Friday, May 27, 2011

Exploring Puerta del Diablo & Panchimalco

Friday, 5-27-11

My husband, Matt, and parents flew to El Salvador today for stay for a week!! I must have been excited because I woke up at 4:45am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay in bed for a while and then listened to a book tape. Around 5:45am I decided to get up and start the day. I’d gotten everything ready to go last night for our trip to San Salvador so there wasn’t much to do. Raul showed up at 7:00am to take us to San Salvador. The ride went well and I even napped for a little bit.

At one point we stopped to get gas and we realized there was some sort of weird noise coming from the truck. Raul and Cecilia got out to investigate and also found that the two front frames of the tires were really hot. Not sure what the problem is since the truck just got a major checkup at the dealership. Unfortunately, this isn’t the US where you can just return and demand that the people fix the problem (the problem they probably caused). So we piled back into the truck and hoped for the best.

Though we weren’t exactly sure of where Casa Antigua was Kathy and Raul managed to get us there. We arrived around 9:15am. Casa Antigua is the sister hotel to Los Pinos, which was full. Even though Bety, the woman who runs the two hotels, sent two confirmation emails to Kathy saying that Casa Antigua would be waiting for us, the woman there looked surprised when we showed up at the door and had no idea who we were. Yes, this is another classic example of life in El Salvador. But there was enough space for all of us so it wasn’t a problem.

We unloaded and took some time to relax before Alfredo picked us up to go to the airport. He arrived around 10:30am. We headed off to the airport. Along the way we stopped to get some pupusas. The area where we stopped is close to the airport and is known for all different kinds of pupusas. I got a chicken and cheese one as well as one with chicarrón and cheese. I also had a delicious fresco with mamey and pineapple. Yum!

Around 11:45 we headed to the airport. Alfredo dropped us off while Kathy and I waited for my family to arrive. Their flight was supposed to get in at 11:50am. We waited and waited outside in the heat. There’s no place to wait inside. You can’t go inside until you have a ticket. We were both tired and I contemplated falling asleep. We were lucky enough to get seats so we could sit and wait. A little over an hour later they finally emerged though the doors. Yay! Kathy hopped up right away while I dragged myself out of my seat. My not quite 6 hours of sleep were starting to catch up with me.

That's highway pupuseria, not autopsy pupuseria

Special pupusas

They've arrived!

It was great to finally see them and we greeted everyone with hugs. Kathy called Alfredo who was waiting outside the airport area since it’s expensive to park there. We all got into the microbus and were off. I’d given my family a warning ahead of time that they should come prepared to do some exploring and hiking and that we’d not be stopping by the hotel first. We began to make our way to Panchimalco. Neither Kathy nor I had been there before so we were excited to see something new. Here’ a little info about the town of Panchimalco:

“Just 30 minutes from the capital, Panchimalco is one of the towns with the most colonial and historic heritage in El Salvador. Its name comes from the Nahuatl meaning “Place of Flags and Emblems” (Panti’ meaning banner or flag; Chimali meaning shield; Co meaning in or place). The pre-Columbian population of the town was a Toltec tribe. This town is considered one of the few places left that has retained its ethnic heritage. The women still weave and wear the indigenous clothing from the past and are very proud to show off their handiwork. They also maintain many indigenous traditions.

However, the native language is not one of those traditions. As of the last few years, no Nahuatl speakers remain in Panchimalco. “Indigenous” Salvadorans comprised 51.6 percent of the Salvadoran population in the 1769-1798 census, but at current time they are numbered at less than 500,000 in all of El Salvador. The number was greatly reduced when forces loyal to General Maximiliano Hernandez massacred more than 30,000 peasants during the Salvadoran peasant uprising of 1932 known as La Matanza. The uprising was led by Augustín Farabundo Martí for whom the left-wing political party, the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional), is named.

As part of the colonial heritage the church of Santa Cruz de Panchimalco is the best example, this temple main was started in 1543 by resident natives, led by the Dominican friars. The work was completed in April 1730. Today this church is still standing. Its main feature is the facade with a classical Baroque style. The temple measures 40 meters long by 18 meters wide, the inner nave is supported by 16 wooden columns on stone bases that separate the nave from the aisles. The columns are finished with moldings that collect the weight from the main beams. Inside the altars is Baroque style as well, and the walls of the church support them. The main altar is the only one that retains the original gold finish. Also if you look closely you will see the image of the Holy Cross of Rome dating back to 1792.

