Today began with a drive to the northern-central part of El Salvador, to a tiny village know as La Mora. The village is located in a flat area just to the south of a small tree-covered mountain and is surrounded by fields of various crops, including sugar cane and bananas.
When we arrived at the youth centre, we were introduced to a number of teens who live in the village along with the leaders of the community, then we set off on a hike up the nearby mountain to see the remains of the inhabitants former village, El Zapote. The path was narrow and rocky, but you could tell that it had been well traveled at one point in time, though the forest was now beginning to reclaim the formerly inhabited area. As we walked, the leader of the community had us stop at various locations to see the remains of houses which had been destroyed during the war along with a few locations where craters from bombs which had been dropped on the village. It’s important to keep in mind that this wasn’t some military stronghold that was being attacked, these were people who were simply trying to eke out an existence in the village that their families had lived in for generations.
Eventually we reached a clearing where the community’s church had been located. All that remained were some dirt foundations and a small section of concrete that might have been the base of a wall. Some small wooden crosses marked the locations of hastily prepared graves from during the war. Again, as with the rest of the area, the first was rapidly working to reclaim the area and the ruins likely won’t be recognisable in another generation. Many of the houses we saw were nothing but a pile of rocks, or we could only surmise their location based on former stone fences along the edge of the road.
A little further up from the church, our guides showed us what they called “mailboxes” – holes dug down diagonally asst the edge of the road, which were big enough to hold two to three people. The purpose of the mailboxes was for protection when the government bombed the area or strafed it with machine gun fire. Anytime a person was walking down the road and heard an aircraft, they would run for the nearest mailbox and hide until the aircraft had moved off. Each home would also have one or two of these shelters on their property to hide in as necessary.
Later during the war when rebels began to take refuge here, tenches were constructed near the top of the mountain and rocks left across the road to impede the progress of foot soldiers and vehicles from reaching the people of the town.
Once we walked back down the mountain, we returned to the youth centre, where we were treated to some local hospitality in the form of lunch and informal conversation with the locals. Lots of fun was had playing soccer in the shadier areas and playing with the youngest kids and talking with their families.
Before supper the group was split up to go with several local families to see where they would be staying that night. I had already decided to opt out of this activity and stay in the nearby town of Suchitoto, but I accompanied Desmond and his family for the time before dinner.
We walked down a narrow dirt road that was sadly litter-filled and was bordered with low wire fences demarcating each family’s home. Ahead of us we were led by the family’s two sons, Marcos and Ezekiel. Unfortunately the names of the father and mother escape me.
Eventually we reached their home at the end of the road. Their property consisted of two well-worn concrete buildings, one of which was their bedrooms, and the other was the kitchen/shed. In Canada, I think they might have been used for storage of car tires… They were dusty and dark, even in the mid-afternoon sunshine (by the way, I haven’t seen a single cloud in the sky since we arrived here). Most of their living space was in a wall-less area between the two buildings where there was a 5x3x3 stone cistern that had a flat surface for cleaning and rinsing dishes and right beside I it was a brick-walled box about five feet high with no roof that was the shower. We sat down on some homemade wire and piping chairs underneath a tarp in the backyard and talked haltingly about Desmond and their children – my Spanish knowledge is very minimal, and Desmond’s consists of absolutely nothing! Marcos, the older of the two sons was a hyper little guy and liked to kick around his soccer ball and was a total chatterbox. He also was always grabbing mangoes from a small tree in the yard to munch on.
The ground of their property was almost entirely a dark grey-brown dirt which was so dry that walking around caused clouds of dust to rise up around our ankles. The husband worked to remedy this by splashing water across the ground, effectively compacting some of the loosest bits.
The family also had a dog and a couple of cats who were skinny, but definitely seemed happy and friendly. The rooster and chickens wandering around seemed to get along with the pets as well.
At some point we got to exploring the small lot with the parents and they showed us several small gardens where they were growing banana trees, some sort of squash, limes (or maybe lemons) and several other fruits and vegetables.
After a while it was time to head back to the community centre for a soccer game between our youth and the locals. This is where my story diverges from everyone else. Justine, one of our guides was heading to San Salvador for her niece’s birthday party on Sunday and would drop me off in Suchitito. None of the other leaders wanted to take up the offer, so I was on my own. We drive into town, and she helped me book a room at a lovely small hotel and helped me find a restaurant to grab some dinner, then bid me farewell. I spent the rest of the evening taking it easy, and processing the day.