I already described my hilarious hostel family of Latin American misfits in the last post, but today I would like to introduce a new character. Another Venezuelan named Tomas, this one calling himself my father but in a vastly different situation than my Venezuelan brothers who fled Chavez without a penny to their name. Tomas looks to be in his mid 60’s, has half his teeth and a monumental beer belly that should be photographed and put in a museum due to its greatness. Up until today he was just the strange old guy who was always sleeping on the hostel couch snoring with such magnitude his belly would jiggle like Jello on a trampoline. But after I got to know this man, everything has changed. Late in the morning Tomas told me he was going to cook a big lunch for the other Venezuelans and my Panamanian mother. He asked if I would like to join and proceeded to teach me the spanish names of every ingredient in his “Chinese style rice with ham, turkey, peppers and potato salad.” I obliged and sat down with my self-appointed spanish tutors to expand my vocabulary before lunch. After a stellar meal and some surprisingly good spanish coming out of my mouth the Venezuelan’s invited me to go watch the Panama vs El Salvador soccer match in the casino nearby.
Tomas was a lifelong military man in Venezuela and having recently retired from a life of combat he was spending his pension in the casinos of Panama! He had literally been gambling day and night for months so the casino was no doubt quite fond of this charasmatic fat man. They offered him and his amigos the VIP lounge of the casino to watch the game with free drinks and gorgeous cocktail waitresses to entertain the eyes. Sipping free, fine Latin Rum, watching a thrilling soccer match where Panama beat Salvador in penalties I was really enjoying the finer things in life after 2 dirty weeks as a backpacker on a budget! Tomas seemed to literally know everyone in the casino and important looking men were a constant stream to our table with beautiful women kissing us all on the cheek and saying hola. My Spanish is not good enough to understand this legendary man’s banter, but he asked each and every cocktail waitress over to our table and seemed to be telling them they were the most beautiful in the casino. Feeling on top of the world Tomas proceded to strut around the casino, approach each and every attractive girl tap them on the shoulder push me in front of them and introduce me. My blond hair and blue eyes already get me a lot of attention in Latin America, but with Tomas’s shameless approach to picking up women it was pretty hilarious and awesome. After literally feeling like some sort of Latin royalty I left the casino with my Venezuelan family after which they insisted on tutoring me in more Spanish until the wee hours of the morning.
I often get asked how I manage to get into these random social/cultural adventures when traveling. The answer is that when I travel my MO is literally “I’m down for whatever and I’ll always have a smile.” I’ve discussed this ideology in previous posts, but I can’t stress enough its importance when traveling internationally. With differences in languages and cultures it’s easy to become confused and misunderstandings are inevitable. However, with a laid back approach to everything, no preconceptions and a conflict diffusing smile anything is possible. So many people are seeking the “perfect vacation” when they travel and they don’t allow for anything sporadic. They create an itinerary with all the places they want to see and things they want to do while in a certain location. Their schedule doesn’t allow the time to accept random invitations and I promise you these are often much more valuable experiences than merely seeing a monument you could have just looked at in a picture. In fact this mentality could also be applied to life as a whole. So often we get trapped in our life’s schedule we forget to take a random detour or two, just a thought….. When I travel there is a quote that I live by from “The Beach” my favorite book (and movie) of all time.