Central America Trip – 1949
My trip through Central America began in December of 1948. I returned to the U.S. in June of 1950. The story of the travels and experiences on the road presented in this section actually end in March of 1949. At that point I took a job with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey in the Canal Zone. That portion of the trip is written up in its own section under ‘Employment – IAGS.’
I plan to present my Central American experiences in sections as follows. Until them items are posted in the order of their occurrence.
1. Preparing for departure and travel to the US-Mexico border.
4. El Salvador
6. Costa Rica
7. Panama and the Canal Zone
When I left on my trip to South America I wrote to the Boy Scouts of America and applied for an International Letter of Introduction. I received letter number one for 1949. Here is that letter with the endorsements on the reverse.
Climbing Mt. Popocatepetl
I was enjoying a ‘night on the town’ one Friday evening with a group of Rover Scouts of Group VII, Mexico City when the question was posed to me “Would you like to climb Mt. Popocatepetl?” Of course I agreed immediately. A couple of the guys got on the telephone to call around to see if anyone else in the group were interested. Arrangements were made to meet the rest of the fellows the next night at midnight. That settled, then I went with the fellows to various scouts homes to gather gear for the climb. The next night German and I were at the meeting place early. Soon the bus that we had hired came along. There were to have been about 20 boys going but only 13 showed up. That meant that the expense would be greater per boy but we fixed that later.
At 3:16 a.m. we arrived at the point where the road ended. Some of us decided to start climbing immediately. The others slept for a while. There was a good path to follow most of the way up the lower slopes. It was very easy to follow in the moonlight. A Rover Scout by the name of Mateos came along side of me and said “Let’s go!” The others were already straggling behind.
Mateos kept up a steady pace which I soon found I could not follow. The climbing was very steep and the air was getting thin. I could only go about 300 feet and then had to stop for a few minutes for my heart to stop pounding. In that manner I was able to keep up with Mateos fairly well. Then I lost him. I called to him and heard his voice from above so I started climbing the slope nearby. The slope was all right for a while then it grew steeper and steeper until I had to make use of the ice ax to cut a hold in the mountain side. Eventually I got to the point where the going was easier. Mateos was waiting for me. He had gone up a slope to the left of the one I went up. It was much easier than the one I used.
We then started climbing together. The wind was very strong and at times we had to force the spike at the end of our ice ax into the slope and lean forward on it so as not to be blown over. The wind blew many stones loose far above us which came tearing down at terrific speed. They weren’t more than eight inches in diameter for the most part but would hurt plenty if we were hit. To add to our difficulties the wind would often blow some sulfur fumes from the crater upon us.
It was very cold climbing, especially at that time of the morning. I lost feeling in my feet soon after leaving the bus. We wore several pairs of socks, gloves, a woolen cap that covered the ears and chin with only the face exposed and a heavy jacket. When the wind grew so bad as to blow sand in our eyes we put on goggles. We had the ice ax in one hand. It is a tool with a hoe-like blade on one side of the head and a pick on the other. On the top of the handle is a spike which we often used in climbing. We had steel spikes, called crampons, attached to our shoes.
As we were going up we could see many towns in the distance looking like patches of light. As the sun came up we could see the towns themselves. Directly in back of us was Iztaccihuatl with its three snow covered peaks. Its name means “the sleeping lady.”
Mateos finally sat down and admitted that the conditions for climbing were worse this time than any of the four other times he had climbed Popo. He would go no further. He said it was not worth the risk. I went about 100 ft. more but was still about 300 ft. from the crater. There was a party of four hikers up there at the same time as we were. They also went no further so I didn’t feel so badly in not completing the climb. As it was, Mateos and I were two of the four out of the party that reached the ice cap. None of us go to the edge of the crater.
It was almost impossible to go down the slope we had just come up without use of the crampons and ice ax. When we were about half way down we stopped and had breakfast. It would be quite something if I could have a view for breakfast every morning that I had on that morning! That is one of the satisfactions you get from climbing a mountain, the view. Only birds and those in planes see the same thing, it is wonderful!
