Letter(2), February 22, 1975

Dear Jan,

How goes the work in the day care center? I’m sure you’ll enjoy the work with the kids, at least you always seemed to. I have finally gotten around to reading “East of Eden” and I have trouble tearing myself away from it. Steinbeck really hits you hard with his philosophy of life in that book. When I’m not reading I seem to be constantly trying to sort out his values concerning what constitutes a good life, etc. For the most part I agree with his view (or maybe I’m just caught up in it beyond the point of thinking independently of it).

I have been moved to a different town named San Isidro, and am going to do a study of the small landowners there who will be relocated as part of the irrigation project. I don’t like the idea that they will be forced to move, but the objective (giving everybody enough land to make a decent living on) is good. At least I now feel I am doing something along the lines they had in mind when they requested a sociologist.

I haven’t told anyone back home as yet, but I had brought two physics books & my calculus book down here with me & am studying physics in my spare time. I have about 5 chapters to go in the first physics book now. I plan to go back to school in physics after I leave Peace Corps. As I had kept it a deep dark secret from when I bought the books before I left, it seems almost like a confession now. Reading Steinbeck seems to have prompted me to dispense with this silly little secret. I guess the protection the secret offered was that if I changed my mind again, I wouldn’t have to tell anyone about the interim period! I have (at least for now) settled on physics as my means to seek my answers to the basic questions about the what & why of life.

I am also planning to take up guitar to give me something expressive I can do myself. I can buy a guitar pretty cheap here to learn on. However, it is nearly impossible to get learner’s books or song books here. I was wondering if you could try to get me a learner’s book and a song book marked for guitar (only if it isn’t expensive). I am going to try to send you 4 bucks to help defray expenses! It’s all the American money I have in small bills.

I hate to cut it off right here but I want to get it mailed before the Post Office closes at noon.

Crazy and confused as ever,


Letter, February 22, 1975

Dear Mom, Dad & all,

Please write! I got your last letter early in Jan. and am wondering what became of my driver’s license and my request for info. On taxes. Since it takes so long to communicate with you and my Peace Corps is the only complicated part I think it would be best if you just send me the Federal & Wis. Forms and my W2s and I’ll send it in.

I figure I should have a W-2 from work at U.W. last spring and the end of the year statement from my savings account in the bank for you to send. In addition to that I believe dad paid me $400 last summer for wages (be sure & let me know if that’s correct). I really only need to file federal to get back what they withheld at U.W. since I’m sure I didn’t make over $2,050. Wis. Tax is different so I don’t know about that. Please send the forms & info. Right away, as I don’t get into town often & the mails are slow & unreliable as you know.

Now that I’ve taken care of business, how are you making it through the winter? Sometimes if I work in the hot sun of the early afternoon, I start wishing for cold & snow! The hottest months – March & April – are yet to come, too, so you can imagine how I’m suffering (ha, ha).

I have been moved to a different town, at least temporarily. Now I live in San Isidro in a room with two “Agronomos” (Salvadorian extension agents). We have electricity all day and water generally part of every day, with indoor toilet & shower, so it is better in general than Atiocoyo. I kind of enjoyed the privacy there though. I am going to do a study of the people who are being relocated onto different lands as a result of the irrigation project. It looks like I’ll be interviewing each family separately, so it should keep me busy for 2-3 months. The food in my new town is both more varied and cheaper, so all in all it’s been a good switch.

They had another volunteer here about 10 years ago, and he went swimming in the ocean & drowned. { Actually he was a religious missionary named Floyd Miller. } His grave is in the local graveyard. A little boy who showed me the grave told me that one of the guy’s pupils (he taught carpentry) killed himself when he learned of the drowning. I guess the whole thing has become quite a legend here. { He was known as Don Pedrito, and local folks continually asked me whether he was my brother. } Makes me a little shivery about the ocean. It has a terrific undertow at some of the beaches here.

How has your luck with heifers been doing lately? You must have gotten a few by now! I showed the picture of Le Roy’s champion cow that Jan sent me to some guys in my town & they wanted to know how many bottles a day she gives. I told them she must average about 50 pounds of milk a day for the year, which really impressed them! I hope she’s about a 17,000 lb. cow so that she doesn’t make a liar out of me!

Well that’s all I can come up with.



Flyer, February, 1975

{ Translation of this flyer, given to me shortly after I first arrived in San Isidro }


Age 20 years 11 months

He was born December 25, 1944 near
Hutchinson (sic), Kansas, United
States. He drowned in the Pacific ocean
near Acajutla in the hacienda "Metalio"
on November 25, 1965.

Surviving are his parents Enos and Mary
Miller, a sister and four brothers.
In his youth he accepted Christ as
his personal Savior and was baptized
at the "Center Amish Mennonite Church"
in Hutchinson, Kansas.

He came to El Salvador on May 4, 1965.
He studied Spanish for six weeks in Sitio
Del Niño. In June of 1965 he began his
work of teaching carpentry as
a voluntary service in the hacienda
"San Juan - San Isidro."

Images, February, 1975

Footbridge over the Rio Lempa, ferry, clothes drying on the bushes, woman going to the river to wash clothes.

People washing clothes & bathing in the Rio Lempa. Taken from the footbridge.

Rio Lempa & surrounding hills, taken from the footbridge.

The grave of Floyd "Pedro" Miller. He was a Mennonite missionary in town { San Isidro } 10 years before I went there. He drowned in the Pacific at Metalio, a town where I {later} lived for 10 months. Local people still remembered "Don Pedrito" with affection.

