A day in the life: Illusion and Isla Cordoncillo

As you probably already know, we’re still in El Salvador!

View from our dock just before we moved

We almost left right after Christmas, but after a final engine check we discovered 50 gallons of murky estuary water in the bottom of our engine room so the planned departure was delayed and we got to stay here to work on the shaft seal and see in 2019.

Heading to school along Bill and Jean’s dock

Luckily we’ve grown to love El Salvador and it’s an easy place to spend an extended period on a boat. The engine’s doing fine now so in theory we could get moving, but in the meantime we met the teachers at the local school and decided it would be a perfect spot for Toby to get his first experience of school life. Although we’re sad not to be hanging out with the many lovely sailing folks we met here who’ve now moved on to Costa Rica, we’re excited to have made the decision to stay a bit longer and we’re enjoying the continued friendship with people who are here longer term, including other sailors, staff at the hotel, and locals. So we moved to a mooring ball and settled into a neat little routine. We just took a trip to Texas to visit family and renew our visas, but before that a typical day was starting to look something like this:

3.30am Roosters crow on the island. Dogs get into fights during the night. All the hatches are open and last night we could see Jupiter and Venus above the anchor lights.

5am It starts to get light and our boat gets rocked around a bit from the fishing boats speeding past to head out to work. Buses on the peninsula blast their horns.

Almonds drying

6.30am The alarm goes off! We’ve spent the last few years mostly without needing to set an alarm (though to be fair, Toby used to be a pretty effective alarm clock) and the first couple of days were a shock to the system, but now we’re up and more or less enthusiastically getting mugs of tea and porridge ready, in time to get the little guy into the dinghy ready to head over to the island for school. While getting ready we can hear Maura walking along the beach, selling bread. The two minute dinghy ride takes us to Bill’s dock where we tie up and walk along the sand path at the top of the beach, through the little cluster of homes, past chickens, dogs, Josué’s dad mending his fishing nets, sheets of drying almonds, and into the school yard.

Parent-teacher meeting at start of school year

8am – 11am School time. The school has two indoor classrooms where Clara and Enmanuel teach, and a shaded outdoor space for the preschoolers. There are six in Toby’s class, with Nelly, the principal. There’s a sandy yard, a couple of drop-toilets, and a water dispenser for washing hands and sandy faces. Kids mostly walk to school by themselves, except for those who live further down the island and come by boat, and older siblings look out for the little ones.  Uniforms and some resources are provided. Pupils take their own notebooks and each parent is meant to donate a roll of toilet paper and $2 per school year towards food for snack time, as decided at the parent-teacher meeting I attended at the start of the school year in January. A couple of days a week I teach English to the two older groups and as I type Doug is there trying to help fix their solar panels and power supply so they can run their fans.

My new favourite office – thanks Bill and Jean!

Whoever does the school run hangs out at Bill and Jean’s place for a chat or to find a quiet corner to work. I get on with writing projects (I’m doing a bunch of different things to help the cash-flow and build up a freelance career – most of them depend on internet so we use a local sim card and top it up for data) and Doug uses the time for boat and technology-related stuff. He’s gradually getting caught up with the urgent things and can focus a bit on the more interesting longer-term projects that kept getting put off.

Beach time

After school there’s sometimes time for a play on the beach, where little crabs and grey herons patrol the mud at low-tide and ants regularly attack us, but there’s also homework and daily boat cleaning to do. After lunch, we might get a visit from siblings José and Diana from the island with their cousin Stephanie, usually bringing coconuts or mangoes and a phone to charge, or we’ll dinghy over to visit another boat. If we’re feeling energetic we head to the beach on the ocean side for a run around and a load of splashing in the surf, and watch the pelicans flying overhead while men throw nets into the water to catch fish.

Pelicans fly over the Puntilla

4pm – 6pm is Cruiser Happy Hour at the hotel swimming pool. It’s the time to hang out with whoever’s around, chat with the hotel staff who work five days on, two off, walk a friend’s dog, swim, and have a shower! Keeping clean is a bit of a constant preoccupation with a 4 yr old who loves playing in the dirt and sand. Deni from the island collects water from a truck that drives along the peninsula and delivers it to boats, but we try not to go through it too quickly so we appreciate the (slightly salty) showers. If a new boat is arriving or somebody’s leaving, everyone listens in on the radio or sometimes we walk along to the Puntilla, passing cows and pupusa stalls, to watch them crossing the bar.

Coconut at sunset

In the early evening fishing boats zoom home, mangrove swallows flit around our boat, people head to and from the island, the bugs come out, the sun sets, and another day in the beautiful Estero Jaltepeque comes to a gentle end.

