The Kindness of Strangers


Sandy writes about those times when strangers have come to our aid and helped us out during our journey.

A few weeks ago we wrote about some of our travel ‘horror’ stories, which told of the times on our journey when there were hang-ups, lack of information or things just got really uncomfortable. Now, to coincide with the celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States this coming week, we would like to highlight those times when we were so thankful for the ‘Kindness of Strangers’ who have helped us out at various times during our trip.

American Samoa

Hiking with Bob in American Samoa

American Samoa was one of the first stops on our expedition, way back in February. Since our ship was only there for the day, we had made arrangements to speak at a school first thing in the morning. After we had finished our presentation, one of the office staff asked us if we had any plans for the rest of the day. She suggested that her husband, who was a park ranger, could possibly take us hiking on the island. We accepted her offer and agreed to meet him at a shop back in town.

SEE ALSO: Journey to the Four Corners of the Earth

It turns out he was busy but sent his friend Bob instead. Bob, who is from Seattle, was working on the island and he gave us a great tour. This included a drive around the island, a hike to a waterfall and a visit to an area called “Sliding Rocks” by the locals. In the process Bob showed us some plants and animals and gave us a feel for life on the island. We were able to buy him an ice cream for his trouble, but he made it clear that we were his guests for the day.

We had a great time with Bob and have remained in touch with him throughout our journey.

Hobart, Australia

Bus to Hobart, Australia

When we completed our first trek in Tasmania we took a three-hour bus ride to the city of Hobart. After seven days and 50 miles / 80 kilometers of trekking we were looking forward to a hot shower and sleeping in a real bed. When we arrived in Hobart it was just after 8:00 pm. We walked into the empty bus station with our driver so that we could claim our non-trekking bags that we had sent ahead. Another couple was also collecting their bags.

Before we left the building we asked the bus driver if he could confirm the location of our hotel, since we would need to walk there in the dark. The other couple overheard our conversation and decided that they would also like to stay at that hotel.

SEE ALSO: The Challenge and Beauty of Tasmania’s Overland Track

The bus driver began to give us directions, but then stopped and, instead, suggested that the four of us hop back in the bus and he would drive us there himself! Since we were so tired and weary from the trek this sounded great to us! So we boarded the empty bus and were soon in front of our hotel, courtesy of this kind driver and his after hours support.

Phongsali, Laos

Woman and girl at shop in Phongsali, Laos

Our second Trekking the Planet hike was in the Asian country of Laos. We trekked in the northern-most province of Phongsali. Almost immediately after starting out we were plagued with heavy rain and leeches, making the trail impassible. It soon became obvious that we were not going to be able to complete the five-day trek as planned. So we discussed the options with our guide and came up with a revised itinerary that allowed us to visit villages and schools in the surrounding area. We hiked to some schools and used local motorcycles to get to the others.

When using the motorcycles we had to shuttle between points, so our guide Sang took me first, and then went back to pick up Darren and bring him to where I was waiting. In one case, I was dropped off along a dirt road in front of a small shop with open air windows. There was a bench outside so I sat down, knowing it take 15-20 minutes for the motorcycle to make the round trip back before Darren would join me. It was hot and I was feeling sorry for myself because we could not complete the trek as we had planned.

SEE ALSO: The Search for Everyday Life in Laos

Inside the shop was a woman who was busy at work in front of an antique sewing machine. To operate it she continually stepped up and down on a pedal near the floor. With her was a little girl who was about two or three years old. She ran around the shop and occasionally would glance at me. She became very shy when I smiled back at her.

After a few minutes the woman looked up from her sewing machine, smiled at me and offered me a cup of tea. I took it with thanks and motioned to her about the cost. She smiled again and indicated that it was a gift from her. So I sat, enjoying the tea made from freshly grown leaves, as the three of us communicated non verbally through gestures and smiles. My spirits lifted as I thought about this kind woman’s gesture. A little thing like a cup of tea was a big thing to me and really made my day. When Darren and Sang arrived a few minutes later, I thanked the woman again and we went on to our next school visit.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Shah-i-Zinda Complex, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

While in Uzbekistan in June and July we were continually surprised at the friendliness of the people. As we walked along the streets and visited the historical sites, people would come up to greet us. Even though most did not speak English their body language and gestures made us feel welcome. Some people even asked to take their picture with us!

In the city of Samarkand we wanted to eat dinner at a recommended restaurant across town. With the name and address in hand we approached a bank of taxi drivers near our hotel. They were all friendly but none of them wanted to drive us the 20 minutes it would take to reach the restaurant. One driver did point down to a major street so we thought we would try our luck with taxis there.

