Welcome to the 16th collection of stories of Kindness on the Road!
Hello from Cochabamba, Bolivia! I’ve been here for two weeks now, volunteering as a part-time receptionist to save money on accommodation and food. While I’m pretty new to this kind of job, I admit I enjoy it.
I get to practice my Spanish (although, oftentimes, the guests would just plead with me to speak in English. Aww.), and I meet a lot of travelers. Majority are years younger than me, of course, but one story is common: they have all been helped at one time or another by a stranger while they were traveling.
Indeed, there’s nothing like fellow travelers’ stories to make us feel good about the world again. In this month’s edition, I bring you the stories of Danie, Yasha and Juergen, Andrew, Homer, and Shara as they experienced the best that humanity could offer during their travels in Mexico, Argentina, Thailand, the Philippines, and China.
The Rice Pudding (Mexico)
Danie is a crazy nomad, wandering through life in a seemingly confident way, while usually totally unsure of her next step. She’s been on the road for three years straight, finding new homes as she hitchhikes along. She is currently exploring Southeast Asia. You can check out her blog (where she delights in oversharing) at Like Riding a Bicycle, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
As usual, it was a steamy hot day to be hitchhiking in Mexico. My partner and I were headed towards a town in which we hoped to get work, as we clung for dear life to our last pennies. Even in the cheap land of Mexico, we could barely afford to eat, let alone sleep anywhere but in our tent.
Relieved, we found a gas station at which we could hide in the shade as we approached drivers to ask for a lift. Tourist land was hundreds of kilometers away from us in every direction, and though we must have been a strange sight for the locals to behold, they took little notice, neither bothered nor intrigued by our presence.
We sat upon a curb next to the gas station alongside the many locals wishing to sell things to the cars that approached – bags of fruit covered in hot sauce, sandwiches, corn. Our bellies grumbled as we wished we could afford one of those tasty snacks.
I instantly decided on a system: I’d wait for the locals to approach the drivers of the cars, and once they were finished I’d go over to ask the drivers if they were headed southbound.
As we sat waiting for the next car, a middle-aged Mexican man approached us, and asked if we’d like to buy some of his homemade rice pudding. Our bellies continuing to rumble, we explained our situation: we would absolutely adore some rice pudding, but we were incredibly broke.
We were hitchhiking to Sayulita, where we were hoping to find work, but until then we couldn’t really afford much of anything. We lived in a tent, hitchhiking our way along the western coast of Mexico. He seemed to understand that we weren’t your typical tourists.
For a few minutes we chatted with the man, telling him of some of our highs and lows, as he shared with us bits of his own life. In many places in Mexico, particularly the ones filled to the brim with tourists, all white people are assumed to be rich. Well, we didn’t fit this stereotype, but people seldom understood that.
Here we were, a couple of white people from countries in which we had the ability to earn good money, choosing to live a life of poverty so that we could see the world. It wasn’t exactly the easiest thing for most people to comprehend.
After a few minutes, the man looked at us smiling, and said, “Well, I have to go sell these, but here, you two can have one to share.” And he handed us a warm cup of rice pudding.
This was how the man made his living. He woke up early, made a fresh batch of this delicious treat, and then he went out in the hot sun to sell it. This was his livelihood. Yet he understood that while we came from different worlds, we weren’t all that different from him.
And I can say with absolute certainty that was the most delicious rice pudding that has ever and will ever grace my taste buds; it was made with love.
The Long Search for Gas (Argentina)
Yasha (Sharon) Langford and Juergen Klein are the the travelers behind dare2go. They consider themselves to be citizens of the world, traveling off-the-beaten paths slowly, taking side roads and discovering places aside from the typical “bucket list” and guidebook highlights. They drive and live in their self-built overland camper called Berta. Follow Yasha, Juergen, and Berta’s adventures through Facebook and Twitter.
Traveling in our own expedition truck in South America raises unique problems, sometimes resulting in a frustrating search for a necessary solution, and all in Spanish at our low-level of proficiency.
Since we use propane to cook, heat our camper, and provide hot water, it is essential to our daily life. Sometimes finding a way to get our cylinders re-filled is a major problem. We have German bottles, but we do carry various adapters that should make filling them possible.
Recently in the city of San Juan in Argentina, our gas ran out one evening. It was a surprise to us because we had only been using this cylinder for 3 weeks, but it was June and the nights had been very cold and we also needed to turn on the heat to get us out of bed in the mornings.
Our second cylinder was already empty. We had been sleeping in places where the night temperatures were below freezing, and this night was no exception. The next morning was freezing cold and neither of us wanted to leave the bed. But we weren’t going to get more gas if we stayed there!
Breakfast was not a warming pleasure either – stale bread with no possibility to toast it, and a glass of juice instead of hot coffee, didn’t put us in a very happy mood to set out on the quest to get both cylinders filled.
Occasionally in Chile we had some success with a car-filling station filling our cylinders, so our first stop was a YPF service station. In Argentina this evidently does not work. The attendant was horrified that he would get caught if he filled our bottles, but he did call over a taxi driver who gave us detailed directions – in writing, including a map – to two gas plants.
He told us that one of them would be closed for siesta (usually 1-5pm in Argentina) but the other is open all day. We found the open one but were told that they don’t fill – ‘only in Mendoza’! They sent us on to another one, not so far away. We found it but it was closed until 5, so we decided to wait around, with not very high hopes…
When the time finally arrived, we waited outside the gate, chatting with a friendly Argentinian guy, while they loaded a truck inside the enclosure. This man had a wife and three daughters waiting in his old Ford Falcon. Finally the attendant came and the answer was once again ‘No’ – only exchange, no filling.