{ The tombstone reads: } Floyd "Pedro" Miller, Born: December 25, 1944, Died: November 25, 1965


Letter, January 10, 1975

Dear Mom & all,

The pictures, in the order in which I took them are:

1st -  The San Salvador Volcano from a street in the city of San
Salvador we call “Gringo Strip” because it attempts to
look like a swank U.S. nightclub area.
2nd -  The San Salvador Volcano from where I started my climb.
3rd - 
The “inner core” inside the huge crater of the volcano;
it took me 2 ½ hours to walk around the outside of the
outer cone or El Boquerón (literally the big mouth).
4th - 
Part of the outer crater’s inside wall, it was all I
could get from that close.
5th - 
The city of Santa Tecla, a suburb of San Salvador,
from the volcano rim.
6th -  San Salvador and the lake Lagoon Ilopango, also from
the volcano rim.
7th -  Some of the stands set up for the Fiesta Patronal in
my town, Atiocoyo. The fiesta lasted from the 5th to the
8th of December.
8th -  The office of DGRD {Dirrección General de Riego y Drenaje
or the government irrigation agency} in Atiocoyo. I more or
less work out of this office, & I live two doors down from
it to the left in the picture.
9th -  A hand operated merry-go-round that was set up in Atiocoyo
for the fiesta.
10th -  The inside of my room at Atiocoyo.
11th -  Peace Corps Office in San Salvador.
12th -  The central office of Antel, the Salvadoran national
telephone company.

They’re sort of a hodge podge, but perhaps will give you some idea of the different facets of the environment I’m living in. There’s quite a contrast between fancy modern buildings like Antel {headquarters} and the straw and adobe huts of most of the people around Atiocoyo. Anyway I hope you enjoy them!

As always,


Letter(2), January 3, 1975

Dear Jan,

Sorry I forgot to tell you about getting the books (if I did, I don’t really remember). I have already read Travels with Charley and really enjoyed it except the part about Wis. Made me homesick! Also read Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography which was really interesting. He went from London’s slums to being a multi-millionaire within about 6-7 years, but instead of becoming an archconservative was a socialist as much as he was anything. He got in trouble with U.S. authorities for advocating U.S. entrance into W.W. II to form a second front & relieve the Russians. He was more or less chased out of the U.S. in the “Commie” scare of the early 1950’s.

I wouldn’t worry about sending glasses. I have my extra pair & P.C. should pay for fixing the others. Lots of luck with your practice teaching and your trip to Florida. Find out for me what kinds of dangerous snakes inhabit tropical rivers. I have been going swimming in the nearby Rio Sucio {sucio means dirty, but this river was reasonably clean near Atiocoyo} each afternoon with a guy from the Taiwan Mission who speaks a little English. Yesterday some guys told us there is one kind of dangerous snake around here!

Just was talking with another volunteer who says he’s going to have his dad fill out his tax return under power of attorney. I wonder if I might be able to do the same. Since you’re going to get this letter at home anyway, maybe you could ask Mom about it? I can send my statements of earnings from the Peace Corps up there and they will already have my statement from the bank and my W-2 from my job at the U. {University of Wisconsin - Madison} so it should be pretty easy to fill out. I figure to come out about even on federal, but I don’t know about state tax. I may have to sign a power of attorney form for them to do it too. If Mom thinks it’s easier, they can send the stuff down here & I’ll fill it out. I wonder what the State would think of a Salvadoran check?

Bruce should get going if he wants to go to school next fall what with financial aid deadlines and all. If he wants to go to Madison I know some people he could talk to about majors & careers & stuff.

Got over the “dysentery” in pretty good shape, but I have lost a little weight since I’ve been here. I’m down to 172 from 180, but feel very good at this weight. I think I was getting kind of fat before. Now I only have to worry about “tortilla belly”. It’s hard to get the protein you need here. There is lots of rice, and frijoles and tortillas to fill you up, but they are deficient in protein. I do pretty well though. When they butcher something at the comedor {small informal restaurant} where I eat I always get a big piece of meat.

Lots of luck with your practice teaching & the coming semester and all.

Take care,


Letter, January 3, 1975

Dear Mom & all,

Sorry I didn’t write sooner, but I left San Salvador for Atiocoyo Dec. 22 and haven’t been back in town since. Am really sorry that I couldn’t get the license application back sooner. I really would like to get it renewed as I am driving a motorcycle now and it’s nice to have even if Salvadorans can’t read it because it looks very official! Thanks for going to the trouble of getting Dr. Forsythe to fill it out. I probably could have gotten the Peace Corps doctor to do it, but that would have meant more delays. I don’t want to risk sending dollars in the mail, so could you please send it in with a check; don’t know if they’d take a check from Banco Salvadoreño {my Salvadoran bank} or not. Am sending you a Colon for all your trouble. It’s worth about 40¢ if you ever get down this way so don’t spend it all in one place!

Donna should be back to normal by now, so I guess that leaves you the only cripple in the family, as I’ve had no problems at all with my head since it got bopped. I don’t know how you get things done with a sore foot like that; when I have a sliver in my foot I’m about immobilized!

Sorry to hear about Freda. Doesn’t seem that you ever lose a cow but what it’s a real promising one. I imagine Dad was real heartsick over losing her.

Sorry to hear about Dave Steiner’s accident, but at least it clears up my puzzlement over what Dave Stieber was doing driving recklessly in a Volkswagon! Hope Dave will be O.K.

Tell Donna that there is no way I’d ever get any food out of customs while it was still edible. If she sends any tell her to write Buen Provecho {common Spanish expression encouraging a person to enjoy what they are eating} on it for the benefit of the mail clerk or customs officer who gets it!!

I am sending another letter with this one (the same day). I wrote it over Christmas while I was journeying to Cerro Verde to climb Izalco, the country’s most famous & beautiful volcano. Hope you enjoy my disjointed journal. Please ignore my inquiry about Dave Stieber. I think I told you in that letter that I got your film O.K., but if not I’m telling you now. Took some pictures of Izalco, of a lake called Lago Coatapeque and some Indian ruins in Chalchuapa called El Tazumal, but haven’t finished the roll yet.

Hope you all are enjoying your beautiful winter. Here it is getting hotter, dryer and dustier. There is just no way I can keep my room in Atiocoyo clean as it fronts on the main road through town which is 6 inches deep in dust and government vehicles go back & forth by it all day. You really get to appreciate the value of water working with irrigation here. The ground is so hot & dry it is just powder & when the water comes down a ditch a little steam is given off ahead of it. Today I took some soil profile samples at 30 cm. {centimeters}, 60 cm., and 90 cm. of some land on the experimental farms. The topsoil was so dry it would keep filling in my hole & I thought I’d never get to 90 cm.! There is clay beneath the soil though at about 3 feet so it will hold the water well when they irrigate it. You wouldn’t believe some of the soil they work here! Just solid clay, full of big cracks when it’s dry and so sloppy when it’s wet that only oxen can work it. But then it beats working the hillsides which other farmers work! Lots of luck for the new year!


