Going Places: Tales from the road: Postcards from Central America

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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By Jim Gould

July 7: The Pan-American Highway in Costa Rica, just south of Nicaragua

Guanacaste, where every Tico is a cowboy, and the dry lowlands remind us of Texas or Montana. Except for the volcanoes and ranchero music screaming from the bus speakers. Down here, out of the clouds, is relief from the rains, relief from personal pain.

Tanner and I say a prayer for Mathilde this morning, our first dry day in a week, a day after saying good-bye to her, Monteverde, and our guide, Gabino.

Mathilde told only one story about Burundi in the 72 hours we shared. After miles of slogging through the cloudforest, we were standing in six inches of mud, watching an afternoon torrent fill the valley. She said the Rwandans were so crowded in the prison that they were forced to stand in the mud all day unless they had money to rent a dry spot for an hour or two. After months of this, most had to have their feet amputated. That's Mathilde's only story from Burundi. The other stories have been about her husband and the names they are considering for their baby due in October. Those stories she told as we shared each vista with her, watching her big eyes fill with the hundred healing shades of green that filled the valleys.

She told Gabino her eco-tour with him was over, that half the trip was more than she could take with our machisto Marlboro man. He refused to refund any of her money. We gave her some extra cash, exchanged addresses, and she lit out for the Pacific to lie on an uncomplicated beach.

After an hour of ranchero music, the next set of bus tunes include Muzak versions of Wayne Newton's "Danke Schoen," Frank Sinatra's "My Way," Cat Steven's "Hard-Headed Woman," and a rooster under my seat who cock-a-doodle-dos in three-quarter time.

Next: Nicaragua's coast

Other info on travel in Central America

Notes of an accidental eco-tourist
Postcards from Central America. Our correspondent
rambles in search of answers to the eco-tourism myth.

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