Welcome to the 14th collection of stories of Kindness on the Road!
I love receiving contributions for this monthly series. I’m backpacking solo now in South America (until maybe around 2017), and it always amazes me how good people can be, from bus drivers going out of their way to help you find your accommodation, locals taking on strangers to sleep in their beds, and people picking up hitchhikers.
In this collection, read my story and the stories of Josh, Gabby, Karilyn, and Anna during our travels in Brazil, the Philippines, France, India, and Italy.
Kindness in the City of Black Gold (Ouro Preto, Brazil)
Ouro Preto, in Minas Gerais, Brazil, used to be called Vila Rica or rich village, because of its wealth from the gold mined in the area in the colonial times. It is a small, beautiful city, with cobblestone streets and colonial architecture that are very well-preserved. What impressed me most about it, though, was the kindness of its people.
I arrived in Ouro Preto at 6am from Rio de Janeiro, shivering at the unexpected cold. My Couchsurfing host had given me directions to her house; I estimated a walk of around 20 minutes if I didn’t get lost.
The first person I asked for direction was an off-duty bus driver at the Rodoviaria (bus terminal). He only spoke Portuguese and I only spoke English with very basic Spanish, but I managed to ask him where the first street in the directions given to me was. He not only pointed it out to me, he also “told” me not to walk, that there is a bus that stops near my host’s house.
The driver then hailed a city bus, talked to the driver there and the conductor, hauled one of my backpacks, and sent me off.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the city bus driver didn’t exactly know where my street was, so he held a continuing, loud consultation with his conductor (the woman who collects the fare), stopped several passersby on the streets, called someone on the phone to ask for directions (all the while driving and maneuvering Ouro Preto’s narrow streets!) and gave an impression that throughout the trip, I was the only topic of conversation. I must have shown a worried face because the conductor looked at me several times and gave me a sign saying not to worry.
Finally, a woman just buying something from the store told the driver that we had already passed my street. The driver then hailed another bus going to the opposite direction, they both got off the bus to talk to the other driver, and then they helped me with my bags. To their credit, the other passengers in the bus didn’t even blink. I can imagine that in other cities, they’d be pissed off at the clueless traveler for all the delay.
The second city bus dropped me off a few meters from my Couchsurfing host’s place. Instead of walking 20 minutes with 19kgs on my back in Ouro Preto’s hilly streets, I walked for less than 3 minutes, all thanks to the gold-hearted people of this city called “Black Gold.”
Lost and Wandering in Davao (Philippines)
Josh Sterett, the blogger behind Days of Wandermust, left the United States in 2008 with $100, a plane ticket, and a dream to travel and photograph the world. He wasn’t content working the 9-5 hustle so he has been slow traveling through Asia, Europe, and Central America ever since he left the US. He’s now teaching English in a small town in Mexico. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
After almost eight years of travel I’ve experienced many acts of kindness and hospitality but one story that I often recall was the time I took a short side-trip during a week in the Philippines to Davao. I had decided to travel there to mend some broken bridges and had assumed (woops!) that one of my group of friends there from when I lived in Davao for 2 months would let me sleep on their couch.
Unfortunately, I was just able to stay at their place until about midnight and then I had to go find a place. Davao in 2010 wasn’t very touristy and I found myself walking up and down the streets in a lost daze with my backpack and little funds.
It was about 12:30am when I first asked a hotel if I could sleep in any empty rooms as I had no money but as expected I was told that wasn’t possible. At $50/night, I definitely couldn’t afford to stay there.
I ended up wandering up and down the streets looking for a place to rest my spinning head until finally at 2am the worker at the hotel saw me outside and told me that he’d let me sleep in a room that was being renovated but I had to be up and out by 5am when the workers came to start working again.
That was the first act of kindness I experienced that day but not the one that really makes this story stand out above all the rest. At 5am, I left the hotel, thanking the night shift worker for letting me have a few hours of rest on a clean floor and then began walking, wondering what I’d do with myself.
I walked over to a small restaurant (a “turo-turo”) that was built out of the front of a house and while eating, I passed out in exhaustion. The kind owner saw how exhausted I was and to my surprise, she offered me her own bed.
I gratefully accepted, shuffling my feet like a zombie as I followed her behind the house and down some steps to her room which had a stone slab for a bed. Now many people would balk at this but it was THE MOST comfortable and peaceful sleep I have had in a long time. I slept for half the day and when I woke up I knew I had to find some way to say thank you to her act of kindness so I took a picture of us, went to the nearest photo printers and had the image printed and framed.
This is one of the many reasons that I love the Philippines and Filipinos! They often have very little in terms of monetary value but they’ll always have a ready smile and a helping hand no matter the circumstances.
I wonder if she still has it hanging in her restaurant?
A Hitchhiker’s Angel (Rouen, France)
Gabby and James are The Globe Wanderers. They are a couple in their late twenties who are currently based in England with 9-5 jobs. They share tips, tricks, and stories in their blog from their experiences of traveling while having a full-time job. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
This is Belinda – or ‘Saint Belinda’ as I’ve officially named her. A few years ago now, me and a mate were stuck outside Rouen, France desperately trying to hitchhike our way to Africa. It was cold, raining, and getting darker by the minute – we were close to giving up.
