Honduras and Guatemala
type: written within a week or so of the events.
Italic: additional comments, memories, reflections.
Jennifer had slept in a hammock all night and looked very comfortable in her mauve silk sheet sleeping bag, one of the gifts she'd received in England. I had soon found a hammock too uncomfortable and had found two mattress like things (unfortunately studded - I think they were actually settee seat-backs) which I put on the floor. The hammock area was at second floor level, which is supposed to keep one clear of mosquitoes, however I erected my mosquito net and slept fairly well in a nice tent. (Recently I have been very careful with insect avoidance, applying DEET several times a day and when I wake up at night. Jennifer, more stoical than I, has had many more bites.)
We had the hammock 'dormatory' to ourselves. The building was at one end
of a pleasant garden area with several interesting features. The fellow
guests were rather self absorbed and distainful of us older folks. Later
we realised that generally those we had met in the more adventurous parts
of South America had been rather special compared with most back packers
and travellers we encountered in 'easier' parts the world. Now we were
nearly into Guatemala where American young people predominate.
We had to walk up the road carrying all our bags and even though it was before 8 it was unbearably hot, so we thumbed a lift in a pickup. I was pleasantly surprised how readily the first vehicle stopped for us. We got a bus quite easily, taking us along dirt roads to a tiny crossroads village. Here we waited an hour or so for another bus that went along an interesting road to near the border. I was fascinated how the road meandered clinging to a contour a few feet above the level of the marshes. Obviously much less expensive than engineering a straight road. Here we had no option but to pay for a taxi, in fact another pickup, to take us just through the border, for which we were overcharged. The border guard also charged us 15 US dollars which we later learnt was unjustified. We then had to take a collectivo to take us further. The sun was baking hot and it was very humid. There was a long, irritating wait while the driver hoped to get more passengers, but eventually he set off. Its destination was Pueto Cortez but when its route joined the main highway from Pueto Cortez to Guatemala City we got off as advised to save going into Pueto Cortez and back again. However this is where our problems started. After half an hour or more we found that all buses to Guatamala City swept by, full up, and were told we had no chance without having booked. However the wait is memorable, first for the cheerful meetings with the several other (local) people also hoping to catch a bus, secondly for the heat which was almost insufferable, and third for the delicious pineapples on sale by an old woman who peeled and cut them in a certain way such that the stalk formed a handle, like a huge lolly-pop. They were streaming with juice and utterly delicious!.
So we had to cross the road to get a local bus to Pueto Cortez. One remembers a little thing like having to cross the road, because we had been in the shade of a huge tree. Across the road there was no shelter. Soon a bus came and took us into the town the outskirts of which seemed very much like a British industrial estate, remarkably modern and clean looking. Then we had a hot walk to another bus station where we found the bus would not leave until 2.30, i.e. over three hours after we had first waited for it. We had very small meals for lunch because we were down to the last of our money, going one at a time, the other watching the luggage. At last we set off in the bus with a travelling friend who had been through the same process as we. He was a young born-again Christian called Edgar. It was a very uncomfortable bus, with awful seats that gave both back and bum aches. We had travelled for about an hour when there was a loud hiss - a puncture. I took the opportunity while they changed a wheel to use a servicio of the hole in the ground with seat type. (Actually, even though I did not know how long would be the delay, I wandered off into a hamlet desperately hoping to find somewhere for a crap. There was no café or hotel so I boldly asked at a private home. With no fuss the two women showed me to a ramshackle shed where I was able to relieve myself. I felt very grateful and proffered some coins but they would not accept them.) After a long struggle the driver got the overheated wheel off. I had never realised how hot a wheel can get due to the tyre being flat. They put a bald replacement on, and we all piled back. Only a mile or so down the road there was a loud explosion as the spare burst. So we all had to get out and sit by the dangerously fast road for what was to be an hour but turned out to be two, till a replacement bus arrived. We had plenty of time to chat with Edgar and another passenger, and once again I wandered off. Thankfully the replacement bus was very comfortable and we slept most of the way to Guatemala City. When awake we were amazed by a fantastic electric storm that lit up the sky almost continuously for over an hour. It was beyond the horizon, and the sky was mainly clear but with a few low clouds that were lit up very dramatically by the sheet and fork lightening.
