Faisco do Brasil at the Intercontinental. The usual great food and great service. Ate too much but hard not to with all the seviche, carpaccio (fish and beef), okay sushi and course after course of meat. We brought a jar of horseradish to go with the picanha and it was delicious. Also made it to the Korean restaurant and the food was great.

Then up to Toronto for a week to take care of some business before fl ying over to Malta. Booked again with Luftansa for their fast stopovers and there was a seat sale on so flew business class. The last trip was brutal as I had an economy aisle seat and was seated beside someone with an unfortunate BO problem. This time, much nicer. The Maple Leaf Lounge had self serve Guinness on tap and I was barely able to restrict myself to two pints. Flight was operated by Air Canada and the seats were the herringbone pods with the lie-flat beds and they were kind of funky but not bad. Weird to accelerate at takeoff sitting at an angle. Food and drink were fine – decent champagne, shrimps and scallops, salmon, nice red wine, cheese plate and port. Then was able to get 4 hours of sleep and that was very nice.

Then landed in Munich where I had to pull my bags as apparently , Luftansa code shares with both Air Canada and Air Malta but those two carriers have not learned how to play nicely. Luckily the recheck-in in Munich was through Luftansa so the let my three bags on without asking for my first born (lucky for  

Living room number one with the open concept kitchen

Landing in Malta, wow, hot. 40 degrees? I was worried for a bit until someone told me that there was a heat wave here and that kind of temperature is not normal. A friend drove me to the realtor’s and we headed over to the apartment.  Wow, big place. Three bedrooms, three baths, two living rooms and four terraces. Washer/dryer, dish washer, parking, and a fantastic view. Even my underground garage has an amazing view.

Living room number two with the dining room.

I overlook little Spinola Bay which is full of pleasure boats and small fishing vessels. The bay is circled by the coastal road and around 30 bars and restaurants.  Some great steak houses, seafood places, sushi and Asian fusion, a great fish and chips shop called Gove’s Place, and Dublners, an Irish pub with Kilkenny and Guinness on tap ... heaven!
  

St. Julian's at sunset.

Mike from Mike and Jess in Malta http://www.mike-jess.com/ dropped by for a beer and he gave me a lot of useful advice on moving and setting up in Malta. Then went to the Dubliner for some chow and had the bangers and mash. Enjoying all things Bri-ish here.

Then off on the much vaunted Malta bus service to Valleta. EUR2.60 for the day and the buses are large with tinted windows and good AC. Dropped off at the main station and walked over to a nice park beside some really old building to a wine festival to meet Jess and her Mum and little Sis. Great place and great festival, nice live music and lots of Maltese wine – some good, some less than good. Had about 6 to 8 glasses and, on the plus side, managed to get home on the bus without getting lost. Not that hard I guess when the bus follows the coastal road and you live on the coast.

Quiet Saturday for me with lots of time to catch up on some work. Then headed to Arkadia Food Store at the base of the Tower about 5 minutes from the apartment. Very happy to find decently priced  fresh vegetables and really cheap wines. Found a Valpolicella Superiore for EUR 10 and noticed that all this great European shit is actually really cheap in Europe. Like pasta, tomato sauce, salumi, olives, and anchovies. I think that I am going to like Malta.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Paseo del Carmen and Evelyne's House of Shame



The Showbill
Discovered a new amazing nightspot in San Salvador. Having lived in Havana for more than a decade, I was spoiled with its amazing nightlife full of bars, cafes, restaurant lounges, live bands, jazz clubs, techno discos, ballet, flamenco and the list goes on and on.


San Salvador, on the other hand, has a nice bohemian club called La Ventana that you drive to, park very nearby and walk briskly to. Then you go back to car watching your surroundings and drive home. 


Or you go to the Zona Rosa where you kind of can walk from one place to another but the offerings aren't that great. El Rinconcito is full of bars and a karaoke and a disco but it is a bit dodgy. Other bars like 4 and the Red Lion are opened and then closed soon after due to declining crowds and some horrible service (I was once asked to pay a $10 clean-up charge when one of my guests was accused of throwing up in the washroom - and it wasn't even him but some underaged drinker that they illegally served). Republik is a poor facsimile of an Irish pub (no Guinness on tap, just the one national beer!?), Brasilea is okay if you have no other place to go to, and the fancy nightclub (Code?) was empty but the doorman told me that it was members only and I couldn't even look inside.


