Costa Rica

Europe more your parents’ bucket list?Join Rick Steves, and me, for a podcast about travel in Latin America

Posted on Updated on

Rick-Steves-Radio-daebd6abcdc4b4b2aacb0f4ddcd19bae142b7219818f459b0adbf011ae3671d1rickstevestudio

When a travel writer gets an invite to be a podcast guest of perhaps the single most beloved and well-known travel guru in North America – she says yes first and wonders why later. Which was exactly the order of my thought process when one of Rick Steves’ staff wrote to me about “The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan-American Highway.”

rickstevesnpr

It was thrilling enough that producer Sarah McCormic was reading and enjoying my book – she’s hip, travel-savvy and knows way more about podcasts than I do. But after my steering-wheel-evoking happy dance, I found myself wondering if I’d ever seen a Rick Steves program on Latin America. My memoir retraces a road trip along the length of the Pan-American Highway, from Mexico to the tip of Argentina, not the Autobahn, The Ring of Kerry or La Route Des Grandes Alpes. In other words, why was Rick Steves willing to devote a good chunk of his podcast to my story?

T1-rick-steves-relaxed-tulum-mexico-akiin-travelphile

Was Tulum the connection? The story of my wedding there comes early in the book, and this photo proves Steves has been there at least once.

It turns out he’s cared about Latin America since the 80s – first visiting El Salvador during its Civil War. So maybe he was relating to my parents’ decision to drive through the entire continent in the not-particularly-stable 70s – with me and my little sister in tow. My mom and dad had no clue what they were getting into – but Steves had done enough homework to know what he didn’t know. Here’s an excerpt from a piece he wrote about that first visit:

I feel like an expert on Europe, but in Central America, I’m humbled by my lack of knowledge. Fortunately, my nine-day crash course in political and economic issues came with great teachers and the ultimate classroom. In speaking with so many local experts, it occurred to me that Americans who come here in search of understanding (like me) want things in black-and-white clarity. In reality, it is much more complex. I didn’t come home with the clean answers I sought, but I did return with a sense of optimism, as the societies of Nicaragua and El Salvador move fitfully but steadily forward. You can’t help but fly home from Central America rooting for its beautiful people — and wanting to do more to help them.

And he did. By championing the region for tourism even when audiences in America were more interested in Europe.

I have long recommended, “If you want a meaningful trip to Central America, consider Managua over Mazatlán.”

He had me at beautiful people. I realized Rick Steves travels for the same reason I do and writes from the same place of celebrating what connects us all. By this point in my Steves research, I couldn’t wait to meet him – even if just for a few hours in an NPR studio link. Then I read a journal entry from his return trip to Latin America in 2005, coincidentally only a year after The Drive.

My 1988 visit to Central America was filled with hope. I came again after the defeat of people’s movements in both El Salvador and Nicaragua in 1991. The tide had turned and I wondered how the spirit of the people’s movements — so exuberant just two years before — would fare after the American victories in their domestic struggles. Now, in 2005, after 14 years of neo-liberalism it is clear, there’s only one game in town. Sure, Romero lives…and Jesus lives. And half the world is trying to live too…on $2 a day. As a Christian, I like to see religion function as a liberator rather than an opiate. Perhaps that’s why I am so enamored with liberation theology in Central America.

The troubadours continue, “It’s not easy to see God in the child who cleans the windshields at a San Salvador intersection…but we must.”

0908 nic girl in traffic
photograph by Gary Geboy

If you tune in to one of the radio stations that will play our conversation over the air on Saturday, you will learn what I did about Rick Steves. That he’s about way more than Europe, that he’s endless fascinating but refreshingly humble, and that he’s an incredible interviewer. So please, subscribe to his podcast and enjoy the conversation. Unless Oprah calls, this is the best thing that ever happened to my book.

description

Stone spheres of mystery (Drive Day 102 minus 14 years)

Posted on Updated on

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

After enduring a night at Marino Bellena I wouldn’t be surprised if the giant stone balls of San Vito are fossilized mosquito eggs. The only absolute is that they’re made of a substance quarried in the mountain range that produced Cerro de la Muerte, which leaves plenty of room for speculation. But the real mystery is how they’ve escaped the modern information era, avoiding codified, collective memory. That they’re still the cause of speculation is, in a way, cause for celebration. Not everything is knowable. Or controllable. So we leave the stone spheres and roll on ourselves, toward Panama.

Follow this bonus-material blog and ride along on a one-year road trip that inspired the memoir The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan American Highway. On sale now. Get yours through the buy-the-book links at the bottom of the landing page on my teresabrucebooks.com website or here or here. Planning a road trip? Buy the audiobook here. Like The Drive’s Facebook page and tweet back at me @writerteresa.