This town has a colorful and spectacular day named “Flowers and Palms day” every first Sunday in May. This takes place in honor of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and El Rosario, where locals stage a unique and ancient tradition that involves a procession with people carrying palms adorned with flowers. In addition, every September 14th, there are festivities in honor of the Holy Cross of Rome.

If you walk through Panchimalco’s cobbled streets, you will feel encouraged to visit that the Art and Culture Center “Tonatiuh” and the House of Culture. Both institutions have workshops for children, youth and adults to help them enter the world of art by making handcrafts and also by learning the native language Nahuatl. You will also find promotional items, crafts and books at minimum prices seeking to fund these institutions. In Panchimalco there is also Casa Taller “Encounters”, located just across from Casa de la Cultura. A space dedicated to art and surrounded by nature and incredible panoramic views.”

I was really excited when we arrived at the church in Panchimalco. I love visiting old, historic churches. We walked around and got a few pictures. The church didn’t appear to be open but Kathy asked someone if we could go inside. They told us to go to the side door and knock to see if anyone answered. We did and even called through the barred door but no one was there. I was a little bummed because I really wanted to see the inside. While we wandered around the area Kathy went to ask someone at the school next door about the church. She had seen the janitor carrying a load of keys. While he didn’t have the key he did know how to get the attention of the person inside. A guy came over to the door and agreed to open the church up just for us. And this is why Kathy earns mission co-worker of the year award!!

As soon as we went inside you could tell how old it was. There was a lot of wood and it smelled damp and old. I loved it. There was an old baptismal font in one area. Along the walls there were several altars which were all made out of wood. They were beautifully detailed and we weren’t sure they were made out of wood until we asked. The man who opened the church for us also confirmed that almost everything inside was original to when the church was completed in 1730. We probably spent a good half hour wandering around the church.

*Note: I’m not sure what to call the large altars (?) that were along the sides of the walls in the church mainly because I’m not Catholic. However, I did ask my husband, who is Catholic, and he didn’t know what they were called either so now I don’t feel so bad.


Signs for Panchimalco and Door of the Devil

The church in Panchimalco

A big ceiba tree by the church

A beautiful, old church


Finished in 1730

Inside the church

An old painting in the church

Baptismal font

One of several altars

Toward the front of the church
Maybe where the Eucharist is kept

The front altar 

Ceiling at the front

Side altar

Jesus' body

Looking out the front door

Matt and I in front of the church

Next to a tree by the church

After the church we piled back into the microbus. Unfortunately, the Cultural Center was closed so we moved on. We drove through the area of Los Planes. There, Alfredo told us, was a beautiful spot to lookout over the valley below. But when we reached the area it appeared to be closed. Alfredo asked a man standing guard at the area if it was open. He told us it wasn’t. As we were about to move on Alfredo then asked a female police officer why it was closed. She said an ambassador from Spain was coming but it wasn’t until later that night. Then she told the man standing guard that we could look for a while.

The view was spectacular. You could see the entire valley below. To the right I believe you could see Lake Ilopango and San Salvador to the left. You could also see the road that runs to the airport. Then the guard told us we could go below to see the small museum. We went below and the woman there didn’t look to happy to see us. She asked if the guard up top said it was okay if we came below and we confirmed that he had told us it was okay. Then she wanted us all to sign the guest book. You could tell this was her area and she liked things a certain way. So we signed the all signed the guestbook as instructed.


Looking out over the valley

A beautiful view

Sign above the lookout point

The museum below

Looking out through a window

The photos and posters that were up in the exhibit area were all about Don Quixote. That made sense because the ambassador was from Spain. We looked around a while and then went back up top. At that point someone invited us to the special event that night at 6:30pm. Yep, it helps to be a gringo, wear a smile, and speak Spanish. It was very flattering but we probably weren’t going to be attending the event. We piled back into the microbus. Next stop: Puerta del Diablo (The Door of the Devil). Here’s a little info about that area:

Door of the Devil
“Puerta Del Diablo is a peak located to the South East of San Salvador. Two huge, towering builders, reputedly once a single stone split in two, form this ominous lookout. It was of great significance to the Mayan Pipil people and was a sacred site used for sacrifice rituals. It was named “The Devil's Door” by the Spanish Catholics who constantly opposed indigenous religious practice. During the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992) this place was an execution point, the cliffs offering easy disposal of the bodies.

