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The International Writers Magazine: Backpacking

Montezuma's Revenge in Reverse
• John M. Edwards
An American backpacker discovers the main dangers and annoyances of budget travel abroad are our fellow dolebludgers and dirtbag backpackers in the town of Montezuma, “Rich Coast” (Costa Rica).

In the back of a flatbed truck several other travelers and I bumped along, discussing the upcoming fiesta at an outdoor disco in a secret (no: discreet) location.

I heard a British-sounding accent coming from a guy with obvious red hair. Usually I was naturally suspicious of people with red hair, but since I had a nice buzz on, I decided to engage him in a light conversation.

“Hey, are you English?”
“Yah, I’m from London, mate. I’m hiding out in Costa Rica because I just escaped from a mental asylum.”

Was he pulling my leg?

Silence ensued, everyone deciding to keep their mouths zipped shut until we all arrived safely at the party and could move around freely.

Finally there, the ginger-haired madman followed me around like Spam sticking to a Pam-sprayed pan.
“May I buy you a drink?”
“No thanks, I know what it is like to be a poor traveler.”
“Uh, I guess so, but I’m really not that thirsty.”
“You know when a man offers to buy you a drink you are supposed to accept it. It’s just not on, it’s just not on!”

We went to the bar, and I watched carefully as he ordered me a “cuba libre” (ron y coke), making sure he didn’t Rufi it.
“Thanks!” I exhaled.
Then as “Shakira” came on--(“I’m on tonight, my hips don’t lie, whatever whatever . . .”)--I began to shake and shimmy, pretending I could dance, making an extreme break for it, losing myself in the slithering crowd.

When I tried to catch a “gypsy cab” (unlicensed drive), there the ginger-haired madman was again, looking quite aggravated with me really. “Let’s go outside behind the disco, there is something I want to talk to you about. . . .”

“Uh later, gotta go,” I said, stuffing myself quickly into the unlicensed drive. We sped off down the dirt road, the Latin American driver grimacing like Chuck Heston in The Omega Man.

Now let me fast-forward a little.

The general consensus was: everyone seemed to have some gripe about the ginger-haired madman, a sizable crowd even accusing him of lifting their wallets or nicking their souvies.

My only problem with this British devil was that I had an extreme fear of clowns sporting red hair, such as Caesar Romero as “The Joker,” Bozo, Rip Torn, Brian Adams, William Macy, and Carrot Top.

In a way, I almost felt sorry for the poor blighter when he was kicked out of the hostel I was staying in, a Grimm nightmare of sweltering shack rooms and cots with stained mattresses, plus a padlock to help protect our gear from poachers.

Feeling relieved that the ginger-haired madman was at last gone for good, I hiked along the beach, carefully avoiding soiling my Rockports on huge piles of horse poo. Then I took the trial of the trail which led to an even better beach, absolutely empty.

I plopped down in the sand and squinted at the hyperreal horizon through my trademark Olivers Peoples sunnies, then looked down the beach.

Approaching quickly like a swelling pimple, the ginger-haired madman, muttering like a member of a lunatic fringe whose hair was on fire, seemingly, began barreling toward me at an impressive mph.


Licketysplit, I got up and jogged over to the nearby waterfall, and hid among the rocks close to some topless babes, who both stuck out their tongues at me.

On their portable Grundig shortwave radio, “Ottmar Leibert,” the Austrian Flamenco guitarist came on.

I would be safe here—for a while at least.

I didn’t have red hair or anything crazy like that, man! Neither did I have ugly freckles nor acne scars. But I felt like a leprous Lazarus from “Star Trek” (original series) being chased down by his doppelganger, both negating each other into the astrophysical oblivion of an alternate universe.

Which of course was all that Costa Rica was: a Paid Advertisement, a postcard-perfect paradox, a PC (Pretend Concern) playground sandbox, and an ecotourismo trap in which to lay low. Also, here was the ideal idyll to set up an “Import-Export” business, an international euphemism for “chronic unemployment.” I felt like an icky “spider” (spy) spinning out Marquezian and Allendean Magic Realism dreams of American-style Montezuma’s Revenge!

In reverse.

“Aha, Edwards!” The ginger-haired madman had spotted me. His matted Medusa-like red hair coiled in the sun like official fire hoses. I suddenly realized he might indeed be the Devil Himself. Or, at least, one of his minions. Maybe a Dane?

Energetically, I took up jogging as an extreme spectator sport, aiming myself like “The Pathfinder” toward a sanctuary farther on in the rainforest, filled with familiar-seeming howler monkeys peeing on me, once again continuing my eternal chthonic scour for the world’s most perfect beach. . . .

© John M. Edwards September 2013

*5 NATJA Awards for John Edwards in 2013 (Montezuma wins Bronze)

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P.S. I just won 5 NATJA Awards for 2012. (Last year I won 4 NATJAs.) I also won 2 Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest Awards (2010 and 2012), as well as 2 Notable Essays nods in The Best American Essays (2011 and 2012).

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