Lionheart Cruise - El Salvador

  
    

 

 

While waiting for parts for the autopilot, we stayed in the lovely Marina Barillas in the southern part of El Salvador for 9 days.
We met the crews of several cruising boats, including SV
Margoline. The captain of Margoline was visiting his home in
Pasadena and served as the courier for our parts. Much more
dependable than other delivery services in this part of the world.

On Tuesdays and Fridays the marina furnished transportation
into the nearest town which is Usulutan which is in the department
of Usulutan. There are 14 departments in El Salvador which is a
country the size of the state of Connecticut in the USA. When we
went in the bus to town, we were accompanied by an armed
guard. In the town, there were also many armed guards around
stores and just out walking on the street. This country had a
bloody civil war in the 1980's, ending with a UN overseen peace
treaty, elections, and land reform in 1992. While Usulutan seems
to be a thriving town, it is quite dirty and poor by our standards
and it is teaming with people shopping, selling food on the
streets, services from hair dressers to building supplies. The
road from the Marina is about 5 miles of dirt out to the two lane
highway. The marina has armed guards, a big wall, and gates
and two armed check points as the bus travels the dirt road past
sugar cane fields, coffee and the private airplane landing strip. It
is owned by one of the original 14 families that owned the entire
country until 1992.

Up until 1992, El Salvador was essentially a feudal government
with most of the population living in peasant shacks like we had in
the south up until the 1950's and 60's. The land reform required
the 14 families to each give up 75% of their land. The Wright
family retained their plantation which included the Port of Triunfo
which is where they developed the lovely resort which includes
moorings and services for boaters at Marina Barillas. We were
told by our tour guide that this family was the only one of the 14
that had provided schools and medical care for the plantation
workers.

We visited the home of "The Monkey Man" on the plantation. It
was down a dirt road about 20 minutes from the marina. We had
an armed guard with us. This armed guard was to keep us from
harm by two large crocodiles that live in the "crocodile pond."
The home of the Monkey Man is really a small concrete block and
tin walled space. Cooking and laundry is done outside, without
any modern appliances, with children, dogs, and chickens in the
yard and house. He calls the monkeys in from the jungle-like
trees surrounding his small compound. The monkeys were quite
tame and happy for the handouts of food. Richard stepped on a
monkey paw by accident and almost got bitten by the injured
party!

On January 16 and 17, we took an overnight tour of the country.
We traveled almost to the western border with Guatemala to a
lovely little town.  Apanaca is located in the mountains and was
nearly destroyed in the 2001 earthquake (7.6 on the Richter
Scale) that killed 800 people and left 100,000 homeless. Many
towns were leveled. Driving into the capital city of San Salvador
you see modern tract houses that have been built where there
was total devastation. They appear to be quite small, attached
houses which mimic the cinder block and tin houses of the rural
poor, but they are painted and quite clean looking from the road.
Then you come to the poor part of town that was not leveled and
then you drive by beautiful big homes in the rich section of town.
You also see armed guards and razor wire around these homes.

Our guide for this day was a 16-year old girl, Carla, who was
standing in for her tour guide mother who was called into court
that day because of an auto accident she was in on Jan. 4.
Unlike our courts, she was in and out in a day. We had a driver
also who did very well on the narrow highways and smaller roads
we took to the mountain of Apanaca. Instead of staying in the
town, we stayed the night at Santa Luticia which is a coffee
plantation. Carla and the driver left us here around 1:30 PM.
We found out that the restaurant closed at 5:00 PM and there
was no other restaurant that we could reach except by taxi, and
there were no taxis! So we went for a hike on the coffee
plantation in search of 2 ancient Olmec carved stones weighing
14,000 and 24,000 respectively. We thought we would not be
able to miss such massive rocks, but we were wrong. So, we just
had a nice hike on the coffee plantation and saw where some
workers lived (about the same as the Monkey Man family). This
plantation is owned again by one of the original 14 families. We
met the owner who said the plantation had been in the family for
more than 120 years. The coffee is grown between 4000 and
5700 altitude and is shipped worldwide, including Starbucks in
Seattle. After our walk we settled down in our nice cool ranch
style room and watched the news and four cop shows in English.
We enjoyed it very much as a complete change of pace.

The next day Carla's mom, Celina, and the driver picked us up
and we took the scenic route back to San Salvador. On the way
we visited a beautiful church in Juayua which contains a Christo
Negro which was found years ago in the area. It is not made of
local wood so no one knows where it is from or how it got there.
This church is not old (built in 1950's) and it withstood the
earthquakes of 1990's and 2001. On the outskirts of San
Salvador stand the ruins of a Mayan settlement, San Andres. We
had a fascinating tour of the archaeological museum and
excavation. We also drove down a stretch of highway used by
USA planes for delivering equipment and supplies to the
government forces which supported by the US under the Carter
and Reagan administrations. Our guide said that both sides in
the conflict were brutal (that would be the USSR supported
communist guerrillas and the USA supported government). She
credited Ronald Reagan with forcing the peace when it finally
came in the early 90's. We proceeded into a huge new shopping
center in San Salvador to buy groceries. We also went to the
craft mercado. The local crafts for export are furniture, native
trimmed textiles, wooden and clay masks, and of course all the
T-shirts you can buy anywhere.

We also learned that there are approximately 6 million people in
El Salvador, and another 3 million living outside the country,
mostly in the US and Canada. Those 3 million people send
approximately $ 3 billion back to their relatives in El Salvador.
This amount is more than the total income from the coffee, cane
and cotton crops, and manufacturing. We were astounded! This
income is what is really helping the peasant class buy homes and
goods that increase their standard of living. The government is
providing education (the rate of illiteracy before the civil war was
97% and now it is 50%) and medical services.

Our guide left us in San Salvador. Our driver took us back to the
marina with our groceries for travel and fresh flowers for Nick.
The cat had missed us so much, he had caught a small bird and
placed it in the middle of the main saloon as an offering! The
parts arrived on Jan. 18, the captain installed the stuff, and we
left the 19th at dawn. Heading down into Nicaragua and on to the
Canal.

Departing Barillas at sunrise - following the ponga out through the reefs.



 

Visiting the monkeys on the Wright Plantation....here am mother and baby being fed bananas by our group.

Sue and Carla overlooking Lake Qoatepeque in the Department (Province) of Santa Ana, on our way to Apanaca.

Hiking on the coffee plantation of Santa Luticia

A small replica of the Olmec Carving on the Santa Luticia Plantation Grounds.

Hotel rooms, pool and garden......this was our first night staying off Lionheart.

The alter in this church in Juayua has The Black Christ Carving.

The ruins at San Andreas date to the Pre Columbian Era.

Overlooking the town of Izalco with the Volcano Izalco in the background - the smoke at the base of the volcano is form being burned in preparation for harvest.

Street market in Usulatan, El Salvador