Passports, luggage & tickets

Poco a poco, our trip to El Salvador is coming together, although we have come up against a few obstacles.

At the passport office.

First step, passports. Carlos needed an American passport, our oldest son was an infant in his expired passport photo, and our youngest had never owned one. (Mine also needed to be renewed.) At the passport office, the clerk was very friendly but she regretted to inform us that Carlos’s official Salvadoran birth certificate and official translation, didn’t meet their strict identification requirements. “We need one with a raised seal,” she said, running her finger across the flat piece of paper.

I laughed out loud. This certificate is his real birth certificate, not a copy. Good luck getting the government of El Salvador to send you another one designed to their specifications. (George Lopez voice: “Raised seal! ‘Ta loca, raised seal!”)

I pulled out Carlos’s Naturalization Certificate and the clerk agreed that this would work – pero – she wanted the original. Anyone who has gotten their papers knows that the Naturalization Certificate is something you guard with your life – they cost hundreds of dollars to replace – but we didn’t have a choice. We handed it over and she promised that once they were done processing the passport, they would send it back to us.

That was a few weeks ago and thankfully we’ve received three passports and Carlos’s certificate back in the mail. (My passport is still processing.)

Final cost of passports, almost $500. Ouch.

There was no way to cut costs on passports, but we thought maybe we could on luggage. My parents generously agreed to let us borrow some of their suitcases but they’re going to the beach two weeks before we plan to go to El Salvador, (which means I won’t be able to pack early as I like to do.) Another problem? My parents wrote their surname in big block letters across the front of each suitcase. Walking around El Salvador with an Anglo name scrawled on our bags will make us (okay, me), look even more conspicuous than I already am. I kind of don’t want to look like a tourist, if that’s even possible. My plan for blending in is:

#1. Speak Caliche
#2. Wear sunglasses (Carlos says my blue eyes will give me away)
#3. Avoid sunburn
#4. Don’t walk around with an Anglo name scrawled on my luggage

(If you have any other ideas, let me know.)

Anyway, determined not to buy new suitcases, we went to Goodwill. Their vast selection included a steamer trunk ala Titanic, (or “pirate box” as the boys called it), and a handful of smaller bags.

Arrrg! Here be the treasure to take to El Salvador!

In the end, we bought suitcases. Hopefully that means we’ll officially be traveling more.

The funny thing about buying the suitcases was that when we entered the luggage section of K-Mart where we ended up buying them, there was a guy who looked to be Latino in the aisle. He was wearing a fishing hat and clothes that suggested he might work in landscaping. (He also had side burns that would make Elvis jealous.) At first he said nothing to us – just kept pulling down suitcases, inspecting them, comparing them, and then putting them back.

I spoke to Carlos in Spanish, maybe a little louder than usual because I can be a show-off like that. The guy didn’t even look up. I tried again. Nothing. I shrugged and decided maybe he was Filipino or deaf. Then he cleared his throat and asked Carlos, “Vas en viaje, eh?”
“Sí, pero están bien caras las maletas, man,” Carlos said.
“Sí, muy caras,” the man said, inspecting a price tag.

They were quiet for a moment and then the guy spoke again, “Y a dónde vas?…Guatemala?”
“Cerca,” Carlos answered, “un poco más al sur. El Salvador,” Carlos said, eyeing the not deaf, not Filipino guy.
“Oh, disculpa. espero que no te insulté,” he said laughing.
“No, man. De ningún modo,” Carlos said, before asking, “y usted es de Guatemala?”
“No, de El Salvador también…”

I watched the conversation, noting how neither Carlos or the guy used the Salvadoran “vos” – The guy didn’t make eye contact with me, even when I asked if he wanted my older son to help him reach something on a high shelf. (My oldest son is taller than both Carlos and this guy.)

It was a strange encounter. What are the chances of two Salvadorans buying luggage in the same place at the same time? (Or one Salvadoran and one Guatemalan pretending to be Salvadoran? I’m not totally sure.)

Tickets were our next challenge. After sweating over the rising prices we kept finding online, Carlos finally called the travel agent. I don’t know how she was able to do it, but she got us direct flights on TACA at the price and dates that we wanted.

We now have three weeks to get it together and aren’t nearly ready. I’m relieved that passports, luggage and tickets are taken care of, but our last and greatest challenge still awaits.

Suegra is coming with us.


