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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Barillas Marina Club

Yesterday we took the free shuttle bus out of the resort for a trip to town. This is a gated compound 45 minutes by air-conditioned, Toyota, 26 passenger van (complete with armed guard) to Usulutan, which is a much bigger city than I was expecting. But other than that small window of reality the rest of the stay is pure resort paradise. They have about a dozen palapa tables under palms and shade trees, each with an electrical outlet and internet (hard connection or wireless). There's a beautiful swimming pool with jacuzzi but the water is a little too warm to be very refreshing in the 90 degree afternoons. It's nice during the day because of the breeze, but when that dies off before sunset it's brutal out on the boat. We've learned to cover up against the bugs and sit out in the cockpit with a fan blowing in order to stay out of the heat down below. There's a restaurant and bar with resort prices, two showers, and a tienda where you drop your laundry off for 24 hour service (a bargain at $1.25/kilo - I paid 11 pesos/kilo in La Crucecita and had to take it in to town myself). Diesel is $4.50/gallon ($3.94 at the stations in town), but with a two hour fuel dock reservation you get to wash the boat and take on potable water. And everything you buy here goes on your marina tab so you don't have to carry any cash around with you. It's beautiful, but surreal at the same time. Other than the cabana guests, it's all cruisers. At $11.50/day for the mooring buoy, it's a pretty great deal. Oh, and your first drink is free so I highly recommend getting the most bang for your (free) buck and ordering the mango smoothie. Without alcohol it's a $7 drink and muy delicioso!

The trip into town was amazing. The bus goes Tuesday and Friday at 9:00 returning from the grocery store at 12:30. The first 25 minutes are on dirt roads through the surrounding sugar cane fields, and we had to squeeze by several huge trucks loaded with cane. We passed people on bicycles and on foot who were black with soot from harvesting the cane after the fields have been burned - not just men, but women too. The city itself was bustling with activity. We had missed breakfast so we headed directly for the street food and had our first pupusas (sort of a fried corn flour pancake stuffed with cabbage and cheese; six for $2) and fried plantains (.50 for a small bag). The latter were so thin and crisp that they were like banana potato chips. The female vendors in town were all wearing the prettiest waist aprons in all different colors decorated with ribbon and embroidery, and with several pockets for their money and change. It was all great fun, and made for a good diversion.

We're having a hard time wrapping our brains around using U.S. dollars in Spanish, and everyone laughed about the way their Spanish went right out the window when the greenbacks came out. The bills aren't too hard, but we have to learn what they call the coins in Spanish. And the quarters feel light and thin after using the 10p coin for so long.

This morning we arranged for a staff member to take us out on a 20 minute hike through the cane fields and jungle (more like woods) to where a family lives near a troop of spider monkeys. We were told that the soldiers during the war years used to kill and eat the monkeys, but that this family looks after them now. An older man called the monkeys in from the trees and we all held out our bananas for them to take. We had brought the U.S. style eating bananas, which they would eat, but only after they'd gotten some of the man's local bananas which are shorter and fatter. Two of the female monkeys had small black babies clinging to them, there were a few juveniles out on their own, and several adults. We all brought things to contribute to the human family's upkeep, and John's brand new soccer ball was a huge hit with the one and only boy, about seven years old. The rest of the children were girls, from a toddler up to about 10 years old. We will pass on to cruisers coming after us that the family would especially like children's clothing, shoes (they were all barefoot), and school type supplies.

On our way through the cane fields we stopped to photograph workers using machetes to cut the cane that couldn't be harvested by machine. Because the cane has to be burnt before it's harvested it's a dirty job. One man going by on a bicycle stopped to pose for pictures with his machete and apologized for his hands being too dirty to shake our hands. Another figure in shapeless soot covered clothing walked up and he introduced his wife who tilted back her hat so that we could see her face and hair better. Someone finally noticed that they were both barefoot and we had mistaken their black feet for shoes. After all the picture taking and laughter with the man several of us put dollar bills in his shirt pocket as thanks for being a good sport with us. He was very appreciative and we picked out "milagro" (miracle) several times in his farewell to us.

The two experiences were awkward, thrilling, humbling, and gratifying all at the same time. It's very hard to find a balance between gawking outsider and helping to make a difference in people's lives who are enriching ours with their contact. I'm sure we didn't handle the exchange perfectly, but hope that we didn't do any damage either.

Linda and John