There are many legends surrounding the Devils Door. One of the legends is that in Colonial times the Renderos family owned all the land they could see, but the daughter was tormented by the devil who courted her at every opportunity. One night the father and neighboring families decided to hunt down the devil. They cornered him at the edge of a small lake. Upon seeing his reflection in the water, the devil fled in fear breaking through a rocky crag and fell over the edge. A crevice at the base opened up and swallowed the devil forever banishing him. That night the daughter received a message from Saint Agatha, patron saint of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Saint Agatha told the daughter that every year on that day she must release 100 doves through the Devil's door. If she failed to do this, the devil would wake bringing earthquakes and eruptions to the land. The daughter married and had many children, but she spent her days raising doves to keep her promise to St. Agatha. Sometimes she did not have enough doves and those were the years when the earth shook and the mountains rumbled.”

I was excited to be back at Door of the Devil. I’d been there once before in 2009 with my church. This February I went with the Trinity delegation but I wasn’t able to hike up because of the bursitis in my hip. But in the fast few months I’ve been doing a lot of walking and building up the strength of my hip so I decided I could do the walk up. Alfredo guarded the microbus while we started the hike to the top. It was really foggy as we began the hike up so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to see anything. It was a tiring hike up but was actually much faster than I remembered. I commented to Kathy that it was easier than I remembered and she said it was probably because I’ve been walking so much. Cool beans!

We quickly reached the top. On a clear day, you can look to the east and see lake Ilopango. The Pacific Ocean is to the south and El Volcán de San Salvador to the north makes the view absolutely exquisite! It also offers a beautiful view of the land below. Unfortunately, all we could see were clouds. Every once and a while the clouds would part and we could see buildings below. We could even see the church in Panchimalco that we’d just visited. I had brought up a short reading from a book about El Salvador that I’d found when searching for stories about Door of the Devil regarding the Civil War. Here is what I shared with my family:

When mass murder becomes commonplace, after a while the evidence is taken for granted. Joan Didion (b. 1934) describes a body dump in El Salvador:

'I drove up to Puerta del Diablo one morning in June of 1982, past the Casa Presidencial and the camouflaged watch towers and heavy concentrations of troops and arms south of town, on up a narrow road narrowed further by landslides and deep crevices in the roadbed, a drive so insistently premonitory that after a while I began to hope that I would pass Puerta del Diablo without knowing it, just miss it, write it off, turn around and go back. There was however no way of missing it. Puerta del Diablo is a 'view site' in an older and distinctly literary tradition, nature as lesson, an immense cleft rock through which half of El Salvador seems framed, a site so romantic and 'mystical', so theatrically sacrificial in aspect, that it might be a cosmic parody of nineteenth-century landscape painting. The place presents itself as pathetic fallacy: the sky 'broods', the stones 'weep', a constant seepage of water weighting the ferns and moss. The foliage is thick and slick with moisture. The only sound is a steady buzz, I believe of cicadas.

Body dumps are seen in El Salvador as a kind of visitors' must-do, difficult but worth the detour. 'Of course you have seen El Playon,' an aide to President Alvaro Maga`na said to me one day, and proceeded to discuss the site geologically, as evidence of the country's geothermal resources. He made no mention of the bodies. I was unsure if he was sounding me out or simply found the geothermal aspect of overriding interest. . . .

'Nothing fresh today, I hear,' an embassy officer said when I mentioned that I had visited Puerta del Diablo. 'Were there any on top?' someone else asked. 'There were supposed to have been three on top yesterday.' The point about whether or not there had been any on top was that usually it was necessary to go down to see bodies. The way down is hard. Slabs of stone, slippery with moss, are set into the vertiginous cliff, and it is down this cliff that one begins the descent to the bodies, or what is left of the bodies, pecked and maggoty masses of flesh, bone, hair. On some days there have been helicopters circling, tracking those making the descent. Other days there have been militia at the top, in the clearing where the road seems to run out, but on the morning I was there the only people on top were a man and a woman and three small children, who played in the wet grass while the woman started and stopped a Toyota pickup. She appeared to be learning how to drive. She drove forward and then back toward the edge, apparently following the man's signals, over and over again.