Then a group of nightclubs was opened in the nearby Mulitplaza Mall. With hundreds of parking spots and lots of security, it soon became popular and numerous bars and clubs were opened. Envy is the most exclusive and is a big, shiny Miami style nightclub.  I was denied entry for being a foreigner - the club caters to the children of the very wealthy who like to feel like the most important people in the club, something harder to do with foreigners dropping lots of money or having tall or blond people around. There are lots of other discos, some nice restaurant/lounges like Mai Thai, and lots of bars with music. But come on, it's a mall! You park, take the elevator or escalator up a few flights, then you walk around to see what the scene is surrounded by hundreds of kids.


And if you want to talk a safe walk around at night, you can go to the Gran Via mall that has a big courtyard promenade, somewhat reminiscent of the Gran Via in Madrid (minus the drug dealers and Cuban hookers) but you are in a mall again. Sure there is a nice fountain and some activities for the kids (mini golf, mini train, and the shortest zip line in the world) and sometimes some live music but you are still in a mall, walking from one retail area to another.



Early and quiet on Paseo del Carmen

So yesterday, when Fatima and her friend said that there was a French dance company doing a parade in Santa Tecla and that we could watch from a bar/restaurant, I jumped at the chance. We headed over around 6:30 pm which was the perfect time to hit heavy traffic and get stuck behind the many buses spewing so much smoke I had problems seeing the road. We finally pulled off the main street and we found a parking lot where a woman assured me that she would watch my car until midnight. So we walked a few blocks to the venue and I had my pocket knife ready in case someone tried to steal my man bag (which maybe stupidly contained my BB, an iPod, a camera and a tablet) and we came up to Paseo del Carmen. It was still very early in the evening but most of the street had been blocked off from traffic and tables and sofas and lounges had been put out onto the street by the numerous bars and restaurants that line this relatively small and quiet street. We walked along for 3 blocks and I was amazed at how many bars and cool restaurants there were. Also lots of cops and one very friendly one on a bicycle who gave us information and stopped traffic at one intersection for us to cross.


We wanted to see the parade so we ended up walking to the big cultural centre (Palacio tecleño?) and got a table at the nearby La Rioja bar for some wine and tapas. Eunice went to confirm that the parade would come by the bar and was told that the parade had been cancelled and the show would only occur inside the cultural centre. So we told the waiter sorry but to cancel our order and we would be back. 


Fatima enjoying the show



Then into the centre to see the show by the French company La Zouze and the Salvadoran National Dance Company and some invited guests. Wow, what a great performance art, cabaret, circus, interactive in-your-face, rock and roll extravaganza. I think the show was called the "Evelyne House of Shame" and was a mock bordello with everyone wearing trim and tight underwear, long stockings and heels (including the men and one guy who must have been 6' 10" with the heels). My favourite character sported a very tall Marie Antoinette wig and a mustache.

I think this French dude was the director of the company. I was tempted to punch him in the face because of the T-shirt ... and it was the kind of show where punching the director would have blended in quite well!



Nice venue with the interior space surrounded by columns and a great sound system with live heavy-duty guitar. They had a bar and cafe set up so we could drink wine and beer and people were smoking ciggies (civilized!). We were famished so ordered a delicious Mediterranean Panini sandwich and munched through the show.



Ooh look, the famous Patricia, one of El Salvador's finest Thespians.

Not sure if there was a plot but lots of random drama and groups running around and then the rock music started with the strobe lights. The crowd was very mixed but mostly artsy and bohemian. Saw lots of actors (including the famous Patricia) and of course, every dancer in the country. Also skater boyz, and funky girls - very reminiscent of the freakies of Havana.



Yes, it was surreal.


Oh, I forgot to mention that the parade had probably been cancelled because the night before, there was public nudity and masterbation on the streets and that probably freaked out the authorities. So instead, they had it inside and said you had to be 18 and over to get in although I must have seen about 30 kids in there so obviously that wasn't being enforced.

video
Beginning of the show with my favourite Marie Antoinette character.


