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HARRY FRANCK, the Prince of Vagabonds, chose for his 24th travel book an adventure with co-author Herbert C. Lanks: The Pan American Highway—From the Rio Grande to the Canal Zone, published in 1940, gave insights of Mexico and its southern neighbors that are still relevant today, in many ways contrasting with the current plight of Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S.
In yesterday’s Part 1, we traveled with Harry and his pal from Nuevo Laredo into the Mexican highlands and its Distrito Federal. Today in Part 2, we’ll learn a Mexico City traffic tip, see why Guatemala had the best roads of Latin America, and how Honduras became air-savvy, largely through the efforts of a single New Zealander. Tomorrow, Part 3 will get us to Panama and its Canal Zone, not, however, without complications.
Our first excerpt today more than hints at Soviet influence in the Americas during the 1930s: “There are reminders of Russia in the names and certain other features of Mexico’s new schools. In Victoria, for instance, a very modern school-building facing the highway bears the inscription in stone, SOCIALIST SCHOOL FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE PROLETARIAT. Such schools are often as much for adults as for children.”
A positive aspect: “The Indian is being encouraged to take pride in his indigenous culture, so long looked down upon by his Spanish rulers. Old arts are being resurrected, and the Indian of Mexico, one of the most naturally creative and artistic individuals in the world, is taking an increasing part not only in the political and economic but also in the social and cultural life of Mexico.”
Franck and Lanks cite pre-colonial, indeed pre-Columbian, history as well: “Near Los Remedios, not far northeast of the Mexican capital, stands an imposing old water tower, above an ancient aqueduct.”
A driving tip is offered for 1940 Mexico City: “For instance, you must never proceed when the traffic policeman before you is en perfil on his stand; and “in profile,” as it once cost one of us some time and trouble and a two-peso fine to learn, means when his feet are turned sidewise to you, irrespective of what his head and the rest of his body may be doing.” [At the time, a fine of 2 pesos was equivalent to about 60¢ U.S.]
”Guatemala, about as big as Ohio, today probably has the most complete network of highways in Latin American…. In fact, the law of the land provides that every male citizen must work two weeks a year on the roads. The wealthy, of course, escape this levy but they are few.”
“As a result, Guatemala has constructed without modern machinery highways over the most difficult terrain, a terrain so broken and steep that Alvarado and his seasoned Conquistadores complained to Cortez that it was only with the greatest difficulty that they could travel it on foot.”
“Salvador is a little pocket of green, hiding behind the surrounding mountains of Guatemala and Honduras…. The correct name of the country itself is El Salvador, meaning The Savior, though the article is often omitted. … the people of Salvador call themselves the Yanquis of Central America.”
“Honduras remains today a land of trails—with probably the most highly developed freight and passenger airplane service of any country of its size and population in the world.”
“After the World War, a New Zealander named Lowell Yerez, [other sources: Yerex] having tried to make a living by barn-storming about the North American continent, found himself in Honduras with nothing but an aged second-hand airplane.”
TACA Airlines. “From this small start in 1934… his fifty planes and thirty American pilots serve more than two hundred airports all over Central America, carrying 65,000 passengers and 25,000,000 pounds of cargo annually.”
“To a considerable extent whatever is modern in his adopted country is due to Lowell Yerez. Incidentally, he married the daughter of the Minister of Education in a romantic international development, and lost an eye in the service of the country while making a reconnaissance flight during a banana revolution.”
Lowell Yerex, known as the Kiwi Conquistador, is likely to appear later here at SimanaitisSays. Tomorrow, in Pan American Highway Part 3, we will encounter a Kentucky-like feud and at least two places to put a canal. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018