Little did we know our trip would coincide with El Nino winds this year. We were only inconvenienced a bit; however marginalized families living in palm frond huts a few yards from the ocean can lose their lives, or the few possessions they own in minutes when high winds result in mega-waves washing across the beach destroying everything in its path.
These high winds continue for nearly two weeks. Neither of us has experienced the constant wind like this in any of our previous trips to El Salvador. In San Salvador we begin to notice the temperature discrepancies between daytime and nighttime, but the high winds with gusts up to 50 mph add a whole new layer to the nighttime chilliness. I ask the guesthouse owner for a blanket for my bed. Most early morning and evenings I find myself wearing my sweater or one of the two long-sleeved shirts I threw into my suitcase at the last minute mainly for the plane ride.
Thin layers of dust force themselves into the smallest crevices of everything I own, including my zipped suitcase and Ziploc baggies. One of our friends spent the weekend high in the mountains where it was even colder and much windier only to return wearing three layers of warmth and contracting an upper respiratory illness she blamed on all the dust swirling the air.
Out in the communities the burning fields of black sugarcane ash flies farther than normal distances, permeating everything in its path. Dried vegetation off the plants swirls and curls relentlessly in the air. Falling seed pods gather around our feet tripping our steps. Birds seem blown off-course; the small iridescent blue/orange breasted swallows, normally soaring high above, now struggle at eye level. One such wayward bird, obviously off course, lands in my hair, and I quickly flick it out with a scream after it shrilly objects to my brisk hand swishing it away. YIKES! Does it mistake my hair for its nest?! This is all minor stuff until we drive to the ocean and see how the poor living along the beach are affected.
EVEN THE PIGS ARE CONFUSED TODAY!
The drive to visit our fisherman friend, Juan, along the seashore revealed a low spot in the road recently washed out and replaced by high mounds of sand re-built into banks supported by large vertically placed sandbags and tires in an effort to reinforce the road. I inquired as to what happened to the poor families living in the low areas on the other side of the road when the waves fiercely crossed the roads into their bamboo huts and was told three families escaped but lost everything and needed to be re-located. There was one hour warning before “THE BIG WAVE” came making an island out of part of the lower road and requiring residents beyond that point to take a boat across to their homes.
SANDBAGS ATTEMPTING TO HOLD SEA FROM COVERING ROAD AGAIN.
Gazing out across the Pacific today the mist sprayed up from the curling waves’ arcs into fleeting rainbows – another new sight for us.
A positive outcome of the whole wind situation is we see or feel no mosquitoes! We’ve brought lots and lots of Deet and I am applying it when out and about but honestly, what little bug could navigate in these winds if the birds are having difficulty?
Still, we leave today reminded of the extreme vulnerability of life in these low-lying areas. One may ask why the residents remain knowing the inherent risks. These are small communities comprised of rural fishermen. This is their livelihood. This is what they do. Every time we visit, we are struck by how everyone works together to help each other. We see it when a fishing boat comes in with its catch and suddenly out of nowhere, the whole community appears to help with the varied tasks required. All ages help from elderly to toddlers. They go into automatic pilot removing coolers, nets, motor, dragging the boat to higher ground before flipping the boat over, and begin carefully folding the nets in a specific way in order to remain untangled.
My guess is the community members would also work in the same tedious and attentive way to help one another in the case of a natural disaster.
COMMUNITY MEMBERS HELP UNLOAD FISHERMEN’S CATCH