Letter, January 18, 1976

{Jan,} Well, here goes on the trip:

First off take a good look at a map of North America. Mexico is a long country. Jay Hasheider, the PCV who lives & works with me, went home for Christmas (Missouri) and came back by bus through Mexico. He figures in a car you could get through Mexico in 5 long driving days (not driving nights, but 12-15 hours a day). The Pan Am highway is a good road all through Mexico (at its worst like a county trunk in Wisconsin, but all paved apparently). They are doing some road repair on the shorter coastal route in Guatemala, so there are detours, but Jay said it wasn’t bad. We are in the dry season (no rain since November or until May) so it’s a good time to travel (no mud or washed out roads). Jay recommends that you don’t travel nights because of the danger of breaking down in the middle of nowhere & running into thieves. I’ve really got no other experience to base a recommendation on so I give you his.

As far as passports go, I’d recommend you get them if at all possible. Lots of folks go to Mexico without them, but I’ve never seen a U.S. citizen try passing borders in Central America without one. At the least, they would probably charge you a little extra money to pass the border and you might run into some budding young bureaucrat who simply refused to let you through. Many border employees have no extensive knowledge of English, but they like neat official looking documents & a U.S. passport is especially respected (lots of Salvadorans would love to buy one some day!). Ya, you have to pay to cross borders, sometimes. It depends on the country, day of the week, time of day & your documentation & possessions! I paid $1.50 to get out of Guatemala when I went up there (not a cent to get in). Almost all countries charge you for service on weekends and outside of normal business hours (about 8 to 5). I talked to a cyclist who had to pay to get his bike fumigated at the Nicaraguan border, and then they never did it! I would recommend you get a copy of a thick little red covered book called “Guide to South America” (or something close), if it ain’t too expensive. Experienced travelers commonly have them down here. They give recommendations on roads (containing maps), bus service, places to stay (I think), interesting stuff to see, and have addresses of important places like the U.S. Embassy in each country & other embassies and consulates. It might be a good investment! Also, watch out for Mexico City, Jay says he swears it’s as big as New York City & therefore easy to get lost in.

As far as what to bring, it’ll be hot in February, but can get cool enough at night for a light jacket. I’d bring sleeping bags because they can be used in cheap hotels to protect you from bugs, lice, etc. in the beds as well as camping out. It won’t rain here (maybe 1 freak storm) but you could run into a little rain in Mexico or Guatemala - don’t bring more than an umbrella or light rain jacket. Bring tennis shoes or other good walking shoes, but not heavy boots as there’ll be no mud, just dust! If you come, how about taking some money from my bank account (Dad can get it out as cosigner) and bringing me 2 pairs of blue jeans (32-32), a couple good recent record albums (what you like), and a can or bottle of Pabst! Other than that try to travel light since the authorities will go through your stuff at some borders if they are in a bad mood.

Oh, roads in El Salvador are good, the main ones, so with a car we can see a lot of stuff in a hurry. The country is only 120 miles long! On weekdays you can stay with Jay & I in the beach hours, but we usually split on weekends if the owner is expected. There’s a place in San Salvador where I stay for $1.60 a night when in town & they have cheap meals too, so with a little notice, I could work it out with the lady for us to stay there a couple days and look around the capital (like on a weekend!). Traveling through Mexico I would say you should be able to sleep for $2 to $3 a night if you go Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) class (lousy beds but usually clean). Get used to the idea that people make a living from ripping off "gringos" {North Americans} so barter prices, keep a good eye on the car, hang onto your wallets, etc. Don’t drink the water anywhere in Mexico or Guatemala - stick to pop or hot coffee. It’s easy to get amoebas - I’ve had them. I have a filter & iodine pills, so you’ll be able to drink water here. Also, I can give you each a malaria pill when you get here. The Peace Corps doctor has me on one a week since I live near the beach.

Now that you’ve gotten my other letter, you know I ran into more than flowers and great weather in Costa Rica. Jaime (the guy with the fiancé there) and I had been planning on going to Costa Rica February 20th for a week. Since he’s going for sure, be sure to let me know as definitely as possible if & about when you’re coming. If you’re not completely wiped out from travel when you get here, we could go on down there. Jaime figures you could make it by car from here to there in 1 day by hitting the El Salvador - Honduras border when it opens and driving straight through. Other ideas running through my head - if y’all come - include going up the Chinandego volcano. It is one of the few real nature areas left in the country. A fellow PCV knows a lot about it and would love to go up again, especially if someone has a car. Also, going to see Izalco - the most impressive-looking & young volcano here - and seeing a crater lake called Coatepeque. The beach, of course, is right out my door, or you can visit other, better-known ones. If we went to Costa Rica we could take a ride on the former Brooklyn Ferry, which now transports people, cars & cargo from El Salvador to Nicaragua - bypassing El Salvador’s hostile neighbor Honduras. However, the border on the Nicaraguan side has a reputation for being the worst around, and the road from the ferry landing to Managua is poor.

Last thoughts on the trip: Someone told me they had to pay $30 in traffic fines going across Mexico by car. Apparently the cops there have a well set up system for getting their share of gringo money. Bribery is a way of life in Latin America. So if they stop you they’ll probably ask for money not to write a ticket, and you’d probably better go along if it isn’t over a couple bucks. I read recently that over 500 young U.S. citizens were in Mexican jails on drug charges & in Latin America you are guilty until proved otherwise, so chew that over. However, many PCVs here indulge and apparently have safe sources, so if you feel the need, once you get here, we may be able to arrange something. Well, that’s more than enough travel advice!

Needless to say, I’d really like to see you make it down. I remember Gopher, but never recall meeting Marcia Bredeson, though the name sounds familiar and I knew Mike of course. All I can say is I think it’s great if y’all can swing it! Let me know what you want to do while you’re here.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is an author I have always been going to read but never have - I read a couple short articles for a course once - maybe this year! I got the book on Campaign ’72 and will start it soon. Jay picked it up day before yesterday and is already two-thirds of the way through it. He makes it sound fascinating. I just finished my first non-translated Spanish book, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Marques. It was very entertaining and provoked a lot of questions in my brain. - worth the effort!

So you too have arrived at the conclusion that the folks spoiled you! I’m half tempted to agree with you like Marcia did & leave you in a labyrinth of self-doubt and self-depreciation! But, seriously, Joyce I know has felt that way always, and Donna I think feels everybody got a better shake than she did, but I have my own theory. First, I think us kids suffer from feelings of inferiority and related feelings of self-pity which are out of line with reality. On the other hand the parents do like you in a special way, perhaps, ‘cause of your personality. You’ve always been a "leader" in family matters - planning stuff, remembering birthdays, coming home to help out when it was needed. And besides, you’re animated, outgoing and likable compared to some of us introverts! Seriously, I think it’s just a matter of personalities and situations, and I don’t think you’re spoiled. Of course the older girls say I was spoiled for being the only boy in the family for so long! So fuck it anyway, Mary probably still calls me Buster to herself!

This letter is threatening to become a book, and I still have to write in my diary tonight. I started it on my way down to Costa Rica and hope I can keep it going for a year. I haven’t missed a day in almost a month, so I’m way ahead of previous attempts!

Hang in there & I hope to see you next month.



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