Arriving in G City around 10 pm, was not just depressing but frightening. It palpitated with a sense of crime - street after street ill lit and deserted except for occasional loafers and prostitutes. We were told the streets near the bus terminal were extremely dangerous. The last bus to our destination Antigua, had gone and we did not have enough money for a taxi. There were no phones to be seen. We considered going to a seedy 'hotel' nearby, but then with the help of Edgar and another travelling companion we were able to use the latter's mobile to phone Christie, our host in Antigua, who said she would lend us the taxi fare. We were able to take both companions to or near their destinations on the 20 km drive. As we sped through the night, first through the city, then along a twisty, hilly main road, the driver, apparently another born again Christian, and Edgar were engaged in a passionate discussion of the Bible.
So at last, very tired hot and dirty we were suddenly in the most splendid house I have ever had the privilege to be in, (not counting National Trust places) and were sipping tea and talking with Jennifer's daughter Juliet, her mother Genia, and the latter's cousin, our hostess, Christie. We both enjoyed a long hot bath, the first for months, before tumbling into fresh linen sheets on good firm beds.
Monday to Saturday, 16 to 21 July 2001 In Antigua.
The first morning Christie took us around her gardens which include in effect a park or arboretum which occupies four whole blocks of this very beautiful colonial town. The house itself is not over large. It forms two sides of a quadrangle facing into lawns and plants. The style is colonial, with many arches and pillars and a brightly polished red tiled floor to the passage-way open on one side to the courtyard, the other to the rooms, all with lovely old furniture and excellent paintings and sculptures, and adorned with many luscious plants particularly orchids, which are Christie's hobby.
We were introduced to the staff who were to look after us, cook, housekeeper, Mario whose exact job title alludes me and Catalina who helps in the kitchen and impeccably cleans and irons anything one happens to leave lying around, plus a gardener and several assistants keeping the plants and lawns and enormous grounds in order.
Chrisie's husband had been a most remarkable Frenchman, a hero (Legion d'Honneur) whose autobiography carries such amazing stories as to be disbelieved by some reviewers.
This was the first time in my life I have lived in a private home with a team of servants. Christie left us on the Monday and didn't reappear till the Saturday, so we were the masters. The dining room was splendid, superb old furniture (almost certainly from Paris) and tableware. We were called to meals by a gong and we were waited upon by the housekeeper Tomasa. She was an old lady hardly able to carry the dishes. The food was French style, cooked to perfection. Christie had spent much time training the cook. Thomosa always served me, as the only man, first, despite my frequent requests (orders?) that she first serve the others, e.g. Jennifer's mother. She did as asked but next time reverted to her idea of propriety.
The reason I could not remember Mario's job title was probably because I balked at accepting it! He was called the Houseboy! A mature man with a wife and family - they lived in a row of buildings in the grounds close by the main house. One day I started sweeping the corridor - his first job each day - and it quite embarassed him. He was a very short man and when we had a photo taken of him and me I tried to stand half crouching so as not to tower over him, resulting in me looking very foolish. i.e. I was not at ease with the master servant relationship.
If one left any clothes lying around in the bedroom the maid would whisk them away, wash them in the outdoor wash area, dry them spread in the sun, iron and fold them and in the afternoon they would be laid out on the bed before one had even noticed their absence.
Most interesting was the relationship between Christie and her housekeeper, Thomosa. I noticed them tussling over who should have the privilege of serving the main dish. C looked exasperated. Later she told us Thomosa had served the family since she, C, was a child, and still treated her as such. She bullied C. She would not even give her a set of the house (her house) and gate keys! Apparently Thomosa had been retired on a good pension some years later but lost it due to an infamous scam. She simply came back and carried on running the house, much to the disgust of the cook who had thought she had succeeded to the role. Thomosa and the cook often had bitter arguments. C's only recourse was to absent herself as much as possible. She lived most of the time in a luxury apartment in Guatemala City, coming home only at weekends.
