Pre-trip entry:
In my research prior to the upcoming trip to El Salvador with GATE - Global Awareness Through Experience - I came across a recipe for a local "fast food" item, called pupusas. They sound delicious! While pupusas can be filled with meats, beans or cheese, these particular pupusas are filled with Monterrey Jack and green pepper. Perhaps you can whip up a batch and feast on them as you read over news of our group's travels.
Pupusas (this recipe makes 12 cheese pupusas)
3 cups masa harina (you can buy this at many mainstream grocery stores now) 
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 lb grated Monterrey Jack cheese
1/2 minced green bell pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Combine masa harina with salt and water until it becomes a pliable dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. Combine cheese and green pepper. Divide dough into six balls, and then divide each into four balls. Place dough on top of plastic wrap and cover with a second piece of plastic. Use a rolling pin to flatten it to a circle that's about three inches in diameter. Repeat with each ball of dough.
Place two teaspoons of the cheese mixture in the center of each circle, leaving a 1/4 inch border. Cover with a second circle of dough and seal by pressing the edges together. Repeat with each ball of dough.
Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a skillet and cook a few pupusas at a time over medium heat for two to three minutes per side, or until golden brown.
This is sometimes served alongside a salad of onion, green cabbage, carrot, garlic, apple cider vinegar, dried oregano, salt and pepper.
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"Charish~we will be following your trip and hope you have a great time. Looking forward to reading your entries each day!"
-- Nancy and Larry 
"Yummy! I can't wait to try some of those! Plus, I can't wait to read about all your adventures. God bless you and learn a lot!
-- Julia Walsh
Day 1~June 12 
2:00 p.m.
After two flights, I have arrived in San Salvador! The first flight was a rather typical mix of Americans, with a few people heading for Central America, though I didn’t encounter anyone who was going to El Salvador. Then, in Houston, the plane filled with beautiful, Spanish-speaking people and their children. The kids had a particularly fun tine, as they’d squeal and giggle each time the plane hit turbulence. I believe it may have been their first flight. A little girl was scared and stuck one row away from her mother, so I switched seats with the mother so she could sit by her daughter and comfort her. Then, I was seated next to a little boy who was nervous. I bravely told him that it’s just like a boat hitting bumps in the water, and then he smiles and seemed so much better. Hey, who would have thought I’d ever comfort another passenger? I’m typically the biggest Nervous Nellie on the flight.
When we landed, we could feel the humidity and heat spike immediately. Wow. To me, it felt heavenly. There were some long lines to get through Customs, and I paid a standard $10 fee for a tourist card, and the woman who stamped my passport said, ¨Welcome to El Salvador.¨ Those words sent a thrill through me!
Next, I had to get through the bag check area, and luckily got the green light! So I followed the masses to the curb. There were no cabs in sight. Hmmm. I looked left, I looked right, and the suitcase filled with vitamins that will eventually make their way to a clinic in the area took on weight with every moment. Finally a nice man pointed me in the general direction, and I was able to get a cab for $20 USD to the hotel. The expected rate. Ronaldo was my driver, and he didn’t talk much, but I’d interject my sorry excuse for Spanish every once in a while and he’d smile and respond (and often I’d have no idea what he was saying!) 
We sped past people sitting next to piles of coconuts, makeshift lunch counters, goats running on the loose and grazing in the boulevard, and jungle-like greenery. It’s so lush here, and it’s gorgeous in rich, lovely greens. Then, we started to pass homes...though not homes in our sense of the word. For those which have bricks or concrete for the frame, the roofs are comprised of corrugated tin. Parts of the bricks have collapsed on the majority of these, and sometimes wood has been pounded into place to hold things together. I’ve seen poverty, particularly in rural parts of Mexico, yet this is entirely different. These are whole neighborhoods of families clustered in their tin shacks, finding their way to survival.
We passed the Intercontinental, a behemoth of a hotel just a block or so from the family-run hotel where we are staying.
Our hotel is the Villa Real Guest House, and it’s really quaint, clean and just lovely. When I entered to register (in Spanglish) the woman at the front desk pages someone who speaks English....Sara is her name, and I believe she may run things around here. She immediately embraced me. This, by the way, is a welcome I’ve never received at a hotel...ever. She showed me my room, which I will be sharing with another GATE participant. It’s spotlessly clean and fresh and I have a feeling I will sleep very, very well here. The Web site has photos-mine don’t seem to want to upload right now.
