Welcome to the 7th part of the Kindness on the Road series!
As always, these accounts of complete strangers going out of their way to help travelers like them restore my faith in humanity, which was precisely why I started this series in the first place.
I believe that we need to read more stories like these to remind us that despite all the evils that we read in the papers everyday, we can still find (a lot of) goodness in the world.
Stranded at the Airport (Romania)
Cat Gaa is behind Sunshine and Siestas, the blog of an American expat teaching English in Spain. Read her posts to see how tapas and siestas (and a novio) made her decide to stay in Spain forever!
After a weekend visiting family in Germany and a weeklong river cruise with my visiting parents, I was about to settle into the first leg of a trip from Budapest back to Spain on New Year’s Eve – Budapest to Tirgu Mures, Tirgu Mures to Madrid. I had a first-row seat and plenty of legroom, but my 3am wake-up call meant I drifted off to sleep immediately.
I’d been through this university student-infested town once before on a road trip around Romania, and doing the mental math (adding road time for the pot holes and speed limits, subtracting the time it would take to find a taxi on New Year’s Eve), I realized I wouldn’t be able to make my flight in Tirgu on time.
I frantically called my boyfriend, who could do nothing more than say, “Get a sandwich and a beer and you’ll feel better.”
Stuck in an empty airport on a huge holiday, I began to hunt down options to get back to Spain that day. There were no flights leaving Transylvania to Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga, or Palma for two days.
Word was that all flight from Tirgu were being rerouted through Cluj because of fog, so the airport staff encouraged me to camp out. The woman at the WizzAir desk wished me a fruitful 2014 as she closed up shop at 2pm.
I was alone in an airport with a sandwich and a warm beer.
Three hours later, a swarm of people entered the doors, bound for London. I spoke to several other English speakers who had been delayed for nearly 10 hours and would finally take off after a three-hour bus ride from Tirgu. I got my hopes up as my departure hour inched closer, but then finally passed.
I gave up and called my boyfriend long-distance to give him the news. Helplessly, I got teary-eyed when I thought of missing an important holiday and meeting his extended family from abroad.
Just then, a blond man approached me. He was dressed in another airline’s uniform and came wielding a styrofoam cup of warm coffee. I told him my story and asked if my flight had taken off.
“Yes,” he replied. “The fog cleared, and they were in the air as of ten minutes ago. It’s now too foggy here in Cluj to fly.”
Defeated, I began to walk out to the taxi stand to find a hotel and book a flight a few days in the future. He followed me and offered to get on the phone with WizzAir to book me a new flight, citing that the airport staff had given me bad information.
After explaining my story, he got me on a flight at 2pm, straight to Madrid, the following day. This meant I’d have to find an off-duty taxi driver, cough up 200 euros, and cross back into the Schengen Zone, but I’d be back in Iberia by the evening.
I dug into my travel backpack and offered him the only thing I had–a bottle of expensive Hungarian white wine I’d planned to bring to the New Year’s celebration back in Madrid. He confessed he’d had to work a 16-hour day with all of the cancellations and would drink it with his wife when he returned home.
I found the nearest Hilton and collapsed, thankful to be headed home the next day and to the airport worker who’d found me the way back.
The Lady and Her Motorbike (Thailand)
Dale Davies & Franca Calabretta are a British-Italian couple who’s been traveling around the world since 2012 in search for “interesting architecture, amazing art, memorable design, and local music.” They’re currently based in Berlin, Germany. Follow them on Facebook!
Since we’ve been traveling, one thing we’ve noticed and learned is how kind strangers can be without wanting anything in exchange. We had people helping us on several occasions and mostly without us even asking for it which it makes these gestures even more special.
For instance, we were once walking on a remote street close to Chumphon in Thailand, with the intention of reaching a beach which we knew was a few kilometers away. We decided to walk instead of taking a bus or a tuk-tuk to be able to see more off-the-beaten-path areas.
We didn’t have a good map but we knew the general direction we needed to walk in order to reach the beach. Everything was fine, we were enjoying ourselves, and we felt like we literally were in the middle of nowhere which was the whole point of wanting to walk.
At some point, though, it started to rain really heavily. We found shelter to avoid getting soaked and eventually started walking again. We had begun to feel tired but kept onngoing. Every now and then, someone would drive by, but the street was mainly deserted, only surrounded by nature and sometimes a solitary cow would appear too.
