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Man who walked around the world returns to Panama to thank a stranger

Sam-in-Panama

IMAGINE a stranger walks through your street, barely able to stand after hiking for 45km.

He asks the nearby locals for a place to sleep.

They laugh.

Agitated by their amusement, you consider putting him up in your house, but fear this tall white man may not fit in your one-bedroom home with barely four walls.

There’s also the issue that you possess no food, at least no more than what could barely feed your wife and young daughter, whom you are about to leave the next morning to find work in the city 250km away.

Do you take him in or watch him walk on by?

Samuel Clear found himself needing a place to sleep when he was stranded in the middle of Panama, a few months into a 15,600-kilometre journey on foot across the world praying for unity among Christians.

In South and Central America he had a few near-death experiences – a shotgun to the head, a face-to-face encounter with a puma, and a few unruly thieves.

But it was Adolfo, a young married man from Panama, who lived squished inside a tin shed with no electricity or running water, who touched Sam the most.

Sam had just walked 45km through Panama to find himself in El Higo, where his usual accommodation options of a church or a hotel did not exist.

At a nearby corner store he met Adolfo and his daughter.

They offered him a place to hang his hammock and sleep under the twinkling stars that shine over Panama’s rich grasslands.

The next day he drank lemongrass tea and ate bread.

Before continuing on his walk, Adolfo shares his own dilemma.

He will also be leaving the tin shed, travelling 250km to Panama City to find work, leaving his wife and daughter behind.

The young Panamanian reached out for a plush toy – Dino, from The Flinstones, hung a cross around his neck – and handed it over, with the words: “Remember me”.

In 2012, four years after his slumber under the Panamanian stars, Sam books a flight to Central America with one mission – to find Adolfo.

The Road to Adolfo is a four-part documentary series following Sam’s search for the humble Good Samaritan who offered him a night’s sleep in 2007.

The Road to Adolfo

This time around, Sam doesn’t rely on his own feet to do the searching, but enlists in the help of a Brisbane-based cameraman, a Polish doctor and a rental car.

He has only two items to identify Adolfo – the plush pink Dino and a grainy photograph saved to his laptop – and a rough mental sketch of the jungle trail to his tin house.

With broken Spanish at the ready, he embarks on a two-week journey to find one man in Panama and thank him. 

Would he be in the same house, with wife and daughter tucked inside?

Would he be employed, providing money for his family to eat and live?

Would he even be alive?

While the series hinges on the search for Adolfo, the first two episodes actually follow Sam in the neighbouring country Venezuela, where he also walked.

He hopes to find others who opened their homes to the strange white man walking around the world (and also the man who held a shot gun to his head), a kind of prelude to his major search.

Sam wants to know why they were so generous, and to thank them for it.

He is the real-life leper who, having been healed with nine others, is the only one to go back to Jesus, fall at his feet and thank him.

Revisiting Venezuela brings back unsettling memories for Sam, and a sense that his prayerful walk in 2007 would have been enough to render him mentally insane.

While much of the dangerous, yet beautiful, Venezuelan scenery (which almost gets the crew killed in broad daylight) is unfamiliar to Sam, he immediately recognises the hearts and hospitality of those who offered a bed or floor for the night.

They also remember him – but who wouldn’t remember a giant white man in a country whose president openly condones the murdering of “gringos”?

In a country with rampant racism flourishing, this handful of men and women, all of them identifying as “poor but happy”, have distanced themselves from hatred and, instead, chosen love.

Their homes are modest, but their smiles are grand.

Their wallets are empty, but their hearts are full.

They have little food, but are overflowing with faith.

Poverty is the pathway to true joy and mercy, and perhaps why the poorest of them all, Adolfo, opened his home. 

Or did he?

In the course of his search, Sam starts to beg the question – did Adolfo exist, or is he just a figment of Sam’s broken Spanish and need for sleep?

Faith, which is what set the leper free, urges him on the search for Adolfo.

A Road to Adolfo, then, is not just the search for one man; it is the call to search inside ourselves and open our hearts to the reality of Jesus in the next person you meet.

Will you take Him in or watch Him walk on by? 

The Road to Adolfo will premier at the Australian Catholic University in Brisbane later this year. Review by Emilie Ng.

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