Ahuachapan, El Slavador
March 13, 2017
It all started with a request to share their table. This was the busy food festival in Concepcion de Ataco over the weekend and all the tables in the eating area were occupied by families and visitors. I needed to find a seat. We said out hellos as they graciously let me share their table and introduced ourselves. Small talk soon turned into a longer conversation and I learned that Mario and Beatrice live in San Salvador but come into Ataco every Sunday to amble through the town, eat at the cafes that spring up over the weekend. Their ten year old son is not quite as enthusiastic about the weekend festival but is delighted to stay at Mario’s brother’s and play with his cousins.
Our conversation continued over the meal as we strolled through town and I was invited for coffee at one of their favorite restaurants. A bit further out from the central plaza, this was quieter with a grand view of the area from its balcony. Mario and Beatrice both come from these parts and Mario remembers helping to harvest coffee on his father’s farm as a child. It was a time when the Ruta de Las Flores was still a dirt road and the buildings in the villages, more rudimentary. The farm still exists but is not an active farm anymore. In fact it is close to the farm that Mario’s brother lives and it is there that they have to go to pick up their son. My interest in the ways of life then and now, no doubt prompted their invitation.
“Would you like to come with us to visit the farm?” they asked.
They had a car and would show me the farm, pick up Mario junior and then drop me off in Juayua where I was staying on their way back to San Salvador. I needed no second urging and promptly accepted.
Up we went along Ruta de las Flores to the town of Ahuachapan. A small detour through town was deemed necessary to show me the sights and soon after we turned off the asphalt. A dirt road stretched out before us lined with small plots with houses. Lines of laundry fluttered in the breeze and some children stopped in their play to stare at the car. A few dogs started to get up to bark but thought the better of it as they no doubt recognized the car. All this area used to be farmed not so long ago they tell me, but many of the farms are now sold. The houses we saw along the road belonged to one such farm before the owner parceled the land into small plots and sold them off.
Soon we turn into a wooden gate and drive up through large empty fields to a sprawling house with tiled roof. Bright yellow and orange painted walls greet a cheery welcome and as we get out stern admonitions are called out to the four dogs that come loping up to the car. The roof extends out over the wrap-around porch and is supported by hand-hewn logs. All the wood came from the property says Mario and this house, now some seventy-five years old was built by his father. Not lived-in anymore, it houses some old furniture and other odds and ends from older generations. To the side is a large reservoir for water. The house sits empty but there is a small cabin-like structure that I presume houses the caretakers. To one side of it is a woodpile where a couple turkeys strut their stuff and a small puppy rolls on the dirt.
The coffee trees had been hit by a plague and it never quite got back to being a working farm since then. Some of the coffee trees still stand surrounded by other trees all over the property. There are mango trees festooned with bunches of mangoes not quite ripe yet. There are trees with those small oval fruits called jocotes and next to it is an avocado tree. My eyes pop out of their sockets as I recognize bunches of starfruit hanging temptingly from another tree. I ask if I can pick one to eat. They laugh to see my enjoyment of this deliciously ripe fruit as with juice dribbling down my chin I reach for another. Before I know it Beatrice has got a plastic bag and they have manage to fill it with starfruit and green mangoes. There are other small buildings on the property. None used now, they sit in this tranquil spot bathed in the rustle of leaves and the chirp of birds. How I would live to spend some time here I said.
“Anytime you want” smiles Mario. Who knows? I may well take him up on his offer.
I meet their son Mario junior as he comes from his uncle’s house. Much as he loves the weekends he spends here, he wants to be a pilot he tells me. Not long after we pile into the car and drive back. Exchanging contact information and phone numbers, I know I will keep in touch.
How lucky am I to yet again to meet with such kindness and generosity. In a country with people as open and friendly as Salvadorans, it probably should not surprise me I suppose but nonetheless it does.