Publisher: Lonely Planet
Paperback: 280 pages
Order From: Amazon.com
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It’s hard to imagine that newspaper editors turned down the submissions Stephen Benz filed from Peru in 1984 in his quest to become a foreign stringer, but their loss is our gain, because those disappointments set Benz on the ecotrail through Central America that resulted in this fair-minded, observant, timely, and beautifully written book. Central America is a complex place, with as many issues and viewpoints as plant, bird, and insect species. Head to the jungle and the scenery is breathtaking, but the politics are hairy. How do tourist dollars impact oppressed Indian groups? Is accepting a stork dinner exhibiting sensitivity to indigenous cultures or exploiting the wildlife? Is it true that the only hike worth taking is the one that’s excruciatingly difficult and preferably life threatening? Benz has a keen eye, a fine wit, an endearing candor, and a laudable willingness to listen to the opinions of all the individuals and factions involved. He reports with a facility that belies the difficulty of the task, covering the views of students and local businesspeople, backpackers and tour guides, holier-than-thou sorts and oblivious vacationers, landowners and Mayan activists. Benz portrays with great style a beautiful land, a profusion of conflicts, and an amusing assortment of adventures in a book that’s as valuable to read as it is entertaining and enjoyable. –Stephanie Gold
Investigating the “green dreams” – those well-intentioned but often misguided visions – that inspire tourism in Central America, Steve Benz travels from the Mosquito Coast to Costa Rica and along the Ruta Maya. His encounters with foreigners, including “New Agers” at Mayan ruins, North American retirees in Costa Rica, and eco-tourists in the rainforest, lead him to question the impact that visitors are having on the region and its people.