Images, January, 1975

Irrigation agency office in Atiocoyo. The second door in the whitewashed lean-to is the door to my room - where I lived while I worked there.

The inside of my room in Atiocoyo.

Mr. Ou {pronounced Oo} & Mr. Yu in front of their house {in the Atiocoyo Project Experimental Farm}. {They were} members of the Taiwan Agricultural Mission. { They were experts in the production of rice and vegetables. }

A corn field in December in the area which was to be irrigated by the Atiocoyo Irrigation Project.

Cattle grazing in a rice field after harvesting. Note how dry the road is in the dry season; it is pure muck in the rainy season. The tin building was a grain dryer & storage shed for the farmer owner of the hacienda.

{Picture taken at the} experimental farm in Atiocoyo. In the foreground is {upland} rice grown under irrigation sprinklers. In the background beans are growing.

Rice paddies & corn plots on the demonstration {experimental} farm.

Rice paddies planted by Mr. Yu, a Taiwanese agronomist, at the Atiocoyo demonstration farm. It out-produced their conventional upland rice by 5 times or more, and the Salvadoran technical people decided Mr. Yu should teach local farmers how to grow "wet" rice.

Heavy equipment at the Atiocoyo Irrigation Project demonstration farm. In most of rural El Salvador you wouldn't see 2 big tractors & a grader all in one place very often.

Stands at the Patron Saint Festival in Atiocoyo {(December 5-8, 1974)}. They sold mainly beer, food and sweets.

A hand-operated merry-go-round and a fruit stand at the Atiocoyo Patron Saint Festival.

Children playing with a piñata near the soccer field {in Atiocoyo}.

The train stop in the community of La Estación near Atiocoyo. Farmers have sacks of corn piled on the platform ready to load in freight cars to take to market in Santa Ana or San Salvador. Later in the year they'll ship watermelons the same way.

Letter, December 23, 1974

Dear Mom, Dad, & all,

Today I’m starting a mini-journal of how I pass Christmas & New Year’s here in El Salvador. It doesn’t really seem like Christmas, though. The weather is more like the dog days of August and there hasn’t been more than a few drops of rain since October (to say nothing about snow!). I have heard that they sometimes get snow at the top of the tallest mountain in the country (Volcán Santa Ana). I hope to climb it and nearby Izalco (easily the country’s most beautiful & impressive volcano) during Christmas vacation. Had meetings in San Salvador last week with the guys I trained with in Costa Rica, we had quite a time! Got back here Sunday and have been learning how to irrigate using canals & siphons these two days. Tomorrow I’ll help Ingeñero {literally “engineer”, but they use it as a title here} Garcia (boss of the experimental farms) take some soil samples & will probably do a lot more of that during vacation. I sure do drink a lot of water when I work in the sun here; today I drank the milk of three coconuts besides (I’ve really gotten to like them.)! Took two pictures of a bunch of local kids trying to bust a piñata today, hope they turn out. I’m sure glad I bought a kerosene lamp in San Salvador because the electricity just died (as it often does)! I only have it at night anyway & then when it dies it’s a real pisser. My kerosene lantern was made in Czechoslovakia and yet only cost the equivalent of $2.80 here! I have a Honda 125 motorbike to use now (although they haven’t given me the key yet!). Looks like I’m going to be learning how to ride a motorcycle!

Dec. 24, 1974

Today at noon we had a little party for everyone who works in the demonstration farms. There were lots of coconuts to drink the milk from and Ingeñero Garcia’s wife made two piñatas for the kids to break open and all the kids were given little bags of candy. Some of them needed clothes & other things a lot worse, but still it was very nice of the Garcias. This afternoon I went for a swim in the Rio Lempa (the large river which runs through the center of the project area). I chose a bad place – the current was very fast – and had to walk quite a ways upstream to swim back across to where I started from. They have acres & acres of watermelons growing near the river & some are starting to get ripe! In honor of “La Navidad” {Christmas} they are showing a Mexican cowboy picture in town tonight. People seem to enjoy fireworks, sparkers & beer here no matter what the holiday. Plan to leave for Izalco in the morning if I get any sleep!

Dec. 25, 1974

Well, here I am at a run-down (but not cheap) “hospedaje” {small hotel or guest house} situated on Lake Coatepeque, a strikingly beautiful crater lake which is near the volcanos Izalco and Santa Ana. The area around the lake is almost entirely owned by rich folks with “country estates” here. There are also 2 resorts for gringos & other rich folk and the real grubby place where I am. Seems like everywhere I go in this country I am reminded that the privileged few have an iron grip on this country. There is no decent provision for the “middle class” Salvadoran to enjoy this lake. Tomorrow, I’m told, I can get a bus at 5:50 am for El Congo & from there catch a bus for Cerro Verde (from where I can climb Izalco & Santa Ana. Hope to climb both in one day. Rode in the train from Atiocoyo to Santa Ana (the major city on the west side of El Salvador) with the two guys from Taiwan who work with the experimental farms in Atiocoyo. One speaks Spanish, but very fast and with poor grammar and the other speaks some English but no Spanish at all, so we make one heck of a threesome! Hope my pictures of the lake turn out; it is really remarkable to me to have a lake in a volcano like this.

