Why I learned to drive
A year after I left Naples, my parents moved to Belize City, British Honduras - an unusual and little known corner on the map of Cental America where I didn't mind visiting them as often as possible during their four years there. The first time I went, I met their jungle friend who'd run away from his British parents in India at the age of 16 and lived "out in the bush." He grew his own food and ran a rehabilitation camp for injured and orphaned wild animals. At my mother's suggestion, he invited me on an outing innocuously referred to by everyone involved as a "hike."
We arrived at the base of the hills in a blue landrover, one of the few kinds of vehicles one dared drive on Belizean dirt roads. The smooth, neatly groomed and lined-with-cedar-chips trails I knew in Oregon were not part of this picture. Here, one hacked one's own trail, using a machete. Tarzan was taking me to his most secret inner-jungle discovery, and though he'd hacked a path to it frequently and recently, the ravenous jungle overgrowth had left no trace of it.
He took the lead, flailing through the shrubbery like a human weed-eater. I found it taxing just to follow along without a wielding a weapon. I needed all four limbs to keep moving forward, since ground would routinely give way to rot underneath, leaving you up to your knees in a hole. You had to constantly squelch the instinct to grab onto something as you were falling because many of the available handholds were the thick stems of some kind of evil tree covered with inch-long spines. Somehow, in spite of the frequency of my plunges into the earth, I managed not to grab onto one. Tarzan was falling too. There was no other way to advance, short of a helicopter. Very unlike hiking, this was like some altogether new "extreme sport" consisting of a series of uphill falls alternating with digging oneself out of earthen pits.
I am much too squeamish to describe the exact way in which Tarzan, whose real name was Richard, injured himself on the machete when he fell into one of these sinkholes. Let us just say that blood flowed copiously and we needed to get back to the jeep immediately. Fortunately, we hadn't made much headway up the hill, and the trek back, downhill along the already cleared path with holes clearly visible, went much faster.
But when we arrived at the vehicle and he tossed me the keys I had to deliver the unpopular information that I couldn't drive. So Richard drove himself, one-armed, operating both the stick shift and the wheel, handling the rises and falls of the ground like a bronco rider, with me bouncing and whiplashing along beside him trying to keep my head from smacking the ceiling or frame of the car by alternately gripping the beltless seat, grabbing the dashboard, and encircling an arm around my head. We made it back to the so-called road, and from then on he artfully slolomed potholes at top speed till we reached the mere suggestion of a town, where we found a concrete block clinic with two nurses on duty and no anasthesia on hand. I waited in the hall, squeezing my head while Richard screamed his head off under the needle.
True, knowing how to drive wouldn't have prevented Richard's accident -- but I sure could've been a lot more helpful afterwards. Besides, things could have been a lot worse. I decided I'd work on it. Learning to drive is another story, which I'll tell you if you beg me. What I problably won't tell, at least on this blog because it's too long, is the story of my second attempt at this expedition. Yes, I know not how I got talked into it, but I went back, this time with Richard and Richard's friend. We made it to the secret destination this time. I found out why it needed to be so secret. It may still be a secret, but I doubt it the way Belize (new name) has been relentlessly discovered by the outside world since then.
But if you want to hear about driving lessons, I might be able to fit that in. Not as harrowing, perhaps, but a story nonetheless.