Border Crossing(Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Border Crossing(Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

Travel powered by the kindness of strangers

Tom recounts his adventures getting home from Panama with no money in his pocket

I had gone down to Panama City to get a job on a freighter and see the world. Seems my plans had gone south.

I lined up with 200 or so other workers.

They looked like they needed the job more than I did so I changed my mind.

The next morning, I woke up in a flop house I had been staying at.

The guy beside me wanted to borrow a dollar. It was my last one and he looked like he needed it more than I did so I lent it to him.

The day before, I had attempted to call home to get my dad to send some money from my bank but seems Panama and Canada were not on the best of relations so they would not accept collect calls.

Looked like the decision had been made for me.

I picked up my pack and started walking across the canal on the Balboa bridge heading for Vancouver.

I wasn’t worried and tried to take it one day at a time.

We have this idea that people are trying to shoot us or steal from us. We watch too much news on the TV.

Most people are just going through life trying to put food on the table and look after their children.

Sure, there are bad eggs and you have to be careful, but generally people do care about each other.

Yes, I was fortunate and hitchhiking was easier then, but people would pick me up, feed me, and get me on the road again.

Six days later, I was closing in on the Guatemalan-Mexican border.

I had heard through the grapevine that the Mexican government had required travellers to have a minimum of $200 to enter the country.

This was their attempt to keep hippies out. Hippies being defined as anyone with long hair and no money.

Yikes, that could mean me.

I had not had a hair cut in three months and had no money.

Oh well, I had a plan.

When I arrived at the border I asked the guard to order me a taxi and explained that I would be heading to Mexico City to party.

My Spanish was still poco, but with a battery of hand gestures I think he was believing me.

Unfortunately it was shift change and the new guy would not buy it.

‘Show me the money.’ When I opened my wallet and it was empty, I learned several new Spanish swear words. I was denied entry but all was not lost.

I had a friend I had met in the Guatemalan border town of Huehuetanago.

I managed to get back to his house and work on plan B.

Turned out the mayor would lend me $60 and I would try again.

That day, luck was on my side and I got picked up by a Catholic priest and he did not even stop at the border.

Mexico is a beautiful country with friendly and generous people, but still when I crossed the border into United States, I bent down and kissed the ground.

And yes, the moment I got home I went to my bank and sent the borrowed money with a $20 tip back to the mayor.

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Thanks, Tom