Sat, 30 May 1998 11:41:48 PDT
From: Claude Marthaler <>
Subject: "The Gringo Syndrome"

Dear Redfishes!
San Jose, Costa Rica, kilometer 72447

Midway between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego, the human currents seem strangely to inverse themselves, like the currents of water at the Equator. In North America, I was considered a poor man because I had only a fully loaded bike. In Central America, I'm considered a rich man because I have a fully loaded bike.

Since entering Mexico, I got a new identity: "Gringo", which will accompany me like a shadow till Ushuaia. I have been a "long nose" in China or a "gaijin" in Japan, but it was the first time that an entire continent gave me a name, with a particularly developed sense of approximation.

"Lost wanderer" by choice, with just kilometers on the motor and some more gray hairs on the head, I had crossed 29 counties and 40 borders so far and nobody ever checked my bags. I could have smuggled anything, but in no way could I, in Latin America, escape this suddenly imposed identity. A "gringo" had to travel comfortably with prestige, at his level.

"Why don't you travel by motorbike?" A "gringo" was necessarily rich. Yes, he was, comparatively, and had to share his belongings: "Give me your T-shirt!" The spirit of sport and adventure was from the North, from the USA, from "Gringoland", a nebulous covering of all the white, wealthy, tall people of the planet: "Aren't you tired?" A cyclist could obviously only be a gringo. Nada mas.

We, designated "gringos" -the travelers - share a part of this naive and generous expectation to meet simply and genuinely other countries, other people, but we are the first, once back, to appropriate for ourselves our own vision of the world, the ultimate truth, the cherry on top of the world cake. If you want to know the deep significance of the so called "world village" or "feel the difference", just ride a bike through Latin America.

When from every single village, children scream at you: "Gringo, gringo!", you will experience mixed feelings, according to the tones of the voices, to your own mood and to the steepness of the road.

Nada mas. Hi, Gringo, enjoy your trip!

The YAK_

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