Dec. 26, 1974

So much for trying to climb two volcanos in one day! From where the bus left me I had to walk 2 kilometers just to get to Cerro Verde (all uphill). Then I had to take a trail down Cerro Verde (which is nearly as tall as the volcano) to the base of Izalco to start my climb & of course I had to reclimb Cerro Verde afterwards (that was the clincher!). It was worth it though! Izalco (known as “The Lighthouse of the Pacific” because it was continuously active from some time in the 1600’s until 1962 & used as a landmark by ships) is almost entirely volcanic rock yet, very little vegetation has squeezed its way in. I was surprised, and a little frightened, to find that there is quite a bit of gas still being given off from cracks in the rocks around the crater. Some of the gas is strongly sulfurous. As with landmarks everywhere, I guess, there are names and “José le ama a María” {Jose loves Maria} type stuff painted all over, but I couldn’t help feeling that the old giant might just blow his stack one more time just to show us humans he’s still got something left after 300+ years (more than any human can claim). I wrote my name in pencil in deference! Had a streak of luck getting back to Santa Ana. There was no bus, so the guy who collects the money for parking {at Cerro Verde} helped me find a ride. I ended up getting into town in the back of an old truck with 11 guys from Santa Ana about my age. It was a rough ride but they were a real decent bunch of guys, though kind of crazy like highschool kids in the States! They invited me to eat with them in a Pupusaría (Pupusas are sort of the national snack here; they are like 2 thin tortillas with a little fried pork fat or else cheese cooked in between.). And one of them helped me find a room. I have my own bathroom & a double bed for only ¢6 {six colones} a night & am living high!! Tomorrow plan to visit some Indian ruins known as El Tazumal which are near Santa Ana & are reputed to be the best in the country.

Dec. 28, 1974

Well, here I am, home again in Atiocoyo, still waiting for the key to my motorcycle! I came back yesterday by train after visiting the Indian ruins in Chalchuapa (El Tazumal). The ruins were pretty impressive although the fact that the government has been touching them up with cement detracted from their appearance somewhat. I was also disappointed to learn that the city of Chalchuapa destroyed the only round Indian ruins yet discovered in El Salvador to make room for urban expansion! Looks like they will celebrate New Year’s in Atiocoyo just about like they celebrated Christmas and the day of their patron saint, with plenty of booze & fireworks! Wouldn’t be so bad if my room weren’t located right in the center of town. This brings to an end my disjointed little travelog. Hope you find some of it worth reading!

Dean J.

P.S. – Thanks for the film, I only had to pay a little more postage to get it so it was a good deal for me! I hope you’ve gotten the roll of film I sent from here by this time, save the paper that explains the pictures since I may well forget where I took them inside of two years! Read in the paper today that 8 bombs were set off in 8 cities in El Salvador the day before yesterday by terrorists. I understand it was Colonel Molina’s (the president) birthday and so they wanted to let him know he didn’t have as tight a control over the country as he thought he had. I only hope they don’t decide to make Americans a target of their activities. It’s easy for such organizations to hate Americans when the Americans they see are generally rich tourists or embassy personnel. Even Peace Corps Volunteers make in a month more than the average Salvadoran makes in a whole year!

On the lighter side, how did your Christmas go (?) and how is all that cold weather and nieve (snow)? It’s been getting hotter & drier here and will continue to do so until March or April. Was a generally poor crop year & I think there are going to be a lot of hungry people in this country before the rains start again!

Is Bruce planning to go on to school next year? If so he’d better get his applications sent in & stuff as soon as possible. If he is undecided about what he wants to or ought to study to get where he wants to go, I would be glad to recommend some people at Madison he could talk to. The main thing is not to wait ‘til the last minute & then find yourself at a loss for what to do!

I hope Donna’s leg is coming along O.K. Everything bad that can always seems to happen to her! I am anxious to hear how Dave Stieber is after that car accident of his, also.

Hoping the new year slides in with a quiet bang for you all, I remain… …uh…



Card, December 20, 1974

Description: Monument to “El Salvador del Mundo”, the patron saint of the republic of El Salvador, San Salvador, El Salvador

Happy holidays & a prosperous new year from the family's only "Latino".


P.S. - The statue is the symbol of El Salvador, "El Salvador del Mundo" (The Savior of the World) or 'Christ on the ball' as it is universally known among PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers}.

Images, December, 1974

{ A view out the window of a train car, near San Salvador. I traveled by train from my first 2 sites, Atiocoyo and San Isidro, to the capital, because both were on the San Salvador to Santa Ana rail line. }

Shanty town along the train line going toward Santa Ana.

Shanty town along the railroad tracks. It is all too common to see poor quality housing in gulleys or on steep hillsides all around the capital city.

The red railroad sign says: Look! Listen! The white sign on the plywood wall says: FOR SALE

A beautiful church on the town square {of Santa Ana}. I was told that this church was designed by an Italian who traveled with Columbus, and that it closely resembles a church in Florence {Italy}.

A picture looking at Izalco Volcano from on top of the adjacent hill Cerro Verde. There is a luxury hotel on top of Cerro Verde, built when Izalco was still active & attracted tourists in droves. It has been dormant since 1967.

The frame of a shack on the barren slope of Izalco.

A picture of the San Salvador Volcano in the distance, taken from the slope of Izalco.

Inside the crater of Izalco. It still releases sulfurous gas from cracks in the lava.

A shot of Cerro Verde & its hotel from the rim of the Izalco Volcano.

The huge crater of the Santa Ana Volcano. This picture was also taken from the rim of Izalco. Santa Ana is El Salvador's tallest volcano, and folks say once every 15 years or so they get some frost on top of it.

Ruins at Tazumal, the best known Mayan site in El Salvador. According to a sign in the nearby museum, there was a more impressive round temple near this one, but it was bulldozed out to build houses.

Kids on the ruins at Tazumal.

Houses in Chalchuapa, the town where Tazumal is located. In the background is another of the 20 or so volcanos in El Salvador.

Letter, December 11, 1974

Dear Donna,

Sorry to hear about your car accident, and your knee and all. I’ve always marveled at the fact that no one in our family had ever been involved in one. Now I guess I can stop marveling. I hope your leg will be O.K. A cast from the ankle to the thigh must be a real pain in the ass to wear!!

Sorry to hear about Dave Stieber also. Please be sure someone writes to tell me how he is. It must have been pretty bad if they had to cut him out of the car!

I sure wish you hadn’t told me about Thanksgiving. I get stomach pains just thinking about all that delicious food! The diet down here is adequate but very monotonous (& high in starches). I don’t think I’ll ever want to see beans, rice, white cheese or tortillas again after I get back!

Glad to hear that school is going well. I thought it might be hard for you to go to school again after being away a couple years. It’s easy to get out of the habit!

Tell Tom I hope he gets a deer for all his persistence. I never had the patience to hunt long enough to really have a chance. Hope he doesn’t give up.

