Semana Santa

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of El Salvador  ,
Sunday, April 11, 2004

Well, we're still here! After our rather unsuccessful foray to the beach, we have found another little corner of paradise here in the highlands of El Salvador - in a village called Alegría (Spanish for happiness). Almost the size of Almonte, Alegría has only one small hostal, and all the beds had previously been reserved by twenty of the landlady's relatives arriving from New York on the day we turned up. In spite of this, Doña Yolanda and her daughter Lupita insisted that we stay and park our van in their courtyard/plant nursery. This meant sharing the one shower and one toilet with everyone else.....and there was only water between 5 and 6 am!! However, it all worked out beautifully, and we quickly became included as part of the extended family.

Rather noticeable as the only foreigners around, our welcome by the villagers was initially somewhat reserved. This is fully understandable following years of civil war where trust, even between neighbours in a small community, was rather tenuous. Elections were held in El Salvador just three weeks ago, and by all accounts were relatively peaceful and democratic. However, with signs supporting the two major opposing political parties still on almost every door, wall and lamp-post, one can sense the deep underlying tensions that still exist. However, after a day or two of chatting with the children, patronizing the local restaurants including the food vendors in the central plaza, and complimenting all those involved in the artistic Easter preparations, we were being warmly greeted by everyone we passed on the streets.

Situated on the slopes of Volcan Tecapa, Alegría's claim to fame is nearby Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon), a sulphurous, jade-green lake in the hollow of the volcano's crater. Hiking to the lagoon, we passed through acres of coffee bushes in full bloom, smelling profusely of the 'night jessamine' that was one of our favourite plants at the Herb Garden. The crater itself has original forest growth, with abundant orchids, flowering trees and shrubs, apparently thriving on the all-pervading aroma of rotten eggs emanating from the lake.

Like most Salvadoran towns, the catholic church is a dominating presence in Alegría and, as we discovered, is also the central hub of community activity. During our visit, the entire village seemed to be involved in preparations for Semana Santa (Easter week). The religious processions began already on Wednesday, and continued twice or thrice daily until Sunday, sometimes until well into the night. On the streets, groups of families were busy preparing "alfombras" or carpets representing the stations of the cross. Approximately 6 by 10 ft in size, an earth base was covered in coloured salt or sawdust to make exquisite and quite elaborate designs using home-made cardboard stencils. Most were then complemented by tropical flowers and petals, or sliced fresh fruit and vegetables in complex patterns. It was so encouraging to see entire families - parents, youth and children - conscientiously perfecting their alfombras. Their only reward was to have one of the religious statues and their attendant bearers actually stop on, and in the process destroy, their work of art. Despite this, it all seemed so much more meaningful than chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs!!

The sombre processions of Good Friday contrasted sharply with the joyous clapping, singing, fireworks and general rejoicing of the community at the Easter Sunday morning procession - starting shortly after 5 am! At 10 am, after a 'plato tipico' breakfast, we joined over 500 people in the filled-to-capacity 'parroquia', with loudspeakers available for those not fortunate enough to find a seat for the three hour service. A seven-piece band was on hand to make "a loud and joyful noise" throughout the service, which finally ended with another procession around the plaza.

So, five days, this time we really are moving on!! Tomorrow we'll head down to the Honduras border, and by mid-week we'll be in Nicaragua to see what further adventures await us.
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