volcan arenal. mistshrouded, lavapouring beauty. few tourists, mostly european and speaking quickly in languages i don't have to pretend i understand. hotsprings, steamrising warmwater stargazing wonder. a brazilian named fabio who followed us around, paid for the taxi and a margarita, gazed with puppydog eyes but emphatically did not get laid. toucans flitting through the trees, butterflies outside the window, cool nights and the volcano looming over it all, placid, implacable and green. a wonderful little art gallery with a watercolor that grabbed me, snagged me, and wouldn't let me go until i'd traded $100 to have it in my hands.
then yesterday. a banana plantation, outside limon, deep wet heat and dusty soil, acres spreading on acres of banana plants, tied each to another with orange string because they are too weak to stand alone. the brown sweated men pull down the racinos, slice with sharpsharp knives, and hoist over their shoulders each weighing 50 pounds and more. then hang on a line, 25 at a time, and pull the miles to a warehouse, where sadfaced beautiful women wash them in fungicide and wax and the rejects are wasted. the woman who puts the sticker on each group will likely get some sort of cancer from the glue and the chemicals. until ten years ago, they sprayed chemicals known to cause sterilization while the workers were in the fields, while the workers were eating lunch, and even now the pesticides drift into the company housing where babies play in the mud.
when we were in panama, we the army, we the guns and bombs and fighting for freedom, we burned down neighborhoods and executed civilians and we, we the middleclass paper-reading righteous, we never knew a thing.
i want to start a letter: "dear god," but it isn't god i'm addressing (though driving in taxis through san jose streets has renewed my interest in praying). "to the world," perhaps, or, "o, my fallen bretheren." i am sorry that i was born white and pretty and female in america when that's all i need to live a reasonably happy life. i'm sorry i think that a $5 meal is cheap, because i know you may not make that much in a day. i'm sorry that i can travel here, visit, take your picture, and then drive away without asking your name. i'm sorry that i will forget you for the largest part of every day, that i will wear new shoes and glasses, eat rice and beans because i like them, and then maybe lobster because i like that, too. long ago i decided to stop feeling guilty for my happiness in life, insisted that my joy increased the total joy of the world, and that there could be no evil in that. but i will demand a guilt for every moment i do not realize what i have, every night's sleep i take for granted, and i will allow myself the mortification of one from a country in which we die from eating too much.