After waiting 8 hours for a hitch that just wasn’t coming, we made our way to a fried chicken shop (obviously), chucked our backpacks into a corner and grumbled over our chips. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard, it was only day two for goodness sake! How were we going to tell our friends and family that we’d failed? We hadn’t made it to Africa. Our big adventure was over.
Maybe it was a fried chicken boost or maybe it was a sudden burst of determination, but we decided to give it one more try before setting up camp on the soggy roadside. We stood up, stuck our thumbs out, plastered approachable ‘you really want to give us a lift’ smiles across our faces and waited.
In about 2 minutes flat, Belinda pulled up in her saint-mobile with a smile to rival our own. She only lived a mile down the road but despite that she drove us 20 miles down the motorway to the nearest service station – ensuring we were in the perfect spot to grab a hitch South in the morning. And as if that wasn’t enough, she bought us dinner.
I so regret not getting her details as I would love to return the kindness in some way. She picked us up from the brink of failure, reminded us how much good is in the world, and helped reinvigorate our passion for the challenge ahead. We made it to Africa and it’s all thanks to Belinda.
A Lesson in Giving (Bihar, India)
Karilyn Owen is a family blogger at No Back Home. With her preschooler in tow, she can be found adventuring at home in Southern California to distant lands abroad. Join Karilyn as she works to inspire other families to get out and explore even if it’s just in their own backyard. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it was in the one place everyone said NOT to do it. We were driving at night, in Bihar, India’s poorest state known for its crime. It was foggy and becoming increasingly difficult to see in our three-wheeled friend. We were on day 10 of our 14-day road trip from Southern India to the far northeast of the country in a rickety golf cart, better known as an auto rickshaw.
Remembering the multitude of crashed vehicles we had seen earlier in the day along Bihar’s roads, we began to panic as massive trucks flew down the tiny two-lane road without their headlights on, making us swerve off the road repeatedly.
Our trusty paper map apparently wasn’t so trusty and had led us astray. We were driving where the next town was supposed to be. But it was not. Instead, all we saw was the increasingly darkness of night setting in with a thick white layer of fog reducing our visibility to mere feet.
Stopping to ask locals on the roadside where the nearest hotel was, we were filled with relief to finally see the hotel everyone kept pointing us to. Except it wasn’t a hotel, it was a restaurant. In our panic, we forgot that in India, restaurants are often called hotels.
As we entered the brightly-lit restaurant and the realization hit that this was only a place to eat, I burst into tears. The young man on duty sat us down, telling us not to worry in his broken English. He quickly disappeared, returning with heaping plates of hot delicious Indian food and cold water.
Still panicking and crying, wondering what we were going to do, we tried to enjoy our food, but were worried about how much they were going to charge since we hadn’t even seen a menu.
As we were finishing up our meal, we made the universal signal for the check, waiting to see the damage. Instead, the young man came over to our table and offered us their room for the night. He said it wasn’t much, but we could sleep in their sleeping quarters upstairs if we wanted. Without even seeing it, we said yes and were overcome with gratitude. They helped us lock up our rickshaw and carry up all of our belongings.
The room was very basic with 3 mattresses thrown on the floor with no sheets or pillows. Thoughts of bed bugs crept to mind, but exhaustion and the realization of no other options won out. Laying out our sleep sheets, we were asleep before long. In the morning, packing up before dawn, we saw that the workers had slept outside in the cold foggy night while we slept snuggly in their beds.
Refusing even a rupee, we were overcome with emotions. These people who have so little didn’t hesitate to help us, the ‘rich’ foreigners. They weren’t looking for repayment or to rob us as many would have suggested before we started our journey across India.
This was just one of many examples of the extraordinary kindness of Indians that we encountered. It reminded us that true kindness extends well beyond money or things, rather it is in giving what little you have to others who are in greater need at the moment.
The Student in Cinque Terre (Italy)
Anna Faustino, together with her partner Tom, blogs at Adventure in You. They are on a mission to have as many adventures around the world as they possibly can. They are wanderers and adventurers who want nothing but to enjoy the little things in life while traveling the world. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter as they inspire and unleash the adventure in you.
I meet kindness along the road all the time. I think this is one of the things that I love the most about traveling. Meeting people whose small acts of kindness make me believe that there is indeed still good in this world.
I was in Cinque Terre, Italy and was booking hostels for Florence the next day. I almost had a mini-heart attack when I saw that hostels were almost €40 a night, which was already more than my daily budget. It was too late to look for a Couchsurfing host so I decided to bite the bullet and book a dorm bed.
While having dinner with a girl I just met, the hostel emailed me saying there was an oversight in their system and they were actually fully booked, and so were all the hostels in Florence. The girl I was having dinner with quickly said that her brother lives in Florence and I was more than welcome to sleep in their couch.
The next day, I stayed in the house of a bunch of 17-year-old students who were all kind enough to let little old me sleep on their couch for the night. When I thanked the guy over our train ride to his flat, he said something which struck me. “No problem. If I was in your situation, I would want someone to help me out, too.”
Simple as that. So, from then on, whenever I am in the position to help out a stranger, I do. No matter how big or small, I try to pass on the kindness given to me that day in Cinque Terre.
If you have a similar experience of being helped by strangers while you were traveling, email me your story and I will include it in future posts. Safe travels!