Last week I accompanied my friend Jenny on a trip to visit her sister, a US government employee with the State Department, in El Salvador. As someone with a serious Asia bent (I spent many summers in Japan and worked in China briefly) I usually don't think about traveling south of the border, but the opportunity was too good to resist. Not only would be spending time El Salvador with Jenny's sister, Bess, and brother-in-law, Ethan (a photographer for one of the country's two major papers, El Mundo), but we would also have the opportunity to drive around the country and visit places off the beaten track. And learn to make pupusas, the thick cheese/meat/vegetable filled tortilla that's a dietary staple.
In the three short days we zig-zagged around San Salvador - one day with a guide, one day with Ethan, one day with Ethan and Bess. We were in the hills visiting coffee plantations and processing plants, in the city visiting a shanty town, and at the beach indulging in bourgeois pursuits.
On Saturday, the last day of my visit, we stopped at a fish market. Perched high on a pier, the market features fish fresh off the boat as well as sun-dried fish. The left side of the pier is where fishing boats are lowered into the water (and raised to sell their catch). The right side, under the canopy, is where the market stalls are:
Walking to the pier takes you past a lot filled with small fishing boats:
Scattered amongst the boats are drying fish. Some are placed on sidewalks:
Some are draped over carts:
Once you enter the market, dried fish hangs everywhere:
I heard the hawkers calling out that the fish was for use in soup. In the small covered glass dishes just beyond the dried fish are multitudes of cocteles - basically Salvadoran ceviche. I ate it nearly every day I was there. I'm particularly fond of the olive oil and lime version.
Turtle eggs were sold out in the open, still covered in dirt. An old woman offered us small bags of quail eggs. Kids were selling shell necklaces. Some of the people at the market were wealthy Salvadorans, down at the beach for the day and picking up fish to bring back to the city for dinner.
Moving past the covered market and onto the main part of the pier, fishermen clean and sell fish that's just come off the boats. A few of us were a little taken aback by the quantity of ray they were cleaning:
Here, if you look to the bottom right of the photo, you can see a sac of ray roe - look for the orange orbs:
Although we saw red snapper in the market, we didn't see any in the restaurants. There wasn't much, actually:
Here's the view of the Pier looking back from the end:
In the center of the photo are two men wheeling a motor back to land for storage so it won't get stolen overnight. On the right are fishing boats, ready to be wheeled to the end of the pier and lowered into the water for fishing the next day. Apparently the boats are safe to leave out.
Leaving the pier I noticed a few signs of interest. The first one let me know clearly that carrying a handgun would land me 3-5 years in prison:
The second sign presented an onerous list of rules. What, no selling or using drugs in the market? I can't be drunk? I can't drive my car in? Huh??
Just as I left, I notice that if I really have to go, for a quarter I can be accommodated. The illustration really helped me understand exactly what they were offering:
Afterward, we headed off to a fish restaurant that apparently shakes when the tide rolls in. It's a small miracle that the place is still standing:
At the entrance of the restaurant, an oyster shucker worked his magic:
His hands are gnarled from the unprotected shucking. Sometimes he finds pearls, he says. He displays the fruit of his labor:
A stack of coconuts awaits orders. The green is carved off the top and a hole is macheted so that a straw can access the coconut water inside:
I ended up ordering rice with mixed seafood. It was delightful, even the tiny crabs that were nearly impossible to eat (they don't serve a tiny fork or a nut cracker to aid in the task). And, per Salvadoran custom, served with wedges of sliced lime: