THE JUNGLE TRAIL

The complete manuscript of my works about the United and Standard Fruit Companies. photo © Lorraine Caputo

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Prologue: Lake Atitlán and Beyond

One afternoon, Jessica and John, an Israeli couple, knock on my door at the hospedaje. A cool breeze blows off Lago Atitlán, through my open window. They tell me of wanting to do the infamous Jungle Trail from Guatemala to Honduras, through the banana plantations and jungle swamp. But they do not know Spanish. Would I be interested in being their translator?

Would I? I have long dreamed of doing this adventure. But as a woman alone, going through territory that only one guidebook barely sketches. You must be kidding – I would not dare turn down this opportunity.

We spend hours looking over the maps. None that I have shows Finca Chinoq in Guatemala or Corinto in Honduras. John pulls out a map they bought before leaving the States. In detail it shows not only those two places, but also a road between them.

We decide to do it. We pack our knapsacks before heading out to dinner at La Última Cena (where the service is so slow you’d think it’ll be your last supper). We set our alarms before turning in. We have a very early start to get out onto the road.

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We tumble into the night, to gather with the brightly bundled Cachikel and Tzutujil. At these worn steps of the church plaza, we await a 3 a.m. bus for Guatemala City, or Guate as it is called in this country.

We stop at many villages. People board with sacks, hushed voices. These pueblito have suffered so much repression, for so many years.

Dawn encounters us on a highway paralleling the train tracks – a road built by Árbenz, a railroad built by United Fruit. This ribbon of black pavement was a death knell for that Octopus’ monopoly over transport.

I stare out the streaked window of this old school bus. The green countryside, the sierra emerge from shadow. Men are already out in the milpas. With a flutter of my weary eyes, that history begins weaving through my mind.

Árbenz continued the agrarian reforms begun by the previous president. Over one million acres of fallow fields would be given to 100,000 families. Yes, the government would pay recompense the declared-for-taxes value. Of course, United Fruit would be affected. It used only eight percent of its lands.

The pale colors of this sunrise brighten behind the misty mountains. Many passengers are nodding in their sleep. A woman puts her baby to breast, quieting its whimpering.

Horrors, yelled US Secretary of State Foster Dulles. (Once upon a time he was a lawyer for United Fruit. He drew up finca contracts between the Company and the government of this country.) Horrors, screamed his brother Allen, the CIA chief. (Once upon a time he was on the Board of Directors of—yes—the Company.) The iron curtain is descending upon Guatemala. We must save it from the clutches of Communism.

The sunlight now shimmers off this highway. The Israeli couple rubs their catnap from eyes. Together we will walk the mythical Jungle Trail, a dream of many travelers: through Chiquita plantations, through selva, from Guatemala to Honduras.

We are nearing grey Guatemala City with its deforested mountains and concrete. In a colorless field near the road, an indigenous family sorts trash.

The coup that toppled Árbenz was led by Coronel Castillo-Armas (a Fort Leavenworth graduate). Yes, with help from—la CIA. On that mid-June ‘54 day, those “liberation forces” bombed Guate, Puerto Barrios and the port of San José.

Then the iron curtain of repression descended. Some 120,000 have since died.

In the full light of this mid-December day of ’93, this city shows no scars of that aerial attack by F-47s (flown by US pilots). The streets, the bookstores, the libraries are silent about those social-democratic years of Arévalo and Árbenz. So are the schoolbooks in pueblitos and in this capital.

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Jessica and John tend their errands. I wait on a curb of the train station parking lot. My arms and one leg hug our knapsacks.

 The city is alive. Vendors line the streets with fresh-cut fruit and drinks. Cheap watches drape one man’s hands and wrists. La Prensa Libre, calls another, holding aloft the daily. Buses roar and rattle by, fuming clouds of greasy diesel smoke.

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We continue our journey towards Quiriguá. At times this black highway parallels the rail lines to Puerto Barrios. Once there, string our hammocks in a village hospedaje yard and welcome the night.

Come early morning we hike along rusty train tracks, along a dirt road, through banana plantations, to the ruins of Quiriguá. The trees are heavy with bright purple-magenta flowers. Thickening fingers of fruit emerge beneath the petals. This once-great Maya city is now an island in this green Chiquita sea. Magnificently carved stelae tower into the clear sky. The history of another golpe de estado: Cuauc Sky captured 18 Rabbit.

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Again that tarry ribbon, eastward to Entre Ríos, the turn-off into the fincas. In the thin shade of a solitary roadside stand, we await a ride into that emerald heart. There are no buses, no combis there. But somehow we must arrive to Finca Chinoq.

 

Guatemala, banana plantations, finca, Jungle Trail, hike, trek

The region through which The Jungle Trail cut. Finca Chinoq is to the west (left) of Finca la Inca.

The Trail

In the back of a blue cargo truck, more than a dozen of us stand, bouncing down the dirt road. Through the slats of the stockade, I can see miles and kilometers of plantations slip by. The trees are blossoming. Blue bags protect their fruit.

“Where are you going?” A fellow passenger asks me.

“Finca Chinoq.”

The man begins jumping, banging on the back of the cab. He yells, Parada!” The motor roars, the gears grind. More jumping and banging. Parada! Parada!

A narrow earthen route lies before us. From the left-hand field, an older man appears. The machete in his gnarled hand shines dully in this already-hot sun. “Yes, it is the way to the river,” he tells us. Our steps kick up the fine soil. Yes, he works for the Company. Oh, for three years now.

There on the bank sits a man. Bundled sacks of flour, sugar and rice surround him. He, too, is awaiting a lift across these swift brown waters. He’s the shopkeeper in a little village named Jimeritos.

And here we wait for a soul to appear on that opposite shore. After an hour or more, we wave and shout. The man paddles his canoe across and carries us down river to the other side. We wave good-bye to that storekeeper.

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And here we wait in El Chinchado for the migración officer to return. He’s down by the river
fishing, somewhere. No-one can find him.

And here we wait, talking with the soldiers. No-one knows of this way through the fincas to Corinto. Perhaps so-and-so knows. He doesn’t either.

In this central field, cows graze. A horse pursues a mare. Children kick a ball. A girl idly swings on a loose porch post.

And here we wait, the afternoon aging. The official returns, pole in hand but no fish. The road to Corinto the couple’s map shows? Pues, many foreigners have arrived from the other direction, lost and loonie. No, he shakes his head, he doesn’t know the way. Look, it’s late—now 4 p.m. Why don’t we spend the night? Perhaps they can find more information for us. John looks firmly at Jessica and me. “No, we go on. We’ve already lost enough time.”

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We head out, a young boy leading us down a barranca. The land drops away, lushly green on either side. But after a while the lad stops. He should return home. He didn’t tell his mother….

We continue down this dirt track through the banana forest. Muddy, slippery, only wide enough for one person or one beast. Cows move slowly on at our approach. The still-broiling sun casts long shadows across our path.

Overhead we hear a hum. A banana-yellow plane sprays a new-leaf-green cloud. Pure poison, Jessica and John hiss in unison. We cover our faces with our t-shirts and duck down. That pesticide is eye-burning, sour-tasting. We hurriedly trek, stooping and covering as the plane nears again and again. Men mark each pass with white-flagged poles. They wear no masks, no gloves.
The first stream lies stagnant beneath a two-log bridge. We grasp desperately to the frail cellophane-cord handrail, not wanting to fall into those dead waters.

A man shows up. He confidently strides across, whistling a tune. His machete swings from his waist. In the gathering shadows of dusk, he leads us over each log or rail-tie bridge. In the now-black distance, lantern lights glow yellow.

We arrive at small village hidden among the silhouette banana trees: Jimeritos. The shopkeeper leaves his cane-slat and palm-thatch hut. Inside his family still eats. He greets us at the window-counter of the concrete-block store. Our mouths drop open. “How did you get here?” He only smiles as he uncaps our sodas. That icy drink in this heat. Ah—nothing has ever tasted so good.

This night, under a velvet sky and stars, the forty-odd families gather on the store’s front porch. Telenovelas flicker in the dark. Children wander and explore crying out on fall-hurt buns.

By 9:30 everyone is to bed. John and Jessica crawl into their tent with a hushed good night. I unroll my sleeping bag and drift away on the silence.

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A morning rain bathes this pueblo of sameness rustic huts. The men are already in the fields. We must draw water from the well. It streams from holes punched in the bucket. To relieve ourselves, we must go out into the dense brush. Jimeritos has nary a latrine.

John isn’t feeling well. No, he hasn’t been taking his malaria medication. Are there pack animals we can hire? The answer comes after breakfast. No, they are all being used.

So with an adios, we leave this village behind. Weighed under our knapsacks, we mount the barranca again. I slip in the slick mud. John looks angrily at me, “You and your old pack.” I pick myself up without a word. Jessica is the next to fall … and then he …

We continue on, slipping and sliding. I freeze at the first bridge of this second day. John helps me across. Step one, step two, pivot. One step, pivot. Then a long string of old railroad ties, rotted ends butted up against each other. Step off to the next one. There are no handrails. I grasp the Israeli’s waist.

Onward we trek, calling out to the bananeros, “Is this the way to Corinto?” They wave and nod, pointing in the direction. We trek through miles of fincas stretching green to the horizon. We puzzle at the cable lines winding through their midst.

Behind the parting clouds, the sun rises higher. The day grows muggier. In the nearing distance, we see an open-sided palm-thatch building.

“My we rest here?” we ask the people inside.

“Of course, of course.” They look amazed at our presence.

“Where are we?” We heave our packs onto the long benches.

“Finca Arizona”

“Is this Honduras?”

“No, Guatemala.”

“Where are you from?” These mostly women ooh and aah over John and Jessica’s postcards of the Holy Land.

