Tico’s Rampage (1 of 3)

Somewhere in Central Costa Rica

I still have that scar on my leg. It’s one of those long-lasting souvenirs you bring home from adventures and misadventures in the jungles and skyscrapers of the Third World. Your chunks of marked, disfigured and discolored skin will always remind you of your journeys, and I have come to be quite fond of scars as I acquire them. A scar within itself is almost like a tattoo, but it’s real, unplanned – and always has a story behind it.

This is the story of my right leg…

I woke before the break of dawn in the height of the rainy season in Central America. Having wandered the village of Santa Elena and Monteverde National Park for a few days, I was preparing to head on to Volcan Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas. Taking into consideration the old travelers’ cliché "getting there is half the fun," I decided to ride horseback instead of taking the bus. Whereas the long bumpy road wrapped all the way around Lake Arenal, I would cut right through the wild mountainous jungles. I was going to take a shortcut.

After a small breakfast, we climbed into an abused Landcruiser and headed off down the dirt paths of Santa Elena. Nelson, my driver, had come to know gringo culture very well, thanks to all the people who had stayed in his house. A middle-aged man in his 40s, Nelson had a youthful zing to him and wanted to be just like the young Americans that he had looked after. He turned to me, smiling as he held up his new Crystal Method tape. To the blasting techno, he bounced around in his New York Yankees cap as we headed to the outskirts of the village.

Pulling onto the edge of the road near a small tin-roofed building, we stopped to make a few last-minute repairs on the truck. Nelson introduced me to his cousin, who was dragging out a small welding machine. The two of them went beneath the Landcruiser and started banging and welding. Sparks flew from the back wheel well.

"What are you welding?" I asked.

"The gas tank," he replied.

I slowly started to back away from the truck.

With the Landcruiser ready for the rocky climb ahead of us, we left Santa Elena for the cliff-hugging, rocky jungle roads to his friend’s house. Nelson pushed the gas pedal to the floor as we pounded the boulders beneath us. He smiled and laughed as we continued to abuse the truck, turning the undercarriage into a length of twisted metal. Nelson was a man who seemed to truly enjoy driving like a maniac.

At the top of one of the mountains was a luxurious house with a horse stable on side. Beyond the house, off in the distance lay the shores of Arenal and the fire-spewing cone, which barely revealed itself in the clouds

A dirt-caked man emerged from behind a stable and introduced me to the young American couple that would be accompanying us. The guide introduced himself as Juan, then packed our bags – and the beer that the two gringos had brought – onto a cargo horse that would ride alongside of him. I was no serious horse rider myself, but I had done it before, and picking out the best horses of the gang, Juan handed me the reins to a beautiful brown mare.

I gave Nelson a high-five good-bye and made one last joke that I wanted to marry his daughter, as Nelson hopped into his steel beast and bounced off into the greenness of the mountains.

We mounted our horses and set off trotting through the slop towards the edge of the clearing, into the thickness of the selva. The cloudy, darkening skies above started to release a light rain as we spread out and rode in to the silence and tranquility of the Central American jungles. Off in the distance, the occasional monkey howled, competing with the chatter of the fluorescent birds that flew over my head. As I climbed the trail into the white clouds, I was engulfed in an unknown, mysterious world.

Sloppy Horseback »

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