We are in a well-traveled neighborhood. Not far from here are American fast food restaurants, automobile shops and more. There is also a strong local shops and restaurants. It is a great area in which to stay.
I'm getting eaten alive by the world’s tiniest mosquitoes right now, so I’m going to go in search of food and escape from these nasty little critters. Little do they know, Minnesota mosquitoes would consider them an appetizer!
Our official immersion begins tomorrow, but already I’m enjoying this first taste of El Salvador. Perhaps I can hunt down some authentic pupusas tonight!

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"Charish, the homes, loose goats and big greenery remind us of our trip to Puerto Rico specially in the higher elevations. We hope you can send some pictures. We are lucky to live the way we do. The pictures of your guest house look very nice. The only problem is we do not speak or read Spanish. Charish, with your smile you will not have any problems with your new friends."
--Nancy and Larry
5:30 p.m.
Within just hours of my arrival here, our guide arrived as well. Everyone seems to love her here. We met the hotel owners, Sara and Alfredo, who are a stunning couple and so welcoming. While I know that El Salvador isn’t a dream destination for many people, if ever you are in the area, this hotel would be a wonderful place to stay. The staff prepared some sandwiches to hold us over until dinner tonight and they tasted wonderful. They were simple, but fresh and delicious!
Our group leader had an important task to attend to: a generous donation had to be delivered to the Co-Madres, a group of mothers working for justice and closure for the families of disappeared loved ones. Many of these disappearances date back to El Salvador’s civil war, yet these brave women continue to fight not only on behalf of their loved ones, but also in the name of justice for families in other countries who’ve experienced the same crimes. We met three lovely women who were so incredibly grateful for the donation given to them; you could see the joy and hope on their faces for what this will mean for their cause. The cash will help finance a mental health program for families suffering in the wake of these atrocities. Were this donation delivered in the form of a check, the bank could hold on to it for three months without paying out cash for it, in a sense collecting interest on the organization’s much needed money. This way, the money will be able to be put to use, and not a penny of it will have to go toward transfer fees or other expenses imposed by financial institutions. It is a great gift they’ve been given, and I felt so fortunate to receive their hugs and kisses and sweet words of thanks, however undeserving I am personally for the gift.
While at the office of the Co-Madres, we met the last living founder of the group. She is an amazing woman. She announced to us some heartening news: on February 6, 2007 in France, the United Nations finally recognized the necessity of a convention making forced disappearances illegal. Fifty-seven countries signed the convention, after 26 years of struggle on the part of the Co-Madres to make it happen. The importance of this could be seen in the eyes of the lone living founder of the group, a woman whose own 16-year-old son fell victim to these crimes. Clearly she does not view the victory as revenge for her own loss, instead, through an interpreter, she said, ¨The benefit is for all humanity in the world, after 26 years of struggle. It was worth the sacrifice.¨ To date, El Salvador will not sign the convention, and neither will the United States. It is believed the U.S. is unwilling to sign because the convention would render illegal many of the current U.S. war tactics illegal.
In the office of the Co-Madres hangs a portrait of the son of the lone surviving Co-Madres founder, as well as some grisly photographs of the aftermath of these crimes. They show the bodies of those who’ve been abducted and tortured, often beheaded or dismembered. These images are carefully guarded by the Co-Madres. Firstly, they are proof of the horrifying deaths of loved ones, bringing about closure to those who so desperately need it. But more than that, because the El Salvador government continues to deny that these atrocities occurred, these photos are the last remaining proof the Co-Madres have in their fight for justice for the families of the disappeared.
"Thanks, Charish, for your great reporting of your GATE experience so far!  Feels like I’m traveling with you. Absorb all you can."
 --Mary Ann Gschwind, FSPA
"Thanks for the updates Charish. I was in El Salvador, Santa Ana to be exact, for 6 months in the late 70’s – prior to the war. And I can attest to the fact that pupusas are excellent, be sure you try some."
 --Rita Feeney, FSPA

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