“Where are you coming from?” asks an old man looking dubiously at our knapsacks “You’ve been crossing the bridges with those?” With permission, he hefts one. “Wow,” he wipes his brow. “I surely would have fallen.”

“Where are you going? A group of us are going at noon. You can come with us.”

“How are we traveling?”

They point at those lines of cables.

John looks at his watch. It’s only 10 or so. “No—we go on—alone.”

With a farewell we leave. Once more we walk onto and down the barranca, slipping and sliding calling out to the field hands, “Is this the way to…?” The nods, the points. “Are we in Honduras yet?” Their answers cut across the banana forest clearing. “No—This is Guatemala.”

Over time the plantations thin. The barranca levels out to an overgrown pasture. Now there is no-one to ask. This path faintly leads to and around a lone, worn-wood house. We bewilderedly look at a man who steps out the front door.

“Is this the way to Corinto?”

“Sí.”
“Are we in Honduras?”

“No.” He says something about rails, something I don’t understand.

We follow this mere scratch in the brush to a large gate. A lake the rain has left behind blocks our passage. We heave our knapsacks over the barb-wired fence and slip through the turnstile. There, on the other side, is a border obelisk. We leapfrog over it. Here a real road of knee-deep mud begins.

We abandon it, cutting across a meadow on higher ground to a broad river. There, spanning the swift waters, is a bridge of three rails … and no handhold.

John wanders to a house up on the knoll. Perhaps there’s another way. A man leads a horse down the bank and through the chest-deep water. On the ground I spy a chicken-clawed stick. It’s about three meters long.

Foot on one rail, other foot on the other, stick on the outside of the third rung. The fast flow pulls at my staff. Okay. Foot on one rail, other foot on the other, stick between the second and third …
No—again that current. Bueno. Foot on one, other foot, this pronged stick on the third and shuffle, shuffle, shuffle across.

Once on the other side, I dump my mud-streaked pack. Within one step of this bank, I re-e-each, the staff barely touching Jessica’s outstretched fingers. John returns midways her journey and soon joins us on this shore.

We continue our journey down the wide shaded road. That horseman has now disappeared. But soon the trees close in. Off somewhere, there and there, we hear shotgun blasts. The trail we are upon fades into the swamps. Pods hang heavy on cacao. We carry our knapsacks atop our heads, wading through the thigh-deep mud and water. We walk along a narrow ledge and into another morass. Gunfire reverberates through the jungle.

At firmer though still-soft ground, we stumble across a soccer field. On the other side houses line a street. We have reached Corinto.

The past-noon sun is high and hot. Down the road walks a young girl on her way to the milpa. She’ll help her father plant chilies. Most of the men of this village are gone, bananeros on those fincas on the other side of the swamps.

But here we must stay until first morning’s light when a bus for Puerto Cortés passes. Honduran immigration will just have to wait another day.

 

published in:

Dirty Chai (Nº 2, Winter 2014)

 

NOTE: It is no longer possible to do The Jungle Trail. That road shown on Jessica and John’s map was finally graded into reality, and buses now wend the route.

 

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – September Equinox 2021

It is the September equinox – the official beginning of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and Spring in the Southern reaches of Planet Earth.

And it is time for my quarterly round up of literary and travel writings.

Indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world – this quarter, in the US, India, England, Singapore, Scotland, the UK and Canada.

In the realm of travel narrative and articles, we’ll be checking out Peru’s national parks.

Spend this September equinox browsing through the list (with links) below, poetically journeying to Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia, the Galapagos Islands, Chile, Honduras, Peru, Argentina, Cuba, and Bolivia. Among these poetic sojourns are a number of train trips!

And until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

caballito del mar, reed boat, Peru

Caballito del mar (traditional totora reed boat) pointed towards a nebulous sun. Huanchaco, Peru. photo © Lorraine Caputo

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“On a Pebbled Shore,” “Darkest Before the Dawn,” “Solstice Eve” and “Awakening” in Quintessence :  Aspects of the Soul (anthology: Soul Poet Society, 2021)

Proceeds go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Mexican Murals – San Blas, Nayarit” in RIC Journal (India) (25 June 2021)

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“Llano Vignettes,” “Angostura Sunset,” “Afternoon,” “Desert Storm” and “3 A.M.” in Open Skies Quarterly (Volume Five Anniversary Edition, 2021)

“Squalling” in Here: a poetry journal (Issue 4, 2021)

“Iguana Dreams,” “Astray,” “Arica” and “Ghosts” in Lothlorien Poetry Journal – Volume 1 – The Fellowship of the Pen (January-February 2021) (England)

“In the Falling Dusk” in Borderless Journal (Singapore) (July 2021)

“Painting for a Blind Friend” and “Araya Aquarelle” in Dreich (Scotland) (Overflow, June-July 2021)

“Another Storm” in Trouvaille Review (21 July 2021)

“4’ 33” in 433 Magazine (22 July 2021)

“In the Sunset Sea,” “Infinite,” “Reaching Beyond,” “Seaside Nocturne” and “Mochima” in The Ocean Waves (The Red Penguin Collection, 2021)

“Bojó – selectionsin Loud Coffee Press (Volume 2, Issue 7, Summer 2021)

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“Tapestry” and “As If a Dream” in Verse-Virtual (August 2021)

“The Afternoon Rains Have Come Again,” “Rise, Arise,” “The Beckoning” and “Secrets of the Selva” in Lion and Lilac Arts (UK) (August 2021)

“Evanescence,” “Aperture,” “Drifting,” “This Desert Road” and “Clearing Mists” in Erothanatos (India) (volume 5, issue 2)

“Mountain Odyssey” and “The Eastern Cordillera” in Sparks of Calliope (12 August 2021)

“La Habana” in StepAwayFlâneuse issue (August 2021)

“Zipolite” in North of Oxford (15 August 2021)

“Dancing a Whirlwind,” “Golfo de Morrosquillo,” “Magdalena Sunset,” “Enter Iris & Luna, Stage Front” and “La Boca Summer Day” in Ink Pantry (UK) (18 August 2021)

“Isla Negra” in Poetry & Places (29 August 2021)

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“The Aztec Eagle,” “Voyaging from Veracruz” and “The Ghost Train” in Synchronized Chaos (September 2021)

“Towards a Nebulous Sun” in Panoply (Issue 19, September 2021)

“Yungas Eventide” in Fiddles & Scribbles (Canada) (September 2021)

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Quito Suites (Origami Poems Project, 2021)

FREE! A microchap of my mini-poems written while in Quito, Ecuador. Print it off and fold it according to the instructions on the website.

(Origami Poems Project is dedicated to providing these poetry microchaps  FREE to the general public – if you are able to, please consider donating to this non-profit organization. Thank you!)

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Argentina, dictatorship, torture center, museum, human rights

The Archivo de la Memoria in Resistencia, Argentina. photo © Lorraine Caputo

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And for something a bit different … a discussion on poetry and inspiration …

Chris Rice Cooper invited me to participate in her project, BACKSTORY OF THE POEM – in which I discuss the creation of my poem “Archivo de la Memoria”

#302 Backstory of the Poem: Lorraine Caputo’s “Archivo de la Memoria”

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Peru, Paracas, nature reserve, beach

Playa Colorado, Reserva Nacional Paracas, Peru. photo © Lorraine Caputo

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NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            Peru Schedules

PERU’S NATIONAL PARKS: 10 Natural Getaways


If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.

THE TICO TRAIN : Paseo en Tren a la Tica

Costa Rica, train

Paseo en Tren a la Tica – a Costa Rican railroad excursion, 2004. photo Lorraine Caputo

(10 January 2004 / San José  – Playa Caldera-Mata de Limón – San José)

The first rule of traveling is patience, patience …

And, ay, how patiently I have waited for a train in this country!

I first came to Costa Rica in early 1992, traveling overland to Quito, Ecuador. I was almost broke, my knapsack had been stolen in Mexico, and it seems a million other things wrong. I hitched a ride with other foreigners to Puntarenas and spent a few days there.

I seriously thought of taking the train to San José.

But I chickened out.

All service, including the famous the Jungle Train (locally known as the Tren al Atlántico as it used to clack its way the Caribbean coast), were cancelled on 27 June 1995.

I wrote to INCOFER (Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles), the national train company, in May 1997 to find out the status of trains. In its letter of 24 June 1997, it replied:

At this time, the Government of Costa Rica is undertaking the steps to bring back train service, administered by independent companies that wish to use the rail system and provide excellent service, better than that provided by INCOFER.

We believe that the end of 1997, it could be possible to begin rail operations in the Atlantic zone, specifically transporting bananas from the plantations to Moín harbor in Limón. On its part, in mid-1998 the train between San José and the Pacific sector, in Puerto Caldera, could function once again.

I returned to Costa Rica in July 1998. No, no train yet. If I hadn’t have spent a few extra weeks in Nicaragua, I could have caught a special train for some saint’s feast day.

My research online in June 2002 gave me news of the Pacific train resuming service. In July 2003, plans were announced by INCOFER to begin cargo and passenger service again of the Jungle Train – at least from Guápiles and Siquirres to Limón.

And so I have returned.

Thursday 8 January 2004 / ~10:45 a.m. – San José

Gosh bless it – I’m as happy as a pig in a poke – a kid in a candy shop — & who knows what else ….

So, I went down to the train station to find out about trains. I was referred to a travel office there. I spoke with a young man, Mauricio (he gave me his business card). I explained my mission & travels over the years.

He told me about the trip they offer to Playa Caldera-Mata de Limón on the Pacific coast. About 98% of people who take this excursion train to the beach are Costa Ricans – & what I love tremendously, is it makes short stops along the way to allow vendors to come aboard to sell, in order to create business along the way, give people a source of income. He’ll allow me to go at the Tico price ($11 US) instead of the foreigners’ price ($25 US), payable in colones or dollars.