Do not get the impression that C was a shy, weak little mouse. Quite the opposite! She was a strong and successful woman in her own right. inter alia she had established and run a hospital. But she was too kind simply to kick Thomosa out, and in the resulting situation had no sanction with which to control Thomosa.
We have spent the days very lazily, a welcome break from our three months of interesting but often very irksome travelling. I have spent three or four half days typing up this journal at an internet café. I have also read a delightful, profound book by Bertrand Russell, called 'The Pursuit of Happiness'.
Christie had an excellent library. I dipped into and was surprised by the pleasure I obtained from Churchill's history of WW 2. Also she had cable TV and for the first time I watched channels such as the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.
On Saturdays Christie has guests for dinner followed by bridge - I shall
try to look respectable in the only semi posh clothes I have brought, one
of the reasons my baggage is so heavy, but not, luckily, one of the things
I sent back to lighten the load.
SP, 21st July, 2001-06-19
Sunday 22nd July, 2001. We took a bus into Guatamala City, having failed to locate any Quaker meeting in Antigua. It was evangelical but very liberal in many ways including the hour long sermon. Afterwards we joined the congregation for a lunch of home made tortillas, and talked with them especially a young trainee pastor, a woman, who later drove us to the bus station. Jennifer has written quite a lot about this young woamn, with whom she was very impressed. She had heard of our silent worship through her father, a pastor who had been to England. She said she wished they could have silence. We had been impressed by the liberal sentiments expressed in the sermon. All in all it was quite a contrast to other evangelical Friends' churches. The church was in a very rough looking area of town; I suppose that is why they would not hear of us getting a bus to the bus station.
All week (except Thursday). The weekdays had quickly fallen into a pattern. About 8 the staff seemed ready for us so we indicated we were ready for breakfast. Like all meals this was formally served in the fine dining room by Tomasa, laboriously carrying large trays, and always serving me first unless specifically asked otherwise. After breakfast I usually went to the internet cafe. In the first week I was typing my journal. The second week I typed some essays for The Friend, one on the co-op in Nicaragua, the other on Quakers in Costa Rica. Later in the week I worked at opening a new email facility (now abandoned ) and a new web site (http://www.geocities.com/jkandsp) and uploading the journal to it. It was all much more difficult then I would have expected, partly because one was seldom on the same PC as previously. Then back for lunch at 1, served as above, and a rest. In the late afternoon I might return to the computer. Dinner was at around 7 then Jennifer and I sat in the sitting room either reading, or playing cards, or watching TV. And so to bed.
On Thursday Mario drove us including a young couple, Christie’s step grandson Alexandre to an interesting town (?Chichitenango?) with a teeming market. Here we bought many presents and J bought for me a red bag to replace my old American serice kitbag. I later gave the kitbag to Mario who was delighted with it. We then drove to a lakeside town for lunch. Alex and friend agreed with us on the type of lunch we were to have, i.e. something light and inexpensive, but we realized later Mario was disappointed we did not go somewhere more grand. Mario's driving was odd; it gave both me and J travel sickness which we seldom experience. It was an interesting journey. We left the town very seldom.
Sunday 29th July. We had breakfast with last night’s bridge guests and I had a long conversation with one of them, a chemist of Peruvian origin. We had heard rumours that there was after all an unprogrammed Quaker meeting in this town but had not tracked it down, so I decided to go to a Lutheran church nearby. J and Christie went to a concert. I found the service to be ecumenical, with a long period of silence and spontaneous vocal ministry. It was a small bright church and lovely people. I was very much uplifted by it. One of those present was a member of the Quaker Meeting which apparently is only held fortnightly. I resolved to send them a present - a Quaker Faith and Practice - but regret I never did. I'll do it tomorrow (11/8/03)
Monday 30th July. TO MIAMI.
We had ordered a shared taxi which called promptly at 0725, then laboured around the town for half and hour, being crammed with other passengers, before being flogged up and down hills and through much of Guatamala City before getting us to the airport only a little late. We were greeted by a large notice requiring us to deposit our guns! We then joined long queues. The plane left late, 1130. Air travel involves so much waiting. We had been 4 hours doing what would have taken a VIP half an hour.
