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The Farthest You Will Go

“Most journeys begin less abruptly than they end, and to fix the true beginning of this one in either time or space is a task which I do not care to undertake. I find it easier to open my account of it at the moment when I first realized, with a small shock of pleasure and surprise, that it had actually begun.”
Peter Fleming, “News From Tartary”

TRUJILLO, EL ESPINO, WOOSTER, LUND — There comes a point in every journey when you realize you have reached the farthest point – that caught on an invisible line, everything from that point, no matter how much longer the trip lasts, will be somehow part of the return.
That farthest point contains elements of both sadness and of relief. Up until then the future is unknown, but after, although there are unknowns, adventures and dangers to confront, you have the image of walking back through your door, setting your bags down, of a long sigh.
I reached that point outside of Trujillo on the road to Santa Rosa de Aguan. I started too late in the day, I know now, to reach that small river town on the edge of the Myskitia jungle. I was alone, traveling without Katy, making my pilgrimage to the grave of William Walker that strange American adventurer, mercenary, visionary, revolutionary who had met his rather inevitable end before a firing squad on the beach at Trujillo. It was not a Katy trip, that one, searching out the fringe areas of the world and a long-dead man of questionable ideals. And in truth I wanted to be alone for it.
I got on the bus too late. They told me it was the one to Santa Rosa de Aguan but after only half an hour they dropped me off at a dusty crossroads. There was a rusted sign with the name of my destination pointing down a long dirt road through palm plantations. I thought it could not be very far away and so began to walk. I tried to whistle, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” to keep my spirits up and was very aware of how alone I was.
I walked and I walked and kept walking. It was immensely hot and incredibly quiet. A few times a truck or car would pass without slowing, adding to the dust on my clothes and face and reminding me of the one liter of warm water sloshing in my red Sigg bottle. I kept walking. Just around the corner I told myself, fighting back the doubt and fear and alone demons. I tried whistling again but Johnny was very far from home and the sound fell flat on the dusty road. I thought of bandits and jaguars and other horrors that might hear me coming and decided to march quietly.
Behind me I heard an engine and turned to see a high box truck heading my way. For the first time in my life I put out my thumb and it ground to a halt. The driver leaned over, opened the passenger door and I climbed up into the cab. I told him I was going to Santa Rosa de Aguan and he gave me a skeptical look.
“How far is it?” I asked.
“Twenty kilometers.”
I said a silent curse on the bus driver who had dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. The trucker began to drive and we tried to talk but my highland street Spanish and his coastal jungle Spanish meshed about as well as the gears on his old truck.
We settled into an uneasy silence until finally he stopped well short of anything like 20 kilometers.
“Well, I live here,” he said.
“How much to Santa Rosa?”
He quoted a price.
“And is there a hotel there?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. No.”
He might have been wrong but it didn’t sound good.
“Is there a bus back to Trujillo?”
“It already left. No more until tomorrow.”
I looked down the road and back the other way. I wondered what Paul Theroux would do and thought he would probably go on and write something charmingly bitter about the experience. Or not. You’re not Paul Theroux anyway I told myself, what does Andrew Tonn do? I had a bad feeling about going on.
“How much back to Trujillo?”
He thought a moment and quoted a high number. I had the money on me. Time was passing. He didn’t want to do it. He was a truck driver who’d picked up a lone gringo and now wanted to go home, have dinner, not transport me miles away for the few Lempiras he’s make over and above the expensive gas and time he’d burn.
Down the road a cloud of dust appeared. “It’s the last bus to Trujillo,” he said.
“Stop it!” I said. He jumped out and flagged it to a halt. I pressed a couple hundred Lempiras into his palm for my ride to nowhere and boarded the bus. The line caught and began dragging me home.

A few days later I stumbled back into the lobby of the Hotel Elvir in Santa Rosa de Copan where Katy was waiting for me. All the way back we’d exchanged expectant text-messages but when I arrived there was something in my haggard face, sunburned and thinner after a week that she didn’t like. We shared a perfunctory hug and she left for her Spanish lesson. We reconnected, however, and the trip was not even half over. From there we would go many places and be far, far out from anywhere we had ever been before. She was a good companion, loyal and true, waiting for me on a mountain path to catch up when my knees had showed their age, holding an umbrella over my head while I vomited in the rain after eating something bad, watching the lightening over Lake Atitlan and holding me in a succession of strange beds. But there was a feeling, when she looked in my eyes and saw something she didn’t like that I felt closer to Walker, for just a moment, than I did to her.

The months passed and there was Xela and Atitlan, Chichicastenango and San Andreas Xecul, Santa Catarina high in the mountains, Semuc Champey, Flores, Tikal and all those other places that recur in memory now and then. We returned to El Espino, El Salvador another time, days before our return to the States and there was a moment that was the farthest out for us. We went down the river to photograph and film the currileros, climbed back into the mangroves and when it began to rain got back to the boat just in time to wrap the cameras in my poncho. The boat kept going, out towards the Pacific and the surface of the river was like smooth grey velvet and the sky and rain almost indistinguishable from each other. The clouds came down to touch the trees and then ahead was a line of white Pacific turbulence separating the grey of the sky from the grey of the river. We landed on a sandy point where the last land met the ocean and at the farthest point dove into the breakers. When the boat returned us from that farthest point the rain had almost stopped and in the gathering night the jungle on either side was reflected in the glass-smooth river.
A few days later we were on a plane home. We ended the last bit of video tape as the sun sank blood red outside the scarred Plexiglas window, “This is Andrew Tonn, ‘and Katy Kropf” live from somewhere over the United States, goodnight, ‘goodnight.’”
A month or less after that we were at 12 Mile Beach in Michigan, on the southern edge of Lake Superior. The water was incredibly cold and clear — a still and polished silver that sunset turned shades of crimson making the place look like a shore of some alien planet. I thought of destinations North and destinations South and thought, quite clearly for a moment, that this and there were the farthest we would go. I picked up ancient water-polished stones until my pockets were heavy with them and when the red ball of the sun had fully drowned and all was black we sat a long time by the fire until the cold of the summer night drove us to the tent.
More time passed and I celebrated, or mourned, another year of my life passing. And so came a Sunday, not so long after that, when she went to her Quaker meeting to hold things in the light and meditate in silence. When she returned she said, “I feel sorry for us,” and I said, “Why?” and she replied, “Because I have to break up with you,” and I said, “Why?” and she said, “Because we are not right for each other.” And I sat down and we were quiet for a long while.
That was not, in fact, quite the end. There were even some more adventures but those were, I suppose, the extended goodbyes of two people who had never done wrong to the other but whose time was coming to an end.
So, in the end, I left her at the Lansing airport where she was picking up a rental car. We drove for a while down the same highway, blew kisses into the wind, then she took her exit and I took mine.

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