But before deciding, I wanted to find out more about service reportedly starting in Limón. I spoke with señor Moreira, the manager of operations. He said, No, only from Siquirres to Limón & only with cruise ship companies. They are also doing banana cargo service in the area. (I jotted notes about which lines are operational from map while he was gone making photocopies of the stations between here and Playa Caldera.)

I came back to the cheap hotel near the Central Market at about 10:30 a.m. My room was ready. I got my things and settled in.

I asked the man at the desk about having to be at the train station at 5:30 a.m. He said there would be no problem. The man on duty at that time can help me hail a taxi. It’ll be safe.

So I guess I should go get the train ticket …

I feel a bit uneasy about having to  take a train in only a few days – but it’ll be better to get it out of the way … & it leave me open for other possibilities of traveling here …

Just have to set that alarm for Saturday – have everything ready to go – figure out how much I’ll need, money-wise, to take with me for the trip (& stash the rest away safely) … Pack a picnic lunch …

I’ll go up to the station now & get that ticket. This will be the first time I ever take a tourist train – and only because the majority of passengers will be locals.

Costa Rica, train

The light grey line show the rail lines in Costa Rica. photo Lorraine Caputo

Saturday 10 January 2004

Am I nervous? Yes – I can’t get to sleep until after midnight, packing a day pack. I copy the list of train stations and the time schedule. Do I sleep? Do I dream?

And with the beeping of my alarm clock at 4:57 a.m., I am up and waiting for a taxi at 5:19 a.m.

Dawn is just beginning to lighten the eastern sky. A cool, humid breeze gusts.

Vendors are already dollying their goods through the twilight streets. Stalls are set up with rainbows of fruits. Nurses are going to work, people boarding buses, security guards going home after a night’s vigil. Clouds spot the mountain horizon.

I arrive at the station. The lobby is two-thirds full of families, nuns and a handful (fewer than a dozen) foreigners.

Mauricio, one of the company workers, greets everyone and tells the rules. He tells us the rails are being maintained, so we will be going a bit slow today.

And we begin boarding. On these tracks, behind the rumbling máquina (locomotive) are seven passenger cars: four blue wooden one, the first being an ultra-first class, and three silver cars. Bringing up the rear is a caboose.

Still taxis are depositing passengers at this depot. Those clouds are beginning to capture the magenta and peach of this morning’s sun.

Families pose for photos and hurry aboard to leave at six o’clock sharp. A blast of horn. Rush constant. Clang of engine bell, the horn, the horn, the horn and we roll off, out of the yard.

Two male pedestrians wave at us and yell “huevo duro, huevo duro,” hard-boiled egg, hard-boiled egg. Behind those track-side homes, a dog barks. Homeless people sleep in the grass, covered with cardboard to protect them from the chill and dew. A man steps out of his jeep to give us the thumbs up.

I am riding backwards, so it is hard to see what is happening outside. It is as I am seeing the train in space and time, of where it had been.

Young children sit on some parents’ laps. The rail company’s policy is that if can fit child on lap, rides for free. So, we must be, hmm, probably close to 400 total passengers on this ride to the Pacific coast.

We slow and stop – a car is blocking the tracks. And the whole human world also stops. A man shouts, “Buen viaje.” Then we creep slowly away.

People at the Mercado Mayoreo smile at our passage. Produce trucks are parked so close, too close to our tracks. In this new day’s light gleam mounds of lettuce, spinach, cabbage – carrots, yucca, beets – strands of onion and garlic … mounds of oranges, melon, mandarins – plantains, carambolas, piñas – blocks of dark sugar. A kid battles the traffic, arms full of white onions, the long green tops flowing.

And we are stuck again. The car hostess explains our situation and nervously prances with our delay. Finally we clear the market zone with an almost constant horn blast, swaying, rocking away.

The kids across the aisle wave out the window at everyone – but not all wave back. We approach Sabana Park. A man driving on the highway waves. We cross over our first highway bridge. Chinese bodega workers hoot and wave at us. We pass over another highway. A factory worker gives the thumbs up.

We pass the Zona Franca (Free Zone). The tracks are congested with trash. In front of homes built of scrap metal, an addict stabs and stabs his chest with a syringe.

A young Afro-Costa Rican family stands watching us pass by. Pa helps his son to wave to a toddler aboard this train. A woman hangs washed laundry. The River Torres rushes hundreds of feet below.

We chug into Heredia province. The houses here are richer, ranches are widely spaced. Sleek horses graze in a pasture.

Costa Rica, train

The list of stations and approximate time of arrival at each. photo © Lorraine Caputo

BELÉN

We make a stop here to pick up some passengers. Mauricio, dressed as a country bumpkin, runs around yelling for his ma who boarded in San José. And as we leave Belén, Ma Ramírez is looking for Mauricio.

Families wave from their front patios. Dogs bark. A guard on a tile roof, yes, greets us – and those workers at a plant. And behind poorer homes on the same side of the tracks, two shirtless shoeless boys wave from their dirt yard.

SAN RAFAEL

We clack through San Rafael. A smiling officer leans out the police station window with a smile and greets us. A man in a field of onions looks up at our clatter before returning to  his fumigation. We pass another former station stripped of its signs. Tilting warning signs are rusted and illegible.

We now cross a broad valley still hemmed by mountains. This landscape is carpeted with sown fields and feral fields, fields scattered with lava boulders and pastures.

CIRUELA – 800 meters a.s.l. – 23 K San José / 93 K Puntarenas

7:23 a.m.

A couple, still in bedclothes, waves from their yard. The day is growing warmer with the higher sun and lower altitude. Beneath the ghostly waning moon, butterflies flurry along the tracks and into this car.

TURRÍCARES

Near this unmarked station are cattle ranches and a country club, and large egg farms.

The Ramírez family again visits our car again. Their humor and drama continue.

It is 7:50 a.m. The moon has now almost faded away over the mountains. The land we traverse is now rougher, with massive and low-worn volcanic stones.

CEBADILLA

The land flows around us. On roads parallel to our tracks, people stop mid-passage to wave at us.

ATENAS

Here we stop to allow aboard vendors to sell traditional foods and fruits, to allow a musician to play.

I gaze out at the pockets of sugar cane and pockets of meadow. Zopilotes soar above the earth.

An older musician comes to our vagón. He sings, playing a guitar and blowing a harmonica. Everyone sings along. Some passengers whoop. There’s a call for another song and everyone (save I) sings along. Our visitor collects the tips, then provides us with a third canción.

Tree limbs, tree trunks are weighted down by ant nests. A paper wasp nest hangs from the limb of another. The árboles are small-leafed, sparse-leafed. And now there is only the song of wheels squealing upon rails as we twist through this rolling land.

A señora arrive with baskets of gallo de gallina. She serves me up a plate of range hen, with an egg, tortilla and a torta de papa (potato cake).

MANGOS – 408 meters altitude – 48 Km de San José

We roll past this small station that’s more like a country bus stop, only perhaps some three meters square. It has no seats. The windows are mere openings in the walls. A feasting sloth hangs by its tail from an electrical line.

ESCOBAL

Budding mango trees shade this depot. An overgrown garden of yucca, banana and bamboo surround the building. The trees are small-leafed, sparse-leafed trees have limbs that are heavy with ant mounds. A wasp nest hangs from one branch. The brush is woven by vines of  blue morning glory, of lavender morning glory.

We pass by this forgotten station with the squeal of our wheels upon rail, the clunk, clack-clackety, clunk, clack-clackety of our train.

Branch-to-earth vines decorate the countryside. Zopilotes fly through the jungle-covered canyons. Squeal of wheel … The azure sky is spotted with clouds. Up on a low ridge, an anteater peers around a tree trunk, observing our passage.

Clunk—clack—clunk, clunk—clack—clunk. On the other side of this train snakes a snakes a river ravine. We sway into the cool of shade, out of the bright sun. We roll past a patio of three spurs where boxcars retire. We swing past isolated homes where dogs bark.

We waver into small towns, our train’s horn blowing. Yards are framed with crotons and bougainvillea. Families wave. A bare-bottomed boy waves in the door of his house.

Clack clack, clack clack, clack clack, clack clack. The smell of burning brush wafts through this car’s open windows. The constant horn blare greets the village of Orotina. The people there laugh in amazement, with delight at the sight of a train. Past the cemetery where a young couple is placing flowers on a grave. A shaggy poodle barks, his voice lost above the horn blare, the horn blare.

COYOLAR

This station is blue and white like all the others. The sun glares off its sign.

The squeal, the hiss of brakes as we descend towards our destination. Trees are covered with thick thorns. Lizards run up the embankment. A broad river to our left rushes towards the ocean.

Clack clack clack, click click. Clack clack clack, click click.

The land stretches flat to the now-distant mountains, flat to the nearing sea. From houses of the rich, from homes of poor, people greet us aboard this train, the dogs bark. Fields and pastures green the scape.

HIDALGO VILLAGE

Far below are acres of perfect rows of young melons towards which we wind, descending, winding. We clatter over a river in which children swim. And in this countryside, many more acres are being planted. Some farmhands stop wave to us.

We swoosh through a tunnel (283 meters long). When we emerge, I see hills of worn tan faces dappled with growth and miles of fallow fields. In the distance is a shipping yard full of container cars and vessels.

We ride long a now-mud swamp with tall roots. The estuary is low, exposing a wide expanse of sand.

And our party has arrived at about 10:47 a.m. Families gather their towels and picnic hampers, and head for the beach.


At about 3 p.m., I hear the locomotive horn. I run from town to where the train awaits our return.

Two women rush towards the train to sell the fruit and coconut drinks. With flavored ices, men on bicycle carts travel aside the cars. Sales are made through the windows. A woman selling Pan, fresco el pan arrives breathless.

