Jackfruit: A Bicycle Quest Through Latin America - a Travel/Adventure Nonfiction Book by David E.X.N. Nghiem


I lay sweating on my back in the tent, naked, my diving knife clutched in my right hand, and a can of pepper spray in the other. The strong wind rattled my tent, shaking the flaps, poles and ropes so violently the nylon fabric popped, sounding like sporadic gunfire. I stared at the
dark, domed ceiling and shook with terror as a high beam from a vehicle slowly lit, and then left my tent. Could it be a bandito, a murderous ex-contra prowling the hills and valleys that lay in the shadow of a live volcano in the distance? Or was it a land squatter searching for a quiet place for a home and hearth? I didn't know. I didn't care. In the depth of my fear, I was ready to stab anyone who entered my tent.

I closed my eyes in the dark, only to confront an even deeper darkness. Why was I doing this? What sort of thing drove me to commit this mad, lonely act, to ride a bicycle across Latin America? It seemed so simple
at first. It was supposed to be a leisurely three-month joyride across South America from Lima, Peru to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Instead, I was on the side of a road in an desolate stretch of north western Costa Rica, hiding from vagrants and highwaymen, perched on a cliff in front
of a volcano, worn from my inability to sleep, and scared out of my mind.

I put the cold, steel blade on my bare chest, and wiped away a tear. I was thousands of miles from home, in an alien, hostile place, alone, exhausted, and overwhelmed from seven months of intense trials through
three third-world countries.

A confluence of unforeseen events had forced me to extend the length of my trip several times. And then there were the three mysteries that entrapped me: my strange intuitive desire to come to Latin America, a visit to a forbidden, sacred, symbol-laden site that almost killed me,
and a new personal interest – borne from September 11th - in the geopolitical interaction between the USA and Latin America. These three
subjects became my inexorable obsessions, and as with any irrational desire, my path was dangerously full of pitfalls and obstacles.

I held the cool, slim tube of the pepper spray, and checked the nozzle. I looked at the door of my tent as it shook. I glanced back at my watch, as the hour hands glowed a dim green. It was three in the morning, and I
hadn't slept at all. I had just two more hours to endure before I could greet the sun, and the security and relief that it represented. I covered my eyes with my knife arm, and touched the cold metal tubes of
my bicycle frame. I reminded myself that survival wasn't just enduring the elements, it was also about enduring my own emotional obstacles.

And it would be two more months before I found the link in El Salvador that helped me resolve the mystery of the symbols.