I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous for this stretch of the trip. We’d both heard horror stories about the border crossing, and our friend Rafael had told us of the seven police checkpoints we could expect to hit on the road we’re taking through (the Panamerican Highway). It was also expected that at the checkpoints we’d get The Shakedown. Its a tricky thing, The Shakedown. We’ve read others’ blogs talking about what we might expect: the police ask for your documents (license, registration, aduano papers, etc) and invariably, despite your best preparations and understandings of The System, you would be told that there is some fault with what you have or don’t have and for that, will be fined. Some say two dollars, some say five – it’s negligible amounts, but dammit! It’s principle! Of course you could just chill out and pay for peace of mind and just move on, but of course Dad and I had decided that we wouldn’t pay for anything we don’t have to. There is also the cry of the traveler that follows you: for every “fine” you pay it becomes expectation for he who treads in your path. So now you carry the anticipatory guilt of the next dude. The typical (and my preferered) approach to combat The Shakedown is feigning ignorance armed with a bad, bad, Bush inspired American accent. It can be a lot of fun- if you can set aside your ego to sound like that. I’m not that humble. I walk the middle ground: decent accent – and every third word I refuse to understand. To be honest, though, I’m not the target- Dad’s the real victim here. We passed through 6 of the anticipated 7 checkpoints today and he was stopped at 5. They ask him for his papers, his license, where is he going? Often he has to open his bags and let them be rifled through. Mostly, they ask me if I’m married. And how long I plan to stay in Costa Rica. I get smiles and comments on the weather, and once I was asked for my license. Through all of it, though, we have yet to get The Shakedown. In fact, with the exception of one surly dude at the first checkpoint, every person we’ve interacted with in this country has been exceptionally friendly. Well – ok, to be fair- every person after the border. The border was, in fact, hell. But that’s another, unpleasant story that I’ll let Dad tell. He had to bear the brunt of it.
We had four days of relaxing and visiting with friends in and around San Salvador. I don’t know if I could adequately describe the generosity of time and spirit we luxuriated in there with my fathers old friend Rafael and his beautiful family. Needless to say, it was a warm and memorable experience and we should all be so lucky to have friends in such exotic locations to call upon and indulge in. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to check out my flickr page, which is linked on the left under “Our Sites”. The pictures, I think, tell better what we’ve been up to these last days. We ate. a. lot. I expect my bike is riding a little lower today than a week ago. It was really good to give our bodies a chance to recover from the first 10 days of intense ride-o-thon. I’m developing muscles in my hands and forearms that I didn’t know existed. Climbing back on the bike again was like an awkward second date kiss – you know you’ve done it before, but you’re not confident enough to just be cool. You lumber forward through space, hoping all will end well but really, there are just no guarantees. Luckily, all went well for me, but I think I’ll keep on like this for a while – getting well acquainted with Nancy (it’s true, I named her Nancy) and then stepping away to a kind of youthful amnesia. It’s a crash course, and I’m well aware of how much better a rider I am now then before, but I still feel like I’m piecing a lot of it together. But it’s tetris fun, not not fumbling keys in the lock.
I’m going to throw out a poem here that many of my friends have been subject to already. It was given to me on a card at my going away party in Chicago and has since taken on great meaning for me. I’ve carried it around like a worn velveteen rabbit since my dear friend Christy gave it to me. This is what meanders through my head on the road as we’re driving through all this great expanse. It’s written by Mary Oliver, and its called “Wild Geese”:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I’m rambling around this post like I’m rambling around Central America. I hope you’re all well.