We were really enjoying the show but after about 90 minutes, we were getting tired, thirsty and hungry and we knew that the show was going to degenerate (or elevate) to the point where lots of people would be taking off their clothes (including audience members) so we left early and went back to La Rioja. No smoking inside so we took a sidewalk table and ordered a very nice wine and lots of tapas. I lit up a big Hoyo de Monterey doble corona and took about 2 hours to smoke it. Hundreds of people along the street, families with strollers and kids with skateboards, lots of couples and young people. I have never seen this at night in San Salvador and it was fantastic. Paseo del Carmen was closed to traffic but full of pedestrians, some beautiful colonial houses, the Iglesia el Carmen, street vendors, nicely decorated bars and restaurants, and lots of live music. At our place, we had a kid with a walkman hooked up to a big powered speaker who played a decent saxophone - went from cheezy easy listening to quite decent lounge bossa nova.






So Fatima and Eunice were saying hi to the loads of people they knew walking by and eventually Mariemm (who had performed in the show) and Jesse came by and they joined us for more food and drink.


The girls had desert and I had a couple of espressos with a small Monte Cristo Especial and then we walked the length of the street to go back to our car. About 11:30 pm and almost every table and every lounge (there were sofas and some low tables and cushions set up in the middle of the street) was occupied. There is also another mini "plaza" where they often have live music.


Eunice and Fatima with their dessert at La Rioja
Cross the street at the end of the Paseo and back to our car - loads of people and traffic and some cafes on that street so still felt safe and back to the parking lot where the young woman was still there watching the cars! So I gave her another dollar for a tip.


I am so pleased to have found Paseo del Carmen - oh, should mention that it is in Santa Tecla. Take the Alameda Manuel Enrique Araujo (who was this guy and why is the street name so long?) road past the malls until it turns into the Carretera Panamericana past Bulevar Merliot, past that giant bike shop, past the big long bus platform, and turn right on 7 Avenida Sur. Two blocks down is 1Calle Oriente (or Paseo El Carmen or del Carmen) on the left and the parking is another block down on the right. You can park on the street as well to get closer but we didn't since it was still rush hour when we got there. Hmm, plus might be a good idea to have someone watching your car to avoid a break in or a pry off.


The place is open all week but the street is pedestrian only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Eunice said that there is a food festival on the weekends as well.


So if you live in San Salvador, I highly recommend you go check out this scene. And if you come down to visit, make me take you there.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Driving down from Canada

Mark Chillin at Dan's beach house

I recently met someone over the internet who was visiting El Salvador and is from my old city of Toronto. Unlike the many hundreds of Canadians who come down by charter flights to stay at the Royal Decameron Salinitas Resort, Marco drove down!


Never thought I would see Ontario plates in El Salvador

Yes, in a finely tuned Nissan Xterra, Marco has made his way from Toronto to St. Louis then down into Mexico, all over and up to Merida, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador. Even more amazingly, he plans to drive through the rest of Central America and into South America and down to Tierra del Fuego.

Lunch of sopa de patas and fresh lemonade for me and tamales y bebida ensalada for him

If I can, I am hoping to meet up with him in Santiago de Chile for the drive down to the point and then back up to Buenos Aires. Or maybe Santiago, through the Mendoza wine country, and across to BA which would be much slower. But Patagonia sounds nice as well as seeing penguinos.

Diego "El Muerto" taking a time out from chasing girls to have post surf beers with us

At El Tunco. Pretty good food and giant beers too!

Mark almost skipped El Salvador due to the bad reputation that it has. He ended up staying 60 days here! I showed him Tunco and we got a surf lesson from “El Muerto”, went to the Korean restaurant, had lunch in the market, had him over for dinner, and hung out at Dan’s club smoking cigars and drinking a lot of beer (and tequila for him). He crashed at our place off and on when our place emptied of family visiting from Canada. Spent many evenings watching House Hunters International on HGTV.

Indian food with Mariem and Jesse at our place

Marco said that a lot of people are doing this trip and there is a lot of info on the internet about practicalities and nice places to visit. Plus there are people hitchhiking their way down to South America! He mentioned that he drove someone in from Guatemala who only had a small backpack and no money and dropped him off at the junction of the Sonsonate highway and the coastal road. In the dark, at night.

Delicious Korean food at the Pabelion Coreano in Merliot

You can follow his blog at http://25kwithoutmonday.com/

Overate at the churrascaria Faisca do Brasil in the Hotel Intercontinental


I am quite pleased that he liked this country. Like my friend Michael from Antigua, he felt very comfortable very quickly here. The city is quite compact so it is easy to move around in the nice areas (San Benito, Escalon, Santa Tecla, and Antiguo Cuscutlan). And lots of café’s restaurants and bars. I should mention that he got into two scrapes with his truck. He had insurance and cattle guards on his truck which saved him from having to get body work done. One was a bus that cut in front of him and scraped his front in a roundabout ... probably from someone in right lane swerving three lanes to the left to make a turn.