Once in Miami and through the much improved immigration we had much hassle trying to phone. Throughout the journey we had unexpected problems trying to telephone. One might have hoped there would be no problem in the US of A but not so. I left Jennifer looking after the luggage - which she hates doing, and soon found a phone. But I needed cash. Half expecting a rebuttal I asked at a nearby refreshment stall and was met by a curt rejection. I had to buy a drink. But he would not give me the many coins i needed, telling me to use a machine. I had much trouble understanding yhow to use this machine, in fact thought it was not working. After a while I felt I had to go and tell J what was keeping me so long. We brought all the luggage up and she worked out how to us the machine, but still it would not work as the 10 dollar bill was not in mint condition. I then went off to another store to try to get a better note. Thank goodness this time the sales assistant was helpful and sought out a new note. At last we got the machine to give change. Then back to the phone and eventually we got through to our hosts-to-be.
The next problem was to hire a car. Well, in the US this is not much of a problem. I checked the firms with booths i the airport and as expected found them all too expensive. But we took our luggage a little way out of the terminal building and found a much cheaper company. Here a big breezy salesman whistled us through the formalities and within 10 minutes we were back out in the heat loading our luggage. Soon I drove out, very glad once again to be at the wheel of a good car - well, any car would have been a pleasure after three months of buses.
However our problems were not over, as I soon got lost on the network of roads and found myself heading east instead of west. It wasn't difficult to turn round, then we saw a store where Jennifer could buy some food and perhaps a present for our hosts. I sat in the car, reading the manual, for ages. Everything seems so efficient in the US but sometimes shops can be extremely slow.
At last we were out of Miami, bowling along westward through the Everglades. We stopped at a wayside parking place to look at the scenery, actually rather dull as it consisted of water in the foreground and mile upon mile of reeds (or long grasses) poking out of the water. I had wanted to go by Aligator Alley, the road round the north of the ~Everglades, but it was getting late and we needed to press on.
After an hour or two we arrived in the town of Naples and I was soon able to find our way to a Holiday Inn. Its charges were amazingly cheap compared to their normal price. Later we found this was due to there being no proper breakfast facilitiies. We phoned to make contactwith Jennifer’s friends, Leslie Waller and Pat. Leslie is a crime writer, and was a client of Jennifer's when she was a literary agent. But he was ill having been knocked down by a car a few days before. They had a luxury flat and plied us with excellent short drinks. It seemed strange to be in a place that though expensively furnished was pretty normal. Experiences in cheap hotels and rackety buses in South America for three months, and Christie's palatial residence, now all seemed unreal, like one of Leslie's novels. I was grateful it was a short, easy drive back to our hotel, as I think I was over the limit. Driving is very easy in america. The car itself is effortless, the roads wide and well marked, and there is usually very little other traffic in a suburban area like the one we were in.
31st July. After an illicit swim (the pool did not open till about 9) and a very poor free breakfast we drove over to pick up Leslie who directed us around Naples to show it off to us. Naples seemed exactly what it is - was dripping with wealth. It's where wealthy Americans, reputedly including mafia bosses, come to retire. I went into the Post Office - always a pleasure in the US. We visited a beautiful but crowded beach, then had an excellent lunch at a sort of Marina.
In the evening we returned to Pat and Leslie's flat and Pat drove us to another excellent restaurant also situated on a marina. We had much good conversation, and watched a wild storm approach us over the water, before it lashed the building and set the outdoors guests and their tables and chairs flying. Both Pat and Leslie, though the latter was unwell and feeling wak, were great conversationists. As so often happened I wished we could spend more time with such interesting pleasant people.
Wednesday 1st July. TO ST PETE AND ORLANDO.
Next morning Pat rang to say Leslie was not up to what we had planned, so J and I set off. We tried driving on the old road but it was too slow so we had to use the Interstate (i.e.motorway). These are fine roads landscaped with trees, but the effect of these trees is to hide whatever one is passing, so using the Interstates is very boring. We got to St Petersberg and soon found the Dali Museum which we enjoyed. We had a meal in the gallery's resturant, very badly served. Then back onto a complex of Interstates through Tampa and on to Orlando where we arrived around 5. I was pleased to find I remembered the way pretty well. It had been 15 years since I'd been here before.