Since you asked about Christmas here, I can tell you what I know. They call it the Navidad here and the celebration is very similar to that in the United States. They have Santa Claus and the stores have big sales campaigns which start before Thanksgiving. There are artificial Christmas trees in many stores & public buildings in San Salvador. I don’t know how similar the celebration is outside the major cities. I think it is probably more religious and less extravagant than in the States.

I sent out a Christmas card to the family today in which I think I wrote about my getting knocked out and getting my first case of diarrhea. I am over all of it now and back to normal physically.

Am going to try and send home another roll of film after I take 2 more pictures. I have pictures of the San Salvador volcano and of my town, Atiocoyo, so far. Hope you are in good spirits in spite of your leg!

Merry Christmas,


Letter, November 25, 1974

Dear Jan,

I’ve always wanted to read some Steinbeck; all I’ve ever read is a few short stories of his. Glad to hear you’re enjoying him. Boy, it’s getting to be work just writing in English, seems like I have to think out each word and how it’s spelled. I guess it’s because I’m getting used to thinking in Español {Spanish} all day (reading the newspaper, talking to anyone at work, reading reports). At least in Spanish words are spelled like they sound!

I climbed the San Salvador volcano yesterday, and I’m so sore today I don’t even feel like breathing! I walked all the way from the center of the city to the top of the crater (The volcano is on the N.W. edge of town.). Couldn’t catch the bus I needed to get to the base of it. Also, there is no well-defined trail on the city side, so I walked through pastures & flower gardens & coffee plantations. I got chased off a coffee plantation by a pack of about 15 dogs; scared the livin’ shit out of me! It took me 5½ hours to walk to the crater edge. Not tired enough yet, I spent another 2¼ hours walking all the way around the crater. I ended up walking down the mountain also (but by the road!) when the 4 pm bus never showed up. It took me 1¾ hours to walk down to Santa Tecla, a suburb of San Salvador, from which the road goes up to the volcano. I bought some film and took a few pictures of the volcano, so will send them home when I fill out the roll!

I wish you luck with your rugby club. I’ve heard rugby is one of the roughest, meanest, dirtiest sports that exist (The popular saying is that you need leather balls to play rugby.). Better get yourself a mouth guard so you can at least save your teeth! I’ve heard that games of the men’s rugby club are followed by drinking bouts & sometimes brawls. I’d sure like to be there to to see you’all play!

I’m moving out to my site on Thanksgiving Day. It gives me a good excuse to skip the “Turkey Day” festivities of the Embassy crowd & city volunteers. I just can’t identify with them. They teach rich kids to swim or dance or play piano, and mingle with the rich folk here and the “superior” acting Embassy crowd. What horse shit! You can’t even get into that Embassy unless you know who you want to see & he knows you’re coming! I made my maiden voyage through the red tape today!

Con Amistad {With Friendship},



Images, November, 1974

U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. One of the more impressive buildings in the city, it occupies a whole corner on a main thoroughfare & emphasizes the visibility of U.S. influence here.

Market "El Cuartel" in San Salvador. { This market, which featured many craft items for tourists, was built on the concrete foundation of a former army base or cuartel. }

El Cuartel, San Salvador

A picture from the bottom of the San Salvador Volcano. I started from there to climb it.

The inner cone of the volcano taken from the rim of the enormous crater. I walked around the crater & it took me two and a half hours.

Part of the wall of the crater {of the San Salvador Volcano}.

San Salvador and Lake Ilopango from the rim of the volcano.

Santa Tecla, a suburb of San Salvador, as seen from the rim of the volcano.

Letter, November 13, 1974

Dear Mom,

I got the books in fine shape, thanks a lot for sending them down. Was glad to hear about the election results as I haven’t been able to find a word about any of them in the papers down here. I was really surprised to hear that Mrs. Klein got beaten, she’s had the job an awful long time hasn’t she? Maybe you’ll get lucky & find someone to beat you out some day! Fat chance. Glad to hear Dad has the corn & third crop of hay in. The work sure seems to get done faster & easier when I’m not helping do it!

Sorry to hear that you have to have an operation for your foot, but it will be worth it if you can finally get back to walking properly on it. Buena suerte {Good luck}!

Thanks for the offer of Christmas presents, but I think sending anything but books & tiny packages in the mail would be more hassle than its worth. Everyone in Peace Corps here tells me to tell the folks back home to not send packages down because of the high tax on them & the chance they’ll end up in the home of some mail official! (So you all’ve been told folks.) As I wrote Jan, I would really like to get a subscription to Time, Newsweek or U.S. News, but if I wait a while I’ll probably be able to get a better deal on it than you can, because I’m a PCV. I understand I can get Reader’s Digest absolutely free, but even at that price I think I’ll pass! When I get some money ahead, I think I’ll try and send home some of the beautifully embroidered shirts & stuff they have here. Don’t hold your breath though, I need to sharpen my bargaining skills first!

After the 28th I won’t be writing so often as I’m moving out to Atiocoyo to live and will only be able to pick up & send mail when I come into town. I’m looking forward to getting out of the city. There is a lot of pollution and much ruido (a lot of noise). I don’t think they believe in mufflers here! I’m sure the carretas de bueyes (ox carts) won’t make as much noise & there are very few cars and trucks in Atiocoyo. Also, now I am spending about 3½ hours a day going to and from Atiocoyo, which gets pretty ridiculous. You guys wouldn’t believe the campo here. The cattle look like the longhorns in old westerns & there are lots of guys riding horses & wearing cowboy hats. Very few carry guns though. Usually they have machetes about a yard long. Got to get some film so I can send a few pictures.



Letter, November 10, 1974

Dear Jan,

Sorry to hear about you being so depressed. I don’t think the situation down here would give you much cause for optimism either. I’ve just been reading through some questionnaires about people in the project area where I work. You rarely find anyone with more than a 4th grade education & then it is usually the woman of the house who just does housework and probably forgotten half of what she learned. Some people get married & some don’t but in either case the family life is very poor. People don’t remember the ages of all their kids & there are lots of kids whose real parentage is more or less in question. The local school has 4 grades & 2 teachers (1 is a drunk) for about 180 kids.