We did not speak, and it was only later, down the mountain and back in the lands of the provisionally living, that it occurred to me that there was a definite question about why a man and a woman might choose a well-known body dump for a driving lesson. This was one of a number of occasions, during the two weeks my husband and I spent in El Salvador, on which I came to understand, in a way I had not understood before, the exact mechanism of terror.'

It was a heavy story. I’d heard similar stories and knew that the area was used as a dumping ground for bodies during the war, but it was different reading an actual account of someone who’d actually been there during the war. It was even more powerful reading it from atop the mountain with the fog all around us. It was eerie.

Soon we headed back down the trail. At the bottom we looked around at a couple shops. Matt and Alfredo both got some capiruchos to play with. Neither did well at first but then Alfredo got on a roll. Matt got it one time and then said he was going to retire. We also got some coconuts so we could drink the water inside them. Yum! It was a first time for Matt and my parents. After looking a while longer we decided it was time to go eat. We’d seen a place earlier as we were driving and decided to check it out.


Climbing the Door of the Devil

The clouds are rolling in

There are the clouds

Group shot

Reading about Door of the Devil during the Civil War

Mom and Dad

Leaning over to check out the view

You can see buildings below

Surrounding the trees

I can see the church we were just at!

Walking back down

Kathy leads the way

Hola Alfredo!

Coconut water!

Playing with his capirucho

Cutting open the coconut after we'd had the water

Scooping out the meat

We arrived at the restaurant, called El Jardín Secreto (The Secret Garden), and saw that it really was hidden. At first I wasn’t even sure if the restaurant was open. But we saw a couple cars and realized it was. The entire place was surrounded by beautiful flowers. There were lilies, bougainvillea, impatiens, gardenias, and several flowers I didn’t recognize. We saw that they had a mini zoo there with several roosters, guinea hens, rabbits, and ducks. I wanted to take a rabbit home but was told “no” by everyone.

We went to check out the restaurant prices. It was a little more expensive than we’d originally planned but decided to stay. The owner of the restaurant spoke English which was a nice surprise and we chatted with her for a while. When we ordered drinks the owner told us about a special fruit that she used to make a drink. The fruit is called guanaba, which I later realized is the same thing as guanabana or a soursop. It was huge and is hard to find here in El Salvador. Alfredo told us that it was the biggest one he’d ever seen. The owner brought out the fruit so we could see it. And when the drinks arrived they were absolutely delicious!! I hope I see them again sometime.

For dinner all of us ordered the pork which came with rice and a Waldorf salad. This was an unusual restaurant and thus had food that you would not typically find in many areas of El Salvador. Kathy and I were salivating over the French bread that came with real butter! The Waldorf salad was delicious as well. Not having eaten much variety or really any American-type food in almost 4 months I was very excited. Suffice to say, this is not your typical Salvadoran restaurant. But it was a wonderful place and we had a great time there. I’d definitely recommend it.

We wandered around a little while after dinner looking at the flowers but soon tired and decided to get back to the little hotel. We chatted for a short while and then went to our own rooms. I took a quick shower since I’d worked up a good sweat today and then got on my computer. Not wanting to fall behind on my blog I attempted to write for a little while. I didn’t get too far. I was so tired I actually fell asleep downloading photos onto my blog. I woke up in the middle of the night and my laptop was still open. It was a good night’s sleep.

Guinea hens at the restaurant


The restaurant itself

They even have a cabin there

Small, purple flowers

This looks like a lily


A new flower I don't recognize

Holding the guanabana

Matt's first Salvadoran beer

Mom likes her drink

Dinner is served

Entrance to the restaurant


Kevin Pokorny said...

We are so happy that the 3 Musketeers arrived safely. Wonderful to see their pictures and that you are eating well. It seems you are having a wonderful time. We're back from Ohio and tried to Skype you 2 times. Love to all.


Matt said...

What a great first day it was. It seems like we did so much and we were only there for an afternoon. The church in Panchimalco was amazing and climbing up the door of the devil was fun and a bit creepy with all of the fog and the history of the place.

Anonymous said...

I'm tired just reading all that we did -- and we didn't arrive until 1:00. It was a great first day with seeing you, meeting Alfredo, taking in all the history, climbing Door of the Devil, and good food & drink. Mom