Traveling in Middle America
By “Awake!” correspondent in El Salvador
WITH improved roads more people from the United States are traveling in Middle America. In December and January, when it is cold and wintry in North America, the weather is delightful south of the border. The rainy season is over, and temperatures have moderated. It is an excellent time of the year to travel, and there are so many interesting things to see.
Here early European adventurers found wealthy cities of brilliant civilizations—those of the Mayas and Aztecs. Only about thirty miles from Mexico City colossal pyramids built over two thousand years ago can be visited. One of them, the Pyramid of the Sun, is about the same size at its base as the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt!
Farther south, in Guatemala, there are the thrilling Tikal ruins. Some of the pyramidal structures are 155 feet high—as high as twenty-story buildings—towering above the surrounding jungles! One marvels when envisioning the thousands of laborers needed to construct these mammoth monuments.
Then there are the many natural wonders. Costa Rica’s volcano, Irazú. The gorgeous volcanic, black-sand beaches of El Salvador. The mountains, the lakes, the tropical flowers and vegetation. Truly it is a beautiful land, Middle America.
Here in El Salvador there are two lovely volcanic lakes, Ilopango and Coatepeque. At the latter you can enjoy the comfort of a furnished cabin in the government park without cost by getting permission from the ‘Ministerio de Trabajo’ in San Salvador.
Some persons, hearing of the poverty in Middle America, may assume that vacationing here costs little. While it may be less expensive than in some other places, certain things are higher. For example, gasoline is about fifty cents a gallon after one leaves Mexico. It is suggested, therefore, that each person count on at least $10 a day for every day spent here.
A person will enjoy himself more if he travels light. This will lessen the effort to pack and unpack. It is also wise to take wash-and-wear clothing. Learn to launder it correctly before leaving. Central Americans expect visitors to be neat and tidy. So if one wants to be well received and respected one will avoid an unshaven appearance, or barefooted jaunts around town in ragged shorts.
Also, remember that it is a long trip—nearly 3,500 miles just from the United States border to Panama City. So it is important to make sure that one’s car and tires are in excellent condition. Do not expect to receive the same automobile repair service as at home. In many small towns, parts for one’s car will be unobtainable, and a long bus trip may be required to get them.
Then there is the matter of a different language—Spanish. Do not count on people knowing English. Many of them do not, especially in the smaller towns. So preparation for the trip should include learning the language, at least a little of it. It will make one’s visit so much more enjoyable. And it may be vital in an emergency.
Say, for example, that one gets sick on the trip. Sometimes the water makes persons sick. Or at times visitors overindulge in the many delicious fruits—the mangoes, pineapples, nísperos—and suffer stomach or intestinal disorders. This will require communication with a doctor or druggist. Or one may need to communicate with a mechanic in connection with emergency auto repairs. So every word of Spanish one can learn will be beneficial.
Social Customs and Good Manners
Young single men may think about meeting some nice girls on their trip. And it is true, many young women here are much like those in the Orient, being trained to be respectful and helpful. They remind one of Rebecca who volunteered to water the ten camels of Abraham’s servant—no small or easy task.—Gen. 24:15-21.
However, the custom here is for young men to observe a girl for some time before dating her. When a man asks permission of the parents to visit their daughter at home, it means that he wishes to be accepted as the girl’s official boyfriend and probably, later, as her husband. Dating is not viewed generally as entertainment, but as preparation for marriage.
Also, respectable persons do not as a rule go unchaperoned on a date. A girl’s parents expect a young man to invite another member of the family along when he takes a girl out. It is not in good taste to go off alone on a picnic or other such excursion with one of the opposite sex.
Being a Good Guest
In recent years many North Americans have moved here, including quite a number who have come to preach the good news of God’s kingdom. These persons frequently extend their hospitality to vacationing Christians from North America, inviting them to stay overnight with them, or they may arrange for them to stay in the homes of friends. What if one should be invited to be the guest in a Middle American home?
Some visitors have concluded that since families here often have servants, the servants should do the visitor’s washing and other personal services. But that is an improper attitude. If the household workers perform services for one—making beds, washing clothes, polishing shoes and so forth—one should be grateful and express appreciation for such services, rather than take these for granted. Failure of visitors to express gratitude can result in hurt feelings.
Hospitality seems to come naturally to the Spanish. It is their custom to say that their house is your house, and that they are your servants. Visitors should try to be as polite to their host as their host is to them.
It certainly does not create a good impression when visitors clean their shoes with the towels or blankets belonging to their host. Nor is it proper to dirty linen by using it before one washes thoroughly. It is disrespectful, too, to stay out later than the bedtime of one’s host, perhaps awakening him so as to be let in. Yet some thoughtlessly do such things.
Traveling in Middle America can indeed be a delightful experience, and a highlight of the trip can be staying in the home of a local resident. But if that should ever be your privilege, would it not be fine if your host felt as delighted to have had you as you were to have been there?