After reading the September 3rd article, “Man’s Last Chance: Impressions of Central America,” we couldn’t wait to catch up with the author, journalist Klas Lundstrom, and get his thoughts on Theroux, traveling to Central America, and the best ways to experience the Mosquito Coast. Sit back and enjoy, as we take a look “Behind the Article.”
Literary Traveler: How did you first become interested in the landscape and culture of Central and South America?
Klas Lundstrom: I’ve been back and forth to Latin America for the past ten years now. The first time was in 2001, as a teenager writing an essay on Nicaraguan youth and their future prospects. What I saw then, and the people I met, changed my life forever. Since then, I’ve been in love with the continent, its people and fascinated by the political and social progress, and also have the luck to have been able to live and report from Central and South America on a regular basis.
LT: Our Literary Traveler book club selection for September is Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel, State of Wonder, which involves a pharmaceutical company doing research in the South American rainforest. For writers, what do you think is the fascination with this area?
KL: I truly believe that any person who visits a rainforest understands that a rainforest is a shifting place, that it’s full of life and mysteries. For any writer, the rainforest is the perfect setting for any story; not only novels, but also pieces of reportages, travel stories, history books or plays. I guess that this fascination is a sort of colonial mindset that make us so thrilled by the rainforest; its people, its nature, its culture—we look upon it as the farthest away you can get from an urban environment. Although, my experience, after living and working in the Brazilian Amazon for six months, was that people were having the same thoughts and opinions on life and love, they were as worried about kids education as you are in, say, Stockholm, and they also return home from their jobs feeling exhausted and longing for a peaceful Sunday afternoon.
LT: You refer to Theroux’s novel as playing a part in the “cultural contribution to the false picture of the world’s hidden pockets,” unintentionally as it may be. Do you suppose there is any way to rectify this “false picture?”
KL: Paul Theroux’s novel, The Mosquito Coast, is one of the best stories ever written about Western colonialism in theThird World. He challenges the notion that imperialism is a product of a church, a multinational company or henchmen of the C.I.A.—instead he tells you a story of a man who wants to improve the lives of farmers in the Honduran jungle. Imperialism, in its most dangerous form, I think often can be found inside the best intentions, e.g. those Allie Fox arrives with to the Mosquito Coast. Just have a look at the growing micro finance market, often supported and funded by billionaires with a bad conscience. Instead of helping people to form a strong public sector they create a new market that often bring rural people even further away from public facilities.
LT: Do you have any suggestions for further reading for those whose interest has been piqued by your insightful article?
KL: For any person interested in Latin America, the Uruguyan writer Eduardo Galeano’s classic, Open Veins of Latin America, Joan Didion’s, Salvador, and Gabriel García Márquez’, News of a Kidnapping, are three great books that capture and explain the diversity and political complexity of the continent.
LT: Do you think the tourism industry helps or hurts the worldview of places such as Tierra del Fuego?
KL: That is totally up to each person. Traveling now is such a normal thing to do for most Western people that, by now, we should be more aware of what the situation really looks like in places we visit. The tourism industry tends to forget the culture and society that it’s a part of, and in many ways depends on. It’s up to us if we want to visit places like Tierra del Fuego and return home with more than just an updated photo album on Facebook.
LT: What advice would you give to literary travelers who do want to experience these regions for themselves?
KL: To have the time to travel by road, take the bus, and have coffee, some yerba mate or a beer at the local pubs and cafes. It’s easy to say “skip the guide” if you speak Spanish, but sometimes a guide can be a helpful friend to you. In Central America, and especially along the Mosquito Coast, it’s wise to make friends with people who can show you places and tell you when and where to go. An absolute must in Patagonia is to visit Chile Chico and listen to the silence after the coal mines have shut down and left nothing but questions to an aging population.
To read more from Klas, check out his website.