The friendly man offered to lead us to another place which might be able to help. It was a long drive through unfamiliar streets, following our guide in his Falcon, around the city. When we arrived, our newfound friend brought out the shop owner, who looked at our cylinders and also said ‘No.’
He suggested another place, so our friend hopped in his car again and led us a shorter distance to another shop. He brought a young guy out that had an adapter but couldn’t get it to fit. Then our friend noticed one of our adapters, which would make it fit, and finally we had a working solution. The cylinders were carried off to be filled. It took some time but the people in the ‘Mum & Pop’ shop were really friendly, as well as being helpful.
We were so grateful to this Good Samaritan, who went out of his way to help us. His whole family sat patiently while he guided us through his city, seeking a solution for foreigners he had only just met.
As he left, he introduced himself as Leonardo and his whole family waved us an enthusiastic goodbye. We were also grateful and very pleased that evening to have gas again to heat and to cook our dinner.
Kindness in Bangkok (Thailand)
A New Yorker at heart and a former fashion professional, Andrew Tolentino shifted gears and has become a food and travel writer. Along with his wife, Brenda, they conceived and created Dish Our Town, a food and travel blog. They are traveling Southeast Asia one dish at a time with their daughter, Bailey. Follow him and his family on Facebook and Instagram.
You never quite get over it. It stays with you for a long time. Sometimes you go back to it when your faith runs low. No matter how many miles you trek around this world, there is nothing more powerful or significant than when your fellow man offers to show you kindness.
Recently, it was in a local restaurant in the suburbs of Bangkok. There were no English translations on the menu board, nor was there anyone that was capable of doing so.
It wasn’t looking promising. Then out of nowhere, he came. Just there at the right time to help us order our first authentic Thai meal ever.
We thanked him profusely, and with a humble smile, he put his backpack on, and told us to enjoy his country. We will never quite get over that act of kindness and that’s why Bangkok is one of our favorite cities in the world.
The Lost Bracelet (The Philippines)
My friends and I went to Bolinao, Pangasinan. While on this trip, I lost my silver bracelet. It’s not that expensive, but it was given to me by my dad so it has a lot of sentimental value to me.
I noticed it when we were about to leave Bolinao Falls. I was really frantic. My things were on the cottage table and I’d searched everywhere and a number of times, but it wasn’t there. I realized it must have dropped from my shorts while I was changing in the bathroom prior to the swim.
After more than fifteen minutes of looking for it, I gave up and joined my friends. We headed back to the parking area where our tour guide/tricycle driver was waiting for us. He saw me looking miserable and asked what was wrong, so I told him about my lost bracelet.
The driver then took something out of his jacket’s pocket and handed my bracelet back. He said he found it just outside the bathroom door and didn’t know whose it was. I was so grateful. He could have kept it for himself, but instead, he returned it to me. I was glad he saw me as a friend, not just a tourist.
Service Extraordinaire in Datong (China)
Though I had traveled alone in China before, it is still a daunting place to be traveling independently with only minor Mandarin speaking skills and no grasp of the written language. Traveling in the north with my husband, where we often didn’t see another Westerner for days, we valued any English-speaking hotel staff immensely.
One day in Datong, we asked the assistant manager at our hotel, who had basic English skills, if he could hire a taxi for the day for us.
“What do you want to do?” he asked, and we gave a him a list of our day’s needs and plans – find an ATM that takes foreign cards, find a barber for my husband to get a haircut because the hotel’s advertised resident barber was absent, visit the Hanging Monastery and also the Yungang Grottoes.
When the taxi arrived, the driver and the manager had some words, in which I presumed the manager was explaining to the driver where all we wanted to go. The manager opened the car door for us, “Get in, please!”
We thanked him with genuine gratitude for his help and slid across the back seat. Then he opened the passenger door and hopped in. We were confused but thought maybe he needed to run an errand.
At an ATM, he hopped out with us and ensured we got our money out properly. Then on to the barber shop, where we were told that, being Westerners, they needed to call the Master Barber to attend us.
Without our manager friend to explain to us, we would not have understood why the men were refusing to cut my husband’s hair … so we waited for the master to arrive, who was, indeed, worthy of his title.
We presumed the taxi would now take the manager back to the hotel, but it drove out of town the opposite direction. Concerned, we asked if the taxi driver knew where he was going.
“Oh yes!” the hotel manager assured us. “To the Hanging Monastery!”
“But what about you?” we asked.
“I’ll come with you!” He loosened his tie, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and leaned back in the seat.
It was over an hour’s drive and when we got there, he hopped out of the car and said, “I’ll go get your tickets for you.” Off he went, got the tickets and we paid him. Again at the Grottoes, he accompanied us to the ticket window and conducted the purchase on our behalf.
When we finally got back to the hotel, it was supper time. We asked him if today had been his day off, if that’s why he abruptly left his post and spent the entire day with us.
“No,” he said. “Now I must go back to work.” And he cinched his red tie back up and buttoned his sleeves.
Sure enough, after we finished our supper, there he was, our spontaneous private tour guide, manning the hotel’s front desk.
His English was good for helping us as tourists, but we could not manage a conversation with him about himself, who he was as a person and why he took it upon himself to make our day so easy. But we will never forget the details nor the magnitude of his kindness to us that wonderful day in Datong.
Do you have any stories of kindness on the road? Send them to me and I’ll include them in a future post!