Rev J Scott Martin PE

"Lost and Found in Chirripo"

© 2017 by Rev J Scott Martin

all rights reserved


He felt instinctively for the back of his aching head. Why was he lying on the ground? How did he get there? What had happened to his head? As his eyes began to focus he could see dark blood mixed with the mud on the hand that he had used to feel his head. "I must have fallen", he thought to himself. He struggled to sit up but his body was not ready. He slumped back to the muddy ground, once again unconscious. It would be hours before he awoke again.


Titus left to look for his house guest. He barely knew Robert but Titus and Karina frequently had both Indigenous and North American "guests" drop in unannounced. Karina had nagged him to check on Robert to the extent he complied just to have more time to think. As he climbed the hill he was not thinking about Robert. He had been working on translating Ecclesiastes from Hebrew to Cabecar. How should he translate the Hebrew word Kohelet, Teacher or Gatherer or something else? After all the Cabecar are “hunter gatherers” to such an extent they won’t even build a chicken coop or pig pen. When it comes time to eat a pig they just go out and hunt it with spears and/or bows and arrows. They lose the protein eggs would provide because they don’t confine their chickens so they can collect the eggs. Suddenly Titus realized he had arrived at the mountain pass where he expected to find Robert. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck. He sensed something was wrong.

Robert moved to the forefront of Titus' thoughts. Where was Robert? Titus wished now he had been watching trail signs instead of thinking about his translation. His subconscious knew what he was beginning to realize. He smelled the unmistakable smell of wild boar. Not one boar but at least a dozen, maybe more. The deep red mud had cast hundreds of cloven hoofs. Titus guessed the tracks to be about an hour old. He had never seen hogs this high up. Karina was right. It was a mistake to let Robert wander off alone.

Titus was highly intelligent. His mind quickly organized the many options into an ordered to do list based on logic and statistics. Robert's tracks would be easy to spot. He was wearing some sort of boot with treaded soles. Titus and all the Indigenous who had traveled the trail today wore the same tread-less, knee high, cheap rubber boots. This boot was best suited for the red clay, deeply rutted, and treacherously slick trails. Downhill they used their heels like skis barely lifting a foot. A futile search of the pass yielded no sign of Robert's tracks. The light rain and boar hooves had obliterated them.

Titus quickly retraced his steps. In 100 yards the boar tracks stopped and Robert's tracks were now clearly visible. Robert had reached the pass first. He was probably scared by the boar and ran down the steep trail toward the Indigenous village at Paso Marcos. Someone there would surely feed Robert, put him up for the night, and bring him back in the morning. To be safe when he got home he would send his Indigenous aide José who spoke English, Spanish, and Cabecar to Paso Marcos in case Robert hadn't made it all the way down the 2 mile long trail with the 3700 foot vertical descent.


When Robert next woke it was night. Though thunder rumbled in the distance the rain was only a mist. Robert was cold enough to be shaking violently. He couldn't remember where he had learned survival skills but he knew he must find shelter and build a fire. He began searching his pockets. He felt the pen light in his shirt pocket and began to look around. He was at the base of a small cliff. He began to follow the base around the level contour and soon found a overhang with shelter from the rain. Someone had built a fire there before. Small logs formed a "plus sign" with charcoal in the center. This was the Cabecar style, instead of cutting wood they kept moving the 4 logs to the center as the fire consumed them. Like a true Outdoorsman someone had also left enough tender to start a fire. A fire which probably saved Robert's life.

Robert had inventoried his cargo pant pockets and found a steel pocket knife with US Army stamped on the steel handle, a magnesium fire starter complete with a striker, a pocket sized Spanish English dictionary, Costa Rican and Nicaraguan coins, an ink pen, a bandanna, and six Atomic Fireball cinnamon candies. While he was sitting in a crouched position and butt naked by the fire, Robert's body was warming and the shaking was subsiding. Robert's mind was beginning to clear. He said out loud, "Who am I, Where am I, And how did I get here?" Robert had amnesia. He sat tending the fire and drying his clothes until dawn.


The sun was just rising. Karina had already fed the seven Smith children, as well as Titus, and the handful of Cabecar who spent the night in the church building. José walked through the door in the slow, shy style so typical of the Cabecar. No one had seen Robert. There was no sign he had descended toward Paso Marcos but then because of the rain it was hard to be sure. The room burst into conversation. Karina and the girls began rapid speculation about what had happened to Robert. Titus was silent. He was trying to listen, pray, and think all at the same time.

