“Who Is Ron Paul?” read the relatively new, crisp, and clean t-shirt on the man lounging in the shade of the blazing mid-day sun. It was hot and humid like late summer in Houston, Texas.
We were panting in the shade of the awning waiting for our lunch to arrive. I was dripping from the combination of heat and humidity, just sitting there. I was not the only one suffering. I witnessed the man with the Ron Paul shirt, in a seemingly well practiced move, lift up his shirt, wipe the sweat collecting under his moobs, and flick the moisture off of his hand and onto the dusty road.
Like the Ron Paul shirt, a myriad of other campaign shirts, Super Bowl and World Series losers declared as “Champions”, fund raisers and miscellaneous overstock are collected in the wealthier north, put in big metal shipping containers along with other clothing and household goods and shipped south. Here they are sold by the pound in big shrink wrapped, palletized bundles.
Stores called “Pacas” then either resell the items by the pound or by individual items. I’m not sure if these items bypass the thrift/Salvation Army/Purple Heart, etc. stores or are resold out of these outlets. We first learned of Pacas from Heather. In Guatemala she found a gently used pair of Keen sandals for 6 USD in a Paca (they retail for about 80 USD in the States).
I’m sure that most people wearing the English language shirts have no idea what they say. But then again, neither did I many years ago when I was sporting Japanese language shirts. I suspect that I was the butt of many jokes, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with characters that translated into phrases like “big nose whitey”, “only a jack-ass wears this shirt”, and “throws like a girl.” Luckily, I never opted for an Asian language tattoo.
The clothes are simultaneously affordable and potentially aspirational. I see lots of men wearing Maserati or Ferrari shirts driving anything but those vehicles. In a land where manual labor is cheaper than machine, clothes get filthy, stained and ripped, making frequent replacements necessary.
Harvesting sugarcane is hot and dirty work
Along with recycled clothing, Central America is the land of Second Chances in more ways than one. It is like being on The Island of Misfit Toys from the Rankin/Bass production of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Take vehicles for instance. I’ve seen some well cared for Datsun cars and trucks, which haven’t been sold since the late 1980’s in North America.
Seeing these old vehicles still running is inspirational and a credit to the people who demonstrate ingenuity and the ability to make things work with whatever is on hand. We’ve witnessed these traits since crossing into Mexico. The creative use of rebar is an example.
Rebar (or reinforcing bar) use goes beyond its intended function in concrete and block construction. Creative welders and fabricators have made bicycle and motorcycle racks, burglar bars for doors and windows, fences, chairs, and tables out of the stuff. I’m sure that some of the Datsuns may be part rebar at this point.
Vehicles are not the only items cast off that have found a home on this Island of Misfit Toys. As part of our liquidation process we sold a large Sony tube television that a friend had donated to us because he felt sorry that we didn’t own a television and he was replacing his with a LCD flatscreen. Although electronics stores are stocked with them, flatscreen TVs are far from the norm. There’s an active market for second hand tube televisions. Your old television is happily in use here.
Later in the day we stopped for a watermelon snack to help fight off the ever present threat of dehydration. Watermelons we’ve had are loaded with the big, black seeds I remember as a kid. I had almost forgotten how much fun it is to spit seeds. I was reminded of being at my grandparents’ house for a picnic, running around with my cousins simultaneously spitting seeds at them while avoiding getting shot with seeds. It seems like the last few watermelons I had in the states, the seeds were almost nonexistent or pathetic pale white attempts at being a seed.
As the sun was getting low in the sky we stopped for a breath at the top of what seemed like a never-ending series of hills along the coast of El Salvador. We heard an American voice call out from the hill-top restaurant, Palma’s Mirador, “You should eat hear, the food is really good.” A shirtless, tall, barefoot, “Steve, from Colorado” introduced himself. He lives in the town at the bottom of the hill we had just passed. He moved here for the “tasty waves.” El Salvador’s coastline is known for several world-famous breaks.
We explained we had to move along to the next town where we planned to camp. “Tunco? That place sucks, it’s overrun with American and Canadian backpackers. You should stay here, I’m sure owner will let you. Plus it will be safe. There’s a pot smoking guard that sleeps here at night.”
The owner, savvy enough to recognize that two cyclists will eat a lot of food, agreed to let us stay. He assured us that we will be safe since he had “a guard at night with weapons. No one will bother you.”
The food was as amazing as the view of the coastline accented by the setting sun. With full bellies, we set up our sleeping mats on the deck of restaurant as the staff finished up in the kitchen before departing for the night. The owner told us he’d be back at 7 a.m. if we wanted breakfast.
We chatted with the guard, who looked like he was about seventeen, as he locked up for the night before settling into his hammock. Surfer Steve didn’t lie, the guard kicked back in his hammock and was baked before we fell asleep to the sound of the surf below.