I will never tire of hearing stories of kindness from strangers, and I’m very pleased to present the 6th part of our Kindness on the Road series.
Read one of my own experiences here, plus that of Matthew Hirtes, Penny Sadler, Clemens Sehi, and Chris Christensen.
Let our stories of kindness remind you, again, that kindly people can be found all over all the world, whether in the Philippines, Czech Republic, Italy, Iran, or Iceland.
Pass the kindness forward, if you can, whether you’re traveling or not, for reading these stories again restores our faith in humanity as nothing else can!
The Kindly Drivers
In the late 90s, I was working in a public relations firm and was often stressed out. I dreaded Mondays and looked forward to weekends. More often than not, however, I also had to work even on rest days, so much so that I already felt on the edge of burnout after just a year.
I remember being told to go home early one Friday afternoon by our boss after a particularly harrying week. I was on the bus, and I didn’t want to go home. I just wanted to go somewhere, anywhere. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t prepared for traveling. I was wearing a blouse and a pair of slacks, with just a handbag with me. I didn’t even have a toothbrush.
I got off at a bus terminal and boarded the first bus I saw that was leaving. It was bound for Bulacan, a province around two to three hours from Manila. When I arrived there, I checked out Barasoain Church and was at a loss what to do next. I remembered wanting to check out the caves in Biak na Bato National Park, and after asking around, I boarded a jeepney for San Miguel where the park was.
It was already dark when I arrived in San Miguel, and too late to go to the park. I approached a queue of tricycle drivers and asked one of them if they could take me to a hostel, inn, or any guesthouse in town.
The driver I asked scratched his head, saying there was nothing like that in their small town. Then he went from one driver to another, asking each of them if they knew of some place. Finally, he came back to me and said that there was one, but it wasn’t “decent.”
The place his other drivers recommended were for “short-time lovers,” he said, and he could take me there at midnight. He said he would have loved to host me in his house, as it was only him and his sister living there, but his other relatives were visiting and he didn’t have a spare room.
I assured the driver it was okay with me, and asked him where I could pass the time. He then took me to the public market and introduced me to a store owner, explaining why I was there. After I bought a small bar of soap and a toothbrush and toothpaste, I settled down for the long wait, glad that I always had a book with me.
At around 9pm, the driver arrived together with several of his buddies and they started drinking. They engaged me occasionally with small talk, but mostly just talked to each other. At midnight, one of the guys reminded my driver of the time.
My driver paid his bill, asked me to get on the tricycle, and took me to a place known to them as “Inong’s,” a nondescript house with an outbuilding at the back comprising two rooms. I thanked the driver profusely–he vehemently refused my money–and went to the room assigned to me. It was very basic, and the walls were full of graffiti that were sexual in nature, but it had a clean sheet and a fan.
I dragged the bed in front of the door, stripped to my undies so as not to wrinkle my clothes, and went to sleep amazed at the kindness of the man and his fellow drivers. They didn’t know me and yet they took the time to find me a place to stay and even waited up to make sure I get there safely. Over 10 years later, I still remember the drivers and remain awed at their hospitality!
A Memorable Car Ride
Matthew Hirtes runs Gran Canaria Local, a blog narrating his progress from guiri to honorary native on Gran Canaria. Check out his latest adventures on Facebook. Here, he recalls a pre-millenial escapade in the Czech Republic.
A long, long time ago, I was studying in the Czech Republic’s Brno. Now, this was before Brno reinvented itself as one of the leading destinations on the UK’s stag-weekend circuit. Hell, the first McDonald’s opened when we over there.
We traveled a fair bit in our semester there, mainly to Prague. There was also a memorable visit to a local vineyard with a visiting professor who was surprised how candid the chat got after he mistakenly organized a post-tasting how-are-we-all-getting-along conversation.
Lectures started at the god-awful time of seven o’clock in the morning. Something to do with a Holy Roman Emperor, I seemed to remember. Although we were more interested in the challenge set by the American academic sent to collect us at the airport.
“Guys, you will struggle to spend five pounds on a night out here,” he claimed. Oh, but we did. We just drank more to accommodate the cheaper booze available, often returning to our halls of residence as our less-debauched fellow students were heading off to class.
It was at some point on one of these long, long nights whose elasticity felt like they merged into one mammoth session, that I stumbled out of a bar, a club, I don’t recall. Losing my friends, I did however remember the address of the halls of residence. Which I told to the driver of the cab I hailed.
Except there wasn’t one person in the front seats but two. And, no, I wasn’t seeing double. For what I imagined to be a taxi actually was a police car.
It was at this point that I began to panic. I feared spending the rest of the night sobering up in a stark Eastern European cell. Or worst still, deported, confirming the stereotypes of the Englishman abroad.