All the passengers return, bronzed or burnt from their day at the beach. People pose on the vestibules for photos – Say, Whiskey!

3:19 p.m. – A long blast of horn

More folks settle in. More photos are taken.

3:23 p.m. – Two blasts of the horn

Adriana our attendant counts heads. Three passengers are missing. The strong mid-afternoon sun glints off the estuary waters. Elizabeth asks if she and her eldest daughter, Alejandra (16 years old) and two young sons (Orlando, 6 years old, and Daniel, 2 years old) could move up to the empty seat next to me. We make our introductions and settle in for the ride home.

3:28 p.m. – A wavering blast of that horn

The engine has been moved to the front of our chain of cars. The direction of the seats has been switched. I will be riding on the same side of the car as I came on – but this time I will be facing forward, into our journey.

3:30 p.m. – One last horn blast

And we roll off, clunking past tangled tree roots in the scarce swamp and those raíces left dry.

Daniel is cranky from too much sun, too much heat. He wants mama’s breast. Soon he falls asleep. And in a short while, her older will also be asleep ….

Egrets dapple a field of cattle. I smell the black-earth aroma of that tunnel. And now green and yellow tractors plow those miles of melons. The field hands toil under the hot sun. A boy and his dog lazily walk a dirt road. After the last rows of that melon finca, we rattle through a cut, steep rock walls surrounding us. We sway past a mango orchard and barking dogs.

HIDALGO VILLAGE

Jungle and savannah, sugar cane campos drape this landscape. Children wave.

COYOLAR

Poor homes, rich homes. Barking, waving.

OROTINA

Here we stop for ten minutes to buy mangos and mangas out our windows.

And then we are on our way, that river ravine to the west and jungle on the other side. Monkeys climb and leap from tree to tree.

The sun is passing beyond the western mountains. Those valleys pool with gold. Shadows fall longer. Clouds become brushed with magenta. The sun is a golden orb. The sky bathed in a spectrum.

ESCOBAR

We roll through this town. Some passengers are singing and clapping.

The sun has now disappeared. Shadows deepen. Cicada song swells. The west is still colored by the departed sun. The sea is now far, far off.

It becomes chillier with the dusk and ascent of altitude. The land, the plants are mere silhouettes against the pale indigo sky. Venus emerges, then more stars. As we clack and sway, tired children are rocked to sleep.

ATENAS – 38 Km to San José / 78 Km Puntarenas

6:18 p.m.

The museum is now closed. Vendors come aboard.

TURRÚCARES

Night is absolute. Now and again, in the distance, the golden net of some city’s lights spreads across the uneven land. But still the human world must stop for our passage. Folks wave, dogs bark.

CIRUELAS       SAN RAFAEL

Toots of horns greet us. The shouts of adios.

BELÉN

A soccer game is underway in the field in front of the church.

Here, Elizabeth and her family debark, departing for home.

We are into the last stretch towards San José. Windows are closed against thrown stones. And we stop, and we go slow through gangland. Trash blocks the rails.

SAN JOSÉ

And we are now home. It is about 8:04 p.m.

A HEALTHIER BANANA CAKE

A HEALTHIER BANANA CAKE

banana cake, no fat, healthy

A healthier banana cake – and would you believe with no butter or oil, and only half the usual sugar?! photo © Lorraine Caputo

There comes a time when we may have to say farewell to sweets … and thanks to months of lockdowns and not being able to be as physically active as we may have been before the worldwide Covid pandemic, it seems it may be just that time.  

(I know, I know – when these “adventuresome” times began, I urged folx to “Bake cookies, brownies or a cake for dessert – or for unwinding in the evening” in my article, “60 Ways to Leave Your Boredom.”)

But do we really have to say farewell to something that tops off a nice dinner with such flair? Can we tweak our favorite recipes into something with less fat, less sugar, less calories … yet have something delish, something to satisfy that sweet tooth?


I began to research. Is it possible to cut out butter without affecting the texture of a cake? Decrease the amount of sugar, and yet have a satisfying dessert?

I’d heard of making cakes with avocados instead of butter. One pre-pandemic communal Sunday dinner, a housemate presented a chocolate cake for dessert. It was absolutely delish. After we had cleaned our plates clean of the last crumb, she revealed the secret: It was made with avocados.

Avocados, luckily, are quite inexpensive here in Latin America. But are there other things that might be used in place of butter or oil? Then I found this wonderful article by Nan Schiller. She lists over a dozen substitutes for oil you can use in baked goods.

Brandy Almond cake

Brandy Almond Cake – one of my favorite homemade desserts! So buttery, and that touch of ginger! photo © Lorraine Caputo

That got me to thinking about a previous Recipe Corner sharing, in which I discussed ways to make a cake without an oven – and my two favorites pasteles made that way, Brandy Almond and Lemon Macadamia.

Ay – but with all that sugar and butter! In truth, though, those measurements are standard for a rich cake. So, how????

I meditated on my dilemma – if I substitute this … and with the natural oils in the nuts …

Then hit the kitchen with an idea. What follows is my creation – with no butter or oil, and only half the usual sugar.

This Healthier Banana Cake turned out very moist, with a fine crumb texture. The second night, the flavors were much more matured.

So, join in on this great experiment. I hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

HEALTHIER BANANA CAKE

In blender pitcher, whip at high:

2 large ripe bananas

½ cup brown or white sugar (I used brown)

2 eggs

½ cup walnuts

¼ cup whole flaxseed (if you use flaxseed meal, add it to the dry ingredients)

In another bowl, mix together well:

1 cup flour (I prefer using whole wheat flour)

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons of flaked natural coconut (that is, with no added sugar)

Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and blend well.

Lightly grease and flour a cake pan, and pour in the batter. Bake in a preheated 180ºC (350ºF) oven until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick (or thin knife) inserted near the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

If you find yourself without an oven, then lightly grease and flour a heavy four-liter pot. Pour in the batter. Cover and cook over medium-low heat about 30 minutes.

When the pan or pot is cool, remove the cake. Serve plain with a coffee or tea.

¡Buen provecho!

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – June Solstice 2021

Seashells, ocean, summer, solstice, June, Colombia

The first day of the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer is Seashell Day! Seashell mosaic, Palomino, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world – this quarter, in the UK, the US, India and Spain.

Spend this June solstice browsing through the list (with links) below, poetically journeying to Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Alaska, Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia, the US, the Galapagos Islands, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ecuador …

… and by train in Mexico, Bolivia and (perhaps … or not) Argentina …

And until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

Door, architecture, colonial, Quito, Ecuador

The Portal. Quito, Ecuador. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Friday Night at the Crossroads” in StepAway Magazine (UK) – 10th Anniversary (March 2021)

“Aureate Afternoon” in Trouvaille Review (29 March 2021)

“Night Passage,” “Into the Chaco (fragment)” and “Pocitos” in Impspired (UK) (Issue 10, April 2021)

“This Desert Road” and “Braiding” in The Mark Literary Review (Issue 29, April 2021)

“Comments on a Poetry Reading,” “Guerrilla Poetry” and “Banquete Cultural” in The BeZine (5 April 2021)

“The Portal,” “Oospore,” “Spirit Suite – Étude Nº 13” and “The Place of the Dead” in Lothlorien Poetry Journal (England) (13 May 2021)

“Night Passage,” “Into the Chaco (fragment)” and “Pocitos” in Imspired (UK) (Volume 5, 2021)

“Caribbean Night” and “Purple Rain” in ILA Magazine (India) (Issue # 3 May/June Edition 2021)

“Excursion (Into the Night)” in The Literary Nest (Vol 7, Issue 2 – 24 May 2021)

“Every Night” in Freshwater Literary Journal (May 2021)

“To Build a Snowman” in The Poet MagazinePoem of the Day (4 June 2021)

“The Sound Poem,” “After the Storm” “Mexican Murals – Tuxtla Gutiérrez” and “Scattered” in Otherwise Engaged Literature and Arts Journal (Seventh Edition, 2021)

“Amanecer en Kuélap” en Bajo Otros Cielos (España) (7 junio 2021)

“Chi – Standing Five Elements” in As Above So Below (UK) (Issue 7: Hands / Feet, June 2021)

“Weekend’s End” in As It Ought To Be Magazine (18 June 2021)

Escape to the Sea (Origami Poems Project, 2021)

This microchap has 6 poems I wrote while relaxing in Zorritos (Peru)

FREE to download … print it off and fold it for your own copy!

If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation, or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me.

I am also available to participate in literary events.

THE TEXAS EAGLE

US trains Amtrak Texass Eagle

A 1990s map of Amtrak’s routes.

17 – 19 August 2003

St. Louis, Missouri – El Paso, Texas, by way of San Antonio

Texas Eagle / Sunset Limited

 

I spend this day simmering in nerves. Will I remember how to observe, explore, to write?

It has been so long since I last took a train. Let’s see if I can remember. Christmas 2000, it had to be. The Ann Rutledge between Jefferson City and Chicago. Almost three years now.

Tonight I’ll be hopping the Texas Eagle, from here to the Mexican border.

 

All morning I mull over Saint Louis maps. Which will be our route out of town? Will we follow those tracks through Carondolet Park, near Cristina’s house? But there is such a maze of rails southward. I give up.

I try to catnap. It’s another sultry summer day on these banks of the Mississippi. Heat advisories are posted again. I can’t sleep. I give up.

I pack. Try to rest. Give up.

We have a late lunch. Despite the beer, and rum-coffee liqueur- spiked ponche crema (or because of), I still can’t sleep. I awaken sweating. I give up. I shower, stow the gear into Rocinante (my knapsack) and tie her down. I try to read for a while. But I can’t … I give up.

And I worry. Can I remember how to ride, how to write?