  1. Suegra is coming!!!!! Pensé que sólo vendrían los 4! Haber si “los deja” ir donde ustedes quieran. Good luck with that!
    Good to know Carlos got his passport, now, we have to wait for yours!
    I think your “ideas” on how to blend over here will work. Believe it or not, we have a lot of gringuitos walking around. But like I said before… be VERY careful when you go to Soyapango.
    Do you know where you’ll be staying?
    I really hope you have a great time here and those memories from the ’99 trip queden en el olvido!

    • Got my passport now, whew!

      The reason I want to blend in is mostly for Soyapango :p Don’t want to draw attention to myself… We’ll probably be staying there a few days since that’s where Carlos’s house is.

  2. That’s what I was wondering….would Suegra come or would she stay to “house-sit”? Maybe you can leave her with others who will entertain her? Or will you have to stay with her?

    So glad things are coming together. I’m sure yours will be in the mail shortly too. How fun!

    • We plan to leave Suegra with family most of the time – hopefully that works out.

      My passport came. Yay!

  3. Oh. My. GOD.

    I can’t believe she’s going with you! That would give me the runs.

    Just be you. Don’t hide your pretty eyes. They will love you!

    I’m so happy you guys get to do this. Enjoy every second of it!

    • LOL.

      I know they’ll love me, (modest, eh? haha), but I want to blend in partly for safely reasons and partly so I can just observe and enjoy without being stared at which makes me self-conscious.

  4. I am glad your trip is coming together. I hate when (some) latino men do not grace me with eye contact as I am Speaking to them. Glad your passports arrived. Two weeks wow, how exciting


    • What is that all about, Bonnie? (The not making eye contact thing.) … I wondered if he didn’t want to speak/look at me directly out of respect for Carlos – or if he was being a macho ass. Who knows.

  5. Hahahaha! Either “Filipino or deaf”. I love it (& can totally understand that).

    Wait, Suegra is coming too? Are you going to be together the whole time, or will you be able to break away? You need a vacation! ;-)

    • LOL – no insult meant there – I seriously figured those were 2 other likely options until he spoke Spanish. jajaja

      We will be trying to “break away” from Suegra as you say. Hopefully she doesn’t glue herself to us.

    • Go for it, Patty! It’s the first step in going on an amazing adventure – so get it checked off your list. Most post offices and libraries can help you out and give you info/forms/take photos, etc!

  6. I do know about passport problems…I know you’ll be relieved when yours is in your hand. I’m so excited about your trip…even if suegra comes. It’s still going to be great!!
    So here’s our little trick with luggage…we duct tape a big ‘x’ on the side of each bag. That way we can see them real quick when they come off the belt….sometimes I think they might look suspicious like that, but we’ve never had any problems with our bags. We always take clothing that the kids have out grown to give to their cousins (well, along with sale stuff from Old Navy as presents) then we have room to bring cool stuff back with us. Can’t wait to hear all your stories!!

    • So relieved, Susan- I now have my passport!

      Neat trick with the big ‘x’ taped on the luggage. LOL. I prefer something a little prettier. I pick a colored ribbon to tie on them all.

      We also brought out-grown clothing, etc. to give to little cousins, etc. last time. Not sure what we’re bringing this time. Everyone has kind of grown up and have bigger wants, (like name brand shoes :p)

  7. That’s so awesome that you are that much closer to your trip!

    Don’t freak out about the blending in part. The country has changed quite a bit since my first visit back in ’98. I remember that back then, it was a true rarity to hear anyone speak English and/or see ‘gringos.’ Nowadays, not quite as much.

    People are a bit more accustomed to seeing foreigners around San Salvador, but even down on the coast it is no longer such a rarity as a lot of folks like to hang out there for the surf. On that note, people are generally receptive to differing levels of Spanish.

    You’ll laugh at this, but one of the best ways to not seem so ‘foreign’ is to throw in one of our colorful sayings in casual conversations, i.e. “Esa mierda no me gusta!” or “Que putas, cuando llegue, ya estaba cerrada la tienda!”

    Some things I would strongly encourage you not to do (not that I am saying you are in the habit of doing it otherwise), are: wear jewelry, unless you are OK with it being stolen. Not that it’ll happen for sure, but it wouldn’t be a surprise.

    Secondly, if your kids bring iPods, etc., don’t wear them while out in the streets. It is a safety hazard (won’t hear traffic) and draws unwanted attention.

    Lastly, I am sure you’ll laugh at this, but I’ve seen it done countless times: don’t wear clothes you wouldn’t wear to go the park. I’ve seen people wear leather jackets and 5 inch stilettos. Dumb.