As we walked down the busy street, we hailed any taxi that came by. They all seemed to already have passengers so we began to lose hope of ever getting to the restaurant. Finally, one taxi pulled over, although it already had a passenger in the front seat.

SEE ALSO: A Warm Welcome in Uzbekistan

It turned out that the passenger was an Uzbek man who lives in New Jersey. He was in Samarkand to visit family. He asked where we wanted to go and then turned to the taxi driver. Speaking to him in Uzbek, he convinced him to drive us there. So we got in the back of the taxi and were on our way.

We chatted with the man in the front and then, suddenly, the taxi stopped to let him out. After confirming one more time with the driver about our destination, he quickly left the car because of the busy traffic all around us. He waved to us as our taxi drove away. In all the commotion we did not even get to properly thank him. We very much enjoyed our meal at the restaurant, thinking about how this man made in possible for us to get there.

Samburu, Kenya

Being towed by Land Rover in Samburu, Kenya

We spent a week in the Samburu region in the north central part of Kenya, working with The Samburu Project to better understand the role of clean water in the local people’s lives. We spent time visiting wells, villages and schools. On our last full day we were in Samburu we planned to drive with Lucas, The Samburu Project’s Program Manager, to a remote village several hours away.

We were about one hour into our village journey, driving along a dirt road, when the car broke down. This was not the first time the car had broken down during the week so we got out and tried to push start it, but that did not work. We then had to wait for another car to come by to help. After sitting by the side of the road for about 30 minutes, we saw a Land Rover Defender approach us from a distance. The man driving had a rope so we tied Lucas’s car to the Land Rover and it towed us to a small settlement.

SEE ALSO: A Samburu Sojourn

At this point things did not look good for the car. Our plan had been to end up in the city of Isolo after our remote village visit so that we could arrange bus transportation back to Nairobi for the next day. Now it did not look like we were going to get to Isolo, let alone the village we had planned to visit. Lucas went over and spoke to the Land Rover driver in Swahili. Then he came over and told us that this man had offered to drive us straight to Isolo so that we could stay on schedule to get back to Nairobi the next day.

We had no choice but to go and bypass visiting the village. As we drove the 40 miles (64 kilometers) with the Land Rover driver to Isolo, we found out that he was originally from Uganda and living in the Samburu area. He was driving to Uganda, which would take him two days, to visit family. His English was limited but he was very friendly and the hour’s drive went by quickly. We wish he could have taken us all the way to Nairobi!

When he dropped us off at our hotel, we thanked him and offered to pay for his gas during our portion of the drive. He would not take any money, since he said that he was already driving this way. This man’s kindness not only helped Lucas and his broken down car get some assistance, but also got us in position to get back to Nairobi the next day, as scheduled.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Our most recent assistance came just a couple of weeks ago, as we arrived in Ethiopia. Every time we spend a significant amount of time in a given country, Darren purchases a local SIM card for his Android phone. Since we were going to be in Ethiopia for three weeks, we made it a priority to buy one as soon as we arrived in the capital city of Addis Ababa. With directions from our hotel we set off for the telecom office a few blocks away.

Unfortunately we arrived right when they were closing for the day, which was 11:30am on a Saturday. We were leaving Addis Ababa the next day for the more remote northern section of the country so this was going to be our best chance to purchase a SIM card. We looked up and down the street but could not see any stores that might sell SIM cards.

Darren suggested we walk back to a gas station that we had passed about two blocks ago. It had a small shop inside and he thought he could ask someone in there for help. Inside the shop the owner, named Samson, spoke good English and knew a place just down the street that could sell us a SIM card.

He offered to leave his shop and walk with us so we crossed the busy street in front of the gas station and then walked for ten minutes down several side streets. Samson told us that he had relatives in Washington D.C. and was very excited to talk to Americans. We stopped in front of a small shop with no sign on it and he determined that they had SIM cards for about $2.00 USD. Samson helped translate so that we could complete the purchase.

We walked with him ten more minutes back to the gas station shop and came inside to have a couple of cokes. We greatly appreciated Samson’s help and the fact that he even personally escorted us a significant distance each way to ensure that we had the SIM card that we needed for our time in Ethiopia.


Conclusion

These are just a few accounts of the amazing kindness and help we have received from strangers throughout our journey. This story would not be complete without mentioning all the wonderful people (who were strangers at the time) that we have met while traveling, whether it be on a ship, train, bus or while trekking. Many are great supporters of our trip and we keep in touch to this day.

And, thanks to all of you around the world who read our stories, view our pictures and watch our videos. We are so thankful for all of you, who make our journey so worthwhile!


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