After staying the night in Cody’s asylum, I spent the morning having breakfast and talking with him in the kitchen. I asked Cody of his plans for the future – if he ever wanted to stop travelling.
“Yeah, I’m gonna open a hostel,” answered Cody. He was from Pennsylvania, but he didn’t have a US accent. Seven years bumming around Mexico chatting to who’s-who and anybody had left him with a weird Hispanic twang.
I didn’t ask Cody how he would open his hostel with not a cent to his name. He spoke with such self-assurance that it seemed only a minor detail, somehow.
“And it’s gonna be an eco-hostel, probably somewhere in Costa Rica in the jungle, and we’ll have compost toilets and places for recycling, and local people can work there to earn good money, and there’s gonna be classes for like woodworking and electrical stuff and farming and cooking, and everybody’s gonna contribute to it.
“And eventually it’ll grow to a community, like a little village? I don’t believe in free healthcare but for the weak people I suppose we’ll have free healthcare too*. And there’ll be education for the kids, they can learn to live off the land. And then it’ll grow and people will hear about it and it’ll become a town, and so on. That’ll take a few years though probably.”
*Cody didn’t believe disease and sickness are real. He claimed to never have been sick. He said it’s all in the mind.
I sipped my coffee and told him his town sounded nice. Maybe I’d swing by one day and say hello.
We had to do a supply run up to the nearest town, Santa Cruz. It was 8am and I was very conscious of my rucksack sitting quietly several miles away across a lake, but I didn’t want to be rude and scarper so quickly. It would have looked like I only used Cody for his accommodation. I liked him. Mad as a March hare, obviously, but he had a good heart.
Cody seemed to like me too – or at least, he liked the company. As we hiked up the gigantic fuck-off hill to Santa Cruz, he told me of his plans for making the asylum more comfortable and invited me to stay with him for several weeks – more, if I liked. Together, he said, we could cook lavish meals and feed hungry people. I told him it sounded great, though I wasn’t sure what my plans were.
We bought eggs in the dusty town of Santa Cruz. It’s only a ten-minute hike up from the lakeside, about 200 metres vertically above Iguana hostel below, but there are no hotels or Europeans there at all.
“We never see tourists up here,” an old shopkeeper told me in Spanish. He had a toothy smile.
Cody and I bought glass bottles of Coca Cola and drank them sitting on somebody’s doorstep. The town was pretty empty except for stray dogs, and every time somebody walked past we smiled and waved at them, wished them ‘buen dia’. The door of the doorstep we were sitting on opened a crack, and a little girl poked her head through to stare at us with wide eyes. I said ‘como estas?’ and she giggled and closed the door. We bought pasta and eggs and spices for Cody, and trekked back down the mountain to the asylum.
Next on the agenda was water. Cody had two giant buckets of water which he needed to fill up daily for all his washing up and toilet flushing needs. I thought this was perfectly mad, because the lake water is famously very bad for foreign stomachs. Many backpackers go for a nice paddle and four hours later find themselves doubled over in the hostel bathroom shitting and retching and hurling. But Cody doesn’t believe in disease, so.
We did a run each: Cody said it was better to carry both full buckets at once rather than carrying one each, so the weight was evenly distributed. He took the buckets back to the asylum the first time, and I waited on the jetty and looked at the water and the reeds. Then he came back and gave them to me, and it was my turn to lug the 40-odd kilos of water back up the craggy path.
After, we sat down for a breather, and Cody told me about his terrible last six months travelling. He’d mentioned it a few times in passing, but hadn’t elaborated when I’d asked to know more. Finally, without my asking anything at all, he opened up.
“It nearly killed me man. I’m a happy guy. People tell me I have eyes like a kid. You know? Full of joy? But these people man – these fucking people. They looked at me like I was fucking garbage, man. They would sooner feed the fish than feed me. I mean literally, they’d throw fresh bread in the water, right in front of me. They told me I was only alive because it would be bad for tourism to kill me.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Where was this?” I asked.
He looked at me bewildered, as if it was an obvious question.
“Jamaica.” He said the word as though it caused him pain.
“You were in Jamaica?”
“Yes. The worst six months of my entire life man.”
“I don’t understand – what happened? I thought Jamaica was a cool place.”
“So did I man! That’s why I saved to get myself a ticket over there. Then I was stuck there with no money. And the people there man? The people I met? Disgusting. They wanted to kill me. They killed each other over nothing. One guy has something another guy wants? They get a machete or they get a gun, and they fucking kill each other and take it.
“All I tried to do was tell them to share. I said ‘hey, if you have a resource, and that guy has a resource, and this other guy has another resource, you don’t have to fucking kill each other, you can share it.’ I tried to tell them this and they were disgusted by me, laughed in my face.
“They hated me and they tried to run me out of town. The nicest guy I met there was a fucking murderer, man. He told me he had killed eight people. And he was the only person I met in that place who offered me a place to stay, and even he threatened to kill me when I offered to share my food with him. He said he didn’t want my food, he was offended I even asked. And when I stayed with him, everybody in the street came outside the house and threatened to burn it down if he continued to offer me shelter. I was treated worse than a dog, man.
“I saw somebody get killed. I was walking around the corner one day, and outside this bank building I see a man, this middle-aged guy, being like, pushed outside by a bank employee and a security guard. The guy was waving his arms around, yelling about something. I couldn’t hear but to me it looked like he was saying ‘come on, I have to feed my family, I need this money’, whatever. And this guy, when they push him out into the street, he turns around and by accident his hand brushes – I mean just barely brushes – the security guy’s shoulder. And the security guard doesn’t say a word, he just pulls out his gun, presses it against the guy’s heart and shoots him. The guy falls down, dead. And I was standing like five metres behind him when he got shot. The bullet probably flew past my head, I don’t know.”
I found it hard to look at him as he talked. His eyes were wild and full of hurt.
“I have a lot of love inside, man,” he said. “I’m like a child. I trust people and I rely on kind people and whenever somebody needs something, I’m there, right away, no questions. Those six months in Jamaica made me scared of people, made me feel I was like this small. I’m still trying to recover from it.”
“How did you get out?”
“I met this guy. I told him my story and he said ‘your heart is too big for this place, Cody. You need to get out of here’. And he paid for my plane ticket to leave, finally. Now I’m on my way again, focussing on the good that’s out there.”
At midday I went with Cody to Iguana, as I needed to use the wifi to coordinate meeting Liv and Mari later that day; they’d arrived at Pana the evening before. I felt pretty well bonded with Cody by that point – like we’d gone through something together, even if it was just sleeping and hearing spooky noises and filling up water buckets. Two days before, when I first met him, I’d pegged him pretty early on as one of those many hostel weirdos you meet who have travelled too far and too long and got all eccentric. Now here I was, sitting beside him, just as unwashed and bedraggled. It felt good – like I had finally broken out of the backpacker bubble, even while sitting among them, using the facilities I hadn’t paid for. Sitting beside Cody, card-carrying member of the Mad Ones.
Iguana was fully booked yet again, so I booked a bed in a fancy hostel in Pana. I told Cody I’d be back the next evening to share a few beers, and I sailed away to Santa Cruz to pick up my backpack at the run-down kids-everywhere hostel. I paid for the night despite not sleeping there; seemed only fair.
Then I took the boat back to Pana, where I stayed two nights in my fancy hostel before getting a bus back to Antigua with Liv and Mari. I never saw Cody again, and my last words to him were ‘see you tomorrow, man’. I feel bad about it, he was a good guy. One of God’s own prototypes.