German and Cocolicio met us on the way down. They were the other two of our party who got to the ice but they, too, returned because of the falling rocks and the extreme wind. A swift descent brought us to the place where the bus and the rest of the group awaited us. We then started back to Mexico City. To help pay for the cost of chartering the bus the boys changed the sign from “Especial” to “Mexico, D.F.” and picked up passengers along the way who were charged a reasonable fare. Not only did they get a cheaper ride to Mexico City than they otherwise would have they soon became involved in the singing and games the scouts were playing as the bus hurtled down the mountain to the city far below. German taught us all to sing the song of the elephant dancing on the web of a spider. At the end of each verse another boy would join those already singing the song until all were singing. Then we played hat games, also while singing a scouting song.
The fellows in Grupo VII of the Boy Scouts of Mexico City did not usually make decisions to go on a hike of this nature just the day before the actual climb but they were intent on having this Gringo Boy Scout have the experience of climbing Mt. Popocatepetl and knowing that I would be ‘hitting the road’ soon they made a quick decision and were able to put it all together in only one day. I am glad that I was able to put on a good show, notwithstanding the high altitude and the rugged nature of the hike. After all, the reputation of the Boy Scouts of America was at risk. I had to show that U.S. Scouts also could handle themselves on mountains. Maybe those thoughts imposed a bit of pressure on me but in reality I went and thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with the guys from Grupo VII because I loved this type of adventure. I truly appreciated that the fellows of Grupo VII were so friendly and accepting of this strange kid from across the border who couldn’t speak any Spanish. In the fullest sense of the word these fellows portrayed the brotherhood of Scouting.
[This story is based on entries in my diary of my trip from New Jersey to Panama in early 1949. Gfd]
Popocatépetl (commonly referred to as Popo, El Popo or Don Goyo) (IPA: [popoka tepet ]) is an active volcano and, at 5,426 m., the second highest peak in Mexico after the Pico de Orizaba (5,636 m). Popocatépetl comes from the Nahuatl words pop ca ‘it smokes’ and tep tl ‘mountain’, thus Smoking Mountain. Popocatépetl is linked to the Iztaccíhuatl volcano to the north by the high saddle known as the Paso de Cortés, and lies in the eastern half of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. [from Wikipedia]
Spelunking at Las Grutas de Cacahuamilpa
Looking into my box of ‘keepsakes’ I found some letters that I had typed and sent home to my mother in Manasquan in the early days of February, 1949. One of those letters told of the trip I took with a group of Rover Scouts from Group VII in Mexico City to the caves located near Taxco. The upper caves are well lit and developed for tourists. The cave we entered had no such amenities as lights, steps, cables, etc. I sure wished that I knew Spanish at that time so I could have communicated with the scouts and told them of the path that I found when I climbed way above them looking for a way forward into the caves. I went back to Taxco to explore more caves five or six years later but that is another story.
To more easily read the scans of the original journals click on any one of the page images.
Scouting in Nicaragua 1949-1950
Here is a letter I received from a 95-year-old Scouter I met in Nicaragua 60 years ago.
23 April 2009
You created a mental tsunami in the calm of my “memory sea”, not of destruction, but a pleasant defoliation and reactivation of semi-forgotten events. Thanks-a-million!
First, I’ll try to provide answers to your question packed exardium. Yes, by the mercy of God, I am still around to serve and encourage fellow travelers along life’s finite journey. Healthwise I have had continued battle with non-insulin dependent diabetes for some twenty-five years. The fight goes on. According to the doctor, my organs continue to play the right tunes. They will grow old and shut down some day, I know. So far I have crossed the 95th year mark: post number 96 is in the offing, still get around at a slower pace.
Received your e-mail while in Dallas. A very dear friend and his wife were in the city where he was about to undergo open heart surgery. They came from Managua, Nicaragua. The least my daughter Norma and I could do was to be there. Thank God, everything went well. I flew into Torreon on the 24th to visit six members of my family.
