==This post is an excerpt from my book, Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World. ==
My son turned to me and said, “What difference does it make, Mom? Crossing a border doesn’t change anything. A border is just a line on a map.”
As I passed through the border formalities, I thought about Daryl’s words. He was right. We were still in the Central American jungle. People on Costa Rica looked exactly like those in Nicaragua. They spoke the same language and worshiped the same god. Nothing changed as we crossed that border except that we spent a different currency.
After spending so many years of my life poring over maps and dreaming of visiting far-flung places, I had developed a bit of a “map syndrome.” I saw a very distinct, physical line at that border. I saw a new country with a new government. In my mind, each country was a separate, unique entity and, of course, the people belonging to that country were unique and different from those from neighboring countries.
Daryl’s words brought me back to reality. There was no line at the border. The people who lived on one side of the border were no different from those who lived on the other. Once we strip away all the wrappers we tend to wrap around people – when we look beyond the language they speak, the clothes they wear, the god they worship, and the food they eat – we are all more alike than we are different. Underneath it all, there isn’t any difference between us at all.
My sons, at age eleven, understood that. I, at 48, was still working on it.
I was pedaling along the Costa Rican road and was quite bored. It was just another day in paradise. Nothing in particular to look at. No villages to keep me entertained. Just mile after mile of lush green jungle.
Then I thought, “This is crazy! Here you are in Costa Rica – COSTA RICA – and you’re bored? Costa Rica is paradise on earth! It’s a traveler’s utopia! Costa Rica is one of the premier vacation destinations in the world! And you’re bored?”
I feared I had become jaded. I was so accustomed to fabulous scenery and people that I zoned out when I only had tropical jungle to look at. We were pedaling through a lovely area and I wanted to fall in love with the jungle and the green all around and the monkeys swinging in the trees.
Yet I wasn’t quite there. I was so focused on getting out of the blasted heat that I wasn’t paying attention to the small details surrounding me like I generally did. My mind was so centered on getting to the next town and away from the interminable heat that I missed everything else.
For the first time ever I started to wonder if it was all worth it. Cycling through the jungle was miserable; there’s no other word for it. We awoke in the middle of the night and packed up as sweat poured out of our pores. By first light we were on the road, but it was still blazing hot and the humidity level made it hard to breathe.
I mentally drew a map in my head and figured we still had 800 miles of jungle. 800 miles of being covered with layer upon layer of sweat, sunscreen, and road grime. 800 miles of nothing but lush green jungle on either side of the road. Was it worth it?
I wasn’t quite ready to give up yet – that would come later – but I knew I wasn’t enjoying the journey.
The following day I sunk even lower. We had been amply warned by other cyclists about two things: the hills and the truck drivers in Costa Rica. By all account the hills were the steepest in Central America and the drivers were the worst. In our short time in the country, I had to agree.
We slowly ground up hill after hill while sweat fell like a river from beneath our helmets. At one point, John even took his helmet off and strapped it onto his trailer – he figured he was safer without the helmet than blinded by sweat.
And the truck drivers did their thing. Their Costa Rican thing. Regardless of whether the far lane was open or not, each and every truck driver that passed by held his ground and refused to budge an inch. It seemed like the attitude was that the lane belonged to them and us cyclists hugging the edge of the road were nothing more than pests.
The third time a truck cut me so close my knuckles actually scraped the side as it whizzed past, I lost it. “What the hell is with this country?” I screamed to nobody in particular. John and Davy were too intent on controlling their own bikes on the narrow road to pay any attention. “This is crazy!” I hollered into the jungle.
All I wanted was to get safely through the country and out the tail end. Was that too much to ask?