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

Cristina, Germán and I arrive at the downtown Amtrak station. It is already crowded with people and baggage for the Texas Eagle, due in at 8:50 p.m. from Chicago. We greet a friend awaiting his brother on that train. The Eagle finally alights at 9:17. I check my watch with the lobby clock. I am three minutes fast.

Cristina, Germán and Dan marvel at this silver string of double-decker cars. Never before had they seen a Superliner, the long-distance trains. But I must find my place, and Dan has spotted his brother. Time only for hurried hellos, good-byes and hugs.

A man across the aisle helps me hoist Rocinante onto the overhead rack. I peer out the window. My friends are nearing their auto. Germán keeps looking over his shoulder to our gleaming Eagle. I wave furiously. They finally spot me. We say farewell one last time.

Indeed, this is the Texas Eagle. Here in Saint Louis, the last car will be taken off. Once we get to San Antonio, only this coach and one sleeper will hook up with the west-bound Sunset Limited on its way to California. And I’m on my way to El Paso.

We are in darkness for a while until the last car is detached. Union Pacific freighters clunk, rattle by on the next track.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

And so we slowly roll through the railyards, boxcars parked on sidings. The night streets are abandoned. Over there is Saint Louis University.

We glide through the blackened metropolis, swaying past Monsanto Center and warehouses. Crossing empty streets, red lights flashing. Lit truck yards. Long expanses of pitch, desolate city.

At last the rhythm of wheel upon rail quickens. A blast of train horn. Trees silhouette against a charcoal-grey sky.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

Down in the smoking car, a girl listens to her mother and two other women trade tales of men.

The loud boasts of teen-age boys fill one end of the snack bar. The attendant is taking stock of his wares. He slow-wipes the counter in rhythm to that sweet jazz playing.

And in the sightseer car, a twenty-something man talks on his cellular phone. A young woman wraps herself in a blanket. Other folk listen to music filtered through headphones. All settle to watch the Missouri countryside slide by.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

Now our Texas Eagle soars through the velvet night, carrying its passengers into the Dream World.

The mother in front of my row hushes her children. Jeremy, shhhh, people are sleeping. Jeremy turns the lights on and off. They flicker across these pages. His younger brother looks over the seat and waves at me. Mother returns to Harry Potter, a third son nestling against her.

The horn again blows as we pass through a nameless village, past the police station, past the tavern whose small windows are lit with neon beer signs.

And once more into indistinguishable night. The hollowness of a bridge. The sway over a rough stretch of tracks. Crossing-bar lights pulsate. A pick-up truck waits our passage.

More ebon-forested landscapes, scattered anonymous towns. The earth begins to mound. We are winging into the Ozarks. High above in the east, Mars shines red. Behind fleeting trees, I see the copper half-wane moon. Here in the near-midnight countryside, the sky is a rich deep blue.

More nameless … More hollow …

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

About 2:23 a.m.

I awaken, wondering where we are. Has Poplar Bluff come and gone? Nothing looks familiar. We are flying across a flat land. The now-white moon seems fuller. Endless civilization.

I struggle against sleep.

And awaken to our Eagle creeping. Another train zooms by. The almost-continual horn.

And suddenly again the vibration of our speed through my body. And the planed scape, stark moon, civilization. I hear the conductress go through and later, drifting towards the edge of wakefulness, I hear her seat a new passenger.

I rise and sink to consciousness. The land is flat, flat. I search the nameless towns this train stalks for some clue.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

About 4:56 a.m.

We hover through these Little Rock railyards. Freighters pass us at a quicker clip. Their engines hum. Their cars clatter. In the distance, neon-outlined buildings shine through the fog. Over a river, a long hollow rattle, boards creak. The capitol. And a momentary rest for more passengers.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

About 5:45 a.m.

Still it is so dark outside. Soon we will stop at Malvern, near Hot Springs. Perhaps by then dawn will paint the oriental heaven.

I think I shall fall back into the rhythm of this Eagle – allow it to lull me, to let me swoop on its wings into the Dream World once more.

The sky is faintly lightening.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

And when I next awaken, it is pale blue. We dart straight through skimmed-green swamps. Through small towns without stopping. Hope, Arkansas. Cows and egrets out in a pasture. Rocking and rolling. Occasionally the click of rails can be heard. Osage orange trees hang heavy with fruit.

            The snack bar is now open for breakfast.

                        Coffee .. sausage and egg sandwich

            Or perhaps a bowl of cereal. 

And down there, the attendant serves his coffee. Dinah Washington sings soft.

            The dining car is now open

            for your dining pleasure.

Up in the sightseer car, Robert the Porter spins tales of his many years of service. The best ride? For scenery, the Empire Builder. Ah, also the California Zephyr. It goes through high desert, low desert, plains, mountains and canyons – views you can get only on a train. The craziest thing that’s ever happened? The twelve kids that wrea-eaa-eaked havoc all the way from Dallas to Chicago.

(Suddenly this reminds me of My Nightmare Train, on which the kids wrea-eaa-eaked havoc all the way from Viedma to Bariloche in Argentina’s northern Patagonia. Gee, kids aren’t so different 9,000 kilometers apart.)

            Amtrak’s next scheduled stop is

                        Texarkana

            Last stop in Arkansas

The self-same landscape into Texas. That young boy in front of me looks over his seat and greets me.

                        Amtrak apologizes for the delay.

            We’ve got a bit of freight traffic

                        coming our way.

We sit surrounded by woods. Twin locomotives and containers on flatbeds, sometimes double-stacked, rumble by. Worn-white, orange, blue flash past our windows. The air conditioning within here blows soft. Soon enough that other train passes.

And we skim the red soil of Texas. Over rivers. A lake with drowned trees shimmers beyond the forest. Past swamps, an egret flying above.

The mother and her three sons gather their belongings. Shifting his small pack upon his back, the youngest turns and gives me a quick smile, a quick wave. The vestibule door closes behind them.

Through Atlanta slowly, past its prim brick station, not stopping.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

Marshall, Texas

Our Eagle alights in front of a brick station with pristine white trim and wrap-around porch. We await our new conductor and engineer to arrive. I scan the Union Pacific freight train passing with multitudes of boxcars and tankers and hoppers.

Robert says it’s already getting hot out there. The early-morning sun sparkles on his smile. “And when we get to Dallas, it’s going to be 5,000 degrees. And El Paso, whew,” he wipes his molasses-colored brow, “7,000 degrees!”

                        We are running ahead of schedule.

            Most likely we will now be arriving

                        to all our stops early.

On time we take flight, cutting through mid-morning forests of willows, oaks and sumacs, past refineries, through woods of mimosa, horseweed and locust. The earth is drying. The many swamps and rivers of before have disappeared. Now and again dirt roads raise their dust. Past acres of rolled-up bales of hay. Sometimes a farm pond. Clapboard houses shrivel.

A young boy across the aisle listens to his CD. The music leaks from the headphones and flows on this air-conditioned wind. He dances in his seat, air-scratching the records. His ma hopelessly tries to still him. She turns to her window to gaze upon the countryside beneath this gliding Eagle.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

Longview, Texas

Passengers go, passengers come. Below on the sidewalk, some child has drawn a yellow-chalk figure. Four generations of African-Americans with mounds of luggage on carts board the train. A young Texan stumbles with her red duffel bag.

As we leave, lunch is called in the dining car. Service must be finished by Dallas. I share a table with Renee of mid-sized town, Oregon. She’s been visiting family in Arkansas. Sandra serves us our meals. (On this side, Cornish hen, mashed potatoes and green beans, with a glass of Merlot.) Renee is a third-grade teacher. Sixty percent of her students are Hispanic. She tells me of their difficulties immigrating, of their poverty-filled Christmases. Over cheesecake and coffee, we talk about how our rôles as women have changed and the constrictions we still face.

It is now just before one. We are the only two diners still left. The workers are clearing other tables, folding the cloths. Renee asks Sandra where we are entering. Dallas. In the distance its high skyline rasps the faded-denim heavens.

Sunlight sheens off hot chrome handrails, off the metal horse wings and hooves of a mural. On the other side of the platform, a Trinity Railway Express commuter departs for Fort Worth. The air is barren and still. The sun glints off the glass walls of the Hyatt.

And within here, the ages, the rainbow that is the United States. Whites, Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans. Immigrants or mere travelers from Eritrea, India, China and Switzerland; from Mexico, Germany, Australia, Japan and Israel. We spend this time watching DVDs on computer or reading; talking on cell phones or sleeping. Some lean over seats, chatting with one another. Others play games. A few women knit.

Leaving Dallas, drifting by a caravan of open hoppers of shredded scrap metal, and boxcars. Empty lots, neighborhoods and then the railyard web, sandwiched between long lines of cargo trains. Under and over interstate highways, towards Fort Worth. Soil bone-dry, trees small-leafed. Shopping centers. Warehouses. Pawnshops and lounges and Baptist churches. Into and out of Arlington. Traffic stopped by red and white-striped bars, red flashing lights.

I doze. I hear an announcement in the hazes of dreams.

And awaken to a slight breeze cooling the blistering sun. We are in Fort Worth. A large Santa Fe sign on the roof of the station-cum-market. On the other side of our platform idles – and soon departs – our sister Eagle. Further beyond, two BNSF engines head a long string of hoppers heaped with coal.

We pull away. On the next track over, a Union Pacific freighter is stopping, blocking roads.

            The snack bar once more is open.

The line forms. The attendant repeats over and again, “No, ma’am, we’re out of that. That, too, sir. But we do have …” And that jazz, still that jazz.

Back into small town and rural Texas. A land of nopales, drying arroyos, of dust devils a-winding. Cumulus clouds build high into the bleached sky. A land of fragile, pale soil carpeted with wildflowers. A dead dog rots into the earth, its bones stark white. Fields of brittle corn. Mesquite. Mobile homes and decaying barns. Horses and burros, cattle graze among snowy egrets.

