I found it weird that Christmas was in full swing the minute after Halloween ended, and also weird that Halloween was any occasion in the first place. I didn’t see any trick or treaters, but I did crash a family Halloween party in Panama city with a lot of orange and black decorations and a dalmation dog wearing pumpkin lights. Christmas songs have been playing on the radio and Christmas lights have been on sale in the markets for all of November, and I guess that might have something to do with the fact that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Rememberance day between the two holidays.
I had to get used to the fact that a lot of men just carry around machetes strapped to their belts, both in town and in the lonely countrysides, occasionally convincing myself that they’re probably not used as weapons, just crop tools. Although it made me wish I carried around some functionable item that doubled as a weapon. My friend Jeff in San Jose, Costa Rica, lent me his umbrella one day that did just that, but they’re just to big and clumsy to travel with. Maybe they make sweet smelling pepper spray that can double as deodorant? Someone should patent that.
Having to function in a new currency and exchange rate every week was fun, trying to figure out all the coins and bills and actual values of them. In Honduras, their lowest paper bill was 1lempira, which is the equivalent of 5.3 American cents, and they had bills in denominations of 2, 5, 10, as well as 5, 10,and 25 cent coins!
One reoccurring problem I always had was that people hate accepting big bills or making change. It may have something to do with the fact that things cost next to nothing, but even if you were paying with a bill with the equivalent value of 2 euros, people would scratch at it and hold it up to a light to make sure it wasn’t fake before grumbling about having to give you change.
Cash seems to be the only way to go as well, with atm’s and banks nonexistent at borders, replaced by a bunch of businessy looking men strapped with the biggest wad of cash their hands can hold. I guess there’s no point in using VISA for $0.25 purchases, but then when you want to buy something expensive, the only way to get it at a reasonable price is to pay in cash or else they charge weird visa surcharges. To make sure I always get the haggling discount, I had to visit in ATM every week or so to minimize the amount of cash I had to carry around, and of course they only dispense big bills for big withdrawls. Shockingly though, one ATM in El Salvador dispensed $10, $5 and $1 US bills – $1 US bills out of an ATM!