Sorry for the delay on this one folks! I was slacking. But, another great adventure to report. Sadly, I forgot my camera on this trip. I know, I know. I really need to get it together. Fortunately my friend and I were able to use the camera on her phone. And I call myself a journalist?! But on with the journey…
Ah. Alegría. Que bonito!
My friend and fellow blogger from Spain, Paula, invited me to go to an art exhibition in Alegría. So I once again returned to the departamento of Usulútan to visit this beautiful town. The scenery of course immensely impressed me, but as is usually the case, I was more taken by the people I met during this trip.
Saturday afternoon Paula and I met with Carlos and Maria Luisa. These two young artists have been creating art and leading workshops in Alegría for the young people there. They have a colectivo, or community art organization called Buscanigua Studio. Then we met with Maria Luisa’s sister Ana Lucia (don’t get confused) who was our steady chauffeur for the trip. She definitely proved her skills navigating the windy roads into the mountains, the rugged terrain to a laguna and braving torrential downpours.
We had to stop by Carlos’ house to pick up the art supplies: sheets of plastic, banners and most importantly lots and lots of spray paint. We also picked Carlos’ mom Esmeralda. The truck was loaded with people and supplies, all set for Alegría.
The drive up into the mountains was breathtaking. Heavy, deep green trees made a canopy over parts of the road, to one side was a view of mountains and valleys. We made our first stop in the pueblo of Berlin. Yes, as in Berlin, Germany. There were some Germans here at one time. We stopped to buy some tarps because our goods were getting soaked in the back of the truck from heavy rainfall, a familiar visitor in El Salvador this time of year.
It seemed that the whole town was gathered around to watch a game of fútbol.
We made it to Alegría, fortunately our clothes were more or less dry inside of our bags. We hid them under the colchón (mattress), which was soaked to say the least. The art supplies were fine, many of their supplies are plastic and the spray paint was in bags. While it continued to pour we unloaded the truck at Casa Alegría, a hostel owned by Memo, or Guillermo, a fellow artist who supports and promotes art education in the town. The hostel provides accommodations for travelers and artists like Carlos and Maria Luisa.
I immediately realized I should have brought my raincoat and pants. It was chilly. I had also forgotten my camera. I was so pissed. Fortunately, Paula was generous enough to let me take pictures with her phone and has allowed me to use some of the photos she took for my blog post.
On a wall next to the hostel Paula and I got our first look at some of the amazing work Carlos, Maria Luisa and the kids of Alegría have done. A large mural spread across the wall. Three children’s faces hover above the buildings of the town and coffee beans, an abundant crop in El Salvador, float in the air.
Paula, Ana Lucia, Esmeralda and I left Carlos and Maria Luisa to prepare their artwork for the exhibition the next day. Strolling in the drizzle and haze through the main square of the town, I inhale the rich smells of pupusas sizzling on the plancha, elote grilling and hot chocolate simmering in large pots. A large gazebo provides the backdrop to the vendors and a humble, but lovely white church sat at one corner of the square. We made our way to a little restaurant called Pimientos where we sat down for a snack and a few beers, waiting out the rain.
Later we headed back to the square for dinner. Pupusas con queso y loroco and hot chocolate. Yum! Loroco is a vine flower.
I had eaten loroco in pupusas before, but these were amazing! I am now in love with loroco and have found it is delicious in rice. I am going to make a pasta dish with it next.
Alegría is also known for its flowers. There were many beautiful flowers, trees and shrubs. Also lots of different flowers were being sold in the market.
We returned to the casa to find Carlos and Maria Luisa still hard at work. We brought them pupusas. Ana Lucia and Paula managed to haul a crate of Pilseners back as well. I stayed up for a while just watching Carlos and Maria create their art.
What they do, from my basic understanding, is sketch a picture from a camera photo onto a large piece of plastic. They then use small knives, more like razors, to cut the outline of the picture. They build the image by creating layers with the sheets of plastic. Then, layer-by-layer, they spray paint the image onto a canvas. They also spray painted in freehand for the background of images. I hope I explained this somewhat well.
The next morning Esmeralda and I headed out early for a walk. There wasn’t much open yet so we stopped at a little tienda to eat…pupusas con queso y loroco for breakfast! The town was so peaceful, so quiet. People we beginning to open up shop, vendors were setting up their tables, organizing their wares. Again the smell of cooked maiz for pupusas, yuca frying and meat grilling hung in the morning air. We admired the view from the top of a steep hill and then headed down the cobblestone street. Eventually we came across a humble tourist attraction of Alegría: “El Mirador de 100 Gradas.” Basically, 100 steps that provided a great view at the top. Hesitantly, Esmeralda suggested we walk up the steps. We needed to walk off all of the pupusas we had consumed in the last 24 hours.
After meeting up with Paula and Ana Lucia, we drove out to the laguna of Alegría, a tranquil little lake with a fútbol field, of course, where locals held games. We passed a long train of people on the rocky road walking to the field for a Sunday morning game. Paula and I were disappointed we could not ride the cables through the canopy because the tour guide was not there. Another reason to return.
Then Cokí, Esmeralda’s husband and some of Ana Lucia and Maria Luisa’s family arrived. We all sat down to talk, eat and relax at another hostel called Entrada de Piedras. The much talked about Memo, owner of Casa Alegría, finally met up with us as well along with a couple of other artists from El Salvador. I realized I was getting introduced to a whole other part of El Salvador. I felt this way, not only because I was seeing all of this art produced, but also I felt I was inside this culture of artists here. I felt lucky.
Later we hung out at the gazebo, talking with locals and wanderers from abroad, as they arrived to view the art. Paula and I were lucky enough to meet a group of young children who were more than happy to introduce to some of the people working in the market who were the inspirations for the pictures.
“This one is of my aunt, she work over here, frying yuca!,” a little girl shouted.
The little girl brought her aunt over to stand beside her image and get her picture taken. Hopefully, I am going to be able to bring this painting back to D.C. with me. I let Carlos and Maria Luisa know that I wanted this one.
“Anthony owns the salon over here. He’s gay,” one young boy shyly noted.
Ah. Alegría. What an amazing trip. I cannot wait to go back. I have the urge to wake up for consecutive mornings in a row, go out my front door, breathe in the fresh mountain air, and take a quiet stroll through the village. Of course, I will have pupusas with queso y loroco for breakfast, lunch and dinner.