Faith, Guts, and Grace: Notes from Latin America


It was 1975 and I had decided to take a year off and see the world. Not wanting to go alone, I talked my unwilling but malleable boyfriend into going with me. Neither of us had much money, but we had heard that we could do it really cheaply.

We got a drive-away car to New Orleans, stopping to broil ourselves at the Grand Canyon on the way. Then we flew to Merida, where we found lodging for a couple of bucks sharing our hotel with a family of baby rats. This was an inauspicious beginning, but at least the rats weren't in our room.

In the Yucatan, we found a nice motel where, for a couple of dollars we could sleep in a small storage cupboard. We were excited about the swimming pool, the days being blazing hot, but were a little put off by t the strings of frog larva that floated across the pool. It was a tough call, but we did get in. While camping near Tulum we were visited by a contingent of local men. They had been harvesting turtle eggs and insisted they we share them. After all these years, I can still remember how hard that was to swallow.

I had developed a rash on my fingers, but being on a $3 a day budget, didn't want to spend the money to see a doctor. When we got to Belize City, went to a clinic , but after six hours of waiting with dozens of locals sitting on a wooden bench, , gave up and went back to our room. I took a "depression nap," and woke up feeling better. Eventually, the rash went away on its own.
We went to Cay Caulker, a beautiful island in Belize but we stayed on the wrong side of of the island, the side where all the nasty little biting flies live and drive you crazy. Then my boyfriend and I had a horrible fight over his spending money on cigarettes. He tore out of the tent literally, trashing the tent's mosquito net in his rage.

We were already running out of money as we approached Guatemala and sent home asking for it as soon as possible. The money didn't come for a month. During this time we stayed at Pension Mesa in Guat City which offered shared rooms and three meals a day for $1.50 per person per day. It was a little like a prison, with mush for breakfast a, cabbage soup for lunch, and cabbage soup for dinner. You could live on it. The best part of Pension Mesa was having nothing to do,except sit around learning Latin pop songs. It helped to soften he misery.

We finally decided to wait for our money from the highlands of Lake Atitlan.. We rented a shack right on the shore. The lake was incredibly beautiful, clear as a bell and cold, so deep it had never been measured. We slept in our thin sleeping bags on the hard floor and swam every mooring in the lake.
Every morning the young girls came by with fresh pan dulce. They warmed up to us as and we got to know their families. A paltry little market came by once a week with a few limp vegetables.

Our only luxury was beer, one or two a week. There was a small store down the way.

" Two beers, please?'”\

They were lukewarm.

“Could we have them chilled please?"
Oh, the scorn of the merchant.

"Are you hot?"
Even if it had been hot,we re realized sheepishly, there was no refrigeration. We adapted. We drank our beer warm.

Our money came and we moved south. We we were wearing down. were pick pocketed in Costa Rica, and ran out of money again in Nicaraguan. A kind woman at the market fixed a good meal for us once a day.

When we hit northern Colombia we were really tired. Went to a village to relax and were promptly robbed of most of our valuables, including the tent with the torn mosquito net. The thieves left our passports and three joints.

We went to Bogota. It was cold and rainy. You had to watch your possess at every moment. We

met good people. We taught English. It changed our lives. It made good stories.


S Signer

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