Thursday, March 16, 2006


December 16. We resumed our journey by Camry. The beauty of the scenery was interspersed by the unpleasant crossings of national borders.   At each there were redundant military roadblocks, multiple paperwork by several people, and checking of documents and car trunk contents.  Crossings sometimes took hours, and usually took bribes.

Added 4/27/2016:  Click here  for a book on how dangerous are Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, especially the last two.   We avoided the places and times that were less safe, but that was not easy on the drive from Guatemala to Nicaragua.

At the Guatemala frontier we negotiated a requested $120 bribe down to $20.  Entrance to El Salvador was encouragingly marked by signs saying ¨No Bribes Allowed¨, but it was a 2 hour fiasco. By then it was too late to reach the next town without famously dangerous night driving. So we drove 80 miles in the dark, the last 30 in an hour, before we found a hotel sign. The road was nearly deserted, very sinuous, with 5 narrow rock tunnels by the Pacific. The ¨hotel¨ became our worst accommodation ever. Yes, they had rooms, restaurant, and secure parking.   But, ¨Better lock your car securely, in front of your room¨.   Our confidence was restored by seeing a man patrolling with the usual LLW (large lethal weapon: I don´t know guns), and surrounding high razor-topped penitentiary type fencing.    Hmm, we wonder why they need all that?

The price of the room was $15, and its value about $2.   It was as long as the mattress on a raised concrete pad, and only 30% wider.   There were no AC, furniture, wastebasket, HW faucet.   It came with 1 towel, 1 pillow, and 1 big cockroach.   We asked for more of the first 2, and got more of
all 3.   After we settled in, sort of, we were told the restaurant was closed
until at least 10 for an employee fiesta.   We ordered anyway, and were brought
food which had the same low quality as the room.   Then the cold
water supply quit, so we had no shower nor toilet, but it ¨might
resume at midnight¨.   I vented my opinion at the outdoor fiesta, and we
soon got water.   At 10:30 PM the party moved to the adjacent little bar,
and loud throbbing music began.   I joined the party in my pajamas and
said a few effective words, so the music soon ended.

December 17.  The promised breakfast wasn't available, so we drove 7
miles to the next town, which had hotels we might have reached
the previous night.   We had breakfast there.   Margery said, "I hate El
Salvador".   We might have gone home then, but would not have been
allowed to leave the country without our car.

At the Honduran border, the processing was as bad as reputed.   About 5
hours of too-familiar dashing about, correcting errors, bribes, lies.   Once
they said we would have to hire a government agent to sit on our back
seat until we left the country.   Once they said we should stay in the car
and continue processing in the morning.   Near sunset we were freed, and
began the 54 mile drive to the nearest town, Choluteca,
Honduras.   It was our most harrowing drive ever.    The pavement was good, but
without center or side striping, or shoulders.   It was far worse when
vehicles sped by either unlit or with high beams on.   Occasionally rocks,
downed trees, unlit parked trucks, animals or people appeared on the
pavement.   Occasionally I could follow a lighted vehicle.   Sometimes I
would have to nearly stop, and feel for the pavement edge, which was
often flanked by a steep drop.    I asked a soldier with a LLW at a gas
station if the road ahead was still dangerous for carjackings.
¨Solament muy noche¨ (only late at night).   It seemed plenty late to us.

We were fortunate to reach the best hotel in Choluteca for the night:
$27 with good amenities.

December 18. The entrance to Nicaragua was easier.    ¨No bribes
allowed¨ signs were posted, I was only cheated out of $8, and the double
crossing took only 2 1/2 hours including Customs siesta.   Nevertheless we
again drove the last hour in the dark, more easily this time because I
simply followed slow vehicles that led the way and telegraphed the
obstacles ahead.

At our destination, Granada, we had another example of the Latin propensity to offer help even when they don't know the answers.   We had 3 young policemen in the back seat supposedly showing us the way to our hotel.   They kept changing directions and disagreeing among themselves, until after many blocks we saw and  pointed out our hotel ahead, which we recognized from pictures.

Granada has replaced Antigua as the place we'd most like to revisit, but without a car. It's charming, spectacular, and cheap:
* Charming, because it's smaller than the capital, Managua, and old.   Founded by the conquistador Cordoba a mere generation after Columbus' last voyage, it's the oldest Eurocentric mainland community in the Americas.    Havana is a few years older, and the Hopi villages in Arizona are centuries older.
* Spectacular, partly because it's on the shores of 40 by 100 mile Lake Nicaragua, once an arm of the sea and hence now home to the world's only freshwater sharks.   Volcanoes are sprinkled around and in the lake. According to a guidebook, one is "the world's greatest natural polluter, spewing 500 to 3000 tonnes (sic) of acidic gas and ash a day, making a wide swath to the Pacific unarable".    One erupts frequently, the last in 2001 slightly damaging this city, and "a larger eruption can be expected soon".
* Cheap.  On our night of arrival we ate at the city's best restaurant.   We were greeted by uniformed waiters, attentively served, and thanked by the owner for having come.   The food was world-class, prepared by cooks at a big photogenic hearth.   The ambiance was prototypically romantic, with gardens and fountains and troubadours.   The tab, with drinks and the mandatory 10% tip, was about $12... Later we paid a doctor about $6 for 2 house calls: more about that later.

We were so very fortunate, due to luck and persistence, to have reached
this place, Granada, before Marge´s sudden collapse. She had not been
feeling well. On our first morning at the hotel I heard a thud and faint cry
from the bathroom.   She does not remember it, but had lost nearly all
muscle control and could not stand nor crawl.    Only extreme effort by
both of us got her back in bed.

I spoke to the hotel manager about getting her to a hospital.   He
advised against even going to the one in the capitol, Managua.   A doctor was
summoned, and quickly came.   He was was cheerful, very young and handsome, and had all the competence we needed. With his poor English and my poor Spanish and Margery´s restored intuition, he determined  that she had a particularly virulent case of bacterial
AND parasitical digestive infection, not just ¨turista¨. He said that what
she had could have been fatal if untreated, but now she would be OK.
I had been acutely aware of what the Spanish endearment ¨mi vida¨
(my life) meant, and the sudden rush of relief and gratitude nearly
washed over me. I bit my lip hard. The doctor studied my face,
smiled at her, and said, ¨He loves you¨.   Yes !

He prescribed a regimen of electrolyte rehydration, then antibiotic pills
for 5 days, then anti-parasite pills for 7 days. He conferred with the
hotel staff to help her get started on soft foods, and that universal
panacea, chicken soup.   We were the little hotel´s only guests, and were
treated like family, or the royal family.   The motherly maid
came upstairs periodically to see if Marge had taken her pills, or to bring
special food from the hotel's former restaurant.     I was a busy nurse for 2
days, as Marge gradually got better. When on the 2nd day the staff heard
her slow footsteps, all 5 of them gathered around the foot of the stairs as she hesitantly descended. She was greeted with smiles and bravos and vigorous clapping.   We were overwhelmed.

Our constrictions at this point: Margery's expected complete recovery.    Avoid crossing
borders on Sundays or holidays.   Boat from Panama to Ecuador goes only
weekly, next reachable on January 2.   Time needed in Panama to arrange
that, and to get the much-delayed coumadin-effect test of my blood.
We have only 2 more borders before Panama, then only 3 more borders
(Ecuador/Peru, Peru/Chile, Chile/Argentina) before Ushuaia, the bottom of
the hemisphere.   On arrival in Santiago we will give
our car to our Brunswick friends in Santiago, and continue by public transport.

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

I don't dare continue.    I just lost the whole text above from this local
computer, but made a miraculous recovery.

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