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July 5, 1997

San Salvador - El Salvador

E-Bulletin # 2; July 5th 1997.

News from the Road in El Salvador - next web-update in a 7-10 days, illustrated of course with the usual glittering array of full color digital pictures...

Since escaping the clutches of Mexico City - and the immense hospitality of my host and hostess David and Graciela - the long and winding road to Peru has taken the Raleigh and I high into the heavens of the Chiapan highlands - without a doubt my favourite region of Mexico visited so far. The air cool, the land rolling gently under a carpet of pine trees and luscious meadows that could have easily been taken from an English National Heritage calendar - and the people are uniquely individual in their preservation of local custom, language and dress - hence the indigenous uprising on New Years Eve 1994. No worries for foreigners though - to the contrary; the conflict seems to have evolved to a war of propaganda fought with lap-tops in the arena of global media rather than bullets. Hence everyone - especially the Mexican Army - seem to be falling over themselves to make a good impression to outsiders - a refreshing change from the belligerent attitude of the police road-blocks in the more northern states.

My paperwork from UNESCO eased the passage of computers/video cameras etc. through the border with Guatemala. The official was poised to club me with the usual carnet forms - potentially very costly - until I waved various letters under his nose bearing UNESCO letterheads. It seems that the organisation have a good rap down here - due mainly to its involvement with getting the country back on its feet since the war ended. El Salvador was the same.

My decision to take an inland route to avoid the obnoxious heat of the coast proved a sound move - in all respects apart from the mountain grades and road conditions. For three days the Raleigh and I struggled up switch backs - resorting to walking when the incline became too much or the road gave way to gravel and dirt on account of landslides washing out the surface altogether. The area around Huehuetenango was worth the effort though. Like Chiapas the indigenous Indian communities seem to be holding out valiantly against the internal political pressures of their own 'Ladino' ruling class and the external economic pressures of being fast integrated into a free-trade global economy. How long people will be able to hang onto their individualism is hard to say. Over half of all advertising in Guatemala is now in English - and I suspect that the 26 or so regional languages that are currently in working use throughout the country will become fewer as time progresses; it pays to standardise - you've only got to look at the US and Europe to see that.

I have no real recollection of Guatemala City as all I ever saw of the place was a dim haze of bus fumes that blotted out anything else - probably for the best judging by the little of the architecture I did glimpse through chinks in the smog. I did have a great time staying at the Pension Meza though on 10th and 10th in Zone 1 - an oasis of eccentric freaks smoking their way to hippy nirvana in a desert of urban nothingness - big recommendation there for anyone going to Guatemala in the next few hundred years (can't imagine the place will change that much). A couple of schools were visited - a fairly eye opening experience as to the current state of the school's system in Guatelama. I got the feeling the teachers were just going through the motions of keeping things together - choas would be an understatement. The head of one of the schools even refused to open her door to see me - prefering instead to shove a note under the door wishing me luck with the children. The film 'Blue Murder at St. Trinians' came to mind a couple of times as I blasted my way through the slide show in my nasty Spanish. However the kids got the general idea of what I was on about - and when I pinned up one of the world maps (kindly donated by 'World of Maps', Tampa, Florida) and invited any anyone to pick a country to send a pen-pal letter to - they all got stuck in; I'm currently wading my way through three hundred letters going to countries as far afield as Russia, China, Korea - even Afghanistan. If anyone is interested in helping out with this program - basically sending letters to the relevant countries - help would be most appreciated. Also - there are a couple of newcomers to the Internet Pen-pal page - Jimmy and Byron - both really smashing people - if there are any kids out there that would be interested in corresponding with them.

The road to the Salvadorean border proved a little less exciting than in Oliver Stone's 'Salvador' - no-one dragged me off the Raleigh into the bushes for any special treatment. The air became gradually hotter with the drop in altitude and the rain kicked mercilessly for the first time since the wet season started three weeks ago, and my legs - that were complaining bitterly in the highlands due no doubt to cold and wet - have eased up considerably with the warmer conditions.

El Salvador seems rather tame in comparison with Guatemala - they're well on course for the American dream; 'Burger Kings', drive-in banks and gas station foodmarts are everywhere in the upmarket parts of the cities - contasting with the slum areas that are the worst I've seen in any country so far. The former guerrilla movement - FMLN - have recently been elected to power - more out of default than anything else - and they have an enormous task ahead of them in terms of land reform (the hot button of all these central Amercan countries) and generally trying to re-balance the distribution of wealth that currently sees 87% of the country's capital owned by 12% of the people - basically the 'Ladino' ruling class that have inherited from their Spanish ancestors and survived the course of time thanks to support by the US and their own armed services. The only thing of saving grace in the capital that looks frighteningly similar to the last capital I was in - as far as the pollution goes - has been these great little tortilla-sandwich-type-efforts called pupuses - filled with a filling of your choice - ranging from frijoles (re-fried beans) to queso (cheese) to .... (well thats about it). But they are very good - an alternative to rice and beans that is stable for anyone who doesn't eat pollo (chicken).

Posted at 5:13 AM