Our son, Cody Roman Dial, disappeared on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula in 2014.
Cody Roman was conceived in a tent in the Brooks Range and born in February in Fairbanks. When he was six we walked across Umnak, a remote Aleutian Island, just the two of us, sixty miles in a week.
After that trip he went by his middle name, Roman.
In grade school with his mom Peggy and sister Jazz we traveled to rain forests and coral reefs and deserts all over the world. In high school he helped me with my research. He, Jazz, and I skied around the Harding Icefield for a week counting ice worms. The next year Roman took two months off school while we studied the rain forest canopy in Borneo.
While he was in high-school and college we packrafted rivers and creeks all over Alaska, in Australia, Malaysia, even the Grand Canyon.
The last time I saw him was in Veracruz, Mexico, January 2014 where we packrafted waterfalls.
Roman had just started a seven month tour of Latin America. After Veracruz he wrote us emails about monarch butterflies in the Sierra Madre, nesting sea turtles on the Pacific, swimming with whale sharks in the Caribbean.
He wrote me about his plans to walk solo 200 km in ten days across the Peten, the wilderness border of Guatemala and Mexico to see remote Mayan ruins.
I wrote him back: “Don’t do it, It’s too dangerous,” offering up what looked like a safer route from Google Earth.
But I deleted that email. Instead I wrote him back to be careful with his machete and watch out for snakes.
After that he wrote a six-thousand word story of his adventure that I sent to friends who’d watched him grow up.
We’d hear from him every couple weeks.
He’d write and say, Here’s where I am going. Then come back and write, I’m out and then another, longer, And here’s what happened.
Seven months into his trip he wrote from Costa Rica. He asked about topo maps.
I went on my own trip in early July to the Talkeetnas, came back and went straight to the Kenai to dipnet.
I didn’t check my emails.
Peggy and I worried about how long it’d been since we’d heard from Roman. It was strange not to hear from him for so long. One day we were shopping and she got nauseous for no reason.
We went home and I opened the email thread “Topo Maps” to find plans for his next trip -- five days across Corcovado National Park. Off-trail and alone, a traverse of the wild Osa Peninsula. His route was specific.
He closed with “I’ll be bound by a trail to the west and coast everywhere else It. should be difficult to get lost forever.”
The email was two weeks old. He was ten days overdue.
I immediately called the American Embassy, emailed Corocvado Park, asked my friend Thai Verzone to drop everything and come with me.
I planned to be back in ten days.
I stayed forty.
Our first night there we found the hostel where Roman stayed, the gear he’d left behind. A few days later we found a group of miners who’d met Roman in the jungle cooking breakfast over a Jet Boil.
The authorities wouldn’t let me into the Park, so we snuck in to search for him on our own.
It was hot and wet and dangerous. Thai stepped over a log waist high with a coiled green viper on top. He didn’t even see it.
Thai went back to his family. Other friends came down to help.
More snakes. More dangers.
Flash floods in green slot canyons filled with waterfalls that we rapelled looking for Roman -- maybe he’d slipped in and couldn’t get out. One night a 150 foot tree fell and landed a dozen feet from one of our tents with three people inside.
The mountains of the Osa look smooth but they’re not. They’re like a folded maze.
As I climbed the narrow ridges and stumbled down steep creeks I called out “ROMAN!”, “ROMAN!!”
But nothing. No sign.
Peggy came down and we retraced the route Roman laid out in his last email.
Walking the beach in the dark, Peggy said, He’s not in the jungle. Someone took him.
There’d been this persistent rumor. Roman had crossed the Osa with a known thief and drug dealer. The details didn’t quite add up but we needed a real investigator, an American who spoke Spanish and could push people’s buttons to get answers.
I picked out this guy, Carson, who’d retired from the DEA agent after 25 years in Latin America. He was like eight feet tall, muscled and tattooed-up, bald and intimidating, the kind of guy who sniffs out criminals, and gets them to talk.
I spent seven weeks in Costa Rica with Carson last year, getting close to violent men. Sitting down with suspects. Drinking beer with them. Offering them reward money. It was surreal and sickening.
This past January deep in the jungle with cadaver dogs and Costa Rican investigators, I found the only real piece of physical evidence.
It was a piece of sleeping pad I’d given Roman in Mexico after we’d been packrafting. It was under a miner’s black plastic tarp.
The miner had lived with the mother of the primary suspect. The Costa Rican authorities said it’d be months before forensics confirms the pad as evidence.
It took a year to get our son’s case elevated from missing person to homicide. It’ll be another year, if ever, before an arrest.
In Costa Rica there’s no crime without a body.
I’ve spent six months of the last year and a half searching the Osa Peninsula.
I’m tired, exhausted. I don’t want to go down there again, but I will. Because without our presence, nothing seems to happen.