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Friday, May 23, 2014

Day by Day in El Salvador Day Seven San Vicente

A visit to San Vicente province and the Lower Lempa River Region (Bajo Lempa) to
learn more about the work of CRIPDES and CORDES there and for an eco-tourist boat tour
through the Bajo Lempa river estuary, its mangrove forest, and the cooperative cashew
orchards on Montecristo Island.
from Tour Builder

school students in San Vicente area

Our tour right now shows us staying at least three days in the San Vicente area. That will probably change. We had two 'work' days scheduled for this area however I think we will be switching one day to spend more time exploring the eco-tourism opportunities in this area. The other may day should become a beach day - can't come all this way and not spend some time at a local beach spot!

This is an area we haven't visited for a few years and i am very excited to be returning. There is a noticeable difference between this area and San Jose las Flores and its time we spent more time in these communities.

There is no question that San Jose las Flores has a very strong community network with international ties through Sister Cities that go back to the war years. I have not seen the same thing in the San Vicente area. Having said that, this is an amazing area with all sorts of great places to visit and wonderful people to talk to.
Over the years we have spoken with high school kids, teachers, community organizers and local entrepreneurs. We have stayed in eco-tourism resorts, visited cashew plants and have toured the mangrove forests bordering on the ocean.

the cashew factory in Bajo Lempa area

We are now planning at least two days in this area - a day to meet with local CORDES and other community groups and another day to take in some of the eco-tourism spots in the area.

Here is what I wrote about the area in 2005:

Funding has provided support for the development of local products including gourmet
cheese, organic fruits, cashews and sugar. Community supports include an eye clinic, a
water purification plant that provides good drinking water to the community, biological
pesticide control and a biogenerator that provides methane gas for cooking.
The community has also developed a fishing co-op that seeks to return a greater share of
the profits to local fishermen. Training has also been provided on filleting and salting
processes. CORDES has also supported the development of an eco-tourism facility -
Hostal Lempa Mar.

Hostal Lempa Mar consists of four cabins that can sleep three persons each. The hostal is
located on the Lempa River and offers and excellent restaurant where visitors can enjoy
local produce including red snapper taken from the Lempa. Apart from the peace and
serenity of the Lempa, this facility also offers kayaking and boat rides on the Lempa.
During the week, these same boats are used by the fishing co-op.

Profits from the Hostal stay in the community and all employees of the Hostal are
members of the local community. Plans are in place to develop hiking trails in the area
and it is hoped that Hostal Lempa Mar will soon be able to promote to the international
community through the Internet.

fishing on the Lempa

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Day by Day in El Salvador Day Six - Chalatenango

Troops attacked the hamlet with artillery and fire from two helicopters. The villagers and other people displaced by the operation attempted to cross the Sumpul river to take refuge in Honduras. Honduran troops deployed on the opposite bank of the river barred their way. They were then killed by Salvadorian troops who fired on them in cold blood.
Day Six: except from Tour Builder

All day: A visit to Chalatenango province with a focus on the model town of San José Las Flores
(a town repopulated by internal refugees during the civil war) to learn more about the work of
CRIPDES and CORDES in the region. The visit will include an interpretive eco-tourism hike to
the Our Lady of Resistance statue of the Virgin Mary erected by community members as an
emblem of community opposition to large-scale metal mining (much of it Canadian) in the
region (with possible short workshop on popular opposition to Canadian mining in El Salvador
by the civil society National Roundtable on Metal Mining).

San Jose las Flores is the town we stayed in for most of our last trip. This is a beautiful place with a tragic history during the war.  Here is a selection from the journal entry describing our first day in the town:

