One of the many great things about travel is putting yourself partly at the whims of kindness of strangers. Sometimes that is good. . . sometimes bad, but it is always a good fodder for entertainment. On my trip, I’ve had a large dose of good fortune and a small bit of bad fortune in depending on the kindness of strangers. Here are some of the stories:
My best bit of good fortune on the trip were the South African and British bikers that completely saved me at the Ethiopian border. It took me three exhausting days to get overland from Nairobi to the border — one day on a bus and two days hitchhiking on top of a cargo truck down the worst road on the entire trip. When I got to the border, I found out that the information that the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi had told me about getting an Ethiopian visa was incorrect. . . and the Ethiopian border agents wanted me to return all the way back to Nairobi to get my visa. Not an option. Here’s the story of the charitable bikers that simply saved my ass.
When I finally got into Ethiopia, I had a number of problems I had to deal with, most importantly, I still needed to get a visa in Addis Ababa (since I was worried about getting out of there and also worried about getting arrested for being in-country with no valid visa) and another problem I didn’t anticipate — I needed U.S. dollars but had no way to get them. Here is the story of my personal cab driver that came to my rescue on many fronts.
No compilation of stories about the kindness of strangers would be complete without talking about the nicest people in the world, the Kiwis.
One of the things that totally opened my eyes on this trip was the vast internet travel community out there (including hundreds of great bloggers) that are ready to step up and provide answers to questions, help and general support. Twitter. Facebook. Direct emails to bloggers you’ve never laid eyes on before. The Thorn Tree Forum on Lonely Planet’s website. The resources, and great people, are everywhere. Here’s the story of the stranger in Norway that helped me find my way to the top of the world, before it all got iced over for winter:
I have said for a long time that I have a complete hate/love relationship with cabbies. I hate 9 of every 10, but then the 10th one comes along and ends up being the most helpful person on the planet. While I was in Uruguay, I got an email from my cargo freighter travel agent that my ship was leaving early and I had to haul ass to get to the port or I would miss it. Here’s the cabbie that got me across the border in the middle of the night:
Unfortunately, it isn’t all wine and roses from strangers out there. Most every third world country you go to has a variety of scam artists out to try to get into you wallet. And not every stranger offering help has altruism in their heart. But those experiences are simply a part of travel — and sometimes provide the best stories.
When my friend Dave came to visit me in Egypt, we wandered around the Arab Quarter of town in search of good photographs (which are plentiful) and some good local food. We ran into a food scam that we both should have known to avoid:
The last story I’ll share on this theme is one of my favorites from the trip, though it didn’t happen to me. There was a British guy named Mark that I traveled with for about a week or so. He, like me, didn’t speak any Spanish before he got to Central America. As you will find when you are out there, when people come up to you and start speaking in a foreign language, for some reason, you invariably end up nodding a lot and saying “yes” in whatever the local language is. I guess it is just a form of general politeness, but everyone ends up doing it.
In this case, Mark was going back to his hostel in Panama at about 1 a.m. after an evening of drinking. A local guy walked up and engaged him in conversation, mostly Spanish, with some sign language and a bit of English thrown in. It went something like this:
Stranger to Mark: “Hostel or hotel?”
Mark, thinking the stranger was going to help him find his way: “Hostel amigo, that way [pointing]”
“Ahhh, hostel, si, si.” As the stranger starts walking with Mark and then he asks Mark three or four questions and Mark has no earthy idea what is being asked.
When they got back to the hostel, Mark turned to the stranger and said, “Ahhh, mi hostel. Gracias,” and started to walk inside. The stranger followed him. “No, no — this my hostel.”
“Si, si” said the stranger smiling and made a hand motion of what was apparently agreed to in the series of questions that Mark blindly answered yes to.
“NO, NO. Me like-a the chicas! Not the amigos! Me like chicas!!”
And off walked a very disappointed local guy that thought Mark had agreed to a night of passion. In this case. . . a stranger that was perfectly willing to provide a little. . . kindness.