La Bonté Des Étrangers – Part 1

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that people are people. It sounds like a no brainer, but the number one concern I hear when I say I’m going to travel places, is that I should be careful trusting the people there. What’s funny is… they probably say the same thing about us.

From traveling, I’ve learned that humanity is broad, colorful, diverse and beautiful. There is evil in the world, yes. Some governments are oppressive and some cultural norms stagnate the possibilities for individuals to rise to their true potential. But I will never allow the aspects of darkness to outshine the good.  The people who are selfless, stubborn and that build lives of beauty in places you might never consider beautiful are my heroes. And to celebrate THESE people. I’m going to share some stories of some awesome individuals I’ve met while traveling.

1. “Your Accent Is Cute.” – London, England

As an American traveling, it takes every ounce of self control not to fake a different accent. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I’m ashamed of the way I speak…only that I think it should stay on the home front. When I first arrived in London, England I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was using different money, there were way too many people everywhere, and I arrived at night – meaning I didn’t recognize anything the next day. On top this, the streets are backwards – which, honestly, almost cost me my life more than once.

When I first arrived in London I stayed about 30min north of the central city with one of my lovely couch surfing hosts. The second night I was out until after dark (which was like 6pm) and  had no idea how to get back to where I was staying. Deciding to just try my luck, I jumped on a bus that looked like it MIGHT be the same number that I came down on (it wasn’t) and then rode around in it for twenty minutes.

At this point I literally had no idea where I was. So brilliantly, I got off the bus and tried to use the map on my phone*. After wandering around in the cold a bit, I finally found a bus stop and waited until the bus came. Happily climbing on, it wasn’t until a few moments later that I  realized it was taking me BACK the way I came. So, getting off that bus, I got back on another random bus headed in the right(?) direction. At this point I was actually lost in London. My host wasn’t able to figure out where I was because I wasn’t able to figure out where I was, and I was sending frantic text messages. Fun times.
Finally I swallowed my shyness and asked the bus driver for directions.

He told me I was nowhere near where I was supposed to be going…but to go sit down and wait a while. I thought he was going to tell me a connecting route, but as the bus emptied of its last passenger, other than me, he called me to the front of the double-decker, after pulling over. He then whipped out his smartphone, and punched the address into his GPS. After finding the address on his phone, he pulled out of where he had parked and started driving and talking to me about where I was from. I told him Seattle, to which he said, “American? Well, I like your accent, it’s super cute.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that is a sentence every American woman wants to hear from an attractive British man.

As we kept driving, he let me know that we would be there soon. And only then did I realize I was being driven in a double decker bus, as the solo passenger, to the place I need to go. He dropped me off at the corner of my street, and drove away, waving goodbye. I’m probably never going to see that man again, but as far as I know, if it wasn’t for him I might still be lost in London. A cosmic “Thank you, sir.”

* Note: iPhone 4’s DO NOT work internationally unless you’re on WiFi, which doesn’t help if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

2. Never Euro In N. Ireland – Belfast, Ireland

If you’ve ever been to Northern Ireland you’ll know that tension flows through the air. I never really understood the stubbornness and hot headed nature of my Irish blooded family until I visited Northern Ireland and met the people there. Not to say this is a bad thing, but just that it was my observation.

When I was traveling around the UK, Belfast was the first stop on my backpacking adventure. I had travelled 20 hours to get there including two planes, a train and a two buses. FINALLY, when I got to Northern Ireland, I groggily hopped on the bus I was told would take me to my hostel. It was the wrong bus. So I hopped on another one the bus driver told me to take. It was ALSO the wrong bus. Finally, with 30 lbs of luggage on my back and 2 hours of sleep in 48 hours, I got on the right bus and pulled out my wallet to pay.

The bus driver looked at me as though I was trying to pull a practical joke. “How much is the bus?” I asked. He looked at me one more time as though I was joking, and then frankly told me that they didn’t take that kind of money, and to get off the bus and go exchange it. I had just used the money in Dublin, so I was confused for why it wouldn’t work.

Note: Trying to pay with Euro is a “political statement” in Northern Ireland. Don’t do it.

Stumbling my way around the city, I finally found a place to exchange my money and went out to wait for the next bus. I FINALLY I got to my hostel. At the brink of tears, because I was so exhausted and my back hurt so much, I asked the front desk staff to check me in. But, (surprise) they also didn’t take Euro and I hadn’t exchanged enough money to pay the other half of the room bill. Completely out of my control, my eyes filled as I tried not to cry. The woman told me I couldn’t check in – which meant going back to the city center, finding another bus, coming back on another bus, and carrying my pack around for even longer.

At the same time, a guy in his 20s hopped down into the room and asked what was going on. The lady explained the situation and I just stood there trying not to cry. He reached down and handed me a key. I took it without asking any questions. The woman and I both had shocked faces as he told me to just pay the next time I went out and got change – an exception which was, apparently, totally against protocol.

His act of kindness was probably one of the best things during my trip; not because it was the grandest gesture, but because it was a small act of kindness in a moment when I just needed a break.

3. Ten Hours With A Stripper – Missoula, MT 

In four years of college and my entire life before then, I never pulled an all-nighter. (And to preface the sentence I’m about to say – don’t jump to conclusions.)

The first time I did, I was with a male stripper.

His name was Hank. He was tall and military trained and we met on the way to Seattle on a Greyhound bus. I had been staying in Missoula, MT for the week before and was coming back heartbroken and tired. Also, for reference, the Greyhound bus ride from there to here is about 11+ hours. So, about to fall sleep on my way home, I was suddenly interrupted by a guy across the aisle way. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but suddenly he was talking to me about my hat and how much he liked it. I’m pretty sure it was just a plain beanie.

We talked for a few minutes, but I was less than enthusiastic since I just wanted to curl up and sleep/die (heartbroken.). After the bus switch a couple of hours later, I walked back on and found that the girl I had been sitting with had left at that stop. So, I took my seat and the trek back began. Soon after, I heard someone trying to talk to me from the back of the bus. I turned around – him again. “I’m just going  to move up there so we can talk easier.” And Hank popped into the seat beside me.

After a while we started talking pretty naturally, mainly because I was by the window, and there was nowhere to go with a 6’6″ man sitting next to me. Over time we started talking about relationships and how we were both just getting out of some pretty swampy territory. We talked for 10 hours straight about everything from favorite movies to quotes we liked and political views. But, mostly, about our mutual broken hearts.

We were both crushed that things didn’t work out between us and our significant others, and sat there for hours talking through things, encouraging each other (not the fake kind) and figuring things out.

I honestly can say, it was better than any counseling session I’ve ever had. I was crushed when I left Montana, and by the time I got to Seattle I felt so much better. All of my problems weren’t solved. But having a stranger sit and talk to me about them for that long was insane. When I got off the bus at the last stop I couldn’t find Hank to thank him. I’ll probably never see him again, but the kindness of a listening ear is something I’ll never forget.

Stay tuned more more stories coming up…

Have I ever mentioned how much I love old cars?
Missoula, MT  
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