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…


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