Friday, March 21, 2014

Centro America

We just posted this powerful Neruda poem about Central America on the B2B page that fellow B2B rider Tuchegas recommended. We included a photo of a homeless man in Granada, a colonial town in Nicaragua. These words grip you.

                                                                                                                  photo by Mariano

Land as slim as a whip,
hot as torture,
your step in Honduras, your blood
in Santo Domingo, at night,
your eyes in Nicaragua
touch me, call me, grip me,
and throughout American lands
I knock on doors to speak,
I tap on tongues that are tied,
I raise curtains, I plunge
my hands into blood:
O, sorrows
of my land, O death-rattle
of the great established silence,
O, long-suffering peoples,
O, slender waist of tears.

I write as I sit on a prototypical Costa Rican beach. We rest from some grueling, steep and hot riding. It is complete and utter paradise.

This kind of juxtaposition between light and dark has haunted me from the day we entered Central America from Mexico through a small, fucked up Guatemalan border town. What does a small, fucked up border town in Central America look like? Hustlers and hookers roam the streets, at lunch time. Iron on windows and doors. Physical disabilities that the West only sees in text books are everywhere. You can feel the easy drugs, the easy violence in people's careful steps. I like these dirty underbellies of god’s green earth. They remind me that outside of the popular volunteer havens like Antigua not all is rosy with our queer little species.

                                                                                                                photos by Banano

Riding through Guatemala on a bike. What a dream. From day one we call it Guatebeleza. It's immidiately greener compared to Mexico, but in “The Land of Many Trees” not that many mammoth trees are left in the flats along the coast. Mostly I see rubber and sugar plantations. I read up on the history of this land. Juxtapose. I am saddened by our callous nature that we so easily give into. By centuries of subjugation, all too evident today. I ride past a cane field, men harvest it with machetes. No machines, just bone breaking, dusty, unbearably hot work. For a couple of bucks a day. A modern day slave wage. I want to take pictures. But I don’t. It hurts too much to think of all the sugar I have eaten in my life.

But the world is green, even if the road is lined with litter and buzzards track us diligently. The people of Guatemala are stone-faced friendly. You have to ask for their smile, they do not give it as freely as the always welcoming Mexicans.

We ride a brutal mountain up to Lake Atitlan, a true natural wonder of the world, I think at least until I see Lake Nigaragua. Seems like there are Volcanoes sticking out of all kinds of bodies of water in every country that we travel through. And like the Volcanoes, and the impossibly steep roads that we climb daily, the opposites remain. Light and dark. Wealth and poverty. Inheritors of colonial power and Indigina. I imagined the people of Central America to be similar in temperament to Mexicans. But they are harder, more closed off. Years of torture will turn the sunniest disposition into a stony, protective shell.

“Gringo go home”, I hear more than once. I smile back and say that I agree.

I know we can not blame anyone specifically for what happened in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. You yell at your granny for buying sugar in the 1950s, when Guatemalans where massacred by the thousands because they had elected a democratic government that tried to re-distribute the land back into local small farmers’ hands for the first time in 450 years. 450 YEARS!!! What would you want your government to do if Massachusetts had been raped, plundered and pillaged for centuries by foreign powers? You can’t call your mom out for buying car tires (rubber) in the 1980’s when El Salvador was sinking into one of the most brutal civil wars in living memory because her people just could not stomach another foreign-sponsored military coup.

Costa Rica got lucky. You know why? It didn’t have any resources. No gold, no silver, no land suitable for large scale, slave-driven, mono-culture cash crops. When Columbus showed up here he called it Rica because he thought it was going to be like all the other places in Central America, a gold mine for his Queen. He was blessedly mistaken. And so it became that Costa Ricans do not have this ugly torturous past forced onto them by one pillaging global power after the other. If you have nothing, you are rich. Instead all the Spaniards showing up here to look for riches had to, OMG, do their own heavy lifting to build a life in the central highlands. This could explain the stronger sense of civic responsibility here.

When I have Wifi, I see what is going on in the Ukraine and Venezuela. These are both rich places, oil in Venezuela and simply the sun on the Crimea for wintery Russians, and have been the focal point of international power struggles for centuries. It saddens me to know that Austria is one of the most important money laundering countries to Russian Oligarchs. We call ourselves a Neutral Country, says so in our constitution, we pride ourselves on standing for peace and justice. But, oh my, “Das ist doch nicht mein Verantwortungsbereich, wo das liebe Geld herkommt”. I am ashamed. I want to return all my passports.

This ugly human thing, this conquest and war for profit, remains a constant since time immemorial, since just after we were hunter gatherers, when suddenly you had rulers, and the ruled. And the justifying classes in between. The ones that would come up with the proper stories for the ruled to blindly fall on their pitchforks, their bayonets, their home-made explosive devices. For the longest times the justifiers used the religions of the world, but now there is only one god left. His name is Mammon. In 10.000 odd years we have not learned. Seldom is a situation as clearly defined between good and evil as WW2, and as long as Hitler was “just” going after the Jews the world didn’t really give a shit either.

What will it take for us to live by inalienable rights for all humans and not just the ones lucky enough to be born in the right place? When will a life be more important than a buck? I wish I had taken the picture of the men harvesting sugar cane. Sweat pouring of their heads, dirty clothes, no shoes. Hacking away at the cane with their broken backs doubled over. I want that picture now, so that you could spill tears with me at the thought of it, and the next time you put three spoons of sugar in your morning cup of coffee.


  1. Greetings from Singapore! Following B2B's epic journey as an 'office-chair potato' and really enjoy reading your reflections and thoughts. Thanks for sharing and writing so beautifully :)

    Oh, and no sugar in my 3 cups of coffee today!

  2. Wow, Tiramisu, thank you kindly :) So nice to hear from all the way in Singapore. One day B2B will continue to Asia, and I look forward to eating all the good food there again!!!

    MMMMM Sugar!!! Necessito mucho si tu viaje con bicicletta ;)

    Do you play Capoeira with a group there?

    1. Sim! Please continue B2B all the way to Asia! In the meantime, I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my B2B Tshirt which they've just mailed out.

      I see that you're already acquainted with our food :D Yup, I train with Bantus Capoeira Singapore, come visit us! I highly recommend flying over for your next trip though...

      Safe journeys, keep playing and writing :)

      Muito axe!

    2. Hehehehe, I will keep it in mind. We are thinking of taking a freighter over! How awesome that you are getting a B2B shirt. Take a picture and send it to me. Are we facebook friendly?

  3. Sure! Still checking my mailbox everyday for the T-shirt... hope that they didn't ship it via freight :|

    Hope your cave/tribe mates are all alive and kicking. Peace and axe!