when I last arrived home

13 March 2012 § Leave a comment

The smell and the crowded bus accelerated with all its guts up the winding but comparatively smooth road in the jungled mountains of western Panama. A girl with a round and friendly face carried a baby pig in her satchel, as might a socialite her chihuahua in a Fendi bag. She smiles at the gringos when they laughed at the brown furry animal as if to remember that yes, now they could tell their friends at home that they had indeed ridden on a bus in Central America with pigs.

The softnumbered digital clock at the front of the bus, where only one country west in Costa Rica drivers features stenciled portraits and quotes of Jesus in red spray paint, read 4:20 three or four valleys after I smelt the faint stench of naturally grown, high mountain mota, which I knew certain tico hippies to sell generously by the kilo for virtually pennies to the ounce.

We rode a narrow ridge over which clouds floated like escapee cotton candy, and the too-heavy bus tipped right and left in rhythmic swishes from windows ajar. The wind threatened to knock us over the side and a thousand feet down into the dry, pine mountain forests, whose scent I was too busy adoring to take in the panic of the orangeclad teenager who stood in the aisle, for all the seats were filled with pigs and gringos, letting out small gasps and elaborate sighs.

I sucked in serenity while everyone else put on their coats. The air was Rocky Mountain autumnfresh, and looking out the window I could name at least three conifer trees I hadn’t seen since the States the summer before. Having been weeks in the sweltering Caribbean, between a friend’s cacao farm in the jungle, and then trying to enjoy a couchsurfers’ reunion with Ian, his family, and Heather, I’d sweat out the last of my capabilities to Relax and live on island time, waking up with nothing to do and the need to make the best of it, and words could hardly express my lust and joy for being at altitude again.

The cold didn’t last long, though. Little does in that part of the world. In thirty minutes we were over the continental divide, and descended into rippled, arid valleys where both deciduous and palm trees grew sparse over humped farmland run by locals from idyllic homes where healthy-looking horses grazed in the front yards, and shirtless, shoeless children looked on at our passing bus as they might an army tank, or limosuine, for their expressions gave away nothing.

From the end of their driveways I looked downward toward mythical gatherings of afternoon clouds which I’d seen only along coastlines. And so soon from great heights, Pacific archipelagos dotted the seahorizon underneath.

Welcome to Chiriquí.

I was at the whim of the sublime, and silent. The child in the seat in front of me, whose patient father and sole companion I’d admired earlier for small things like opening the window so his son could look out at a waterfall, exclaimed a decidedly English WOW when we turned a corner and into view came the skeletal steel of an electric power plant, a black and grey anomaly on the green, flowering landscape. It soon gave way to a massacred plateau; gridlocked between chasmous ravines were wire fences encircling fat cows and evening-sunned houses, redyellowgreenblueturquoise, unbarred and unafraid of the coming night, let the breeze adorn their kitchens with tropical mountain ambivalence and peace, while children much like this one played and lamented their mothers’ lovinginevitable call to dinner.

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