Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Worth searching for: Looking for an old friend


Leave it to a woman to come between best friends.

We’d been through some tough scrapes, my passport and I. I’d written its number on so many visa forms and hostel ledgers I knew it by heart. It was with me when I was 17, trying to smuggle a Thai frog into the U.S., and it found its way back when my money belt fell off in Kampala. We hitchhiked across India, sneaked into Burma and caught malaria. I kept it in my pack in Central America, and through every dollar hostel, crusty market and chicken bus, I hadn’t let it out of arm’s reach, not once. And all it took was a Swedish girl with green eyes.

I met her in a pub on Guatemala’s volcanic Lake Atitlan, and it was a full half hour before I realized I’d left my pack behind. I searched for it, of course. I had stuck reward fliers on every lamppost and cantina wall before I finally set out for the embassy to put in for a new one. But the whole way to Guatemala City, I thought about it, about how it was still out there, somewhere, behind enemy lines. I just didn’t know where to look.

But I found someone who did.

He called himself Fresh. Fresh was a Rastafarian with a grin that sparkled like lighting against his beaded dreadlocks and midnight face. He hustled, but who didn’t? His dream job was to smoke weed and take it easy. He talked about lobsters, mango trees and drinking rum until he fell asleep on the beach, and sometimes, he would just throw his fist in the air, shout “R-R-R-Rastafariman!” and laugh at the street.

His real name was Charlie. In fact, everyone in his gang had odd, Victorian names. There was Nigel, who liked to drink tomato juice, and Herman, who played the drums. And there was Edgar, who didn’t have any real passports but could make a just dandy one for $150. Fresh knew I wanted mine, and somehow, he knew why.

So we set off for the volcano lake and prodded an underbelly crusted in tourist residue: iPods, cameras, marijuana and (we hoped) passports. We talked to hustlers, hookers and lowlifes. We went to damp alleys, seedy cantinas and even a travel office rumored to deal passports on the side. But that was all we could find were rumors. Everyone knew someone who knew something, but no one knew anything.

I found one that looked somewhat like me, but it wasn’t mine and went for $700. It may not have been stolen; it’s not uncommon for broke backpackers to pawn their passports, sometimes for thousands. What good was it to find mine, I realized, if I couldn’t afford to buy it back?  I ran through scenarios that ended with me bolting out of some basement crime den. Fresh and I even set a rendezvous point in case we got separated. When I brought it up, he just gave a sober nod and said, “You have to take what is yours.”

This was all stupid, of course, but in my defense, it seemed more rational after a few days of probing the underworld with a drug-dealer-turned-private-eye. But it didn’t come to that. We chased leads for three days; finally, eating bologna sandwiches on the sidewalk, Fresh paused and said, “You really think we gonna find your thing?” and I realized he had given up a long time ago.

Fresh and I parted in Guatemala City. I put in for a new passport, went to the coast and did nothing but juggle for six days. Then I struck out for more adventures, bouncing off the borders like a pinball.

The new one had a different number. The pages had cheesy illustrations of American landmarks and patriotic quotes, and it didn’t have my stamps or that orange stain on the inside cover that almost kept me out of Ethiopian Immigration. But I was on a bus heading west when I opened it, and this passport would get me across the border. Then together, we would hitchhike across Mexico. I flipped to the front page and wrote 078373328.

I still know the number by heart.

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