Documentary travel photo of Hoku Canoes on Lago Atitlan, Santiago Atitlan Village, Lago Atitlan, Guatemala for Travelers’ Tales Central America – True Stories Book Cover.
Documentary travel photo of Hoku Canoes on Lago Atitlan with San Pedro Volcano in background near Santiago Atitlan Village, Lago Atitlan, Department of Solola, Guatemala on the cover for Travelers’ Tales Central America: True Stories (February 2002).
Travelers’ Tales Central America – True Stories
By Larry Habegger and Natanya Pearlman
“These stories of travel in Central America – Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama – are adventurous and quirky, sobering and enlightening. Readers visit a Panamanian island known for its wildlife; glimpse the wealthy Generation X repatriates of Nicaragua; and meet a charming Guatemalan revolutionary. Authors include Paul Theroux, Jennifer Harbury, Ronald Wright, Joan Didion, Randy Wayne White, and Rigoberta Menchu. Travelers’ Tales Central America provides a new window into this astonishingly beautiful and complex part of the world. ‘For the thoughtful traveler, these books are an invaluable resource.’ – Pico Iyer”
Central America: An Introduction
“Many images come to mind when one thinks of Central America, that seismically active spine of mountains that snakes between two vast continents: the flash of a toucan against the lush jungle canopy; volcanoes piercing a ring of clouds; tropical islands far removed from the world’s cares; temples of a lost civilization emerging from the rain forest; indigenous Maya in clothing as bright as a quetzal’s plumage; architecture redolent of old Spain; the unfathomable depths of a pristine volcanic lake.
For these and other reasons, Central America has always exerted a draw on travelers. It is a place to study Spanish, to live out political inclinations, to lose oneself in a foreign culture close to home, and increasingly, to discover the joys of a natural world preserved against all odds. It is also a place to escape the cold northern climes and indulge in tropical exotica through an inexpensive beach vacation, a rain forest adventure, or a dive into a magical undersea world. Archaeological sites pull anyone with an interest in ancient civilizations, but equally engaging are the people here, who collectively have suffered tremendously, but who remain warm, spirited, and open to anyone who responds in kind.
Central America has a history troubled by colonization, military dictatorships, guerrilla conflicts, and interference from that colossus to the north, the United States. The great Mayan cities fell of their own accord, mysteriously, perhaps through environmental mismanagement. Centuries later, when the Spanish arrived, the indigenous people were ravaged by disease and overwhelmed by raw power. Later, the United States used the region at its whim, either through abusive business dealings or overt political pressure. The very concept of a “Banana Republic,” for instance, emerged from the United Fruit Company’s actions in Guatemala in the early twentieth century. Around the same time the U.S. military continued a series of interventions begun in 1850 that affected El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama well into the twentieth century. The CIA’s role in Guatemala’s military coup in 1954 has been clearly documented, and perhaps the most blatant symbol of U.S. meddling is the saga of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, who for years was on the U.S. payroll for drug interdiction but was ousted by the U.S. in a full scale military invasion in 1989 when he became uncooperative. Further notorious U.S. efforts in the region were the funding of El Salvador’s vicious regimes of the 1980s and of the Nicaraguan contras around the same time.
But for all of this troubled history, Central America today is an area in the process of healing. Civil wars have ended and representative government is on the rise. Former guerrillas now have a voice in the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Costa Rica continues to make its way in the world without an army. Panama has avoided the scandals of Noriega’s regime since his departure. Honduras is no longer the base for a proxy war against its neighbors. Belize continues to be a magnet for travelers with its luxurious rain forests and pristine cayes along the world’s second longest barrier reef.
Central America is still an impoverished place, with a painful disparity between rich and poor, but it is also a place of unremitting hope and inspiration, which is evident in the stories that follow. Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú finds the strength to imagine wonderful things for her hometown again when she returns to her birthplace in Guatemala after twelve years of exile. Paul Berman proves that one person can indeed make a difference as he delves into the story of Ben Linder, an idealist from the U.S. who lived in Nicaragua during the height of the revolution’s optimism and gave his life doing the right thing. Henry Shukman tries to live like the indigenous Cunas of Panama’s San Blas Islands and discovers the vital role the shaman plays in the community’s well being. Paul Theroux revels in the magic realism of Costa Rica’s landscape while trying to escape his fellow travelers, and Tim Cahill explores one of Honduras’s numerous national parks. Victoria Schlesinger delves into the spirit world and is guided along her way by a healer in Belize. Kevin Naughton, after an absence of nearly thirty years, rediscovers that Central America’s best surfing is still in El Salvador.
All seven Central American countries are revealed here, both in their determination to overcome past and present challenges and their optimism for the future. For those who have visited Central America, these places continue to tug on their hearts; for those who haven’t, the stories that follow are a compelling introduction. For both, these stories will create a yearning for that volcanic land between two continents, so close but so far removed from our own daily lives. And make us plan to return.”
—Larry Habegger and Natanya Pearlman