The last trip my wife and I went to Managua was to celebrate 90 years of Colegio Bautista’s educational and spiritual service to Nicaragua. She had been in poor health for quite some time. When we returned, Norma and her husband asked (demanded) we dwell with them. That was in July of 2007. We celebrated her 92nd birthday in August 2008. On September 26, she went to be with the Lord. We had been married sixty-nine years, six months, eight days. So here I am, lovingly surrounded by my children, grand and great grandchildren, a dwindling number of Scout brothers, many brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
Of the Colegio Bautista’s now 92 years, I spent 47 (1932-1979) as student, teacher and Principal. The political upheaval was instrumental to my voluntary exile which began in June 1979. Returned 13 years and 20 days later since then, as the political climate improved, I have made some seven or eight returns.
In this blessed land, I accepted an invitation and served as Parental Liaison for USSD 480’s Migrant Education, Liberal, KS, from 1981 -2001, a 20-year stint. Upon retiring for the second time, once in Nicaragua (1979) and once in the USA (2001) we moved the KSC where two of my daughters live. We set up home until the events I related earlier. I am still active in a small American Baptist Church, serving as chairperson of its Board of Deacons and a “croaking song leader.” Can you imagine?
I have four blood-line children, (three females and one male), one adopted son and a daughter who adopted us, eleven grand children and five great-grand children, four girls and one boy, 25 months old. All my children except one, Fredy, who lives in Torreon, and some grand and great grands gather in KSC for Christmas and four birthdays, including mine.
I asked Fredy to dig up some information on “Sebastian” whose real name is Enrique Carbajal. He provided me with 15 internet pages, all in Spanish. I assume you have it in English, given the fact of the coming exhibition of his works in your city. Once I learned of the several sculptures in this city, I asked my son-in-law to take me to see them.
I wish you much success as you become more involved in the projects you mentioned. I read into them an understanding heart of the brotherhood of man, sharing in the pain of a nation and the recognition of the creative potential of the mind, North, South, East or West. You now live 29 degrees WNW of New Jersey. By the way, two alumnus of Colegio Bautista, (not Moravian) live in the area; one in Bellingham, the other in one of the surrounding towns.
For me, Scouting began in February of 1926 when I joined Troop No. 1 Moravian, Bluefields. Then came the armed uprising of May 2 of the same year. Most of the leaders left the Country and Scouting went dormant, sputtering off and on. I left for Managua in 1932. There conditions were no better. In 1942, Scouting had a fresh start and has continued to flourish. I had the privilege to serve in various positions and participated in several International events; 1st gathering of Scout Leaders from Latin American countries in Bogota, 1946. That was when the Consejo Interamericano de Escultismo was organized to unify, as much as possible, existing differences in Terminology, Uniforms, Administration, Badges, Training, etc. Earned my two, three and four beads; participated in the Jamboree of Peace, Canada 1955 as the uni-delegate from Nicaragua. Organized or attended five Central American Camporees, participated in TTT three times (Meztitla, Mexico, Kingston, Jamaica and Philmont Scout Ranch, NM, USA. From 1979 to 1992, there is a blank. Returning to Nicaragua in 1992, I continued contacts with headquarters and in 2004 participated in the XX Central American Camporee. Was first to receive the “Silver Puma”, highest award for service. Most humbly, I tried to do my best to live by the Motto, Oath and Law of Scouting. At times I failed, but with God’s help, kept moving forward. My mother used to say “Stop! You talk too much.” So, I’ll obey.
May all your good dreams come to fruition.
Your Scout Brother
Gustavo (Gus) E. Wilson
Pablo Steiner, George F. Drake, Julio Pinel and Gus Wilson. March, 1949 at the Managua, Nicaragua, Airport.
It seems that in this one photo I have three of the early founders of scouting in Nicaragua. I wonder if the Boy Scouts of Nicaragua have a photo of the three of these founders in one photo? I will send them a copy of this one. You will note that my International Letter of Introduction from the Boy Scouts of America was signed by don Porfirio Solorzano who is noted below as having gotten the Nicaraguan Boy Scout Association recognized by the World Scout Organization. Gus Wilson (Gustavo Wilson Batleman) joined the first troop founded in Nicaragua in Bluefield on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. When he moved to Managua where he became a professor in a small Moravian college (Colegio Bautista) he founded the third Boy Scout troop in Nicaragua. Julio Pinell founded Troop Four “Leon” in Managua.