And miles upon miles of flat, unpopulated lands.

We arrive in MacGregor at almost 6:30 p.m., over a half-hour late. The conductor seats more passengers going beyond San Antonio.

And that young Texan who got on back in Longview? She’s raising a fuss about having to give up the seat next to her. At least she said it: She’s a spoiled l’il brat.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

Chasing the Sunset

I came to the sightseer car to watch the sun set. It has hidden behind a bank of grizzled cumulus shadowing the land. A solitary, thick ray shines towards earth.

Acres upon acres of sear maize, hayfields, and feral brush dusted with white flowers. The train horn blows. Yards full of scrap lumber and abandoned autos.

That beam widens. Faintly the heaven begins to color.

A tractor with a sunbonnet mows a field ere dusk settles. In the distance is the Temple, Texas water tower. Doves gather on electrical lines.

The clouds gather pale melon.

Folks in this car watch the movie. They ignore Temple, our horn blow.

To the east, lightning pulsates.

Street lamps light.

Sometimes to watch a sunset, one needs patience. It becomes a meditation.

The ray frays, becoming lemon yellow. That melon pools deeper. And above the nebulous star – pale rose.

Now it’s about seven-thirty. A small dog chases a pick-up truck across a field.

The sun sinks beneath the clouds. Its orb is visible, a bright yellow-orange. Out to the east it rains. The sky is now peach.

Through a town of old wild-west buildings. Through stubbled-corn acreage.

And that star emerges again. The heavens intensify – peach and orchid, a touch of magenta. Gradually this evening’s painting is emerging. The peach turns to orange, the magenta brightens. Distant oriental clouds reflect soft gold.

Shadows are forming as we enter Taylor. A large graveyard lies yonder. Between birthday greetings and community announcements, a bank sign flashes 8:03 p.m., 90º. These buildings block my view of the sunset.

And by the time we leave Taylor, that near star has completely departed. The sky is shading to indigo. The greenery darkens. Clouds cling to the thinning remnants of color.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

The conductor announces we are approaching Austin. Our Eagle wings down a highway median, surrounded by traffic. We pull in 26 minutes late. Higher downtown buildings are outlined in neon.

Then over Town Lake, heading south. These interior lights are dimmed. Some children are already tucked in and asleep. Twenty minutes behind schedule, we arrive in San Marcos. Those burnt rails are cooling with this new night. With a horn blow, the train slowly takes flight.

Robert stands at the front of our passenger car. “We should be getting into San Antonio about 11 p.m., or about a half-hour early. A barrier will be put up between this car and the ones in front. Those cars are going back to Chicago tomorrow.

“Now, you can get off this train and do what you all wish. But remember, this is your place.”

Just before 11, we hover past the Alamo. Ay, to have a tour at this hour, to meet the ghosts of Texan independence. We roll into the blackened old-city heart and roost at Sunset Station. And I fall asleep.

I awaken before midnight and wander the streets in this part of town. No stores, nothing is open. Some people found the Denny’s, but it is closed until two. I take a study of the huge black Southern Pacific steam locomotive and hopper on display. Engine Number 794 – 58,000 pounds light; 160,000 pounds loaded.

Suddenly our Eagle lifts off, switching tracks, changing the order of cars.

I enter the station. The woman behind the counter is speaking Spanish to a family of would-be travelers. I chat with her co-worker. He says the Sunset Limited is running about an hour late. (It’s due in at 2:28 a.m., according to the timetable.)

“The rest of the trip will be off about the same amount of time. Rail traffic is heavy out in west Texas at night.”

“Indeed,” I reply. “Lots coming up from Mexico.”

“Precisely.”

I reboard. That Texan who had gotten on in Longview is leaning over a seat, talking loud. A few older women nod their heads politely (and occasionally shake them). She’s going to pull a blanket out, she declares, and sleep in the aisle. (Poor thing, she can’t reckon having only one seat. She needs so much space. As ma across the aisle says, “If you want two seats, pay for them.”)

The young woman pushes her glasses up with a fat hand. Her Texas Roadhouse t-shirt shudders with a quick breath. Chomping her gum, she praises the air conditioning. The train crew is mean and selfish. They charge so much for food. They take a whole row of seats for themselves. They were out of margaritas when she went. (Is she old enough to drink?!) Therefore, the train is full of drunks. Only old people ride the train. And there are no kids. (Ahem – and how many are there presently in this car? At least six.) Well, I just heard her say she’s in ninth grade and has a pretty high reading level. She’s going to get a scholarship to study law at UCLA. She has always wanted to be a lawyer.

I continue writing in my journal and peering down to the station. I hear an announcement. I can’t understand it.

After El Paso, it’s going to be so boring, nothing but desert, nothing to see, she complains. She’s going back to California to live with her pa. She couldn’t cotton living with her ma and stepfather. Her mother’s shipping her back …

I am beginning to feel sleepy again. Perhaps I’ll nap for a while.

 

Shortly before four a.m., I awaken to the rising crescendo of an approaching locomotive, to its horn. We begin divorcing from the Texas Eagle, wedding to the Sunset Limited. I keep dozing off. By the time the ceremony is over, we are almost two hours late.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

 

About 6:39 a.m.

Eastward the sky begins to lighten, and for a while, holds a dusky rainbow. Shadows lift to reveal a fawn bounding through sage and mesquite. The returning sun is brilliant yellow, bathing the sky gold. A hawk skims the brush. The earth sculpts into buttes.

In the sightseer car I sit, meditating upon the desert below. A young woman plays guitar.

In some small town, way before Del Río, we stop for the passage of a Union Pacific train: 126 boxcars and tankers. We are now entering the region of these massive cargueros. There is no hope of making up lost time – all surety of losing more.

A zopilote soars above flatlands, above a mobile trailer parked back from the dirt road. A herd of pronghorn antelope wander through the desert.

A one-hundred-twenty-car Union Pacific rushes by. In the distance, north of Del Río, Laughlin Air Force Base shimmers like a mirage. Then Del Río itself, where we can step off and stretch our legs. “But you can’t go into town,” the loudspeaker warns. Too soon we receive the all-aboard and we begin journeying. Only to stop within a few feet to pick up a passenger who – yes – had gone into town.

We follow the Río Grande. A wild ram fades into the dull brush. We pass a dam to the south, its Lake Amistad bright blue. Sage, fruiting nopal and mesquite. Candelaria cactus, creosote. Rocky earth scattered with ranches. Yucca, agave. Soil leached pallid. A solitary windmill whirls, no buildings near. A herd of sheep. Zopilotes swoop.

And somewhere out there lies Mexico.

Into a canyon, the deep-green Pecos River shaving the red sandstone walls.

Longview and a sight of that Big River once more. Over yonder, the Hanging Judge’s ranch.

Land rises into hills and buttes, thick layers of wind-eaten rock, eroded soil, barren arroyos.

By late morning, animals have retreated from the heat, and I am sleepy.

But when I awaken, it is still the same desert. Orange butterflies dart amongst flowering bushes.

Before Sanderson, our train sidewinds, then continues straight like always. Across Warbur Flats, Marathon Flats, part of the Comanche Trail. Glass Mountain to the north. Across a broad, ancient volcanic flow.

Sometime before Alpine, up on a southern slope not too far from the tracks, sits a stagecoach driven by three dummies, teamed by four silhouette horses. The air is parched in the Gateway to Big Bend National Park.

Flat-bottomed cumulus spot the sky. The distance is hazed by heat. Whirlwinds spin. Some small town somewhere and an abandoned cattle loader, a large maze of chutes. A deer runs towards the West Mountains that climb, shadowed by clouds.

All along Texas one sees the occasional herd of longhorns and ranches. This is a mostly open country – though not desolate. For this desert holds so much life for those who are willing to still themselves – to watch, to meditate, to listen – not with ears, but with Spirit.

And its colors so pale, so leached, so eroded. Beige, tan, pink, ochre. Sage, bright green, yellow-green. Grey, black, bone-white, bleached-bone-white. The blue sky – bright above, fading towards the horizon.

Another town, Valentine, of rust-lace tin roofs, melting adobe. The sand is embossed by prints. Another Union Pacific train of Mexican boxcars. A pair of dirt devils dervish across the desert. La Migra patrols the chain-link border. We wait for three freighters to pass.

Rain falls upon those mountains. Twisted carcasses of derailments. Dry gulches, dry washes, canyons. Clouds thicken overhead, their rains eluding us. The surrounding land relaxes.

 

We near El Paso, drifting past irrigated orchards and fields of blooming cotton, past a campo santo, a trailer park, our horn blowing and blowing. A sister and brother walking up Álvarez Road wave to our now-creeping train. We must wait for a carguero: seven locomotives, 115 cars.

We are just, just within reach of El Paso. It is now 4:20 p.m. The conductor announces our delay: We are behind two freight trains awaiting relief crews. We don’t know how long it will be before we can arrive in El Paso.

To our left is a high school. Football teams practice under the hot, late-afternoon sun. Male passengers watch.

A quarter-hour later we crawl a few hundred yards. Again we stop dead. Now we are beside a warehouse and lot, beside fields of brush and more cotton.

By 5 p.m. we jerk nearer El Paso. The first call for dinner comes. I look out the window. There are no tracks on either side of us. I go down and pull my knapsack out from behind, beneath others’ luggage. It’s now 5:20 p.m.

The conductor gives us an update on our position. We’re now moving up a bit, half up-limit. Then we have two trains that have to move to the left. Then we can switch from Track 1 to Track 2 and go on in to El Paso. Five-forty-five p.m. – one down, one to go, he tells us.

