Friday, May 21, 2010

South American Sojourns

I have far less experience in Central and South America than I do with other parts of the world. Believe me, I am eager to remedy this gap--especially since all my travel in those regions occurred more than twenty years ago.

We spent about ten days in Costa Rica, attending a conference as is our habit and then renting a car and touring the small but diverse country. The highlight of that trip, for me, was piloting our jeep up a long, rocky, rutted track to the mountain-top “cloud forest” of Monte Verde. The isolated community residing at the peak was composed of Quakers who had moved from the U.S. because Costa Rica is the only country in the world that has abolished its army. They supported themselves with tourism and cheese-making. After we spent the night at their bed and breakfast, they escorted us through the forest, a unique ecosystem that is so humid it generates a constant mist that shrouds the peak (hence the name).

Our other southern adventure was a one week trip to Peru. This was the only trip we've ever taken where our lives were seriously endangered. Eager to see the ruins of Machu Picchu, we flew to Cusco (a remarkably well-preserved Spanish colonial town 10,000 feet above sea level) . We rose early the next day to take the narrow gauge train that leads to the foot of the Andean peak housing the ruins. Unfortunately, a combination of rainy season weather and railroad strikes meant that the track was blocked by mudslides in several places. We had to stop and wait for earth moving equipment to clear the way. The normal four hour trip took all day. We did not arrive at Machu Picchu until sunset and had to travel back to Cusco by night.

About eleven P.M., we were nodding in our seats when we heard a terrible roar. The train lurched to a stop. We discovered a huge mound of mud had just landed on the tracks, no more than twenty feet ahead of the train. The track at this point hugged the mountain on one side. On the other, a sheer cliff dropped fifty feet to the raging Urubamba River. The train barely missed being swept off the tracks into the river.

We arrived back in Cusco at dawn, exhausted and shaken. Alas, we had to fly back to Lima within hours. Was it worth nearly dying to see Machu Picchu for half an hour? I'd have to say yes.

Last year I published a paranormal romance called SERPENT'S KISS which is set in Guatemala. I've never visited that country, but between my research and analogies to other developing countries I have seen, I hope that I got the setting right. The book is loosely based on Mayan mythology. One consequence of writing this tale is that now I really want to travel to Guatemala and tour the ancient ruins at Tikal.

Maybe next year...

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