“The ideal travel book’, Christopher Isherwood once wrote, ‘should be perhaps a little like a crime story, in which you’re in search of something.’ And it’s the best kind of something, I would add, if it’s something you never find.” Pico Iyer
I’m already in Mexico, the thirteenth country on my way from Argentina, but let’s go back in time and space and let’s return for a while to Panama – “the land of our dreams, where everything is different and much bigger,” as Teddy Bear said in one of Janosh’s book “The trip to Panama”. This country will always remind me the archipelago of the islands Bocas del Toro, where several months ago I had been writing my latest book “Sen powrotu” (Dream of Return), and where I was glad to accept generous hospitality of Józek Gwóźdź (his surname, very difficult to pronounce for English-speaking people means simply “a nail”) – a Polish catholic priest who has lived in Bocas del Toro for a couple of years and soon will be responsible for co-organizing a very special event (not only in the Catholic Church), as Panama will be the host of the next World Youth Day in 2019. If anyone is interested in his job, there is his website: www.misjapanama.pl
This time on Bocas del Toro I spent only a few days. A few days of resting in safe and friendly environment, with good food and on a paradise island surrounded by the calm sea – what more could you expect to be happy? Nevertheless, similarly like the previous time, I could not escape from feeling some kind of incompatibility, or disharmony. And I am not writing about the bishop’s residence in which I stayed nor the people who lived in it, far from that. I am writing about the island and the town themselves. I could not stop feeling that mismatch between what was inside of me and all those various physical stimuli that surrounded me and that I had to, albeit unwillingly, experience too intensively. You should not come to that island alone, with your own loneliness. Even if the cats are coming out of their nooks to soften it.
And then the next countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, Guatemala, and finally Mexico. Despite so highly developed communication techniques (even in the backwoods people use smartphones, not to mention satellite TV), it didn’t change a lot on the cognitive level. Everybody builds their image of the world watching on TV stereotypical, biased and usually dramatic news.
In each country people warn me off going to the next one. In Peru they advised not to go to Colombia, in Colombia warned off Panama, in Panama warned about smugglers in Costa Rica, in Costa Rica – about corrupted police in Nicaragua, in Nicaragua – about gangs and youth in Honduras, in Honduras I heard that in Salvador I will be robbed and decapitated anyway, and so on and so forth.
But in spite of all these ominous warnings I keep going. I cycle surrounded by ghosts and Jesuses, sometimes stopping surprised to look at such curiosities as “Selling Tires Saint John Paul II”, a meat shop “Jesus Maria”, a shoes shop “Who is like God?”, or coffee shop “Holy Heart of Jesus”. Among those ostentatious emblems of alleged though highly doubtful devotion I go constantly warned but all the people I meet are invariably good, hospitable and friendly. Am I surprised? No, I’m not surprised at all.
Maybe they simply return a smile I usually wear on my face, or maybe it’s just a sham that hides their true and terrible character, which however neither can I see nor I can feel. I cycle in the scorching sun, in the deafening noise of the passing trucks, I follow lots of unpaved roads, which are full of surprises such as not-always-clearly-marked “hops” (reducers of the speed) or the holes (in which the half of my bike would fit), I put up the tent in the ditches, I cycle through some of the most dangerous countries in the world (at least it is what you may hear in the news), but nothing bad happens to me.
Since I left Panama, I have not experienced any form of aggression; I have not heard even one bad word. On the contrary – even if I don’t expect anything I still receive something. Accommodation, sometimes clothes, but usually – lots of food: fruit, bread, some local specialties to try (I still remember the taste of delicious Salvadorian pupusas, served with a whole jar of cabbage salad), or even panela (cane sugar, about which I have already written).
It turned out that panela is not only an essential component of Colombian cuisine, but it can be bought throughout Latin America countries, including Mexico, where it is known as piloncillo or panoche. The process of preparing panela itself, at least in theory, seems to be very simple. The sugary juice obtained by squeezing sugar cane is cooked for several hours until it becomes more dense. Then the thick liquid is poured into the appropriate molds where it remains until it hardens and turns into a solid form of panela. Although today the production is becoming increasingly industrialized and panela (or piloncillo – as it is also known in Mexico) can be purchased in almost every supermarket, many people still continue home-based manufacturing.
Well, and what about Mexico? Well, Mexico is as it is, full of cats, of course, one shouldn’t be surprised. At least I shouldn’t. Even if they are not the same, it is enough to look deeper into their eyes to see what is usually hidden for us under the thin layer of unconsciousness.
I got to Rigoberto’s home town almost at noon. I easily recognized the gate through which the little red cat wanted to escape. And the whole house, where basically everything started. In which the dream began. The dream of return. Although still unfinished it is already long-lost and forgotten.
Because the ginger gata passed away. She was already dead when I wrote my previous book; in fact, she was no longer in that dream two weeks after my visit to Rigoberto’s house. La gata, a little red cat, was bitten to death by a dog, a sweet, little pit bull. Maybe the dog just wanted to play, maybe he did not want to hurt her, but anyway, this time nobody was running after me and I after all, I didn’t have to regret leaving.