    • LOL – I use Caliche pero esas frases, Chele, no son para las damas! ;) … I can’t talk like that in front of my in-laws. jajaja… I may talk like that online sometimes but only with friends.

      As for jewelry – the jewelry I wear isn’t expensive and I wouldn’t care if it was stolen, but the idea of someone ripping $5 gold hoops out of my ears and damaging my piercing is not appealing. (Suegra had earrings ripped from her ears once. *shiver*) … Carlos also told me to leave our wedding bands at home, which will feel weird, but we will.

      Thanks for the reminder on iPods — they’re bringing them on the plane to listen to but we weren’t going to let them carry them around anywhere else.

      Hey – I was thinking about having metal dog tags made, (like at the machines they have to make metal tags for your pet at pet stores), with the address in El Salvador for the kids to keep in their pocket in case (God forbid), they got lost. Is that insane or smart? LOL.

      As for 5 inch stilettos – I’ll remove those from my luggage right away ;) jajaja … (No worries there. I am bringing several pairs of chanclas and some athletic shoes for the volcano. Does that sound about right?)

      • Don’t make it that obvious that you haven’t been in El Salvador for a while by thinking que no es para damas. LOL!!

        Definitely bring some comfortable sneakers if you plan on going to the volcanoes (and for general walking about). Also shorts or something you wouldn’t mind getting sweaty. I’ve seen people climb the volcanoes wearing polos and jeans…not a good idea.

        BTW, take sunglasses with you on those trips. Preferably cheap ones in case you drop them or they get scratched up.

        The dog tag idea is smart. You never know. Better to safe than sorry.

        Sunblock and insect repellent are a must as well.

        Because it is rainy season, you’ll might also consider bringing an umbrella. Some folks suggest taking ponchos for hikes (volcanoes, etc). Personally, I think they are more of a problem than a solution. Showers are usually short and after it stops, the heat from the ground makes the water evaporate rather quickly and makes the air rather humid. I am sure you can imagine what happens if you are in that environment wearing a plastic poncho without ventilation. I got caught out in the rain one day at a hike and I ended up being more comfortable than the folks with the ponchos.

        On that note, bring some ziplock bags and carry them with you when you go out on tours like that. Preferably at least one big enough to store your camera and other electronics you wouldn’t want to damage with water.

        Take a backpack and hat as well. Carry some toilepaper with you, as well as some Purell.

      • Thanks for all the practical advice, Chele,

        Question about wearing jeans to hike the volcano though – I wear jeans much more than shorts and especially when I go hiking or “out in the wilderness” — my thinking is that it protects me from insects, scratches/rashes from plants, etc… but you say no jeans – is this just a comfort thing for you as far as being too hot?

        As for my sunglasses – I don’t think I’ve ever owned a pair that cost more than $10 because I always lose them – so no worries there.

        Sunblock and insect repellent – we are already stocked up. LOL. (Not to mention Immodium AD and some other pharmacy items.)

        Ziploc bag to protect the camera from rain is a great idea. Thank you… as for toilet paper… I’m disturbed that I didn’t even realize there wouldn’t be bathrooms. LOL. It just didn’t even cross my mind… How long is the hike up and down? … I’m hoping I can hold it. lol

  8. What a odd exchange. You would’ve thought they were undercover, or something. Hmmm. I can already tell your trip is going to be anything but ordinary. Can’t wait to hear about your escapades, amiga. ; D

  9. Wow Tracy, I’m soooooo jealous!!!! I love when my husband shares memories from his country. El Salvador must be an incredible place. I can’t wait to see pictures and hear all about your trip!

  10. It used to be so easy to apply for a passport in France, you’d just show up and ask for it. And they are valid for 10 years. I still have mine from 2003 but I rarely use it now.

    Now, on the other side, I found applying for a Canadian passport more difficult than applying for Canadian citizenship! My my, so many specific requirements… it’s funny that a lot of countries don’t meet North America’s strict security standards. My 2003 French passport has the picture simply glued on the passport. That’s how they used to be! I think they changed that the last few years, now it’s scanned and inprinted within the passport.

    • LOL – (glued photo in the passport)… the technology now is crazy. Our new passports have microchips in them!

  11. I’m so excited for you guys! I can’t wait to hear about your trip and see pics! Maybe suegra will visit with some friends and you, Carlos, and the boys can go do somethings together. Be safe and have tons of fun amiga!

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