We had made arrangements to stay in Webster Cottage, which adjoins the Meeting House in Orlando, but we had not been able to confirm this. However we found it open and after a few phone calls had it confirmed. So we settled in to this place which proved very comfortable and convenient.
The next few days were almost entirely occupied with arrangements to find and buy a car, and insurance and registration. It was all very irksome and bureaucratic and much more expensive than we had expected. We had almost no time to see the sights I had wanted to show Jennifer, and to revisit my favorite places. However the car we obtained with the aid of Mary and Dean Engstom (and her Fleet Manager) is excellent. Extraordinarily pristine considering its age (1989).
I had wanted to take Jennifer to one of the state parks, out past the airport, and along country roads not far from the city but a different work. I also hoped to go again to Cocoa Beach and swim in the Atlantic. Most of all I wanted to have breakfast at Ponce de Lion state park. But in the event all these hopes were disappointed. At one stage it seemed I would only be able to obtain a licence if I passed the state driving test (which, unlike that in the UK, one could take after only a day or two's wait) so I spent more than a day trying to learn the theory.
However we did make the time to meet and spend delightful visits with several Friends.
We had lunch with Dean and Mary and Martha Morris on Thursday (in a very grand down-town resturant) and had Vicki and her family (Bill and Amy) and Cathy and Martha round for a meal that evening. On another day Vicki and Bill had us round to their family home, tucked under the great Live Oak trees which are such a feature of Orlando. Bill did a great BBQ. He is a state park warden (or is the job called Ranger?) In my opinion the State and National Parks are amongst the two or three best features of the US.
Dean and Mary are old style aristocrats, Mary very much of the South. A charming couple. Martha Morris is a former attorney who gave up her job to do socially useful work. Orlando is a small Meeting but has in it as fine a group of Quakers as you'd find anywhere in the world.
Paul Davis came for a meal on Thursday. I canoed and camped with him in the Everglades in the mid 80s, and we had often taken the Bee-line Expressway to Cocoa Beach. I was sad to find he'd turned Republican. He had worked in the infamous Florida election team that had been so instumental in getting Geo Bush Jnr elected. He felt he had done well out of it as it had resulted in him getting a good job working for the State Highways authority.
On Sunday we attended Meeting where there was a good turnout. Orlando Meeting is far more active, and happier, than in the past. After Meeting, at the regular Meeting for Learning, J and I told a circle of about 12 about our journey, its purpose and what we were learning. The response was that we were an inspiration. Most people our age think they are too old to travel as we are doing.
Sunday afternoon I took J to one of my favorite spots, Wekiva Springs. She was not over impressed by the swimming (which I regard as some of the finest anywhere, the water being crystal clear, clean enough to drink, as it wells up from an underground river). We then hired a canoe and she loved paddling down the river between the densely forested banks. We saw much wild life including otters at play, but no alligators. On the way back we capsized. I swallowed some water and was occupied coughing for a while, she was in shock. We clung to the upturned canoe, and watched a paddle float away. A passing canoeist dived in to help us and together we got the canoe to the bank, which involved wading in 4 foot deep soft mud in which there were many sunken branches. At last we managed to empty the canoe and get back in, then go and retrieve the paddle. We were very grateful to the young man, who seemed of Greek extraction. I got very badly bitten on my bare back. I assumed is was by mosquitoes, but a park warden said he thought it was poison ivy. As we got back to the car there was a torrential thunderstorm and rather than wet the car seats I stood out in the rain in my swimming shorts, a delightful experience as the lukewarm rain lashed my burning back. On the way back I showed J where I used to live in Maitland.
Twice on our journey J came across a book that really 'spoke to her condition'. The first was one I noticed here in the Orlando meeting house library.
Monday 6th July.