One lady on a motorbike passed us, then stopped and asked us to come closer. She didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak a word of Thai, but in some way we understood that she wanted to know where we were going and when we pointed it out on our badly-made map, she smiled and by using her hands invited us to jump on the motorbike.
We couldn’t believe it! She offered us a lift on her bike, to both of us. A bit surprised, we accepted, and the three of us rode the lady’s small motorbike. After about 15-20 minutes, we found ourselves at the beach. The lady simply smiled at us and left while we were still trying to thank her as best as we could.
Thanks to her, we were saved from walking for who knows how many hours still!
Our Brothers of the Sea (Indonesia)
Behan Gifford has been living on a sailboat with her family of five (husband Jamie and children Niall, Mairen, and Siobhan) since 2008. Last year, they had an unforgettable encounter with the military in Indonesia, with the abridged account below. Read the longer story here: Our Brothers of the Sea–The Indonesian Navy.
The career Navy man, Budi Wiratno, stood in his launch, holding onto rail our sailboat in order to stay alongside in the swift current and sweating through his stiff uniform under the equatorial sun. Squinting up at us, he wanted to know: why were we there?
Pemangkat is a small border town in Western Kalimantan, near Indonesia’s border with Malaysia. Unless you’re traveling by boat it’s not on a road to anywhere, so few outsiders pass through.
But we were traveling by water, not land, and it held the nearest offices to the border for the harbormaster, customs, and immigrations officials we needed to visit to complete formalities before clearing out of the country.
After a few minutes, Budi understood what we wanted to do and offered to bring us five miles upriver in his boat where the officials were located. Unknown to us at the time, it was a holiday and all government offices were closed, but Budi made a few phone calls and the office was open and ready for us.
The many forms, signatures, and stamps of bureaucracy went faster than any of the half dozen others we completed in Indonesia. Only two hiccups: a power outage that prevented photocopying of forms, and a port official insisting on a startlingly high bribe for “after hours service.” Our Navy escort looked at him sternly and said that his office is there to serve seafarers, and they are always open. The point was dropped.
The next morning, we invited Budi and his crew to our boat, Totem, for freshly made cinnamon rolls and coffee to thank them for the help. When they arrived, eight stuffed sacks were carried on board. It came to light that during his visit the previous day, Budi had thought that we couldn’t possibly have enough food onboard for a family of five, so he went shopping.
In total, they delivered to us 50 pounds of beautiful, fresh fruit, vegetables, even fish – perhaps a week’s wages worth. We tried to pay for the produce, but they were adamant that these were gifts of good will, and they would not accept compensation.
We thanked them as best we could, and asked them why. It took some moments flipping through my English/Bahasa dictionary to translate Budi’s response, but he patiently waited to make sure we understood what he wanted to tell us–we are brothers of the sea.
An Angel in Nairobi (Africa)
Mandi sent me her story after reading Of Angels and Other Stories of Kindness on the Road. She loves to travel when her schedule permits it. She says she is myopic and like most people, she has her own bucket list. Her ultimate must is to experience base jumping. (Wow, what a gutsy lady!)
I love traveling alone, always at the mercy of public transport. I remember being on a midnight bus from Malindi to Nairobi and it was a long trip. I sat next to a woman named Veronica.
Nairobi also known for the moniker “Nairobbery” and at that time of my visit, UN workers had been kidnapped, church worshipers gunned down on Sunday, and Mombasa was bombed. As Veronica and I chatted in the bus, she expressed alarm that I was traveling alone.
Veronica told me that I should hire a tour guide blah blah blah for my own safety. I told her I had been traveling for weeks and being in Nairobi was the last leg of my journey. She asked me if I had someplace to stay in the city, so I mentioned a hostel.
She then fished out her phone and communicated with someone. It turned out she was verifying the location of the hostel. When we arrived in the terminal at 5am, she told me to wait in the lounge. She went out and spoke to a bus personnel in getting me my transportation and a reliable taxi driver who will bring me to my hostel. She then told me to text her when I arrive safely at the hostel.
Veronica was certainly one of the highlights of my trip. I couldn’t forget the angel that made my trip to Nairobi a memorable one.
Stories like these really inspire me and warm the cockles of my heart (as my old boss used to say). I could go on and on with this series. If you have your own stories of kindness on the road, email it to me please, and I will include it in the next edition. Safe travels!