Transiting Central America–1976

Continuing with my long letter home, written May 3, 1976

We started out in the morning for Guatemala.  The border didn’t open that morning until 10:00 AM.  It took two hours to drive through all the customs and border checks, and bug spray, etc.  We ended up selling Mike’s little .22 rifle for $85.00 rather than argue any longer about a transit permit.  C’est la vie.  We drove through Guatemala, saw iguanas, parrots, bananas growing on the trees, sugar cane, rubber plantations, etc. and came to the border.  It took us an hour or so to check out of Guatemala and another hour or so to check into El Salvador.  OUr daylight was gone and we raced along in the dark to San Salvador.  What a surprise.  We came up over a dark jungle road and down below us was a BIG city.  The first thing we came to was McDonalds and we stopped immediately for dinner.  Then we found a hotel–the nicest one in town and spent the night in comfort.  We wasted some time the next morning and got a late start out of town.

We crossed El Salvador and entered Honduras with the normal border delays.  Honduras was horrible.  The countries on both sides are q thousand times better.  (We only saw the Pacific side during the dry season on this trip.) There were only hot rocky fields everywhere with people sitting around in rags.  The little children were all naked and had bloated stomachs.  Right at the border we saw some people with kilns and clay making big pottery animals, but that was the most activity we saw in the entire place.

We picked up an American hitchhiker in Honduras–no one should have to stay there–and took him into Nicaragua.  Right at the border–after a two hour delay–things changed.  Off in the distance we saw smoking volcanos and stopped for pictures.  Unfortunately our camera was later stolen (out of our van parked on the street in front of the Hotel Roma in Panama City).  We passed lakes and green fields.  

Outside of Managua we got a flat tire on the van.  We stopped on a sort of hill.   Mike and the hitchhiker got out to change it, I got out to watch, and Meggie stayed in the van asleep.  The van was jacked way up when suddenly everything started to slide.  The jack popped out, Mike started yelling and pushing the van that was tipping sideways over on top of us.  Megs woke up inside and started screaming.  My heart was racing at eighty miles an hour.  Nothing happened.  The van didn’t tip over; Meg went back to sleep, and they changed the tire, but I thought we were in for it for a minute there! 

Managua was a shock.  This city is still flattened from the 1972 earthquake. The only nice place to stay was booked up for a week so we stayed in the second best place–a one time medical clinic without hot water and with cracks down the walls.  For that we paid $32.00.  The hitchhiker stayed with us and the next day we dropped him off in an old town to see an old church.  We never did know his name.  

We got to the Costa Rican border at 12:10.  The border is closed from noon until 2:00 PM.  So we waited.  Costa Rica was a lovely little country.  We stayed in San Jose and the next day drove across the mountains to David, Panama.  

We spent the night four hours from Panama City and finally arrived the next morning.  Our first night in David we got a taste of things to come–cold water and spiders.  We rented a trailer for the night–it was David’s version of a hotel.

Our first night in the City we went to a party at the church to see if anyone knew of anywhere to stay.  Mike had to go in flip-flops but they were so impressed with our activity that they called Mike as second counselor in the Elder’s quorum the next week and me as a counselor in the Relief Society.  

We have been teaching English for more than a month already.  Time has flown by since we got here.   We have found hundreds of friends in Panama, at school, on the base–this is a friendly city.  We got an apartment and a maid and furniture but still don’t have a hot water heater or fridge or gas for the stove.  But who needs those little things??

On a Thursday and Friday we had off from school we went out to the San Blas Isalands and lived in bamboo shacks and slept in hammocks.  When we came home I told Ely, our maid, what adventurers we were.  She laughed and said she grew up in a palm house with a well and no electricity.  I guess we weren’t so daring.  We went diving out in the islands and loved it.  The coral and the tropical fish were better than we could even exaggerate.  

Another day we went out to a Pacific Island, Taboga, and sunburned ourselves nearly to death.  Meggie had blisters and peeled right along with us.  

Another day we drove over to the Atlantic to Colon and saw ruins from an old Spanish fort now nearly overgrown by jungle.  The old cannons were lying everywhere.  We saw butterflies and lizards and parrots.  You must come visit–you won’t believe how beautiful it is here.

Anyway, we are settling in and I am tired of typing.  When you come we’ll go everywhere again and show you the ruins of Old Panama, and the public market and the canal locks, and anything else we think of.  Oh, we are expecting a second Hopkins child in December–just in time for our summer vacation.  The rainy season is beginning and things will soon be greener than ever but still warm.  

Write soon, Love Karen-Mike-Megs



About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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