But the irrigation project holds the possibility of improving things quite a bit. The people will get roads, electricity and decent drinking water. The more fortunate will get land & hopefully others will get work with the government, the cooperative or the new landowners.

I can’t really say exactly what I’m going to be doing because my assignment is so general. I’m supposed to help them with the cooperative, with selecting people to get the parcels of land, and tell them what social services are needed to “uplift” the people. I think I’m going to begin by trying to figure out just exactly what is being done in the irrigation project, what the people think of it, what they see as the problems here, & what local groups are organized to help solve them.

I want to try to push education because I see it as really important to the general improvement of living conditions as well as the adoption of better agricultural techniques.

As far as sending me anything for Christmas, I’d prefer that you didn’t try shipping anything down because it’s such as hassle to get it out of the mail, & there are taxes on anything but books. A subscription to Time, Newsweek or U.S. News would be nice if the family wants to get that, but I may be able to get it cheaper myself if they come up with a special offer for PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers}. When I get some money ahead, I hope to send some things home for people such as embroidered shirts & panchos, or hand-carved stuff. It probably won’t be by Christmas, but more of a when I find something I like, & have the money type of thing.

Don’t know if you saw my note in my last letter, but I want to get Merna’s { Merna is another of my sisters. } address before her birthday so I can write to her.

They don’t celebrate Halloween here (except for U.S. Embassy gringos), but the first of November is Día de las Almas (All Souls Day), and November second is Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The latter is an important holiday. Everyone decorates graves and such. Haven’t seen a pumpkin since last fall! They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving either (of course), but the PCVs & Embassy staff have an annual touch football game and dinner.

I have been reading the works of Walt Whitman (which I stole from you) to sooth my mind. “Leaves of Grass” reads like a diary in a way, not of events but of the attitudes & emotions of different stages of a man’s life. Gracious {Thank you}.

As always, your brother:


Letter, November 1, 1974

Hi & Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad!

Thought I’d better translate the message of the card for you, though it is pretty easy to figure out with even the little Spanish I know! I’ll leave the other phrases to you’all:

  The children, when very young,
    can not comprehend
  all the depth and nobility
  of the love of their parents…
    they don’t understand the affection
  in the hands that shape and guide
    the soul of a small child…
      but despite all this
    a child loves his parents
      more than the other things
      loved in the childhood…
    and while the child grows,
  also grows the love for his parents,
    until at last he understands
    the greatness of their sacrifice,
  the afflictions that they have suffered in silence,
    the noble people they have always been…
    and the soul of the child, full of gratitude,
    wants to express what it feels so strongly…
  as my soul wants to express it today
    in these felt words which I dedicate
    to the most beloved parents in the world.

Sounds awfully mushy in English, but I thought it was very pretty in Spanish, so I guess it will have to do!

Am living with another volunteer in a house in San Salvador with a family right now. Don’t know if I already told you that or not. Sorry about sending that letter postage-due, (have no idea if you got it or not) but I didn’t know they had just upped the postage rates. My job is in a very hairy stage at this point. Don’t know exactly what they want me to do or if what they want is at all realistic to expect from any social scientist. Have a meeting tomorrow with the Director of the department and he speaks a little English so maybe we can get a few things straightened out. Sure hope so.

Hope you managed to find those books I’ve been asking for. They have to be either in the boys room or over at Stevens’ in my trunk or a box. Sorry for all the trouble. If you want to try that thing with the film go ahead. Chances are good it will go right through like other mail. Film is about three times higher here & besides I don’t get paid much when you convert it into American money. I was doing better working summers for Dad.

There is a larger middle class here than they led us to believe in Costa Rica, but the poor are really poor. Out at my site in Atiocoyo there is a family of 15 or so living in a house of mud and sticks (bajareque) {or bahareque} with a roof of straw & floor of dirt which is smaller than the granary & they aren’t real bad off. People also sleep on the sidewalks and in doorways in parts of San Salvador.

The U.S. Embassy here is a big, fancy building of modern design, but its front gates are always closed and its primary use is as a roosting place for a million & one noisy birds. I have been to a couple movies there. You have to buzz for the guard & get him to release the door latch electronically & when you get in you have to sign in & sign out! Just like a spy movie!

Su hijo {Your son},



Letter, October 19, 1974

Dear Mom,

I’m just dropping you a line this time to let you know I arrived safely here in El Salvador & am commencing my work. Yesterday I was officially sworn into the Peace Corps (wow!). They made kind of a big deal out of it for P.R. reasons, even had a picture of us in today’s paper. I was going to send you the clipping right away, but they don’t let you send stuff in these letters, so maybe later. At the swearing in ceremony I met the head of the Bureau of Irrigation and Drainage and also one of the head guys in my project. Tuesday they are going to take me out to see the project. They are apparently just starting to build the irrigation ditches & the dam and stuff this dry season. They don’t even have offices set up in Atiocoyo (the city where the project office will be) so all the people are commuting from San Salvador each day. I am going to be spending at least a month here in San Salvador myself and commuting with them. At least that’s the way it looks right now. I sort of have to design my job as I go.

Today I went with Harry Brokish, a Wis. Guy from DTS {short for Delta Theta Sigma, a fraternity for agriculture students I belonged to in college}, who is in charge of {agricultural} extension here in Peace Corps, to take three of the regular field volunteers out to their sites. We drove about halfway across the country so we got to see a lot of the countryside. There are some really magnificent volcanos. Hope, to get pictures later. We saw some of the huge cotton plantations in the valley of the Rio Lempa. They use crop-dusting planes to spray the fields and tractors & the whole bit. It is a different story with the small ganaderos (livestock farmers). We saw some malnourished kids and some corn planted on slopes steeper than the “expert hill” up at Skyline {a local ski resort}! That is no exaggeration.

More later,


P.S. – Please send those books when you can. Again they are by Glass & Stanley and Hays & Winkler and should be either up in the boy’s room or at Stevens’.


