When you go to live in a new town far away, it is said it takes 30 years to really know it. Maybe an exaggeration. But at least 5 years.

It is the same with tourists.

Tourists who stay in first class hotels learn almost nothing about the places they visit. The idea of such hotels is to make you feel at home.

In the book A Search for a Son, Brian Winder faced this problem.

Back-packers normally are closer to the people – in hostels and buses and walking around, but they pick up much of their information from other back-packers.

When we started getting into email contact with those that visited Panama, they gave us a terrifying picture of the Darien Gap – full of drug-agents and murderous guerillas and gun-runners – left-wing and right-wing. It added greatly to the stress of our son being missing for 9 months. Even the British embassies had just surface knowledge — mainly for commercial purposes.

But we gradually got in contact with long-term managers of hostels, who gave us a more balanced picture; and when I went out to Panama, a long-term resident, an ex-marine, put me in contact with an indian, who at least found out where Paul had gone. The first step in tracing him.

But it did not allay our fears and worries.