Cutters use a cane knife like a big heavy machete. Because the long blades are honed to a single edge as sharp as sawgrass, the work is dangerous and accidents are common, especialy among the drinkers but also among the green hands, older men, and those exhausted. They go bleary.
I stop at a pulperia and asked the men standing under the overhanging roof if the road to my right will take me back into Turrialba.
“Yes, that is the way back into town.”
“Taking a break from cutting? Is it difficult to work in the rain?”
“We can work in any weather. We’re not working today because they haven’t paid us.”
“They haven’t paid you? Why not?
“They said they will have our money tomorrow, so we told them we will not work until tomorrow then.”
The veterans rig themselves crude shin guards or hide leggings, having hacked an ankle or sliced off toes one time or another, often their own but sometimes those of the man beside them. When a cutter working tired or too fast stoops to grab a clump for chopping, his sweat-filled eye, sometimes an eardrum, can be pierced by a leaf tip, hard as any spine. In this humid climate, there is a heat collapse; sore backs go with the job. Every little while, the heel of one hand pressed into the lower back to ease those muscles. —Peter Matthiesen, Shadow Country
“I’ve heard that a lot of Nicaraguans come down to cut the cane. Is that true?”
“Oh yes. We’re all from around here, but we work with a lot of men from Nicaragua. They need work too.”
“I need to get back into town. I hope they do pay you tomorrow.”
“Go on down that road and you’ll be back in town within twenyt minutes on your bike.”
“Thank you. Take care of yourselves.”
“Que le vaya bien.”
With United States American ease, I roll away, luxuriously.