The British explorer’s latest trek takes him by foot from Mexico to the edge of Colombia.
The book's title might be misleading, as Wood (Walking the Himalayas, 2016, etc.) notes in the introduction: this trip was “solely a journey through Central America.” The author was joined by Alberto Caceres, a recently divorced Mexican friend who had “never been in a jungle, or walked further than a few miles.” Despite a few blisters, however, and more than a few complaints, the chatty Caceres, who could “charm the hind legs off a donkey,” kept up the pace. Sometimes on uncharted paths and often on major highways where the main obstacles they faced were drunken drivers and thoughtless truckers, the two covered 1,800 miles in a little over four months. Wood excels at verbal snapshots of the differences among the countries, and he avoids dwelling on the monotony of many of the days in favor of describing more exciting ones spent diving into caves where they discovered Mayan skulls, climbing unnamed pyramids, eating termites (“bitter and woody”) during a lesson on jungle survival, getting caught in quicksand, and being escorted through the gang-ruled barrios of Honduras' San Pedro Sula, which until recently “held the dubious honor of being known as the murder capital of the world.” While this means that readers only get tantalizing glimpses into the author’s experience, it also makes for brisk reading. The narrative culminates with a trek through the jungles of Panama's Darién Gap, an area ruled by drug lords that has, during the past 20 years, “swallowed up more people than perhaps anywhere else in the western hemisphere.” Fortunately, Wood and Caceres made it through the “brutal, skin-tearing, lung-busting jungle climbs” with nothing worse than some nasty spider bites.
A jaunty glimpse into the cities and countryside of Central America from the point of view of a traveler well-equipped to compare life there to other countries around the globe.