Primeval Paradise (Drive day 101 minus 14 years)

Posted on Updated on

1009a cr ballena copyThere are places so beautiful you are punished for intruding. The Costa Rican state park of Marino Bellena, named after the humpback whales that pass by every year in migration, looks unoccupied. I wouldn’t be surprised to see dinosaurs amble out of its wooded shoreline. But instead we are attacked by swarms, hordes, battalions of mosquitoes. And a heat so wet and blanketing that your lungs feel unequal to the task of breathing it all in. All of which is the way it should be. Or developers would surely decimate this slice of coastal wilderness as they have in Costa Rica’s north. I’m willing to lose one night’s sleep to bear witness to Marino Bellena’s grandeur but we will peel out of here at first light tomorrow. Before the circling vultures overhead drop down to devour whatever vestiges of us the mosquitoes don’t eat first.

1009b cr IMG_2240

Follow this bonus-material blog and ride along on a one-year road trip that inspired the memoir The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan American Highway. On sale now. Get yours through the buy-the-book links at the bottom of the landing page on my teresabrucebooks.com website or here or here. Planning a road trip? Buy the audiobook here. Like The Drive’s Facebook page and tweet back at me @writerteresa.

Mountain of Death (Drive day 100 minus 14 years)

Posted on Updated on

1008a Jen & Bev in streamSometimes reading the guidebooks is a bad idea, especially when the drive south from San Jose is over a mountain pass called “Cerro de la Muerte.” Ascending its 11,000 plus feet in our newly lockable Ford F350 I have a birds-eye view of the plunging drop-offs and landslide-prone slopes that make it famous. Luckily I have another source of information that doesn’t even mention the Mountain of Death: my mother’s journal. In it she not only uses an adjective (rare) but the same one three times in a row: beautiful.

1008c 3xbeautiful

And she’s right. Though Gary has to stay white-knuckle focused on the road ahead as he drives, I am riveted by the dozens of waterfalls and lush, subtropical ferns along the route. Memories are rushing back from the first road trip along the Pan-American. Mom and Jenny washing clothes in a stream. A hitchhiker we befriended snapping a photo of Dad and me taking a bath in another. Back then I was mortified by my near nakedness. Now this picture captures the Costa Rica that hasn’t changed in thirty years.

1008b teresa & Dave

Follow this bonus-material blog and ride along on a one-year road trip that inspired the memoir The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan American Highway. On sale now. Get yours through the buy-the-book links at the bottom of the landing page on my teresabrucebooks.com website or here or here. Planning a road trip? Buy the audiobook here. Like The Drive’s Facebook page and tweet back at me @writerteresa.

Football – San Jose style (Drive Day 99 minus 14 years)

Posted on Updated on

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Arnoldo insists on treating us to a Central American soccer match while we count down the days to the truck’s repair. I’ve never been to a professional game and this is a head-first immersion into Latin culture. You don’t even have to know the slang to understand that mothers are being insulted, mascots maligned, referees berated and scores contested. It’s like a three hour battle of the bands, only the musicians sit in the cheap seats playing homemade drums and horns. Gooooooooooooooooooooal!

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This day’s souvenir stub? One for Gary’s journal.

1007a soc tix

Follow this bonus-material blog and ride along on a one-year road trip that inspired the memoir The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan American Highway. On sale now. Get yours through the buy-the-book links at the bottom of the landing page on my teresabrucebooks.com website or here or here. Planning a road trip? Buy the audiobook here. Like The Drive’s Facebook page and tweet back at me @writerteresa.

Trailer park conspiracy theories (Drive Day 98 minus 14 years)

Posted on Updated on

Our neighbors at the Belen trailer park are American expats of an unusual age. Christian is a twenty-something, one-time vet student and his girlfriend Killian (like the beer) dropped out of a graduate program in astronomy. All to escape big brother. These two have conspiracy theories about everything from 9/11 to cell phones and after a few shots of guaro — the local moonshine — it all seems plausible. And that’s before we stumble on a giant green head near the Ford dealership in San Jose memorializing JFK. If this isn’t alien art I don’t know what is….

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Follow this bonus-material blog and ride along on a one-year road trip that inspired the memoir The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan American Highway. On sale now. Get yours through the buy-the-book links at the bottom of the landing page on my teresabrucebooks.com website or here or here. Planning a road trip? Buy the audiobook here. Like The Drive’s Facebook page and tweet back at me @writerteresa.

Artsy capitol (Drive day 97 minus 14 years)

Posted on Updated on

 

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASan Jose is way too congested to use our truck and camper as local transportation, especially without a functioning door lock. So we catch city buses into the capitol from a bus stop right outside the Belen trailer park. It’s a crapshoot where we’ll end up on any given trip, but that’s the beauty of unplugged travel. You just go as far as you want in one direction, take it all in, and reverse course.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Follow this bonus-material blog and ride along on a one-year road trip that inspired the memoir The Drive: Searching for Lost Memories on the Pan American Highway. On sale now. Get yours through the buy-the-book links at the bottom of the landing page on my teresabrucebooks.com website or here or here. Planning a road trip? Buy the audiobook here. Like The Drive’s Facebook page and tweet back at me @writerteresa.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA