My first day solo in Panama City I ran into this guy named Guy at the canal. Well, actually he ran into my taxi from the locks back into town and we discovered we were on the same journey north through Central America. We only spent a day being tourists together in Panama and lost each other for Costa Rica, but reunited again in Granada, Nicaragua a few days later. The fact that his name is Guy provided endless pun jokes, but he himself provided splendid entertainment. One morning we were walking on a totally empty sidewalk and he had is head down in my lonely planet book when he walked straight into an electricity pole as wide as him. I was half a step ahead and only heard a loud thump, then him mutter ‘well that was stupid.’ When I turned back to see him just flip the page and keep reading on, I had to put two and two together to figure out what had just happened and then almost peed my pants laughing. The next time he made the same comment to himself I had to ask what happened since he was in the bathroom, and he casually explained he had just put soap in his eyes.
The most ridiculous thing he ever did was stroll right into a dog napping on the road, this time without any book or distraction but just total oblivion of where he was stepping. His reaction this time was a simple ‘Oh, hello’ as the dog wimpered off totally in shock, not sure what had just happened in his deep, peaceful sleep. Then there was the time he almost walked off the top of a Mayan temple in Copan, but realized just in time the edge of the path we were walking on didn’t have any steps down. In Honduras, me and Claudia convinced him to try painting his toe nails red with us, but that really didn’t help the fact that locals always hear is name pronounced as ‘gay,’ not Guy.
Aside from being my complimentary entertainer, he provided great travel company with some great philosophical debates, discussions on faith, and shared incredible stories from his time as a professional cyclist on Lance Armstrong’s team. He had a heart of gold, listening to everyone’s life story and trying to be friends with any locals he interacted with. He was always trying to give away all the most valuable stuff he had, and for some reason that kind of generosity was never abused. When we took a horse-drawn cart 9 hrs for only $20, he offered to pay the drivers with his ipod instead, worth probably $150, but they preferred the cash in hand. While we were traveling, we cracked a few beer and he only took one sip of his before passing it off to a guy peddling his bike alongside us, going just slightly slower than our horse and looking a bit more fatigued. When we met up with my friend Claudia in Honduras, she told us about how she had gotten mugged just a couple weeks before, and when she told Guy her blackberry was the last thing taken, he offered over and over to give her his blackberry, even though I’d say that was the only thing he was dependent on, communicating with family and friends hourly. The most ironic give away he actually succeeded in was in El Salvador; we were looking for a restaurant that was serving lunch and when the first place we asked was out of food (?), he gave the owner a bag of raw potatoes covered in salt and hotsauce he had bought in the market a few steps before, probably thinking it was some delicious fruit.
One valuable thing I learned traveling with this guy named Guy was about safety. There is something always unnerving about traveling alone as a girl, and his company was extremely comforting in the dozens of sketchy buses and dark streets we had to frequent along the way. He explained something pretty profound to me too: one time he walked right past a guy trying to say hello, ignoring him probably as a precaution, but the guy responded to his brush off by yelling ‘well there’s one great way to get robbed.’ He said he never feels afraid at 2 am in the most dangerous neighbourhoods because he’s already made friends with the street folk, and thus, he’s probably safer there than anywhere or anyone else. Being friendly to people is so important, and the trick Guy taught me was to always make people believe you trust them. I’ve been trying it and it does really work; once you make a personal connection, even if its just sharing a hello or a smile, the chance that they’ll hurt you is probably zero.