On every trip, journey or travel, there’s at least one lesson learned. The root of the word ‘˜travel’ is travail, meaning arduous, difficult and so on: this might explain the two misadventures with unfamiliar ATM machines in Nicaragua and El Salvador. For someone who has always traveled by car or airplanes, the transition to taking public transportation has been a relatively recent conversion. I’ve always loved train travel but in Central America the only trains left are those in museums and memories.
Airports and aircraft are few and far between, so if the place that you want to see isn’t accessible, the only smart choices are the major bus lines. What I’ve discovered, finally, is that I have a personal tolerance for sitting on a bus, no matter how luxurious, for no more than six hours. After that, my attitude and composure changes. That may explain the double events regarding unfamiliar ATM machines, first in Granada and lastly in San Salvador. The first episode involved leaving my card in the machine ( I got it back two days later)and the second, as with the first, involved twelve hours on the bus, tiredness, a splash of rum and unfamiliar machines that may or may not have malfunctioned. I did and that’s the lesson. Simply stated, I recycled the commands and put a severe dent in my bank balance, to be undone and reversed later. Therefore, shorter trips from now on: travails, indeed.
This being a day of rest, with one more night in the o-so-easy Meson de Maria, my companion on this journey of dust, heat and over-priced taxis had expressed a desire to visit an establishment owned by a friend of a friend. Names are not included per his desire for anonymity nor can the name of his ‘˜gentlemen’s club’ be used. Those rules are written in bold letters over the entrance, specifically outlawing media people or the use of cameras. Following an early Mexican dinner, with a few margaritas to wash down the fajitas, we engaged a taxi at the hotel: he’d wait at the club and we could avoid the inevitable ‘˜meester, meester, I have a taxi — take mine’ or any other dodgy commercial transactions at closing time.
The entrance is always guarded by two men with shotguns: they’ll scrutinize you for social acceptability (are you dressed moderately well, reasonably sober and did you bring money?). The stairs leading up to the foyer and ticket booth are wide and of white tile, and curve in a winding circle. He of the one cane, this night only, slowly ascended with his eyes bright behind the bifocals. His dark hair was neatly combed and the image was that of a bird dog on the scent of flushing out a covey. That could be arranged, given enough money. The girl behind the armored glass of the ticket booth recognized me and we were ‘˜wanded’ by the final level of security — One can bring in firearms to the club but you’ve got to check them in, even your cellphone(camera). I would have called earlier but both of my mobile phones had run out of time. In the afternoon I’d found a store that sold increments of telephone time but because my phone numbers were Guatemalan based and not El Salvador, etc etc — it’s the same company, be it TIGO or Moviestar but no, it’s not possible, senor. Traveler’s Tip #2: if you’re traveling between countries, at least in Central America, you’ll have a roaming function but buy extra minutes.
The ‘˜friend of a friend’ wasn’t in tonight but with his business card in my hand, we escaped the $7 cover charge. One of the older waitresses recognized me, from my previous ‘˜research expeditions.’ The wait staff wear prim white blouses and short red plaid skirts, as if from some Catholic wayward girls school. The ‘˜entertainers’ don’t wear much and what there is, isn’t much. The costumes are quickly dispensed with, while the disco music throbs and the strobe lights flash: this is your basic ‘˜show and tell’ routine, designed to engender tips, more beer and perhaps extra ‘˜attention’ in the back VIP rooms. I explained to Waitress #1 that tonight I was merely fulfilling my companion’s desires, to bring a smile to the old man’s face and see that he was treated well. Without going into details, out of place in a family-oriented forum such as this, let’s say that later he left the club smiling and several twenty dollar bills lighter. We’d agreed that ‘˜what happened in San Salvador, stayed in San Salvador’.
The return to Antigua, leaving at 6am, was flawless: record time, in other words. Passing through the border controls is best done on an early Sunday morning, with virtually no traffic in the usually impossible Guatemala City. He of the double canes came back happy and as promised, I got him home, safe and sound. I had ice cubes in my refrigerator, fresh sheets and half a bottle of 7 year old Flor de Cana in the suitcase. Home Sweet Home.