In 1945 the scout movement in Nicaragua was restructured and Professor Wilson became the first Chief Scout Executive of Nicaragua. The note in this history of scouting in Nicaragua (appended below) ends with a comment that the first national scout camporee was held at the Hacienda Las Mercedes, near the International Airport. The head of that camporee was Pablo Steiner (known as ‘the Raven’) who is also in that photo with me. Pablo Steiner has quite a personal story. He barely escaped capture by the Germans as he fled his home in Hungary in 1939. As a Jew he would have been exterminated in the Holocaust. He opened a print shop and began publishing in Managua and married a woman who became one of the most famous authors in Latin America. He died in the 1980s.
Here is the information I obtained in its original Spanish.
En 1943, el sennor Julio Pinell fundó la Tropa Cuatro “León”, en la ciudad de Managua, el profesor Gustavo Wilson Batleman, la Tropa Tres en el Colegio Bautista. Originario de Bluefield había sido uno de los primeros jóvenes que se integraron a la Tropa fundada por Campbell y el reverendo Harrison. En 1945 don Gilberto A. Blanco se convirtió en Primer Jefe Scouts Nacional.
En 1945 el Movimiento Scout de Nicaragua inicia una nueva estructuración. El profesor Wilson se constituye en forma voluntaria en el Primer Director Ejecutivo, con el apoyo de don Adrian Espinosa Orochena y el joven Róger Mendoza Solís. El señor Espinosa Orochena debido al derrocamiento del presidente Leonardo Argüello tuvo que salir exiliado. Actualmente reside en Miami, con más de 60 años de ser Scout, uno de los más activos dirigentes de su época.
En 1946, don Porfirio Solórzano Marín, logró el reconocimiento oficial de la Organización Mundial del Movimiento Scout. En 1946 se celebró en la Hacienda Las Mercedes, cerca del actual Aeropuerto Internacional, el Primer Campamento Nacional de Patrullas. El Jefe de Campo fue don Pablo Steiner, también importante funcionario de Caritas de Nicaragua y esposo de la escritora María Teresa Sánchez.
Here is a letter I wrote to the Secretary of the Order of the Arrow, Cowaw Lodge #9 back in 1949. It gives a good idea of the depth of my involvement in scouting in that period of time.
14 September 1949
c/o I.A.G.S., Box 2031
Balboa Heights, Canal Zone
Again I write to you, this time from Costa Rica rather than Panama. I came here on Friday with my mother who is visiting me for several weeks from New Jersey. We are spending a week’s vacation here in Costa Rica. As soon as I got here I looked up the scout association again. As you recall, I spent one week with them in March of this year.
There are several reasons for this letter. One, of course, is to say ‘hello’ to you and let you in on what is new in Panama. The other reason is to report to Lodge #9, Order of the Arrow, on my scouting activities since becoming a member of that lodge one year ago. If I were living at home, where I could assist the lodge in their activities, this letter would not be necessary. As it is, you might think, if you didn’t hear from me, that I was a disinterested member.
I am very much interested in the Order of the Arrow so please do not let my name be dropped from the list. I do not know the amount of dues that I owe nor when they are due. I would appreciate it if you would bring me up to date on that information.
I am having an interesting time here in San Jose at present. A Scout Manual has recently been published in Spanish for the Scouts of Costa Rica. The trouble is that it was published without the acceptance of the National Council and included many things that were definitely not acceptable to the Scouting standards of Costa Rica.
I attended a meeting of the National Council and listened in on a debate about allowing an American Boy Scout troop operate in San Jose. I was permitted to say a few words on behalf of the Boy Scouts of America troop.
