"It's one thing, all over the world between countries, for governments to clash," De Pecol said. She wishes she could step into a world where everyone is regarded as a global citizen instead. That doesn't mean she hasn't experienced close calls, though.
She said that she'd been repeatedly detained, including in Bahrain and Libya, where the authorities suspected she worked for the CIA.
"A lot of times they'll think I'm a journalist because I have my tripod on the side of my backpack and I have my camera equipment," she said.
While she was waiting for a shuttle to a local bed and breakfast from the airport on the tiny island nation Grenada, officials came up and said she looked suspicious. They brought her to an 8-foot square room with a low ceiling, yellow walls, a wooden table and two worn chairs.
De Pecol learned that a couple of American girls were caught two weeks earlier trying to smuggle cocaine into the country. She had been carrying a sealed plastic bag of vitamins that included pills of turmeric, valerian root, and vitamin C. The authorities tested the contents of the bag individually before allowing her to leave.
During a taxi ride in Peru, four teenage boys armed with knives suddenly attacked the vehicle and robbed the driver at a red light. "I pretty much stuck my phone up my bum," she told me. "I didn't back my phone up. They cannot take the phone because it had all of my notes on it, my journal, everything." De Pecol called the incident a fluke and pressed on.
In early December, she arrived in Cuba and realized during the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel that she only had $20 in cash. American debit and credit cards aren't accepted there. "How am I going to pay the taxi driver? Then the hotel, they're like, we need cash, too," she recalled. "I felt so stupid."
She tried an ATM anyway. That didn't work. It was nearing midnight and De Pecol panicked as she considered walking back to the airport, which would take hours. The normally steely traveler sat on the side of the road and began to cry. Her taxi driver, who she described as a short man with brown eyes, graying hair, and a kind expression named Dago, approached.
"He said in Spanish, 'I have three daughters and I would hate for them to be in your situation. How about I take you back to my house? You can stay at my house tonight, and then figure everything out tomorrow,'" she said.
He dropped her off at his tiny concrete home and returned to work, De Pecol said. His wife made up the bed and the next morning, when the American emerged from the room, she discovered that the woman had slept on a thin, narrow foam pad on the floor covered only by a floral sheet.
"She had given up her bed so that I could sleep in it. She didn't even know me," De Pecol said. "Strangers all over the world, they want to show you how kind and helpful they are in welcoming you into their country."
Welcomed With Opened Arms