Images, October 1974

{ A photo of our swearing in ceremony at the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle Farming, from the October 19, 1976 edition of "El Diario de Hoy". The Agriculture Minister, Mauricio Eladio Castillo, swore us in. }

The "old" Peace Corps Office, near Parque Infantil {Children's Park} in the capital. { The Peace Corps Office, when I began my service, was located in this Spanish style building in an older part of San Salvador. }

A park in San Salvador where I often ate lunch {during my first month or so in El Salvador.} { Parque Infantil or Children's Park, near the "old" Peace Corps Office. }

The building {behind the trees} is the headquarters of ANTEL, the national telephone company The soccer field is in Parque Infantil. { The ANTEL office in rural towns was usually the only place to make or receive a phone call in the 1970s. }

Letter, October 3, 1974

Dear Mom,

The hurricane missed Costa Rica completely as far as I know. { I was wrong about this. It was in fact the remnants of hurricane Fifi that washed out the mountain road from Jacó! } Where I am here in the central highlands it probably couldn’t get to anyway because of the mountains on all sides. The first I heard about the hurricane was when someone told me his family wrote & asked him about it.

Sorry to hear about your bad luck with the calves and the garden. Even at the mountain peaks here it never really freezes! However, since October started it has been raining most of the day, every day. October is the rainiest month of the year in Costa Rica.

As you may or may not know by now, I took one roll of pictures and sent them home. I hope they arrived safely, as there should be a couple good shots if they turn out. I’m not much for taking pictures & film is very expensive here in relation to my salary so I probably won’t take a lot of pictures. I hope to get a roll of film in San Jose this weekend, and take a few more pictures before I leave Costa Rica. We leave for El Salvador on the 17th of October.

While I’m talking about leaving, here is my address in El Salvador:

Dean Jefferson, PCV
c/o United States Embassy
San Salvador
El Salvador

I heard about the big Wis. win; all the other volunteers were impressed, but were equally freaked out by the fact that Wis. still had to play Colorado, Missouri, OSU and Michigan in succession. Also heard about the loss to Colorado (a Spanish word meaning ‘red’ by the way).

You can throw away the bill from Fidelity Union. They are a ripoff insurance company which buffaloed me into signing up for a year, but the year is up on Oct. 16 and I’m not going to renew. By the way, I have $10,000 of life insurance with Peace Corps, so if I get bumped off down here, take the money and run!!

I don’t think it would be worthwhile to send the Reporter as it would cost a lot and take much longer than a normal letter to get here. I get enough of the news that interests me from your letters. On the subject of postage, don’t feel sorry for me when it cost you 42¢ to send me a letter! Costarican Colones are equal to about 11.8 American cents (8.54 Colones = 1 dollar) and there are 100 centimos in a Colon so my 85 centimos on a letter equals about 9.4¢ American! Now you know who is getting the shaft!

I think dad was smart to get his fertilizer in the fall. Chances are it will be even higher next spring. In El Salvador fertilizer prices this year are about double what they were last year and phosphorus is about impossible to get. It’s going to make fertilizer uneconomic for pasture land for the campesinos {peasant farmers}.

Of late, I’ve been reading a study of the area of the irrigation project I will work with. I’m getting so I can almost follow the idea of a book in Spanish even though I don’t know all the words. It’s a little like being in second grade again. One great thing is that technical terms and a lot of the more “intellectual” type words are very similar in the two languages. At Basico they gave us a list of 2,000 cognates (similar words with the same meaning) between English & Spanish. However, the big problem with Spanish is the verbs. Where in English we use auxiliary verbs, they change the endings and for different tenses (each in 3 persons, singular & plural)!

I went to the University library in San Jose yesterday for the morning and found two books on irrigation in El Salvador (in Español of course). I was quite impressed by the library, though it isn’t comparable with a big U.S. university. I also bought two sociology books at a book store in San Jose which is called The Book Shop and where everyone speaks English. The store has quite a selection of American paperbacks.

It sounds like Bruce is having quite a football season. I sure hope he doesn’t reinjure his ankle or his knee seriously. I always seem to find a lot of guys who have old football injuries which give them trouble at times. It sometimes makes me wonder what the purpose of a highschool football program is.

Haven’t heard a word about Tom or Carla since I left, are they alive and well or did some of your exotic parasites and diseases up there get the best of them. Only kidding of course.

There is always some new form of ailment cropping up among the volunteers here. Everything from rashes to liver ailments. There is a rash of “el gripe” (the flu) going around right now, but I haven’t got it yet. I really feel guilty about being so healthy all the time, but what can one do!

I wrote to Wash. About those 2 books I want sent down (you didn’t say if you’ve found them yet). I hope to Hades that I hear from them before I leave here! I’ll let you know when I do.

Got a letter from Jan the day before yours arrived. Getting a letter is a real event here among the volunteers so I’m happy you both have been writing, muchas gracias {thankyou}!

Hasta Luego,


Letter, October 1, 1974

Hola Jan! (Notice how I’m practicing my Español.)

I was very glad to hear from you since it’s been about 3 weeks since I’ve gotten any mail. I imagine by the time you get this you will have seen the letter I wrote Donna, so I won’t rehash any of my adventures. What you said in your letter about (Here I just took a break to bump off an “avion” {literally airplane}, they are big flying beetles which are very clutsy & bump into walls & people all the time; ironically, while I was writing this note I spotted [in my shadow] a spider on my head & got him too!) missing the liberal atmosphere of Madison really struck a nerve. While studying at the U. {University of Wisconsin – Madison} I tended to kind of pu-pu the “great liberal university” idea because it sounded to me like a lot of back-patting and besides, the great majority of students are interested in getting a good-paying job more than anything. However, down here it really comes home, what an extraordinary opportunity it is to be able to study at an institution with the resources and political independence of the University of Wisconsin. In Costa Rica only a few of the very rich can send their kids to the U.S. or Europe to study, and then, because their preparation is inadequate, they often end up getting degrees that aren’t worth the paper they are written on. And Costa Rica is a very wealthy country for Central America. The schools here are good, and the literacy rate is supposed to be higher than in the States. In El Salvador the militaristic government has tight control over the public university, so I’m sure things are a lot worse. Also the population there is something like 40% illiterate. I’ve been reading through a book of statistics on the people in the {region of the} irrigation project in which I’m going to work, and some of the facts are very depressing. The population is growing very fast, and I would guess that a minimum of 70% of the people are functional illiterates. The book is also humorous, however, because because they collected data right down to what the walls of the houses are made of!