It’s been amazing to settle into something of a routine, have a reason to look forward to Fridays again, and feel part of a local community. I loved the adventures of sailing down from Vancouver to El Salvador, but it’s weird always being on the move and rarely getting to know anybody from the places you pass through. It can feel like a very self-focused lifestyle, too, because so much energy is taken up just making it work. A lot of time is taken up with keeping up with everything – provisioning, cleaning, repairs, immigration paperwork, etc. – so it’s often busy without being very  productive. And then for a few months we were waiting for the magic combination of a ready-to-go boat and a good weather window and half-expecting to be leaving any time so we were in a weird kind of limbo.

Hanging out with friends who work at the hotel

So it’s been great to commit to staying and be able to put energy into other areas of life that were getting neglected – work, writing, teaching, music, less urgent boat projects, and friendships. Thank you so much to the people here who’ve welcomed  us into their lives!  We’ll sail onward at some point, I’m sure, but for now we’re pretty delighted to still be here.

Lunch at the Puntilla with SV Raven and SV Anduril after waving goodbye to Rapscullion
Kites on Bill’s dock
Birthday lunch for Doug at Mar y Sol restaurant (a five minute dinghy ride away)
Visiting El Boquerón volcano and park

p.s. As always, thanks for reading and apologies for often not being super up to date with this blog – check out our Instagram and Facebook pages for more regular updates and pictures. If you’re sailing and want to know more about being here, look out for another blog post in the next few days with a load of useful information.

9 thoughts on “A day in the life: Illusion and Isla Cordoncillo”

  1. We so enjoy reading your posts. You are a lovely writer and you have a beautuful family. I have to agree with you about slowing down and getting to know the country, the people and their traditions. We made Estero Jaltepeque our home for 3 1/2 wonderful years. We talk about it and miss the folks so very much. When you ask sailors where they live you always hear answers like Toronto, San Diego, Vancover and Seattle. We were proud to say El Salvador. Like you the best experiences have been giving back to our community. When you leave it will be with a heavy heart, tears and memories that will last a life time. Take it slow and enjoy. SaM y David, sv Isleña, Nicaragua.

    1. Thanks so much SaM and Dave! So nice to know that you read this and as always we are grateful to you for all the local knowledge and information and fun times you shared. We miss you! Hope all is going well aboard Isleña and you are having lots of new amazing adventures…
      Hugs from the three of us xxx

  2. I haven’t read all of this blog yet- but I will! Your writing is enchanting. I can visualize your life away from “big city” and I am in total awe

    You are giving your son such a gift – the gift of life, community and spirit that only intrepid travellers can truly know and appreciate

    So very happy to have serendipitously connected with Toby and Doug that fateful afternoon at Hastings Mill Park.

    Always lovely to see the updates and hear the happenings of you three

    Best
    Sally Langton

    1. Thank you so much for such a lovely comment! I really appreciate hearing that you enjoyed reading the post. It’s definitely a different pace of life to what we were used to in Vancouver – we’re hoping to visit sometime before toooo long so we’ll let you know in case we can meet up. Toby is happy and growing so confident and adventurous, but says he misses sushi!
      Thanks again for keeping in contact and reading our stuff.
      Sara x

  3. I have been following your blog for quite awhile now….since John Noble (a friend of many years) was sailing with you. Reading of your travels is so interesting, particularly how you handle all the normal day to day activities we take so much for granted. Your little boy is growing up so fast, with a amazing education.

    Liza Copeland wrote a few books of their travels around the world with their children. I would think you would have great success with a book(s) on your travels as well. Just let me know and I will be in line to buy a copy!

    Thank you for your blog. It is quite a source of enjoyment to me.

    Patricia

    1. Great to hear from you and thank you so much for reading our (occasional!) blogposts. I am so happy you enjoy reading the posts and I wish I were better at making time to write more about the places we visit.
      Very best wishes to you from all of us x

  4. Hi Sara,
    This is the first time I read your blog to which I came acorss “by accident”.
    It just made me smile though as we’ve just gone through similar situation and feelings starting with 3am detail of a regular day 🙂
    It’s only just we’ve got “stucked” on a beautiful tiny very remote island in E of Indonesia.
    And I loved being stucked for 3 months and going through making friends and becoming a “local” together with our son 3.5 yrs old
    If only would not be that bloody hot!! 🙂
    Anyway good read! Keep it up.
    Hugs to Toby!!
    Would be inteeested into your freelance project.
    Love,
    Oana

    1. Thanks for reading and for your kind comments! I definitely struggle with the heat lol. But it is an amazing place to be.
      Best wishes and thanks for connecting,
      Sara

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