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Costa Rica's Jungle Train

By Vicky Elliot
The New York Times

July 28, 1985

When the novelist Anthony Trollope went to Costa Rica from the West Indies in 1858, he was determined to traverse the all-but-impenetrable route from San Jose to the Atlantic. The portly Trollope, working as a postal inspector, found the going hard. ''A continued seat of five hours on a mule,'' he wrote, ''under a burning sun, is not refreshing to a man who is not accustomed to such exercise.'' It was not until 1890, when a rail line built to ship the coffee crop to the sea was completed, that a direct route was established.

The track offers a splendid introduction to the magnificent jungle-clad mountain landscape of Costa Rica. The line, with its 100 miles of embankments and dizzying trestles, took 20 years to complete. Malaria, dysentery and heat exhaustion are said to have buried 4,000 men who worked on it, Chinese, Italians and Hondurans - more even than the cutting of the Panama Canal - and only the laborers brought over from Jamaica proved strong enough to survive the punishing work. But when the track was opened, it shortened the trip to Europe, which had until then included a trip round Cape Horn, by three months.

Read more about Costa Rica.

Vicky Elliot is a writer and editor for the International Herald Tribune in Paris

Copyright 1985 The New York Times Company

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