Thomas the Dane

I received an email from Thomas the Dane. Everything had gone to shit in Pereira and he was in a desperate situation. He asked me to call him as soon as I could.

I did not respond immediately. It was the middle of the Feria de Cali and I did not know him well enough to give him an immediate response and I also did not wish to get involved in whatever trouble he was in.

A day later I emailed him asking what was going on. He wrote back that he had borrowed some money from a friend in Lima and was on his way to Cali. He would explain in person what had happened. A few days later I awoke to find him waiting for me in the hostel.

Soon after I had left the Pereira hostel, Thomas had left his backpack at the hostel to spend a couple days in Armenia giving English lessons, fully intending to return. But when he arrived in Armenia the student canceled on him, leaving him with not enough money to pay his bill in Pereira after he had paid for bus fare back. He called the hostel owner in Pereira and explained the situation (Thomas had stayed for months at the hostel a year earlier and knew the guy). He was told it was not a problem, just return to Pereira and it would be worked out.

But the next day Thomas received an email from the hostel owner charging him with running out on his bill and that he was reporting Thomas to DAS, the Colombian government section that tracks foreigners in the country. Then sometime later Thomas received another email saying that a camera had gone missing at the hostel and that all the evidence pointed to Thomas having taken it.

It was not exactly clear to me why Thomas had come to Cali other than the fact that I was there. I told him that since DAS was now probably involved he would need to contact the Danish Embassy and have someone there represent him.

We spent some time on the internet and found the address for the Danish Embassy in Cali and I sent Thomas there. He returned some hours later. The information we found on the internet was wrong and the Danish Embassy no longer existed. No one knew where it had disappeared to. There were two other consular offices in Baranquilla and Bogota but Thomas seemed pessimistic the Danes would help him. The attitude of the Jante Law meant that Danes looked down upon other Danes who traveled abroad and lived differently. They would not want to help him.

Thomas explained that he wanted to get out of South America, but he had no money to buy a ticket. After 7 years in Peru and another 5 years in other countries he had had enough. He talked of an American friend who had gotten the US Embassy to loan him money for a ticket home which he paid back later, but there would be no chance the Danish Embassy would do this for him.

I told Thomas he first needed to deal with the hostel owner in Pereira and to pay his bill and get his stuff back before he considered going anywhere. Whether or not he had been reported to DAS, his embassy needed to be informed of the situation. Thomas agreed with this and began to think seriously about how he might get to Bogota.

He only had the clothes he was wearing and a small rucksack. He had a few thousand pesos, nowhere near enough for the bus fare to Bogota. I gave him 20,000 pesos and told him to pay me back when he could. I knew it wasn’t enough to get him to Bogota, but I did not know him well enough to do more for him.

Then Thomas changed his mind. He would rather try for Quito, Ecuador. He would get to the Danish Embassy there and work out the problem in Pereira. I explained to him that should DAS get him at the Ecuadorian border it would no doubt be assumed that he was guilty of running out on his hostel bill and possibly stealing the camera. It would be hard to claim innocence when you had been caught trying to get out of the country.

Thomas agreed with this and for a moment seemed to return to the idea of going to Bogota. I bought him a beer and we sat around my room and he talked over the situation again and again. I was getting tired of this and had plans to go to a concert that night and I did not want to get stuck with this guy. One of the Swiss girls stopped by my room and asked me about the concert and I said I’d be ready in an hour.

Then Thomas got up and said he was ready. He was going to Ecuador. The border was loose there and he would cross in the night, maybe on New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t going to argue it further and told him it was a good plan.

He figured that if things went wrong and DAS got him then the Danish Embassy would be forced to act. Maybe they would buy him a ticket back to Copenhagen. I agreed with this reasoning and walked him to the door and wished him luck. The 20,000 pesos was enough to get him to Popayan and from there he would need to hitchhike to the near the border and take a cab through the checkpoint. I hoped things worked out for him but I was happy to see him go and I did not expect to hear from him again or to get my 20,000 back.

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