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Friday, 4 June 2010

Body paint, turtles and Tropical Storm Agatha

So finally... two and a bit months later... the mural is finished, yay! The words we´ve been hearing most to describe it have been vergon, tripiada y fumada... as in cool & trippy...real belly-warming-grin-inducing response (:

We finished up yesterday by literally painting ourselves camouflaged into the wall... so for the second time in the last couple of years I´ve been covered in industrial exterior paint (the last time being the 2009 London naked bike ride where I was too shy to go fully hanging like the majority so went as my own version of a smurf, covered neck to toe in blue garden trellis paint with crude-paint-bike-boobs.) So I still haven´t got round to using actual body paint, but there were definitely painted bodies going on and this time a lot more intricate than the smurf effort... José got the more intricate job of painting me into the lanches and did a wicked job of it.... it seemed a suitably excitable finish to the whole job and I think we were both disappointed to wash ourselves off in the sea afterwards.

I hope that wasn´t a polluting thing to do (and am telling myself it wasn´t since the paint´s water based?) considering the appalling battering the seas are taking in the Gulf of Mexico courtesy of BP at the moment. And even here on the Pacific side of Central America polluted seas are sadly too easy to spot.. mornally the water at los Cobanos seems clean, an illusion I gess considering the amount of plastic rubbish we clean off the beach some mornings, but as we washed off the paint we were surrounded by floating plastic and a general scuzz that has been dumped in the seas by the rivers stirred up by the recent storm-bordering-on-hurricane that is so restrainedly named Agatha (why are viscious destructive storms given soft feminie names?)

Agatha has been the biggest event of the last few weeks... while we were painting the lanches with the names of everyone who has helped with the mural we put Agatha on there too, seeing as she contributed one day by making part of an afternoon´s work run off onto the paving stones... she held up the painting for three days too, which felt frustrating, but then as we started getting news reports of the scale of destruction she was wreaking that small personal irritation became completely irrelevant. El Salvador has been on Red Alert since the storm hit, and has experienced hundreds of landslides, extensive damage to infrastructure including roads that have completely collapsed (one of them being the road I´d been planning on taking to cross the border at La Hachadura into Guatemala), and vast loss of crops, which is already having the knock on effect of vastly inflated prices on fuit and veg, which is a problem for Los Cobanos, where transportation to the village causes a hike in price compared to the main towns even in stable times. Relative to parts of El Salvador where homes have been lost and the people are living in temporary refugee centres, the community here at Los Cobanos was not too badly effected, although the storm meant no one could fish, which meant there was no fish to eat or sell and so no money to buy even basic food. The local Fundareciffe staff co-ordinated food parcels from the government to be distributed amongst the families and gladly we´ve had calm weather and even sun these last few days, so the lanches have been going out again... José and I saw one come back yesterday with an impressive catch that included about 15 manta rays and many of a type of red fish whose name begins with p?, one of which was so huge that stood on its tail it would have come up to my waist... it seems that Pachamamma is smiling on Los Cobanos again, but the rest of the country remains on red alert, and neighbouring Guatemala is in an even worse situation, being in a state of emergency as a result of the havoc since Tropical Storm Agatha hit only days after the erruption of the Pacaya volcano, the combined forces have left hundreds of people homeless and many dead or missing, buried in mudslides. Having been in contact with a couple of schools in Guatemala about volunteering it feels more close to home than when you usually hear about such disasters on the news... it´s shocking the devastation caused in a few short days, and as usual it is the poorest people, living in vulnerable housing on the edges of rivers or mountainsides, who are the most badly effected.

