15th September is your Independence Day.
Costa Rica, you are the greenest country I have ever cycled and also the most humid. Never in my entire life have I sweated so much as I did while pushing the bicycle on your steep slopes. Twice you broke my chainstay and made me walk many kilometres. I still vision your thick cloud forests echoing with bird songs. You taught me the virtue of patience and quietness through bird watching. As I became a silent observer of nature, you kindled my love for the planet.
Oh, how I used to pick mangoes, fill my hungry stomach and fall asleep under your trees? Their taste took me to my childhood. In your dog sanctuary with 1600 mutts, I learned, “no matter how badly people treat a dog, it still wants to be with humans.” Once, two black puppies started walking behind me on the road. I cannot tell you how I begged them not to follow me.
Nicaragua, I saw your lush landscape, mighty volcanoes, and massive cigar factories, but I remember you the most for the Champion’s Trophy Cricket Final 2017 I watched in your city Esteli. Pakistan won the match. A few days later, you almost took my life. My head would have been crushed like a watermelon against the boulders in the fast-flowing water of Somoto Canyon had a guide not caught my fingertips in the last moment.
Honduras, you were a blur. On my first day, I met your people wearing Mexican hats and fancy dress shirts and saying “Bienvenidos!” On the second day, a bee stung me and the area below my knee swelled. The direct sunlight caused me so much discomfort in the swollen part that I had to wear the pull pants in the hot weather.
El Salvador, I vividly remember looking at the boiling crater lake of Santa Anna volcano. It was the eye of the volcano full of rage but holding back its emotion. Your street vendors sold huge red mangoes, a dollar each. Your schoolchildren yelled, “gringo, gringo!” at me and when I yelled back the same words to them, they giggled.
How wrong were all those people warning me against you! You taught me that the most valuable lessons are the ones we experience ourselves.
Happy Independence Day!