His Son Hiked Into the Costa Rican Jungle, and Never Came Out. What Happened?
It was this daring nature that led Roman Two to begin training for an expedition into the Darién Gap, “one of the most dangerous places on earth”: the remote jungle between Colombia and Panama, fraught with guerrillas, drug runners and deadly wildlife. Like many kids, he downplayed the dangers to his parents, consulting with his father about the best way to source fresh water while writing to friends about traveling “through North America’s cocaine hub in the murder capital of the world.” As practice for the Darién Gap, he decided to sneak into Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park. “I’ll be bounded by trail to the west and the coast everywhere else,” he wrote to his parents, “so it should be difficult to get lost forever.”
He never came back out.
It’s at this point, roughly halfway through the book, that the narrative kicks into high gear; I read the rest in one sitting. Dial traveled to Costa Rica, searching for evidence of whether his son was dead or alive: a backpack left at a hostel, a rumored sighting of a young white man walking with the infamous drug dealer Pata Lora, a mysterious phone call claiming his son had been kidnapped by a criminal, a “black snake.” With each clue, the mystery deepens. Did Roman get caught up in the drug trade, or change his identity and run away? Did he die in the jungle of a flash flood or dengue fever, a tree fall, an injury turned septic, dehydration? Was he murdered?
When civilization couldn’t answer his questions, Dial turned to the wilderness, sneaking illegally into Corcovado with help from a poacher. He couldn’t help marveling at the jungle, even when every sour smell on the wind might come from his son’s corpse. “Sometime on the third day,” he wrote, “I could again see rainforest colors and delight in the flight of a basilisk across a stream or the primeval look of a motmot in bamboo.” But the joy of exploration, the power it still held on Dial, were fraught in more ways than one, and in “The Adventurer’s Son” he doesn’t shy away from that anguish. “I had not simply introduced him to international travel and the risks of wilderness adventure,” he reflected. “I had included him, again and again, to the point that a large part of our relationship … was built on experiences like his illegal bushwhack into Corcovado.”
After two years and repeat expeditions, Dial finally found the resolution he’d been searching for. “Would I have raised Roman the same way knowing that he would die on a path I led him along?” Dial asked. “The answer is obvious but the question unfair.” It both is and isn’t; the true question, maybe, is what that thrill and reverence, which are after all the core of adventure, are worth. Altogether the book is a complicated ethical read, and thus gripping and unnerving at once. Perhaps its truest title would be “The Adventurer’s Father.” This is what it means to raise a child, to introduce that child to the world, and to bet his life — and his joy — on the odds.