I am reluctant to leave The Last Resort, but I’m packed and ready to take Lola for a walk by 7:30. We go for a long walk on the beach and are back by 8:00. The waves were high and crashing. A dozen people were already out surfing, including my friend, Mike.
Mike was coming in after a good wave, so we say good-bye, and by 8:15, Lola and I are off. The Last Resort has been a great place to stay. Roco, the bartender and all-around manager of The Last Resort, is a new person I liked knowing. He has a good way about him.
About half-way to the border, I have a strange moment: A human effigy is hanging from electrical lines crossing the road. There are about ten soldiers on the left side and five on the right side of the road. They are not stopping cars—they are clearly there because of the symbolic hanging of someone. I would love to know the story, and think about asking them whether I can take a picture local color sort of thing, but then I think better of it. Maybe they hanged this figure as a warning.
I hit the border at San Cristobal in about an hour. Although I customarily whine about border crossings, I am getting better at it. I pay the ayudante (helper) 15 on the exit side, 20 on the entry and keep close tabs on what’s going on. With the exception of Panama, most of these crossings have been quasi-reasonable. It definitely helps that I now speak survival Spanish. I feel more in control of the process, whereas on the way down, I was definitely not in control. I also now have a feeling of how each border is different. I might think of driving back to El Salvador, or even Costa Rica—but never Panama. I can’t remember whether I noted yesterday that El Salvador cost almost nothing—just what I paid my two ayudantes plus a couple of bribes.
Guatamala is a snap. I hire an ayudante, although I probably don’t have to, but I want this antepenultimate border crossing to go easy, and easy it does. I am through in less than an hour. I need to compare my experience this morning of my entrance into Guatemala three months ago. This may have been the place of the insurance fraud. It’s really too bad (and signifying something) when we create social conditions in which some people feel then need to scam others. But there is a plus side to these border crossing. At each border, different ayudantes have come up to me and gone through the old-amigo trip. I am by this time well-known at these borders.
I present one paper and my passport to exit El Salvador. No dinero. And I have two quick stops at the Guatemalan side with no hitches. My ayudante was doing his business. I have to tell him to stop shouting in my ear, but that is the limit of our discordance. He seems to think that when I say, no comprendo, I will understand better if he shouts louder.
The officials are all polite and efficient. The customs official in charge of checking luggage spends her time petting Lola. There is no check on Lola. The entire experience is a pleasure. I consider the experience as: welcome to our country. Panama should take a lesson. As a side note: all countries except Panama have given me a 90 day permit for my car. Panama was such a rip-off. If I were Donald, I would sue the country.
So I give my guide $20 and Lola and I are into Guatamala.
I can’t exaggerate how good I feel about my traveling experience, now that it’s closing down. I can improve, but I know how to travel in Mexico and Central America. That’s something. Even the Central Americans I meet can’t believe that I have driven from New Jersey to Panama and am now coming back—with a dog. I know this is a brag—but I just feel so good about having done it (almost—don’t count your chickens).
There isn’t much left to report about the day. The drive is pleasant, those high beautiful mountains on the east. I would love to drive through them. I have to be careful about the potholes, but I just keep my speed at about 30 mph and don’t crash too many. I am much better at avoiding them than I was on the trip down.
At about three, I am nearing Mazatenago, where because of my trip-log coming down, I know there is a lovely, dog-friendly, place to stay: Hotel Carolinas. I hit a cop-check about twenty minutes before Mazatenago. A woman skips any kind of check and just wants to pet Lola. Lola gets to the window and starts licking her face. This is the kind of experience I want to remember about driving through Central America and Mexico.
She tells me Mazantenago is about twenty minutes on. Now here’s something I can’t explain (Doria and Jeff, are you listening?). I thought the hotel I was looking for (I remembered it as the Hotel Carolinas) was just outside Mazanenago. My trailblazing notes told me that. But five minutes later, I’m driving along and see this minimal sign for Hotel Carolinas on the left. God, it’s the place. I drive in, and they are all so welcoming. They remember me and Lola. I’m in.
I am now in a beautiful casita, a lovely stream, running underneath my window.
I might leave tomorrow. I know a place to stay in something like Chiapalutas, Mexico—part of my trail blazing.
I am thinking now about my chat with Reuben before he left yesterday (and dropped his passport). Reuben has some important stories to tell. He told me that he has a difficult time writing them down but that he feels good when the writing is over and that he had accomplished his assignment.
It’s awful that we make people like Reuben feel this about their writing. We teachers are the ones who have done this. This is for my WPA-l friends: forget all the junk about teaching academic discourse. ReTeach them how to like writing, not how to feel good about having it done. I have no way of understanding writing teachers who think writing should be hard work.
I’m going to push this theme, which has something to do with the writing I’ve been doing here. Reuben is thinking too much about being published. Getting published is simply the wrong focus for serious writing. The pleasure of writing is the right focus. The best way to write is when the words flow out of you—and as I have said too often, when the words surprise you. If Reuben is able to turn toward writing that feels good, he will tell the world some interesting stories. He’s a very bright young man on the questionable side of the climate control issue—and he knows it. He knows that his work (and the considerable money he has made has slanted his vision. We need more people like Reuben, and we need to hear from them. Can you imagine how we have wasted Reuben’s time by trying to teach him how to write conventionally documented academic papers? I am impressed, as I have been by so many of my students, that he still has the drive to write. He keeps a diary. The remarkable thing about writing is that more than half of our students still have Reuben’s urge to write, in spite of how traditional pedagogical models (like grading their essays) have taught us how to teach that urge out of them.
I have quite a trip across Mexico—5-6 days, but the long trip, the one that began by my discovering in Baton Rouge that I needed a title to my car (see TheTrip Down–the first item under Pages on the right side of this blog
) is essentially over. So tonight, after a great pasta dinner ($3.00 with one margarita), I just don’t want to go to bed, wake in the morning, and move on. The border’s an hour away. I think (a sure way of ensuring difficulties) crossing into Mexico will be easy. And then about two hours to Chiapalutas. I may not leave tomorrow. I really like it here. I just wrote myself into staying for another day. I am in no hurry to hit Houston-underwater. I am in no hurry to be home. I’m a traveler.
Goto Day 15: Good Will and Language