San Onofre – Benson and Olivia

Doug, Maria and their son Josh visited Benson and Olivia last Sunday and Monday.  Public transport took us almost all the way to San Onofre, but from the highway a person on foot has a steep, 30-minute climb up a mountain until they arrive at the one-street town that is home to about 100 families.  Benson and Olivia both work in the mornings assisting in the school with the first, second and fifth graders.  In the afternoons Benson gives music lessons, and Olivia helps her host mother with her work as a health promoter.  When we arrived, Olivia and Timotea, her host mother, were returning from administering an I.V. solution to a patient that lived an hour’s hike away in the mountains.

An interesting facet of the community’s health system is the ‘hammock ambulance’ arrangement it has to get patients quickly down the mountain to the highway.  When a woman is going to give birth or someone has an emergency and needs to get to the hospital, Timotea calls an ambulance from the nearest hospital to come to the highway below the town.  Several men in the community are organized to be ready on short notice to carry the patient slung in a hammock on a pole quickly down the mountain, arriving at the ambulance in less than 30 minutes.  On an earlier trip to the community Maria saw the hammock ambulance system being used to bring a woman and her newborn back up the mountain to San Onofre.

When Benson and his host father, Juan Pablo, joined us, we took a hike to the bean field belonging to Olivia’s host dad, Teodoro.  From here we could get a great scenic overlook of the town of San Onofre and many other mountains.  The most noticeable peak in the distance is a sharp, rocky promontory known as Cuisaltepe, which means “place of the grinding stone.” It was where the original indigenous inhabitants in this area got volcanic rock to make tools for grinding corn.  Then we walked back through town and out the other end to another overview with fantastic scenery, again of Cuisaltepe, but also of a lagoon.

Later we attended a Sunday afternoon service of the town’s National Nazarene church.  Originally a Catholic town, San Onofre is now about 80% Protestant.  The parents of both Olivia and Benson are active in the Nazarene church.  Doug, Maria and Josh spent the night at the home of the church’s pastors.  That evening a friend from church came to home of Olivia’s host family and played guitar while Timotea and Teodoro sang a large repertoire of religious songs.

In the morning we went to visit Ivania, the teacher at the primary school where Olivia and Benson work in the mornings, assisting the students with homework and class lessons.  On the way out of town Doug, Maria and Josh got a quick look at the school where Olivia and Benson teach.