We have now moved our group to Chalatenango.  We will be in this very interesting and beautiful part of the country for the next eight days.  We began our journey by meeting members of the The Association of Communities for the Development of Chalatenango-CCR was founded in June of 1987 during the armed conflict in El Salvador, as an answer to the need to repopulate the communities of the North-eastern part of Chalatenango that had been destroyed by the armed conflict. (Sister Cities website)  One of their board members is Nelson Orellana-Secretary of Popular Education, from San José Las Flores.  Nelson will be our host while we are in san Jose Las Flores.  We also met other board members working on women’s issues and health.
The CCR started as a response to the displacements caused by the war.  People in the region no longer had access to health care and education.  For the first time, we learned that the children during the conflict learned under the trees in the mountains.  People developed methods of popular education based on the desire to keep basic education services going even though the war raged al around them.  Nelson started as a teacher when he himself was in grade 5.  This was typical of the teachers at that time.
Over time, these volunteer teachers were trained and certified to work in towns throughout the department.  They are unified by their desire to build a better society out of the ruin on the war years.  There are now 19 schools and over 1700 students in the communities surrounding Chalatenango.
Another major theme that was discussed in this introductory session was mining.  This is a topic we will come back to later in this journal.  It makes a great deal of sense that this is a major concern for the  people of Chalatenango.  Members of the CCR spoke to us about their struggle to return to the land in the midst of the war.  They tell stories of people being escorted back to their communities by nuns, priests and members of the international community.  People continued to be killed by the military for years after they returned to the towns and villages.  People who have struggled so valiantly for their lands will not now easily give up territory to mining companies from the North.  More on this later.

Our first meeting with members of the CCR

 This year will be very different.  We spent eight days in the community last time and we lived with the families.  It was a great experience and we learned so much.  We decided not to stay this time so that we can expose the group to more people in different communities throughout the country.

Having said this, there is great value in being in this community.  As mentioned earlier, San Jose las Flores was at the center of the conflict throughout the war.  The Sumpul River Massacre  occurred close to here in 1981.  Over 300 men, women and children were killed by Salvador and Honduran military in one day as people tried to flee the approaching Salvadoran army.

Everyone we know in San Jose las Flores lost a family member during the massacre.  We spent two days talking about this terrible time during the sharing sessions we had every day with the teachers from Nelson's school.  These conversations were some of the most powerful I have had on any trip to the Global South.  They were completely open with us as they described the horror and the grief they still feel.  Nelson's story is typical of what we heard over the two days:

Nelson was two years old when the massacre took place.  He lost his mother and his seven-month old brother at that time. She disappeared, he drowned in the river.  The family of Nelson’s mother was totally wiped out at this time.  In total, 15 people from his family were killed, many drowning in the river as they fled the army who was determined to clear the area of anyone who could support the insurgents.  Nelson was obviously traumatized by what he experienced.  He still sees dead people when he sleeps and sometimes he gets depressed.  He says it helps when he talks to his daughter Ireni.  Sometimes they try to imagine what her uncle would look like now if he was alive.  His experiences have motivated him to do the best he can for the current generation of students.

There is so much to this town and its people!  We will take in as much as we can, including local resistance to Canadian mining companies. 

This is truly one of the highlights of the trip and I can't wait to get back there!

The Sumpul - we liked to sit in the river and enjoy the lovely cool water

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Day by Day in El Salvador - Day Five

street in Suchitoto

On Day five, we get out of San Salvador for the first time.  We will travel to Suchitoto, a cultural center in El Salvador. This is a beautiful town with a great deal to see and do.

Day Five will bring us to Suchitoto, a beautiful town quickly becoming the cultural center of El Salvador.
A visit to the colonial town of Suchitoto in Cuscatlán province for a tour of the historic town, the Joya de Cerén Mayan ruins (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and for an introduction to the work of SalvAide sister organizations CRIPDES and CORDES in the region.

The Los Tercios Waterfall is just a 1.5 km walk from the city center. Its uniqueness and beauty lies in the vertical wall behind the water that is composed of large hexagonal columns of rock. This very rare rock formation is the result of nearby volcanic activity, although numerous folkloric legends also claim to explain the origins of the shape of the rocks.

Los Tercios has water between May and November, although it is worth a visit between December and April too in order to see the stones most clearly.

There is a great amount to see in this town.  There are wonderful old buildings to visit and the history of Suchitoto stretches back to the 1700's.  There are lovely restaurants and a Spanish school for those who are able to return to become more fluent.

cigar making in Suchitoto

Suchitoto was also a major conflict area during the war and you can still visit some of the insurgent bases that were located in the area.  Suchitoto was also the site of a more recent confrontation between members of CRIPDES and the the military.  The Suchitoto 13 were detained during a protest on the outskirts of the town.  The group were eventually freed after international pressure came to bear on the government of the time. CRIPDES is our host while we are in El Salvador and we have met some of the people who were detained.

For more information on tourism in El Salvador, please take a look at Tim's Blog - he has over 50 posts on this topic.
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