During this holiday season and throughout the New Year, I wish you joy, happiness, and safe travels.
Have you had travels that were not exactly safe and made you question if you would be celebrating the next holiday season?
That happened to me in 1992. The destination: Central America. The travel advisories: The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens that the level of kidnapping, crime, and violence remain critically high. This was true in 1992 and still is today. It all began with the El Salvador-Honduras conflict in the 1960s with the Honduran government’s expropriation of land occupied by 300,000 Salvadoran farmers leaving them no choice but to return to El Salvador.
In 1969 El Salvador defeated Honduras in a three-game soccer series to determine the team to go to the 1970 World Cup. Rowdy fans from both nations started post-game riots that helped push their armies into a war that only lasted four days, but has had continuing repercussions. It got little attention from people in the USA, who were occupied with the progress of the successful Apollo moon landing, just two days after the war ended. On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong climbed down from Apollo 11 onto the moon and declared, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Ignoring the travel advisories and traveling with my husband, Charlie, our first destination in Central America was Antigua, Guatemala. We were anticipating outstanding volcano hikes, but our hiking plans were quickly cancelled when we learned the day before we arrived, a hiker was robbed and killed on one of the volcano trails.
Not wanting to challenge the dangers of hiking, we chose to enjoy the beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, street markets with beautiful traditional textiles, museums, and the delicious Guatemalan food and margaritas before continuing on to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. After seeing a display of local poisonous snakes at the Tikal Museum and defying the guides instructions, at midnight, with a full moon, we slipped out of our room and climbed Tikal Temple to howl back at the howler monkeys, very spooky if you have ever heard howler monkeys.
Catching another local bus we were off to Belize. Our seats had no cushions, only metal frames, and we were the only nonlocals, traveling with chickens and pigs in the stifling heat. We arrived in Belize City and headed to the dock to catch a boat to take us to Ambergris Cay. But not before a quick stop at the bar where I ordered and instantly drank down a double rum punch, ah, so refreshing. After a long, hot bus ride I did not stop to think about the ice, and, of course, I paid the price later; but the diving was glorious.
Taca Air delivered us to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Tegucigalpa was on my travel list, the name was magical, or so I thought. We immediately sensed a hostile environment around the city and determined a cab was probably a good idea even if the restaurant was only one block away.
Another bus ride to El Salvador, a country that is definitely not a friend to Honduras after the Soccer War. Along the way the bus started to slow and I saw four soldiers in camouflage and carrying AK47s motioning the driver to stop. My heart sank. I softly whispered, “this is why the U.S. issued travel advisories.” We were marched off the bus with all the other passengers at gunpoint and lined up beside the road. They asked all passengers for identification. My hands were trembling as I handed over my passport. Very slowly and systematically the soldiers reviewed the identification. Then in marching formation walked up to each of us inspecting us head to toe. After the inspection, suddenly we were marched back on the bus at gunpoint. The soldiers observed we were all seated, and after telling the driver he could proceed, they marched off the bus. Terrified, in silence we continued on. We were safe. El Salvador and Nicaragua would have frightening moments, which you will learn about in my next message.
As world travelers we like the adventure, the risk and the satisfaction of witnessing new places and new cultures. We go and we experience the world. I like this quote:
“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all—the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”