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Central American Countries: The Good, Bad, and The Ugly

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I find it interesting how two people can see the same place so entirely different. This article details how I saw Mexico and the seven countries of Central America. In general, I found the people of all these countries very friendly, polite, helpful, kind and wanting us to fully enjoy their country.

Services (such as mechanics) were immediate and inexpensive. On only a couple of instances did we feel overcharged because we were gringos. Unlike the U. S., greed is essentially non-existent.

We also encountered the inevitable UGLY 1% that seems to exist in every known civilization. Unfortunately, the activity that we do the most constitutes the area where the UGLY shows the most… driving! According to my observations the drivers are FAR MORE AGGRESSIVE than anywhere found in the United States. Most drive at insane speeds and show no signs of understanding the meaning of stop signs and no passing zones. Few drivers even slow for stop signs and you will not believe the situations where they will pass your vehicle, even on blind curves! After they pass, they will cut back in front of you close enough to remove the paint off your front bumper! The best defense is to give them the right of way, give them lots of room and be ever watchful of your surroundings!

The down side of this advice results in making little headway and, before you know it, you are driving just like them! You must do this if you want to get anywhere! I know it sounds crazy but, trust me, you will soon find out that I speak the truth! If there is a policeman, there is little he can do about speeding drivers as most likely he is on foot or rides a bicycle. No radar traps to worry about here! Most larger cities have lots of black smoke-belching diesel buses creating horrible pollution.

I used to think Mexico was a poor country, but Central America far exceeds what I saw in Mexico. There a much larger percentage of the population belong to the ranks of the poverty- stricken. Another UGLY occurs whenever excessive amounts of gringos are present in any given location. This invasion of the gringos results in the slowly disappearing Hispanic Culture!

Okay, now a few words identifying some of my positive and negatives impressions of each country. I will not attempt to identify specific information found everywhere in guidebooks and the Internet.

  • Mexico
    • Positives: BIG, beautiful beaches and mountains, exceptional variety of great food and music. Full of life, the Mexicans use the slightest reason/event to turn any situation into a party!
    • Negatives: SEE DRIVING INFO ABOVE, add to that extremely loud eardrum-breaking music! Also because of the many years of United States influence, see UGLY GRINGO comment.
  • Belize (previously British Honduras)
    • Positives: Pidgeon-English spoken, signs in English makes life easier, Caribbean Island flavor to the atmosphere, very laid-back, drivers are not quite as aggressive as the Hispanic countries.
    • Negatives: The most EXPENSIVE country. We paid a high of $4.38 a gallon for gas in 2004. Grocery shopping takes your breath away…one can of Budweiser was $2.65! Now take that price ratio and apply it to the rest of your groceries! Much unemployment and, hence, a lot of very bold, hands-in-your-face requesting (begging) of money. Only a few will ask for work to earn money.
  • Guatemala
    • Positives: Beautiful 12,000+’ elevation mountains, breathtaking scenery and very colorful clothing.
    • Negatives: SEE AGGRESSIVE DRIVER COMMENTS ABOVE. Very steep and winding mountain road grades. Several popular tourist areas bring numerous unfriendly European visitors.
  • El Salvador
    • Positives: Hard to identify.
    • Negatives: Feeling of potential danger. Perhaps my guidebook set me up mentally when they described El Salvador as “the most dangerous country in Central America”.
  • Honduras
    • Positives: Beautiful detailed Mayan ruins. Gorgeous Caribbean Sea beaches.
    • Negatives: Hot and humid. Most antiquated and very expensive telephone system.
  • Nicaragua
    • Positives: My favorite country! Beautiful scenery, many volcanoes, and friendly, generous people.
    • Negatives: Hot and humid.
  • Costa Rica
    • Positives: Pretty scenery, most polite (but still aggressive) drivers of all the Hispanic countries.
    • Negatives: Hot and humid. An abundant amount of retired gringos living there for many years results with the UGLY GRINGO comment. The Caribbean Seacoast area abounds with readily available and inexpensive drugs.
  • Panama
    • Positives: Intriguing Spanish conquistadors and Panama Canal history.
    • Negatives: Many years of American presence results in the ever disappearing Hispanic Culture.

Jim Jaillet is a full-time RVer, Adventurer and Author of PANAMA OR BUST – A 343 day adventure in a motorhome! Please visit my new Panama or Bust Yahoo Group.

Disclaimer: The author in no way can guarantee your safety in Central America. After all they are Third World countries and not without danger or the possibility of death. You go at your own risk. The author is only suggesting that with some planning, common sense and caution you may minimize your potential dangers and be rewarded with countless cultural experiences. 🙂

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