In the Book

At Punto Olvidado Bay the cove beckons, but beneath glistening turquoise waters silent soldiers stand vigil. Ageless rocks lie in wait, their jagged dorsals capable of ripping hulls asunder should impatient sailors attempt a landing without benefit of caution or experience. That’s what Russell had been told by the man who rowed him through the boulders fronting the beach. A bit like life, the young American thought. The promise of peace and respite transforming into chaos and woe if not given the respect it deserves. There is a price to be paid for beauty and solace he reflected, often a very high price.

Russell rolled up his pant legs, used his laces to tie his shoes together, then slung them over his shoulder as he swung himself over the side of the boat and into the shallow water. The chill was bracing as his toes dug into the sand giving him purchase to stride past the lethargic waves gently teasing the beach. Battered valise in one hand, he used the other to wave farewell to the boatman.

Per his instructions, he walked up the hill to the side of the road. A vehicle was to arrive at the top of the hour to complete the last leg of his journey. The agreed upon time came and went, but Russell didn’t. He waited patiently, assuming punctuality wasn’t as important here as it was where he came from. His wait and his view allowed him to see the dingy return to the ship, where it was hoisted aboard before the vessel headed back to the open sea. Russell wondered for a moment whether his past might be leaving with it. Yet deep down, he sensed that the past continually lingers, unobtrusively if one is lucky, but always on call in an unexpected shadow or a night without something to initiate sleep.

Eventually a lorry approached. It was old and battered, not unlike the man who drove it. The driver saw the sandy-haired, blue-eyed foreigner sitting on his valise by the side of the road. Sweat-rings were under his arms and his sleeves were rolled up to his biceps. Surely this was the man he was sent to retrieve. A nod of the driver’s head and a smile revealing discolored teeth prompted Russell to enquire if this was the ride he’d been waiting for.

“Retiro de Santos?”
“Si, señor.”

Moments later Russell was in the passenger seat with his arm resting on the window sill. The wind whipping by as they drove helped modify the oily smell of the interior and it’s occupant behind the wheel. Even sitting down, the lanky American dwarfed the driver. He seemed a nice old man, Russel thought. Though English was far from the fellow’s understanding, and the American’s Spanish was only minimal, they passed the trip occasionally smiling at one another and staring out the cracked, dirty windshield at the glory of the mountain and the sea. The old man had seen both infinitely more times than he could count. For Russell it was new and ablaze with sun-filled hope.

On the far side of the mountain, they came down through heavy jungle as their path became more arduous over a road jutted by rain and time. Going was slow. Russell wondered how long it would take to reach town, but he knew that asking was futile. The old man would not understand him and he’d probably botch the question anyway. So they traveled at the pace the weathered trail dictated and the American contented himself with the fact that at least they were moving forward.

Eventually the dirt and gravel flattened into something resembling a paved road, along with its share of requisite pot holes. Soon a winding stretch was negotiated, then a hill was climbed, and when the lorry topped it, Russell got his first look at Retiro de Santos.