Off the Beaten Path: Dulce Nombre de María

Destination #4 on our Pandemic Virtual Tour of El Salvador:  Dulce Nombre de María

Welcome to the mountains of Chalatenango

At the time, we were overwhelmed - quite overwhelmed.  In our quest to learn as much as we could about the Salvadoran public healthcare system, we traveled every day for a month by car and and by truck, we climbed up volcanoes and trudged through ravines, we were welcomed into exam rooms, pharmacies, labs and lunchrooms in big clinics and small outposts, we weighed babies and comforted elders, we combated zancudos (mosquitoes), and we were blown away by the enormous work load which public health doctors, nurses and health promoters complete, day in and day out. 

This story is not about the work we witnessed or the tiny work we did.  This story is about a day of fun we had in the midst of the work.  And as I think about telling the tale of a misty day spent in a beautiful place named Dulce Nombre de María (Sweet Name of Mary),  I cannot proceed without expressing gratitude.  Throughout much of our crazy travel, Oscar was our driver.  Oscar was our protector, our tour guide off the beaten path, and our history teacher when we were clueless.  So, shout out to Oscar!

Just another day on the road with Oscar.

Our trek up to Chalatenango was made possible by Pastor Guadalupe and Pastor Lety.  I had forgotten, until I pulled out my journal, that they had arranged a visit for us in a public health clinic in Nueva Concepción.  We also walked with the pastors in the communities which surround the church (which at that time was a vacant piece of land). As is true at times in most Lutheran Church communities, we could only walk so far due to situations of violence. At the end of our day, Pastor Guadalupe found us a nice little hotel and Pastor Lety accompanied us to a restaurant for dinner.  The next morning, they sent us off to a nearby tourist destination:  Dulce Nombre de María.

Walking in the community - there is a church in this spot now!

We spent our day in pediatric medicine.  The head nurse spent
time with every mother teaching about proper nutrition.

The flat plains and heat of Nueva Concepción are a stark 
contrast to the misty coolness of Dulce Nombre.

Dulce Nombre de María rests in the hills at the base of the mountain range which runs along the northern border of El Salvador and Honduras.  It is located north of the longitudinal highway, about halfway between the intersection of Troncal del Norte and the city of Chalatenango in the department of the same name.  Oscar told us that the town is most famous for the murals which are painted on the sides of the homes and businesses.  We took a walk around town to see a few of the paintings.

Mural of the church

The Mystery of the Moon

This is a great example of traditional Salvadoran
architecture and building materials.

The murals depict local springs and waterfalls.

Old Dulce Nombre

The "downtown" area consists of one block where you will find the Catholic Church (Dulce Nombre de María), the market, a small park surrounded by a few shops, the cultural house and the mayor's office.

Main Street

Courtyard next to the church

Band practice behind the church.  Dulce Nombre
has a large music festival each year.

Dulce Nombre de María church - the facade was reconstructed in 1990

Sanctuary of the church

The park is a good meeting spot and also has a
gazebo in case of rain

The cultural house

The Casa Cultural in Dulce Nombre is an important stop for any visitor.  It is free and you can ask the curator as many questions as you have time to ask.  The house has artifacts, library, artwork and cultural displays.  It's a great place to get a little history lesson:  The town was founded in 1790 by a few Spanish families, when El Salvador was under the governorship of Guatemala. By 1890, the population had grown to 200, and in 1919 it was declared the head of the district which includes many small towns. Today Dulce Nombre is home to the municipal government for the area.

This was where we first learned about
corn festivals and the tradition of making
dresses out of parts of the corn plant.

These items are still used out in the countryside.

Grinding stones for corn - metate (the bottom flat stone)
and the mano (the stone you push with your hands)

The walls of the cultural house are covered in murals
which depict the legends of El Salvador, such as
El Cadejo (the black dog).

Dulce Nombre de María is a sweet town which is small, friendly and walkable.  The fresh fried potatoes at the market are delicious, and there are a few small places to eat right in town.  The town is surrounded by tiny hamlets hiding amidst the gullies and the hills to the east, south and west, and the mountains to the north.  To venture out beyond the town, one really should be driving a 4 x 4 or pickup, although Oscar was able to drive us to the top of a mountain in a small car - but that is another story.

Back to the main road.  Watch out for the
Arbol de Fuego (fire tree).



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