One of my an indelible travel memories is listening to a guy on the beach at Playa Manuel Antonio, in Quepos, Costa Rica in late December, 1981. Travelers from France, Canada, Asia, the USA and locals from San Jose were gathered at the nightly campfire and sipping on Heineken green stubbies. He told our spellbound group about working in [somewhere in the Middle East] assembling grenades that would be shipped to Iraq via Israel. This was during the Iran-Iraq War. The work was through a sub-contractor and well paid, enough to fund his flight to San Jose from [that factory place] and months of living on $10 a day which, at the time, covered beachside rustic lodging, excellent meals, beverages and even bus rides to the capital city.
At another beach in Costa Rica, I believe it was Playa Samara, there was a Canadian fellow who worked as a gold miner during the warm season up in the Yukon or NWT and spent his winters in Central America. He said gold mining was one of the worst jobs in the world, coughed violently to prove it, then tapped another Marlboro from the red pack. The villas, cabanas, swimming pools and restaurants depicted on tourism websites in 2016 did not exist at Playa Samara in 1981-1982.
And who could forget Max, the French-Canadian chopping every day at a massive tree stump on the shoreline which he shaped into a throne facing the water?
|Playa Manuel Antonio|
Other folks enjoying the low-key, sustainable lifestyle in Costa Rica back before the tourist masses changed Costa Rica’s coasts forever financed their Winter travel by working in Alaska’s salmon canning factories. They headed down the Pacific Plate to trade savings gleaned during double-shift work all summer for relaxing months of winter sunshine on the Pacific Coast of Mexico or Costa Rica. At the time, many of the other Central American countries were too dangerous for nomads because of civil wars and external paramilitary interventions like the illegal activities paid for by American taxpayers through the nefarious acts by US government officials and their myrmidons in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Another memorable encounter was the terrifying hostel owner at Simanindo on Samosir Island in Lake Toba, Sumatra. He tried to imprison my friend and I in his very scary hostel. As a precaution, I always ask to see the room before agreeing to rent a room. As we walked through the dim rabbit warren of dirty cement-floored stall-like spaces, I noticed the rooms had peep-holes and spotted English phrases scratched on the walls that indicated previous “guests” had been prisoners. We beat a determined path to the exit and chatted tensely with the owner until he reluctantly moved aside and let us leave. Was this guy renting rooms in the town jail or extorting money from hapless backpackers?
We hiked at top speed for more than an hour. In the dark, we set up the tent in a cow pasture. In the morning, the kind lady-farmer invited us to have coffee and bananas at her airy house.