We had hoped to get away early but collecting the Volvo, registering it ($445!) and delivering the hired car took almost all day, a very irksome, tiring day for me, but involving a local bus journey which was refreshing, so we did not set off until about 6 p.m.. We were given a splendid send-off by Cathy and Martha, singing to us. Cathy supervises use of Webster Cottage and has been such a good hostess. We were immensly grateful to the Meeting for its hospitality.
I drove quite fast, north up the turnpike then the interstate, stopping at some obscure town for our first but later familiar search for a cheap motel. We have (I write on 19/7/01) become very impressed by the quality of these. We usually pay below $40, for which one gets plenty of space, usually a queen sized bed, soap and towels, air conditioning, use of a telephone, free coffee, etc all very clean, though sterile and characterless.
Tuesday. TO BOB ALLENSON and PENSACOLA
We drove on country roads to the isolated home of Bob Allenson. The old roads are lovely. We stopped to buy some huge fresh tomatoes, one of which I ate on the spot, like an over-juicy apple, much to the amusement of the old woman selling by the roadside.
Jennifer had commented on a book Bob had written that we found in the meeting house in Orlando, and Cathy had arranged this meeting. He is a lovely man, and we had some deep conversation with him and Dorothy, over a spicy lunch he prepared. He showed us his collection of over 250,000 books, housed in a large barn-like building in his wooded grounds.
Then more pleasant country roads to Pensacola where we found a nice motel (Knights Inn).
Thursday 9th July. TO NEW ORLEANS via MOBILE.
A lovely day (one forgets the bad bits, the boring driving, the ill humour) the guide book persuaded us to divert to Mobile where we drove to the historic quarter and visited an old ("ante-bellum") house and were shown round by delightfully old fashioned DAR ladies (Daughters of the Republic - an elitist ladies’ club open only to those who can prove descent from revolutionary families). This included polite conversation and spiced tea from elegant bone china cups.
Then on to N.O. which proved even better than expected. The whole town seems charming. We stayed with Donna and David in their large house full of exciting and beautiful works of art, and with a large gorgeous pool. We did a drive and walk to see the Mississippi River and Magazine Street, where we stopped at a bookshop, then for tea. In the evening we had a meal cooked by David. Sadly we were only able to spend one night with them.
Friday. In New Orleans.
We were only able to spend one night with D & D. Today we looked around the town, I went to the PO to arrange to have SERVAS books sent post restante to Santa Fe, and had a ride on the free ferry. Jennifer explored the French Quarter and found a Jazz Museum. Then we had lunch at the original Po Boys (not very good) and heard some good live Blues, before retrieving the car and searching for a hotel. We looked over one that was too rough, but then found another that is quite good though run in an odd way. In the evening we went out again, to hear trad jazz at Preservation Hall (played by some pitifully old musicians) and two other places where we heard some not very good modern jazz then some very good blues.
Saturday 11th August. TO BATON ROUGE.
Up early, and an excellent breakfast at a nearby family run diner. Around midday we arrived at April’s house in BR where I soon got into conversation with Meph, an occultist, and saw his dark macabre consulting room. April had other visitors - Rose and Ashley, we had a splendid over-rich tea then they had a session together. In the evening April and Meph took us to a brilliant little Blues place (Roscos Blues Box, run by Tabby Thomas "King of the red hot blues") where we heard some fantastic music inc Kenny Neil. With hindsight I'd say this was one of the best places we went to.
Sunday. North, stopping at New Providence.
April came to MfW with us. It was a good meeting though in a large common room of the local university or high school. Usually I find Meeting difficult in such places. But the ministry was affecting. Afterwards there was very friendly conversation before we once again set off on our own. For some reason I felt quite lonely. April had had such a comforting presence, like the ladypublican in "The History of Mr Polly", and Meph was fascinating, even horrifying in what he told me of his craft, but also one personally very drawn to him. Now suddenly we were heading away from people we knew or kinda knew, and ito the great interior of the continent.