But then I took an easier breath as I noticed we were pulling into somewhere familiar. Our dear, old halls of residence. The officers waved away my attempts to pay them for their troubles before one of them called me back.
He started speaking in what I imagine was Czech but might as well have been Slovak, given that the only vocabulary I’d managed to pick up was pivo (beer), vino (wine), and smažený sýr (fried cheese).
Still, it was one lecture that I did manage to attend over there. And his tone was certainly friendlier than the Metropolitan Police who didn’t like my kicking out at a bollard in retaliation for my knee being knocked. But that’s another story altogether.
Penny’s Roman Holiday
Penny Sadler is a solo traveler and the author of the blog Adventures of a Carry-on. She writes about unique experiences, food, wine, and culture with a focus on Italy and the USA.
It was my first time in Rome, a beautiful but chaotic city that can be a bit overwhelming. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, but the first person I met set the tone for what was to become my long love affair with Rome.
I’ll call him G, he was friendly and welcoming in a way that I have found only in Rome – big, passionate, curious, loquacious. It took me aback at first, I admit.
He owned the B&B where I was staying and came by every morning to make coffee and bring a special cake his wife made fresh. I can still taste that cake, mildly sweet, moist, with a hint of cinnamon.
I got into a habit of getting up early and talking to G while he made the breakfast trays. He’d give me tips about where to go in Rome, what places to avoid, restaurants to check out and gave me some maps as well. In short, he was open, warm, friendly, and helpful.
A few more examples: My luggage did not arrive with me and three days later it was still not there. He called the airport in Rome, helped locate my luggage, and waited for them to deliver it for me so I could “enjoy my day in Roma.”
G’s kindness didn’t stop there. Later on my way back to the US I found myself once again in Rome. I hadn’t booked anything in advance so messaged G hoping his lovely little room would be available. He said, “Yes Penny, I welcome you back and I’d like to surprise you if it’s all right with you.”
Now I bet you’d like to know, what was the surprise? It turned out to be a tour of Rome, a la Roman Holiday on the back of a scooter. What more could a girl ask for on a first trip to Rome? It was a little like a dream. Sadly, he was not the tour guide, but I couldn’t complain – Silvio was a great guide, spoke fluent English, and was a perfect gentleman.
Needless to say, that first trip to Rome was not the last. Every trip there, I find someone who overwhelms me with their willingness to provide help when needed. I try to return the favors whenever and wherever I can!
An Encounter in a Persian Bazaar
Clemens Sehi, a freelance copywriter in Hamburg, Germany, runs Anekdotique.com, a German and English travel blog focusing on “special little moments that everyone experiences on their travels.” Follow him on Facebook.
The best encounters can come all of a sudden. The last great one that I had took place in Kashan, a small city in the middle of Iran last May. We were walking down a huge Persian bazaar, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the place.
We were feeling overwhelmed when an 18-year old guy started talking to us and asked to show us around. Of course we said yes, but we kept in mind that in the end his aim would be to sell us something. I mean, that is what happens in bazaars, right?
Wrong. Everything turned out completely different: the guy showed us his bazaar, the hidden backstreets, the mosques, his best friends’ stores selling weird stuff from dolls to rosewater, his most favorite tea house, and so on.
He showed us around for 10 minutes, for 30, for an hour…. In the end, we spent almost two hours with him, and it was then that we realized that the only thing he wanted was to socialize with us, to improve his English, and to make some new friends.
That has to be the best way to get to know a new country and its people. I’ve never met people so hospitable and open-minded as in Iran, and I would love to go back soon for more of those very special encounters!
Kindness in Iceland
I was just in Iceland and had three days to kill after a conference. The first day, Nomadic Matt also happened to be in town and a local man, Bragi, had offered to take Matt, a couple of young women from Germany and Russia, and me to Iceland’s Golden Circle.
We paid for Bragi’s gas but he took the whole day to act as tour guide for this ragtag group of travelers. Then when he heard that I was going to rent a car and travel on my own for a couple of days he played tour guide again for me for a day to Iceland’s south coast and for a group of four (two Russian women, an American Couchsurfer on her first trip to Europe, and me) to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
Bragi is active in the local Couchsurfing community and this is just what he does. Over the three days we saw waterfalls and geysers, lighthouses, and glaciers.
We visited a museum to learn about the Eyjafjallajökull eruption (the volcano which grounded all the flights in Europe a few years back) and he tried to teach me how to say the name “Eyjafjallajökull” (try it!). We also saw the local farmers gathering in the sheep for the winter.
My trip to Iceland was definitely made all the better by Bragi’s amazing hospitality!
What do you think of this series on stories of kindness received by travelers? If you have experienced something similar, email me your story and I will include it in future posts!