Suddenly we are moving into the web of the railyard, clicking, clicking, Crossing bells clang, our horn blasts. Under an interstate overpass, its leggings painted with portraits of Che Guevara, Pancho Villa and the Virgen de Guadalupe. The sky is beginning to darken with a muted dusk. Those rain-wettened mountains draw nearer. But here it is dry. The streets are full of traffic. These rails are full of traffic.

And finally, at 6:10 p.m., I step into El Paso. I watch that train leave to chase this day’s sunset.

IF THERE’S A TRAIN TO TAKE, I WILL FIND IT

train, map, El Salvador

The rail line from Sonsonate heads eastward. Armenia is about half-ways to San Salvador. photo by Lorraine Caputo

(27 April 1998 / Sonsonate-Armenia, El Salvador)

 

So many people had told me there is no train in El Salvador. But I found one, across from the city market, hidden behind the jumble of stalls.

Here is the worn-brick station of Sonsonate, with termite-eaten door jams and decaying, faded-green ceiling and partition walls. Inside people wait on scattered benches for this train to Armenia that departs four times per day. Bundles of rainbow hammocks and baskets lie at their feet. Food is being sold at stalls.

Clanging bells, the horn blow, the hum of locomotives swell around this building. A freight train of a dozen black tanker cars and a yellow caboose arrives from Acajutla. It rumbles into the yard and a bit beyond, blocking the street. On the side of its silver, yellow-green and red engines, in capital italic letters, is written FENADESAL.

Out by the shed, a man hops onto the roundtable. He turns it to connect the track for a locomotive to come and hook onto the freight train, now split in half. The other part attaches to two green passenger cars. The front one is an old boxcar with several lengthwise benches. The second is an ancient passenger vagón with wooden seats facing each other.

A thick line quickly forms at the ticket window. “Armenia, por favor,” I request. “Dos colones,” the man replies in a dry monotone. He hands me a ticket printed on recycled paper. I join the growing crowd of passengers at the armed-guard barriers.

The gate opens. We stream down the tracks to those two cars. On the rails behind the taller sag an old steam locomotive and passenger vagones. In the brush a grey cat slinks. It stops, tense, tail twitching. It then jumps, disappearing into the weeds.

Already all the seats in the second car are taken. The vestibules are full of people. The jumble of conversations, the rustle of today’s paper being read fill the air.

 

The schedule posted in the station said this train should leave at 9:10 a.m. but we won’t depart until nine-thirty. That time slips by. Then the long hiss of brakes, bells clanging. We pull away slowly on the click of rails.

A steady blast of horn. Past houses, past restaurant and market stalls so close to the tracks you can touch them. Past Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles church, rocking, swaying.

Homes of cane slat and palm thatch begin moving further away. Wood fires smoke. In one yard, children play. In a doorway, a man stands. And over there, women sit around a table. They stop their conversation, watching us clatter by.

 

Our first stop is at the dirt crossroads of a village. Casas hide behind banana and mango tree hedges.

The tall, beer-gut conductor checks our tickets, collects fares. Now and then he adjusts the navy scarf at his neck, the Chisox ball cap, the dark sunglasses.

A woman sits looking out the window, two trussed roosters at her feet.

On one stretch of tracks, men are working.

 

Some passengers wish to debark. The tan-uniformed flagman stands on the back vestibule, leaning out, waving a cloth. The train quickly jerks to a halt.

Our dust flies around campos of corn, or sugar cane, and into open windows. As we cross a strong creek, some children o-oo-o. A father and son silently watch the world crawl by.

Behind trees, behind brush, I catch glimpses of fields and houses. In an irrigation ditch of waist-high water, a woman scrubs clothes. Men plant fresh-plowed, rich-brown earth. A man leans on the handle of his shovel, chine resting on crossed arms. Homes of palm-leaf walls. Coconut groves.

 

At Coluco, many come and go. An older woman next to me, in a dirty pink dress, leans out the window and whistles. As we pull away, she waves goodbye, her hand holding a bag. He small-framed daughter sits across from me. Her large, sad eyes are tearful. She clutches a handkerchief in one hand. Her upper lip is tight. Mid-morning sweat plasters thin strands of hair to her forehead.

I glance out the window. There a young girl, about the same age, stands outside a gate. She wears nothing more than a bright magenta skirt and loose black hair. Wild curls fall into her face.

Along a wall, women wait to fill plastic urns at the village tap. A silvery stream of water fills one jug. Drops glitter on the women’s sun-red arm.

 

Another stop. The flagman notices some women boarding, troubled with their heavy bundles. He puts his hand up, telling the engineer to hold on. He then hops off his vestibule and runs to help them.

Past a small cafetal, into an eerie landscape of black lava stone. The train’s clatter is like a heartbeat.

 

The man and his son have gotten off someplace. Into Los Lagartos, its old adobe station patched and white-washed. The train rocks me to sleep. I drift in and out at each dusty, unsigned roadside stop. The sad-eyed girl leaves.

The dry season has been searing this year. Unirrigated soil is parched. Leaves shrivel on coffee trees. Corn stubble is brittle.

A pig squeals distressingly. In the next car up, a man struggles to load it on.

 

Finally we arrive at Armenia. It is 11 a.m. Our locomotive detaches and disappears to San Salvador with the tanker cars. We are abandoned amidst a string of tracks. Up ahead, at the station, awaits an engine to hook up to these cars and journey back to Sonsonate.

 

 

CATALOG – Poetry & Travel Books – 2021

Stroll through this gallery of my poetry and travel publications presently available – invitations to join me in poetic journeys to Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands and the northern coast of Peru … and guides to help you plan your own journeys through Latin America!

(And they also make great gifts for the travelers in your life!)

Safe Journeys!

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – March Equinox 2021

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – March Equinox 2021

Indeed, my poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world – this quarter, in the US, Singapore, the UK, Canada, the Philippines and Denmark.

In the realm of travel narrative, we enter a time capsule, back to Nicaragua of the 1990s.

Spend this March equinox browsing through the list (with links) below, poetically journeying to Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, the Galápagos Islands, Peru, Chile, the US, Honduras, Panama, Argentina, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Guatemala.

 And until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

Galapagos, marine iguana

Dreaming with a marine iguana. Tortuga Bay, Isla Santa Cruz, Islas Galápagos. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Silence” in Flora Fiction Literary Magazine (Volume 1, Issue 4, Winter 2020)

“New Morn Swaying,” in Trouvaille Review (24 December 2020)

“Being” and “Volcanic Dreams” in The Tiger Moth Review (Singapore) (Issue 5, January 2021)

“Shadows” in Credo Espoir (Issue 7, January 2021)

“Morning on the Llanos,” “Becoming Rain,” “Into Muted Dusk” and “Arica Morn” in Otherwise Engaged Literature & Arts Journal (Sixth Volume, Winter 2020)

“Nightfall” in New Feathers Anthology 2020 (2021)

“To Build a Snowman,” “In the Shallows,” “Sonata for a Late Afternoon” and “Bocas Morning” in The Poet Magazine (UK) – Childhood (Winter 2020, Volume 2)

“The Wait” in Writing in a Woman’s Voice (21 January 2021)

“Sfumato,” “Spirit Suite – Étude Nº 15” and “Future Dreams” in Impspired Anthology (UK) (Volume 4, January 2021)

“Squalling” in The Literary Nest (29 January 2021)

“Sunrise River” in Visitant Lit (3 February 2021)

“Elusion” and “Traveling Down a Country Lane” in Backchannels Journal (Issue Nº 7, Winter 2020)

“Ruta de Cacao” and “The Desert & Its Sea” in Beliveau Review (Canada) (Issue 4, Spring 2021)

“Iguana Dreams,” “Astray,” “Arica” and “Ghosts” in Lothlorien Poetry Journal (England) (12 February 2021)

“Meditation: Galápagos Seas” in Poetry & Places (12 February 2021)

“Resurrection Dawn” in Black Coffee Review (Spring 2021)

“San José Days” in The Drabble (28 February 2021)

“High Plains Sojourn” in Celestal Review (Philippines) (Cycle IV, March 2021)

“Izabal Wind” in Verse-Virtual (March 2021)

“Umbral Rains” and “Dusk” in bones (Denmark) (22, March 2021)

“Harbinger” in The Abyss (17 March 2021)

(Reading) Dando Paz - Giving Peace (26 D 2020)

… and a virtual  poetry reading with an incredible line-up of poets in which I was the featured creator, hosted by Tammy Gómez

Dando Paz – Giving Peace

26 December 2020

Nicaragua

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

            Synchronized Chaos

“Revisiting a Memory” (February 2021)

If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.

LIFELINE

(Veracruz to Mexico City, January 1997)

Mexico, train, Veracruz, Mexico City, pulque

Several train routes connected Mexico City with the port of Veracruz: one through Córdoba, popularly known as El Jarocho, and another by way of Xalapa – our adventure for today. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Through the Veracruz railyard and past its old boxcars turned into homes. A woman stands in the doorway of one, vigorously brushing her teeth.

The city slowly thins into village after village. Outside whitewashed buildings stand horses.

A turquoise-shirted man rides his broad-flanked chestnut horse. And the narrowing road along the tracks becomes dirt, the village’s rangelands with cattle. With a large plastic-bag-wrapped bundle tied onto the handlebars, an old man on a bicycle wobbles around the scattered stones. His stout-crowned, high-brimmed Veracruzan hat shadows his face.

We pass by broad, treed flatlands … a pasture of thin-legged colts trotting after mares. To the south stretch low, hazy hills. Past fields of full-grown sugar cane … then younger fields … and newly planted fields. Past rocky acres of dried cornstalks snapped over.

