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Gone Again It is a long drive from Colorado to Panama and back. Anything can happen.

Epilogue

USA | Thursday, 14 February 2008 | Views [1149]

A photo of us, Pirimide del Sol, Teotithuacan

A photo of us, Pirimide del Sol, Teotithuacan

Friends say they would love to travel the way we do.  That, of course, isn’t the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  They really don’t want to miss out on family gatherings.  They can’t imagine spending Christmas Eve on a kibbutz in Israel.  Are they willing to carry all their possessions in a single medium-sized backpack?  How do they feel about foreign plumbing or food shopping in the local markets?  I think they would like to visit the places we go as tourists, not as independent travelers.

The truth isn’t always obvious.  Connie and I each keep a journal of the trip.  Even though we are on the same trip, you can’t always tell from our journal entries.  The journals record only the facts.  The truth lies somewhere between our journals and slightly to the left of the photos.  The truth resides in our minds.  Like a much handled wooden bowl, memories acquire a patina over time.  The fabric of truth is altered by experience.  Its colors and textures are softened – and possibly improved – like a well used Oriental carpet.  The truth, like the experience, is personal.  It is unique to each of us.

How much wouldn’t we have known if we hadn’t taken this trip?  The answer seems to be the real reason we travel.  I learned that Mexicans defy the American stereotype.  They are friendly and wonderfully helpful.  They are very resourceful and can accomplish so much with so little.  And I learned that I like people with brown skin and dark eyes and rich black hair.  Yet after five centuries, there are still a surprising number of people with pure Spanish blood, especially in the central colonial cities.

It is surprising how accepting the Latinos are of us Norte-americanos.  Even before Teddy Roosevelt instigated Panama’s split from Columbia so we could build and control the Canal, the US was warring with Mexico.  Our record in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador in the latter half of the 20th Century is an embarrassment.  But only once did we feel any “Yanqui go home!” resentment and that from a drunken gang-banger in a bad part of Santa Ana, El Salvador.  We were told by men who had been deported from the US as illegals how much they liked our country and all the cities they had lived in.

I had always thought of Latin America as a land of Catholics, a place of churches and cathedrals built by the Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries.  The cathedrals are spectacular but there is a strong evangelical presence throughout Central America.  Even where Catholicism flourishes it is flavored by ancient Mayan traditions that probably wouldn’t be well received in Rome.

Yes we had some rough times along the way, times that made us stop and question what the heck we were doing.  But they were created by greedy individuals and were not representative of the general populace.  (See how the truth is already diverging from the facts.)  For each of these instances we can list several random acts of kindness; a stranger patiently repeating directions to this stupid gringo with the bad Spanish; a woman who walked with me to show me the way to our hotel; food stall owners who took time to talk to us while the pollo asado was roasting and countless other examples.

We learned more about Mayan history and culture than we will ever be able to assimilate.  We explored the most famous ruins of their civilization.  We walked among the diminutive descendants of the Mayans in the markets of Guatemala.  We were introduced to the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and the causes they supported.  We spoke with people who had been forced out of their countries by repressive governments and saw protests against current policies.

We reveled in the beauty of Central America from Copper Canyon in Mexico to the Panama Canal.  We saw howler monkeys and caimans, mangrove fringed mudflats and pristine beaches, lava spewing volcanoes and misty cloud forests.  And the birds! – trogons and toucans, quetzals and tanagers, parrots and macaws.

My Spanish vocabulary increased daily but not my grammar.  If I have one regret about the trip it is that we didn’t take the time early on for a week long intensive Spanish course.  It would have made the trip both easier and more enjoyable.  I eventually got to the point where I would reply in Spanish without thinking, just as I do in English.  Connie often says that I am just as surprised by what comes out of my mouth as anyone.  Now it is true in two languages.

Was it a good trip?  Definitely yes.  Did we enjoy ourselves?  Very much.  Would we do it again?  Hell, no!

Tags: Philosophy of travel

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