On the morning following the meeting of the National Council I talked for two hours with Reverend Fish who is organizing American scouting in San Jose. In the afternoon I attended a Costa Rican troop meeting. I then spent two hours discussing scouting methods with several Costa Rican scouters. In the evening I talked scouting for three hours with three scouters of San Jose. I was asked to check on the Costa Rican branch of the order of the Arrow. This International Scouting if very interesting.
I would now like to bring the Lodge members up-to-date as to my scouting activities after one year in the Order of the Arrow. I therefore enclose a summary of my activities since September, 1948.
Yours in Scouting,
George F. Drake
Summary of Scouting Activities of George Drake for one year following the Ordeal of 1948 of Lodge #9, Order of the Arrow.
1. I am registered as an Explorer Scout in Post #31 of Spring Lake, N.J. Until December, 1948 I was Post Guide. I have attended no meetings since December, 1948.
2. I am a Life Scout and a Woodsman Explorer. I have passed no scout requirements of any kind since December, 1948.
3. I have done the following hiking and camping with scouts since becoming a member of the Order of the Arrow:
a. Went on a 3-day exploration hike with Mexican Rover Scouts spending 30 hours underground in a cave in Taxco State, Mexico.
b. Went on a 2-day hike with full pack with Mexican Scouts from Xochomilco to Cuernavaca, following a straight line over the mountains, about 45 miles.
c. Participated in a 1-day hike up Popocatepetl, a snow-capped volcano near Mexico City with Rover Scouts. Four out of 13 made it to the top. I was one of the four.
d. Went on a two-day camping trip with scouts of Guatemala.
e. Went on a one-day hike with Guatemalan scouts.
f. Joined Scouts of El Salvador on a one-day horseback ride.
g. Went on a one-day mountain climbing trip with Scouts of Costa Rica to the top of Poas Volcano.
h. Went on a 3-1/2 month trip, by all means of transportation, through Central America to the Canal Zone. The uniform of the Explorer Scouts of the Boy Scouts of America was worn at all times.
4. I visited the following local council offices of the B.S.A.:
a. Raritan, NJ
b. Monmouth, NJ
c. Norfolk, VA
d. Orlando, FL
e. West Palm Beach, FL
f. Miami, FL
g. Pensacola, FL
h. Mobile, Alabama
i. New Orleans, Louisiana
j. Balboa, Canal Zone
5. I visited the following National Offices of Scouting
a. New York City, B.S.A.
b. Mexico City, Mexico. Association of Scouts of Mexico
c. Guatemala City, Guatemala. Scout Association of Guatemala
d. San Salvador, El Salvador. Exploradores de Salvador
e. Managua, Nicaragua. Scouts de Nicaragua
f. San Jose, Costa Rica. Cuerpo Nacional de Scouts de Costa Rica.
g. Panama City, Panama. The newly organized Scouts de Panama.
6. I have met and discussed scouting with the following leaders of scouting in these countries:
a. U.S.A.: Mr. McKinney, Mr. H. Patton, Mr. G. Cronie, Mr. R. Mozo and others in the National Office, BSA.
b. Mexico: Mr. Juan Llane, President of the Scouts of Mexico, as well as with the National Commissioner of Cub Scouts of Mexico and leaders in Rover Scouting in Mexico.
c. Guatemala: Mr. Deutchman, President of the Scout Association of Guatemala, also with Armando Galvez, Sr. Armado and other national leaders.
d. El Salvador: Padre Juan Garcia Artola.
e. Nicaragua: The association President, National Commissioners of Scouting, Cubing and Rovers and others.
f. Costa Rica: The President of the association and all national officers.
g. Panama: The President of the Scouts of Panama.
7. I have sent American scouting literature to scouts in the following countries: Mexico, Canada, Australia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela, England, Chile, Germany, Austria, Greece
8. I correspond with scouts in the following countries: United states, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Chile, Scotland, England, Finland, Sweden, Australia, New Guinea, South Africa, Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Hindustan, China, Greece, Belgium, Austria, Germany
9. I have had articles published in the following Scouting magazines:
a. Lone Scout, BSA
b. The Scout, England
c. Escultismo, Mexico
d. Xxx , Indonesia
e. Xxx, Nicaragua