He stayed at the Hostal Australia for $20 per night with parking, breakfast and internet included. The place is on 1ra Calle Poniente which is just beside Escalon and half a block below the roundabout at Beethovern.

I was sad to see him go but he finally moved on and has been to Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

One of the reasons he stayed 60 days in country. Drinking beers at the Rinconcito Karaoke at 3:00 am.

He has motivated me to do the San Salvador to Flores/Tikal to Tulum to Merida drive. That would be a great road trip.



Winter visitors


Coley's yellow shoes in the market in Antigua!


So another winter is passing and we are getting some cloudy days and some rain. I mean “winter” as in the North America season running from December until March. That time period is considered “summer” in El Salvador because there is virtually no rain and no cloud cover so the ground gets a lot hotter. The North American “summer” is our winter in El Salvador since there is more cloud cover and rain and cooler temperatures. Confusing, I know.

Anyways, I had some nice visits this year. My parents came down for a whole month and were joined by an Uncle and Aunt from Dallas and my son came down for a week. The best part of the visit was going down to the fish port in Libertad. They have built a tourist parking lot with guards and restaurants right in front of the pier. Oddly, it is only 50 cents while the other private parking lots which are further, with less security, and are not paved costs more.

Dad and Uncle enjoying the superfresh black clams on the Libertad Pier

Walking to the pier, there is a rather strong fish smell as the fisherman will split and salt fish and dry them on the rocks nearby. Then you enter the covered part of the pier where there are places selling ice, seviche, raw black clams, plastic bags, and of course lots of fish and seafood. Once you reach the outside area, you may be “adopted” by a fish cleaner who will help you find the type of fish you want.


Just pulled out of the water, everyone trying to see what the catch was.

We found out that the best place to buy fresh fish was at the end of the pier where the fishing boats are hauled out of the water on a small crane. Usually there are 20-30 people waiting to see what comes in. There is some haggling going on but if the fish is really fresh, they might not move on the price. Along the pier where the boats are parked, you can usually get better deals. At one place, we wanted to buy a 1 lb bonito and were told it was a dollar but we could have 4 for two dollars.

My Dad supervising the scaling and cleaning.

So once you have purchased your fish, the fish cleaner will take them to a station and will de-scale and lean out the guts. They will filet as well if you ask. You should bring a cooler or heavy bag but you can buy large plastic bags there. Then you can get ice at the front end of the pier. The fish cleaners will usually charge two or three dollars to clean up to half a dozen fish. Interestingly, I am pretty sure that most of the prices quoted are the regular prices with no gringo mark up. And the prices are pretty cheap. For Red Snapper, you will pay about $6/lb in the grocery stores, $4/lb at the fish market in town, and $1 or $2/lb on the pier.

Dad cutting up some fresh sashimi

My Dad kept trying to buy the really cheap fish since he likes a good bargain but I tried to get him to buy the better fish so we usually got some of each. He made some great brined bonito and we had a lot of different types for sashimi and sushi.

Sashimi dinner with Pollo Campero!

We also made Kamaboko which is Japanese fish cakes. Very long process of cleaning, shredding, and filtering the raw fish and then mixing with Mirin, salt, sugar and egg yolks. Turned out pretty well though.


Looking down into the crater at Parque Boqueron

We also did the Parque Boqueron and tried to have pupusas for lunch at one of the fancy places up there but they said we could only have them as appetizers and would have to order a full meal.


Family Photo

Since we weren’t hungry, we went down the road to the Mirador place where they have a big raised platform with a great view of the city.

Breakfast at the Decameron

When Elliot was down, we went to the Decameron for a couple of nights. I was trying to rent a decent beach house for us all but couldn’t find anything reasonable and I didn’t want my Mother to think she had to cook all the time.



Poolside at the resort.


We ended up paying $40/night per person which was great since it included all meals and booze. Ate pretty well at the Thai restaurant and the seafood/Italian place. I snuck away one day for golf at the adjacent Veraneras. Elliot who is turning into a club promoter took it upon himself to get the party going at the disco every night and he did a pretty good job considering there was a lot of Reggaeton being played (which only about 7 non-Latino Canadians can dance to).





