Panama City, Panama, in the food court of the mall across from the Albrook bus terminal I ate 25 cent slices of pizza and watched as two travels found a way to travel.
I did not know that those two kids were travelers at that time; I just knew that they were accosting everyone in the food court with their attempts at selling t-shirts. They would walk up to an unsuspecting table and give them their sale’s pitch, and either sell a shirt or move on. I just figured that they were donation sharking the general populous of Panama for some humanitarian organization. But as I watched them my curiosity grew, as they did not look like the usually bunch of volunteers who would be out selling shirts for some “cause” or another. They were bold, confident, slightly ragged, and seemed to be people who really believed in what they were doing. They did not appear to be the average donation sharks in the least. So I watched them move from table to table around the food court giving their spiel as I tried to figure out what they were doing.
“Stop looking at them,” Mira roared at me.
She did not want me to make the invitational eye-contact that would potentially subject us to their business dealings. Neither of us are keen on hearing save the world rants, nor are we fond of shedding money towards the betterment of peace work bureaucracy. I did not know why they were selling t-shirts at this time, but I still harbored suspicions that it could have been for some worn out “cause,” which ultimately translates to “you donate money and we will save the world by paying ourselves.” I was not in the mood for being accosted by a couple with a sales pitch designed at making me feel like a bad person if I did not donate money, so I hid my head and hoped that they would not notice me as they passed.
They didn’t. I was free.
But they caught up with me two months later in Guatemala.
I was walking down the streets of Antigua minding my own, when a hand reach out from a street corner, and a dark skinned guy asked in good English if he could talk to me for a minute. I looked for a way out, but I was hemmed in by the guy’s friends, who were smilingly gathered around me. I stopped walking and listened to their wrap, as they cut me off and left me with no place to turn. Then it hit me that these were the same t-shirt sellers that I dodged two months earlier in Panama. I laughed heartily at this realization and told them that I had crossed their path before. They laughed too.
It turned out that these kids were travelers – not donation sharks – and they were very actively selling their t-shirts to make up the money to drive their ’71 Ford Falcon from Argentina to Mexico. I looked over the t-shirts that they were selling, and the design was of them in front of their car wearing big sombreros. It was a pretty funny t-shirt, but I did not want to drop $10 on something that I didn’t need. I had a shirt already, and I was wearing it proudly. So I gave a little bow and a handshake and told them that I was going to pass by without buying a t-shirt. They said OK and wished me happy travels amidst a sea of farewell handshakes. They were good travelers; they found a way to travel.
But I did not get two blocks down the street before a tinge of guilt set in: these travelers made it from Argentina to Guatemala in an old 1971 Ford Falcon by selling t-shirts. How could I pass without tossing them a few bucks to help them travel on? It was also a stark coincidence that I crossed their paths in two different countries. I then remembered that I had received a $10 travel donation earlier that day, which made my feelings of guilt swell up a bit more. So in keeping with the code of the traveler, I went back to those Ford Falcon riding wanderers and passed on the $10 donation that I had passed on to me.
I got a new t-shirt.
They were happy; I was happy.
One traveler got a cool t-shirt, and others got some funds to keep traveling on.
These Argentineans found a way to travel.
I give them my full respect.
Wander on t-shirt selling, old car driving travelers! Wander on!
Please visit the site of the Argentinean travelers at Bandera Latinoamericana for stories and photos of their travels.