Here in El Salvador another knock on effect is the dramatic increase in mosquitoes... I´ve been pestered by the not-so-little-compared-to-our-midgies-back-home-bastards pretty much daily since arriving at the beach but in the last days even the locals are bringing out cauldrons of smoking wood in the evenings... and now its not just evenings, they´re flying-riot 24 hours it seems, our smoke and reppellent shields are laughingly ineffectual, the only deterrant is strong wind or squashing (good job I´m not a vegetarian)... so there is a lot of slapping each other going on. Far more seriously the increase in the blood-suckers has led to an increase in Dengue throughout the country, an added complication to the current crisis.

One side effect of the storm that is not negative (it somehow seems inappropriate to say Agatha has brought anything positive) is that the increase in volume of the seas makes it more likely that turtles will arrive on the beach to lay their eggs. And indeed when Sydney turned up, back from the wedding in the US, as the storm days began, she saw a nest of eggs being transported to the Fundareciffe protected turtle nursery from where Reynel, 25-year experienced tortugero and husband of neighbour Dora, had watched them be laid the night before in front of the hostel.

Turtles had been on our mind since it is the beginning of the 6 month season of egg-laying, and after José had found an amazingly orange patterned tortoise-not-turtle on the beach one lazy Sunday afternoon we built a big sand turtle with a few of the local kids who wrote ´coming to Kalindigo´in shells above it, a kind of rain-stick-shaking-ritual of the turtle-calling kind it felt like, and it was only a few days after that that Sydney spotted the egg-move. I got over excited another night at midnight when I heard commotion outside the dorm and then an urgent knock... thinking it was Kali come to say Reynel had spotted another turtle. But as it turned out it was a night-time intruder a local lad who was drunk, and who was chased off the property... excitement of a kind but I´d have prefered to see a turtle, it would have been a lot more novel an experience!

The deal with the protection of turtles in El Salvador is that it has been illegal to eat or sell their eggs in the markets since 2007 and so nurseries like the one at Los Cobanos have been set up at a handful of beaches to buy the eggs from the tortugeros. Tortugeros like Reynel are local men who scan the beach all through the night by torchlight watching for a turtle to emerge from the waves. They watch where the turtle lays its nest, which in the morning is then moved to the nursery where it is buried in the sand at the same depth as the turtle laid it, an important point because the depth affects the temperature, which in turn determines the sex of the eggs. Tortugeros are paid by the nursery with government funding, an important incentive for poor familes who might otherwise need to eat or sell them to feed their familes. José and I were sat out on the beach one evening as Reynel began his night-time vigil and he sat and chatted to us for a long time about his work, proudly telling us that last season he found the most nests of all the tortugeros in Los Cobanos, 63, which is a lot of eggs getting protected if you consider that each nest is generally between 60 and 120 eggs. In nature, the number of those eggs that will actually hatch and mature into an adult turtle is shockingly low, something like 1 in 1000... so nureries aim to increase those odds by protecting the eggs in fenced in environments and releasiong the newly hatched turtles at an optimum time. Fingers crossed I might still get to see one big mamma of a turlte arrive one night.

Another bit of excitement in these last few weeks was going to my first ever live ska night... and as a tag along to the headling band Adesivo. One of them had the wicked job of stirring up the mosh pit by jumping and headbanging his way round in a circle, a bit like a congo line but more rebellious...and the human-bumper-car mosh pit the supporting band induced amongst the young skater-punk crowd was awesome to watch, although I think my personal favourite point of the night was going on the local fair big wheel... a rickety-fading-paint-contraption that gave a stomach churning view out across the bay of Acajutla... (:

Now that we´re done painting the idea is to move on to Xela in Guatemala, but with all the upheavel I´ve actually got no idea how things will go, or even if I´ll be able to cross the border at all or even cycle at all... another tourist who passed through Kalindigo a day or two ago, fine carpenter Scotty from Montana, reported that a mate of his on a motorbike had failed to find a route through at two of the three border crossings so far... so I´ll need to do some investigating as to how I´m going to move on. In the meantime I´m heading back to Mizata for a day or two to visit Sydney and José´s family and perhaps make some more recycled newspaper notebooks...


Peace and love x

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