On the subject of oppression of women, wow, women here are socialized into a straightjacket! Once a girl reaches 15 years of age (This birthday entails a special significance here, sort of an induction into womanhood.) she is supposed to intensively try to land a husband. A girl who doesn’t succeed by 19 is an old maid and (seriously) most girls who are single then never marry. Two of our “professoras” {female teachers} at Basico are in this category, highly educated, but social “misfits”. I am told that wife-beating is very common (although I haven’t seen any in my house), and that after 6 months of marriage the husband most often starts whoring around, leaving his wife to her A-#1 purpose in life which is bearing children. Apparently a lot of male PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} like this trip (It is called the “Macho” trip down here.) enough that they marry local girls. I don’t know the figures for Costa Rica, but 9 of the last 10 single guys who went into El Salvador got married there. I guess the saddest part is that there is no realization of being exploited (or very little) here. Asi es la vida (That is the way life is.). They aren’t aware of alternatives.

Sinceramente la tuya {Sincerely yours},


P.S.: Happy hunting! {Jan was looking for a job at the time.}

Special Note: My address changes October 17 when I go to El Salvador. The new one is:

      Dean Jefferson, PCV
      c/o United States Embassy
      San Salvador
      El Salvador


Letter, September 22, 1974

Dear Donna,

How is school going? As I remember you never really liked school before so I would guess the first couple weeks were pretty rough with getting adjusted to the routine and so forth. I didn’t get a chance to ask how you made out this summer before I left, so I hope you will write me about your experiences some time.

I’ve been having some pretty memorable experiences of my own these last couple weeks! Last weekend (Sept. 13-14-15-16) 16 of the people being trained here, and one PCV {Peace Corps Volunteer} from El Salvador and his Salvadoran wife, went to a little beach on the Pacific coast called Jacó. I was, of course, one of this ill-fated bunch. It turned out that Jacó (although a beautiful beach) is way out in the bush and that transportation to & from there is shaky at best, and highly weather dependent. We had to rent 2 buses special and walk several kilometers just to get there after dark Fri. evening and wander into a dingy hotel. Saturday was a gorgeous day, however, and we lived it up on coconuts (fresh off the trees by the beach) while sun bathing and swimming (my nose and forehead were “fire-engine” red by night). Sunday our real troubles began. A rock slide had blocked the road up in the mountains (not to mention the flooding of several streams we saw later) and so the bus couldn’t get through. We waited for the bus all Sun. & started out walking early Mon. morning. The group of 11 I was with got a ride on a truck taking oats (of all things) to market. You just wouldn’t believe how that driver drove right through flooded rivers with that thing! We helped pull a Toyota jeep out of a flooded river & later spent an hour getting the truck we were on through some mud farther up in the mountains. We reached the rock slide in the truck & he had to stop so we walked on down the mountain to the bus driver’s house at the bottom and caught a bus to the nearest town with a train. It was a real fine crosscultural experience in total!

I took some pictures at Jacó and this weekend in Port Limon. I am sending the cartridge home so you can develop the film if you want to see the pictures. Developing is very expensive here & this is what a friend is trying, so I think I will try it also unless Mom objects.

This weekend 13 of us went to Port Limon, Costa Rica’s major Atlantic port. It too was a very interesting trip, but we didn’t encounter any transportation problems. We were in Turrialba Fri. for classes, this is an agriculture experiment station, sponsored by the U.N., Costa Rica’s govt. & other sources, which is reputed to be the best in Central America. They have a fine dairy herd of Jersey, Criollo and Jersey crossed with Criollo cattle which makes them a lot of money, because their grass {pasture} is so good they need almost no concentrate {grain}. They milk with a modern parlor system and process their own milk. Anyway, we left for Limon Sat. morning from there and the scenery from there to the coast was spectacular, lots of streams rushing over rocks and huge mountains, and then the flat coastal area with banana plantations. Limon is a unique kind of a city. It is the only place in Costa Rica where there are many Blacks {Costaricans of African descent}. Most of these {people reputedly} come from Jamaica where a lot of English is spoken, so the Negroes of Limon speak something Costaricans call “ensalada de Español y Ingles”. It is really freaky! Limon is also a sailors’ town, with all that that implies. It’s pretty sad to have 15 or 16 year old girls trying to hustle you for money when you walk in almost any bar in town after 7 pm. Five of us (4 guys and a girl) had a few drinks in a bar which (one of our teachers at Basico told us after we got back) is the oldest whore house in the world {or at least in Costa Rica}! The 6 hour train trip from Limon to San Jose was again very beautiful. A friend & I split a pizza in San Jose, the first I’ve have since I left the States. To top that off we had a 6 Colon banana split at the local Dairy Queen (eat your heart out Tom). It was a welcome change from the usual beans & rice.

Believe it or not, in between all this our training program is progressing and we will leave for El Salvador on Oct. 17. I have no further word yet on what to do with those two statistics books. I finally got around to writing Washington and now am waiting for a reply (tell Mom). Am well and healthy despite some of the exotic things I ate on my trips. The coconuts, by the way, were really good and (I am told) are practically a complete diet in themselves!

Buena Suerte {Good Luck},


Images, September 1974

Orotina, Costa Rica { On our trip to Jacó beach, we took a train to Orotina, and then caught a bus to the beach. }

Brahman cattle in lush pasture near Orotina during the rainy season.

The beach at Jacó, at low tide.

Butchering a pig at a rooming house on the beach.

A rainy evening on the beach.

The gang heads out from the beach. I'm the straggler. { When the bus did not come as scheduled we decided to walk out to the nearest town. }

I'm standing in front of a rice field on the road from Jacó. There are sheep on the hills in the background. We had to walk out from Jacó when heavy rains washed out the road in the mountains.

A tired group, we arrived at a house from which a bus left, after coming over the mountains & past the place where the road was out.

Mountain stream on the train trip between Turrialba and Limón.

{ Another mountain stream as seen from the train. }

A tree house in the coastal rain forest on the train line from Turrialba to Limón.