It was my last day hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track on New Zealand’s South Island. By now, I had trekked over thirty miles―the equivalent of a marathon and 10k event back-to-back―and I was exhausted to the point of delirium. I had just taken an unnecessary detour to Cleopatra’s Pool, which was not worth the extra distance, and on the way back to the main course, I sensed a fellow traveler creeping up on my left side. I didn’t even notice him at first; I was so consumed with my fatigue. And I don’t exactly recall how he caught my attention, but at some point, I was keenly aware that I had a tagalong.
I modified my stride to allow him to maneuver the narrow path and go on his way, but he remained right with me no matter how much I adjusted, going at my pace and seeming to want the company. There was nothing about him to give me pause for concern. And since we were so proximate and obviously going in the same direction, it was more awkward to ignore him than to acknowledge his presence and alter my gait so we could walk together comfortably.
His name was Pedro, and, like me, he had traveled far to explore this country for the first time. After an exchange of pleasantries, I offered a few quips about the gorgeous view. I did my absolute best to disguise my sheer exhaustion and growing irritation with the trail, learning from the friendly rebuke I received at Cleopatra’s Pool when I let out an underwhelmed sigh within the earshot of another hiker and snarled, “That’s it?” The disappointment seeped out faster than my filter could activate, and it was evident by the hiker’s expression that the negativity was not appreciated. With this new walking buddy, I was mindful to avoid any off-putting commentary and to suppress my negativity bias, no matter how worn out I felt.
Pedro had traveled all the way from Aguadulce, Coclé in Panama, where he lived with his family near farmland along the Estero de Palo Blanco. Pedro’s hopes for seeing the world for himself grew through the years after myriad encounters with tourists exploring his country and sharing fascinating stories of their homelands. At the same time, Pedro thought his ambitions were nothing more than a fantasy since there always seemed to be something preventing him from venturing far beyond his municipality. One day, his luck changed after hitching with ex-pats to Colón, where he fell into an opportunity to join a container ship crew sailing eastbound through the Panama Canal to Shanghai. From that point on, Pedro never looked back and toured around the globe a few times, recently landing in Oceania.
I admired Pedro’s intrepidity and enthusiasm for life. He was resilient and resourceful, masterfully finding ways to carve new experiences. You’d think he’d been around forever by his wealth of knowledge and collection of stories. Pedro was a personable character, freely aligning with anyone open to the company. And he was solid in his self-concept. Pedro availed himself to be shaped by his exposures without allowing those elements to erode his core essence. Let him tell it, he was the same old Pedro from Aguadulce. Only now, he was living beyond borders.
Pedro was entrenched in a stage of his development that I was actively seeking to enter. Learning to live outside of confinements, physical and mental, was the very purpose of my sabbatical. In this brief interaction, Pedro modeled what it looks like to move through life without fear, fully convinced of his stake in the world and that he could overcome any obstacle in his path. He understood the importance of the journey and did not shy away from new experiences or challenges.
What I appreciated most was that Pedro took my mind off the arduous hike and gave me something else to focus on. We walked in sync for a couple of miles, just past the Akersten Bay campsite, before it was time to part ways. I needed to continue progressing to the finish line, and Pedro wanted to explore the inland track before nightfall. We had just passed the fork minutes prior, and it made more sense for Pedro to use that onramp versus coursing another mile and a half to the next. I thanked him for the company and applauded him for claiming his freedom to make his mark on the world. He rooted for me to push through the fatigue my body involuntarily revealed, reminding me of how far I’d already tramped and how little I had left to go.
Then Pedro shared the wisdom of a Panamanian idiom, “¡Dale cuero!”, which translates to, “Give it leather!” He was advising me to finish the course quickly; the faster I finished, the sooner I’d be done. And with that gentle nudge, I paused to take off my left shoe and give it a little shake to send him rolling on his way. I slid my foot back in without unlacing, then picked up the pace and ran the rest of the way.