I am startled awake from a catnap by the screeching caterwauling of a young boy. He closes his eyes tightly, singing with full lung to be heard at the other end of this car. Soon he begins to walk down the aisle. His outstretched hand shakes. Through narrowed eyes I glare at him, still angered at the rude awakening. But then I dig into my pocket for a few coins. I turn to the elderly man now sitting next to me, shaking my head, rolling my eyes. He laughs softly and nods.

A woman comes before us, bucket full of sweet tamales, of pineapple, coconut. The old man insists on buying me one of each. “A gift,” he says. “You must try our regional specialty.”

Don Emilio tells me and the woman seed across from us about the tamales of Oaxaca, of Guadalajara, of Tampico.

“I have traveled much,” he says, pulling off his brown jacket. The day is warming. “I used to drive buses. For over thirty years, I did. I first got my license in 1955. But I’d already been driving five years without one. Then I got certified. Yes, I know all the roads, north to Tampico and to Monterrey, down to Villahermosa. But in those early days there weren’t many roads in Chiapas. The Indians there would walk through the mountains for days and days.”

“Really,” the woman on the opposite bench says, her mouth dropping open a bit.

“Oh, yes. They’re used to it. They are people of the mountains. And they have other interesting foods …”

My mind fatigued with now-this-second day of traveling loses itself to the passing scenery.

LOS ÍDOLOS

Brightly painted wooden walls surround a blue and white big top. Drying clothes hang on the guidewires. Zullman Circus, those walls proclaim. The hypnosis master’s penetrating eyes watch us clatter by.

The woman’s four-year-old son with bright black eyes squeals, hops up and down in his seat, playing peek-a-boo with another boy at the opposite end of the car.

“Don Emilio, how many children do you have?” I ask.

“Five – full grown.”

“Any grandchildren yet?”

His soft laugh, bright smile fills the air between us. “Grandchildren? I’ve already got great-grand-children! My two daughters work for social security there in Veracruz. One of them, the nurse, has a small son. Her man left her. One son lives in Monterrey – has two children, now with their own. He married young. Another in Guadalajara. He has three. They wanted to become bus drivers like their father. What could I say? Nothing – just advise them it is lonely, dangerous work. And my other son, he still lives with us. Twenty-two years old.”

Suddenly the mountains rise before us and their valleys fold deeply. Heavily forested, heavily green. The earth softly crumples around us. In the distance, the age-worn, bare walls of a canyon fall, falling … then disappear from our sight with the swelling of the landscape around us.

And just as suddenly, the land relaxes and gently rolls to the further mountains.

XALAPA

I awaken here to the swishing of a broom as our floor is swept. Two cargo cars are added. We leave exactly at noon. This city, too, feathers into the surrounding desert.

A cow grazes next to the tracks, tied off to the post of a barbed-wire fence, where laid-over clothes dry in the afternoon.

Two boys, black-haired, brown-skinned, stoop outside a scrap-board, scrap-tin shanty. Their dark eyes watch our blue cars go by.

Past lush pasturelands of grazing sheep. A black lamb, a white and a tan one leap after their white mother. Another spread of emerald green. Egrets standing on stick legs among black and white cows.

PEROTE

The high black walls of a prison slide by as we arrive at this town. A woman with very-coarse vein-knotted legs sells pulque in plastic bottles. From the platform, she reaches up to the open windows of our car. As we leave, she shakes a smaller bottle and drinks the last bit.

Past more cornfields speckled with husky maguey. Sand wraps around the train, around the clicking rails. The fine dirt seeps through the cracks of windows. In the distance, a dust devil rises, swirling, growing larger.

“There is Orizaba volcano.” Emilio cracks my silent meditation of this nearer landscape.

I follow his dark hand, to where he points in the distance. Its snow-streaked peak is hazed by the dust of this broad valley we pass through. The sun glints off a silver band on his ring finger.

“And your wife, don Emilio?”

“Oh, she’s back in Zempoala, where we live. She’s used to me being gone all the time.”

“How long have you two been married?”

“Oh ….” His neck rubs the slightly worn collar of his white shirt. “It must be going on forty years now.” He counts off on his stout fingers with short-cut nails. “Let’s see, sixty to seventy,” he mumbles, “seventy to eighty to ninety … Yes, almost forty years.”

“What’s the secret?”

He looks at me askance with his dark eyes, with a slight laugh. “We never argue. Well, almost never. A bit more now that the kids are gone. But, no, we never argue.

“It was never easy, though. In the beginning it was difficult. We lived in a four-by-four shack. With a bit of time, we enlarged it to ten by six. By then we had three children. Later we could buy a house.

“In the beginning, my wife insisted on working, taking in sewing. After our second child, I told her, no more. You have enough work to do, taking care of the boys. No, you let me bring in the money. And I worked, and worked hard. I was gone much of the time.”

La Malinche Mountain tears the horizon towards which we travel. A herd of goats chew on bedded corn. They flee the hum of our diesel locomotive, its plume of smoke casting a shadow on the ground alongside us.

And more fields through this valley plain. Some have been cleared for planting. In a few, long, high irrigation snakes hiss water.

SAN LORENZO

In the station lights outside my window, I see six guards, black pants tucked into black boots. Mismatched jackets: a blue one … a Raiders one … two fatigue greens … two black. Five of them sling semi-automatic rifles.

I whisper to Emilio, leaning towards him. “Why are there so many of them?”

He silently shrugs.

A wildfire cuts across the flatland, a long rose rope. Even though it is many miles away, I can smell the burning grasses. Flames leap into the dense, dusky-gold smoke that reaches for the soon-to-be-setting sun. That star washes the sky bright white, bright yellow.

And on the opposite side of the sky, the ghostly near-full moon has already arisen.

The sun has fallen behind a bank of clouds, touching their tops with a brilliant white-gold, dyeing the sky with pastel colors.

Then it slips through a crack in those clouds … for just a moment glaringly orange … and again dipping behind, pale tints spreading across the distant mountains. Faint fingers of light radiate skyward … and then weakly disappear.

The now-bright-red sun cuts below the edge … sinking … pulling its colors down with itself … behind another cloud … just a sliver visible. The vague forms of those masks outlined … and defined for just an instant … before that star falls beyond the horizon.

All that’s left … is a chilled rose … and above, the golden white … fading … fading … fading  …

A distant valley fills with fuchsia. And as we slide along these rails, the most brilliant of that pink shifts behind the mountains … hidden from my sight … leaving just a pale wash.

Then the colors arise again with new life … reaching into the clouds … painting them icy apricot … icy magenta … in this still-winter sky … giving depth and texture to that soft … seemingly solid … blanket.

Lights begin to speckle the passing villages. The chill of night swells within this railcar.

The landscape obscures into dull, dark green against faded beige … silhouetted against the twilight sky. Their colors, too, sink into deep greys to black.

The sky duskens … darkens. The last of the sun’s palette duskens … darkens. This land duskens … darkens.

The locomotive lamp before us barely touches the nightfall.

“You should come visit us sometime.” I hear don Emilio’s voice in the dark. “We have pyramids and a beautiful beach. Really, you should.”

I write down his address by flashlight.

MEXICO CITY

From a distance, the light of the City … millions of lights … stud the valley and climb the mountains. The sour smell of heavy-metal industry seeps through this window.

Past traffic stopped by our lumbering train, now only two passenger cars and a locomotive. I don’t know when the cargo cars were unhooked. Sometime in the depths of my travel-fatigued sleep.

Past shacks built at the edge of the tracks.

The moon, two days from fullness, sheds its bright white light upon this city, flooding the streets, penetrating the ochre haze of pollution.

Don Emilio walks onto the platform at the stop before Buenavista station. Light brown jacket. Black bag to his left side, its strap across his broad chest. Green plastic bag with his fifteen sweet tamales in hand. He looks straight ahead in his steady gait, stopping momentarily, continuing on, lost to my sight, lost in the crowd.

And I continue on, watching Chilangos stand at gateways, talking. They walk in pairs down deserted streets. The roads below our overpass are congested.

Rocking … Rocking … The blare of the train horn.

Past a soccer game.

Rolling, without stopping, into the heart of the city.

Past factories and their acrid smoke swirling white into the night. Past neighborhoods. In the open doorway of a shop bright with fruit, a woman’s shadow reaches across the counter, taking a heavy bag.

My study of this passing cityscape is sliced by the young men now sitting in the bench seat facing mine.

“Oh, man, we should be on our way to Aca-pulque,” one laughs.

The other drains the last drops of the cactus liquor from the green plastic bottle. He stuffs it between his seat and the wall. “Ah, yes, in a pulque-man car, going in style.” He slouches, knees inches from mine.

I turn my gaze out the window once more.

We snarl the traffic with our steady approach.

Past a Virgin of Guadalupe shrine near the tracks. A string of lights embrace it. On a corner curb, a young woman sits on her boyfriend’s knee.

The train backfires repeatedly as it slows … coming into the edges of the railyard … entering the massive web of tracks. The horn blows. Idle cargo and tanker cars line the sidings.

We suddenly stop, forced aside by a long string of US railcars heading North, new automobiles encased in silver cocoons. A while later, three lone locomotives stop. And starting again, they bathe the night with thick black smoke.

The city lights flickering through the window mosaic the youth’s waving hand. “Oh, of course not, chauffeur. There is no hurry. Sure, go ahead and have that other cup of coffee.”

And the moon climbs higher … and higher. Its light pulls up out of the streets into the greyed sky.

The other young man scowls. “Hey, come on. Save that cigar smoking for later, man.”

With a soft giggle, I crack a smile.

Further into the depths of the maze. Trash heaps along a wall that separates this yard from those neighborhoods.

Stop … and go … and …

Finally the conductor says in his loud voice

BUENAVISTA

And we enter the last set of tracks. Brakes clank stop, and rolling on and on. The platform comes into view up ahead. So slow … we crawl … to ours … Number 8 … and alongside it.