So we set off again, on country roads, including the Trace, though a state park where we saw and climbed a large Indian mound. At the time we were looking for a motel we found ourselves miles from anywhere but at last found a place. We had been told New Providence was a dangerous town so we were fearful as we drove around looking for somewhere to eat. At one stage we were a bit lost and found ourselves driving of neccessity slowly through an unlit shanty town with what seemed threatening faces glaring at us out of the dark. It was all very Tenessee Williams. We were white trash, cruisng thru the black people's area, maybe lookin fer trouble. With relief I found my way back onto the main road. After a while we found a ghastly eating place, a 'Sonic' drive in fast food (junk food) place.
Monday. To LITTLE ROCK.
In the daylight New Providence seemed a delightful place, and we only drove a little way before we stopped at the Louisiana Cotton Museum, where we laernt a lot about the old cotton industry and its various ups and downs. It was interesting despite having a very poor guide.
More pleasant driving on country roads, eventually arriving Little Rock which is a large city. After the leisurely pace of the back roads one is suddenly on multilane highways with fast traffic. All the worse if one is looking for a cetain turnoff. We went too far and had to turn back. Then our road was extremely hilly but with fast, impatient local traffic. At last we found the home of Scottie, a man my age, SERVAS, who lives in a super place in the woods, just outside Little Rock. He has his own lake and woods and well equipped workshop, makes wine and beer, and is interested in quiet country living and spirituality. We had a good walk with him through the woods and saw ugly great homes.
Tuesday. To TAHLAQUAH.
We had another good walk with Scottie, visiting the log cabin of an eccentric retired priest, deep in the woods, before setting off, again on good blue (i.e. country) roads. We stopped in woods for our lunch and a sleep. We were now in a hilly part of Oklahoma. We have noticed how the various States differ geographically. Our aim in diverting here (on the advice of April) was to study the Cherokee Indian culture. We arrived at the Heritage Center as it was closing but were able to have a long talk with a Cherokee staff member (he acts in the daily drama about the Trail of Tears) and see the rather badly made reconstruction of a Cherokee village. Later we had another long informative talk with another Cherokee, who runs a specialist book shop. We found a motel with a nice pool.
Weds. In TAHLAQUAH
Me up early, do the exercises I’ve now been doing religiously for 2 weeks, then a vigorous swim. I feel much fitter than for many years, and have lost a lot of weight in the past four months of travel, though I think I have put some on in the past week or two in the US.
We went to the Cherokee Nation offices and had another long informative talk with two Cherokee women officers, plus many handouts, then drove to an old antebellum house the home of the Chief and were shown round by a very keen energetic guide, also a Cherokee and related to the former owners and so to the Chief. She told us much including that the better off Cherokees driven out in the Removal had wealth and even owned slaves! Then we went to the Museum at the Heritage Center where we saw an excellent display about the Removal and the Trail of Tears. Seems they were driven out not because they were savages, on the contrary they had ‘westernised’ as we’d say now and were an economic threat to the whites. Some were very wealthy, owning large plantations and slaves. The rich ones were removed but were able to travel separately and with less discomfort. The Removal was when all the five civilised tribes were forcibly removed from the eastern states e.g.the Carolinas and Georgia and forced to settle in the Indian Territory, now called Oklahoma, which they were promised would be theirs. This was around 1838. Later in the century much/most of the Territory was allocated to white settlers (by lottery or by Land Rushes).
In the evening our attempt to find a particular restaurant where there was to be live music was thwarted by yet another torrential thunderstorm, vast volumes of water and simultaneous lightening and thunder, so we settled for a scruffy looking ‘café’ in the old downtown are where we had the best steaks of our entire journey.
Much of our time especially J’s is spent trying to arrange accommodation for the next few nights. We have had mega problems getting SERVAS handbooks, and an up to date Quaker Travellers’ handbook, and great problems phoning with an expensive phone card. Often phones do not work, and are answered by machines. In fact one of the things which has surprised me is the amount of trouble it is to make phone calls. In most parts of the world the old coin in the slot machines are run down and not working, while the new ones need cards which are ften hard to find. In many places there are more than one company, each using their own cards for their own machines, Then there is the problem of the large number of phone number changes.
Augmented 31 Aug 2003. Rev 18/11/0328/11/23
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