Part of Elliot's photo essay.

Also had a trip to Antigua where I very unadventuresomely checked us into the Hotel Aurora and we ate at Hector’s and Welton AGAIN! But at Hector’s the food was great and I ordered two plated of the sweet potato fries with the homemade horseradish ketchup. Fries were incredibly good. The duck was good too. At the Welton, they didn’t have any charcoal to burn in urns to keep us warm but they did have a lot of thick wool wraps that we could use.

Mmmmmmm Yum. Hector's sweet potato fries with homemade ketchup.

Under cover at the Welton.

Quite chilly at night with Antigua being 1,530 m above sea level. San Salvador is only 560 m above which gives us cool but not cold nights.

In the ruins of Antigua


The drive was pretty good as well. The Hachadura bridge at the crossing along the coast was still down from last year’s storm so we went up through Santa Ana and crossed at Chinamas. That went pretty easily although everyone has to get out now. Once we crossed over into Guatemala, we got stopped by some cops who went over all my documents for about 10 minutes trying to find something to fine me for. I had lost my Salvadoran driver’s license so only had a temporary paper one. The cop said that that document didn’t state that I could use it outside of El Salvador (and it didn’t say I couldn’t) but luckily I had my Ontario license which he accepted. Then he pointed out that the car registration was not in my name but in Fatima’s and asked if I had a document showing that I was allowed to drive it. I said no and I asked him how many chinos were crossing the Guatemala border to sell cars stolen in El Salvador. He told me there were chino gangs doing that! Ha, ha. Again, luckily I had my insurance card which had Fatima and my names on it so he finally let me go.

The reason why this road work has been going on for years ... hiring 5 year olds as managers.

Due to this delay, we hit the big roadblock construction site. They let people through every 40 minutes and we just missed it and my car was second in the queue. Ugh, 40 minutes in the car. Finally we got through and had crazy chicken bus drivers passing me as the cars were being flagged down to stop. I though that they were complete *ssholes since I would have to pass them after we cleared the construction zone … but no, these guys were driving superfast and I never caught up with them despite having a 244 hp Honda Pilot with new tires.

The public wash station build hundreds of years ago still be used today.


The Hotel Aurora was its usual homey and comfortable place although the price did go up somewhat from before. Nice breakfasts, free parking and wifi. We went to see the giant church ruins and they did a tour of the city. I took off with Michael and a friend to the Reunion Golf Course.


Larry lining up his drive.


About 20 minutes from Antigua, this was a project that cost $80M that was financed by 8 Guatemalan families. Typical business plan … buy a giant plot of very cheap land, build a golf course/hotel, then sell plots around the course for a lot of money. Turns out that with the recession, there isn’t much property development and this incredible golf course only gets about 10 rounds a day! The owners fly in from Guatemala on their helicopters to play golf but since there are so few golfers, they have dropped the course fee from $200 to about $50/$80 a round. We pulled up to the main gates and said we were there to golf but since we weren’t members, we had to drive another 10 minutes to the back employee entrance! What a joke, especially since the owners fly in on helicopters and don’t use the road entrance.

Michael holding his follow through.


So we get there, eventually, and get two carts and two female caddies. They did a great job helping us out and we really needed it since there must have been about 100m of elevation changes. I couldn’t drive at all on the front nine so shot something like 57. We stopped for lunch and found out that there was no cafeteria or food given to the caddies so we ordered a hamburger and fries for them. Then off to the back nine which was much hillier than the front. I was driving much better and managed to squeeze out a 52 which I was really happy with. One par 4 was 605 yards long off the whites. Yikes!

Larry with one of our excellent caddies.

The course itself was in perfect shape and quite stunning. Some drives you would face a wall of fairway and you had to try to aim for plateaus. One drive I hit went about 225 yards and rolled back 50 until it hit a catchment area. Anyways, we had a lot of fun and I kept marvelling at the incredible amount of landscaping that was done. Most of the paths had walls covered in river rocks and some vast areas were covered in these hand placed stone.

Earthquake!

On the way back, I stopped at the Pricesmart to buy some different beer and cheese and we hit the Pollo Campero in the last town before the construction site. Back on the road, we hit that site at 12:00 noon and the workers were having lunch so the road was wide open!

So all in all, a good trip.