Most of the girls thought Robert had fled down the trail toward Paso Marcos and then left the trail when the boar descended the same direction. He was probably disoriented and wandering in circles. Karina feared he had injured himself and died of hypothermia. At 6000 feet the temperature drops into the 40's at night and there had been intermittent heavy rain between the light showers. The Cabecar had no opinion. It wasn't their style to speculate. Not even José. Everyone stopped talking and looked to Titus for instructions.

"Let's pray," said Titus. Again the room burst into words but this time everyone was calling out to God in multiple languages. At least one of the girls and Karina were  praying in unknown tongues. After 12 minutes the room magically fell silent as Titus said the Amen.

Calmly, Titus began to give instructions. "José, take a horse to Grano de Oro and find a good tracker. Send him back here on the horse. Walk back North along the ridge top to the pass. He might have gone that way. If you hurry, you will be back before dusk tomorrow. Go now." Next he turned to Alfredo, the only Indigenous male who had spent the night. "Go to the pass and follow the ridge line north until you come to the cliffs. Check the base of the cliffs. When you are finished go cross country east to the dirt road. Then walk back here. Be sure and make the road before nightfall. Return here no matter how late. Do not stop to sleep. Go now." The remaining Cabecar woman and children also left to start their day.

Karina was watching her husband through tear filled eyes. She had felt foreboding when she watched Robert walk up the trail while she was washing lunch dishes. She tried to warn Titus but he didn't listen to her. She felt he was listening less and less to her. Karina wasn't a country girl. She had grown up in Turrialba with running water, phones, and electricity. When she met Titus it was love at first sight. Besides, she had always wanted to be a missionary's wife. It wasn't the adversity that bothered her, it was the emotional distance. For the past 6 years Titus and his brothers Matthew and Mark had been working on the Old Testament translation to Cabecar. The brothers had given themselves 5 years. The past two years had been hard on all three wives as the brothers pressured themselves to finish. At two each afternoon the wives talked by radio. Karina was sure her job would be to tell the other wives to pass the word among the Cabecar converts about the missing gringo. She was right.

Dorcas was the oldest of seven sisters. She felt she was most like her dad. She spoke English, Spanish, and Cabecar like a native. She was 14 going on 40. She had completed high school and was waiting until she turned 16 to begin University. For two years she had been accompanying her dad on week long treks into the jungle to disciple their churches and evangelize. He had taught her theology, philosophy, Semitic languages, and outdoor skills. She loved those trips. She wasn't surprised when she was assigned to take two sisters and to lead a horse down to Paso Marcos while carefully searching for any signs of Robert. She was as good a tracker as her dad. She would rather have gone alone.

Day One

When the sun was up Robert got dressed. His clothes were filthy but dry. His head pounded but there was no fresh bleeding. He began thumbing through the dictionary. Someone had printed the name Richard Martin and a phone number. Was he Richard? The phone number was from area code 502 which he knew was Kentucky in the USA. From the coins he could assume he was in Nicaragua or Costa Rica. Since he had no ID or provisions he could assume he had somehow gotten lost. He spent the next hour trying to follow his own trail signs to no avail. He found the bloody spot where he hit his head on the rock. His best guess was he had fallen off the small cliff above. He decided to spend the day there and wait to be found. Surely someone was looking for him and his best chance of being found was to stay still. He had his first Atomic Fireball and tried to find a comfortable position to rest. He quickly fell asleep.


Titus wanted to look for Robert but his logical mind wouldn't let him. Instead he went through Robert's backpack. He found his passport, drivers license, and emergency contact information. He would make the 3 hour drive to the tiny town of Suisa. There he would contact the National Police, the Rural Guard, the Red Cross, the US Embassy, and Robert's wife. He felt conflicted. His guts told him to look for Robert. No one had a better chance of finding him than Titus himself. His logic told him he had a duty to notify Robert's family and the authorities. He would have to wait until tomorrow to search for Robert.


As Leslie was leaving her patient's home just past noon she checked her messages. It wasn't easy raising 4 children and working full time with Robert on a mission trip to Central America. She heard Titus’ voice on her voicemail. Her cell phone was the size of a large walkie talkie. "Mrs. Martin there has been an incident concerning your husband. I'm calling from an internet cafe in Costa Rica. I will call every half hour until I reach you." She then heard two more identical messages. She turned on her telephone ringer and drove to her next patient's house. She waited in the driveway until 12:30 when the phone began to ring.