Counting on strangers

by Kim on December 5, 2012 · 25 comments

It was 2 a.m. when our plane touched down in Santiago. I had the flu. Brian would have the flu tomorrow, but as yet he was blissfully unaware.

Because of our late arrival into Chile’s capital city we’d pre-booked a hostel with 24-hour check-in service and arranged for a taxi to pick us up at the airport. I had no idea if this was necessary, but we were still weary of cabs after the dozens of horror stories we heard while in Quito, better to be safe than sorry.

Santiago at night

Except, once we’d collected our bags and scanned the crowd for someone holding a paper with our name on it, we realized that no one had been sent for us. I put my backpack down and slouched against the wall while Brian paced back and forth down the long corridor as if with thorough searching our guy might turn up after all. Oh, I found our driver hiding in the corner! 

But after a few laps even Brian gave up hope that anyone was coming to fetch us. There were two middle-aged men holding TAXI signs and chatting on a bench to the right of where I’d crumpled onto the airport floor. Ask them, I said to Brian, and one of the men jumped up and waved at us to follow him. It was almost 3 a.m. now and, besides, what other options did we have? We heaved our backpacks on and followed him up the elevator and outside to the arrival pickup area.

The man did not lead us to his taxi. He gestured for us to put our backpacks down and then said uno momento and made a phone call. Then he told us that his son would be arriving in five minutes. His son? He kept making phone calls. Who was he calling at 3 a.m.?! I shot Brian a should-we-be-concerned-about-this glance and he shrugged his shoulders as if to say you’ve got me there. So I did the only thing I could do, I shot a little prayer out into the universe and then I got real quiet and tried to listen to my gut. This situation was definitely odd, my gut told me, but I didn’t feel unsafe. The man seemed kind and charming.

But then I thought, serial killers are charming.

Eventually the man’s son arrived, tearing like a bat out of hell down the road. We put our backpacks in the trunk and climbed into the backseat, while the man who’d made the phone call settled into the passengers seat. The son was in his early 20′s and wore heavy cologne. The car he drove was nice, which made me nervous. It didn’t make sense that this man and his Drakkar Noir wearing son would hang around airports on a Friday night at 3 a.m. just to make a bit of extra cash.

The lights of Santiago twinkled as we raced down the highway. In the darkness the city looked modern and spotless. The son could sense our unease and tried to smooth it by naming the roads and explaining directions. Brian and I nodded diligently from the back seat. Of course, we could have been headed anywhere. When the older man made yet another phone call the son caught my eye through the rear-view mirror. He’s only calling my brother, he said, he’s 9. Shouldn’t he be asleep? asked Brian.

I looked out the window and thought about trust. I thought about how, in the months since Brian and I have been on the road, we’ve had to put our complete trust in an uncountable number of strangers and how not a single one of them had let us down so far. So I raised my eyes back up to meet the son’s in the rear-view mirror. Okay, I said, thank you. And I smiled, tried to let the smile reach my eyes. I wanted him to know: I trust you.

I saw this quote on one of my favorite blogs written by the two Oregonians:

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” – Cesare Pavese

And when I read it it made me cry. Maybe because I have been sick with the flu for five days now (and counting!), and have been battling homesickness, but I needed permission to feel off-balance, needed to hear that it was normal. And above all I needed some kind of third-party confirmation that traveling can be brutal and beautiful all at once. That for every off-kilter, lonely moment there will also always be some cologne-wearing kid and his father who find you, disheveled and tired, at the airport at 3 a.m. and deliver you, safely, to your temporary bed.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Brendon @ Nerd Travels December 5, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Really amazing story,I agree that it can be hard sometimes putting your trust in strangers especially after hearing so many horror stories from people and online.

Ever since I started traveling in Central America I have always been on guard when it comes to strangers but so far everyone has been so nice and some of my best experiences on my trip have come from putting a little trust in strangers :)

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Melissa Harris December 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm

So glad to hear you got to your destination. Made me think, geez and we just get flu shots here like it’s nothing. I love the post, it is so true. When you travel, nothing is certain. Hope you get to feeling better soon!

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Pamela December 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Yep…been there. My ride forgot to pick me up at the airport in Cuzco, Peru. I was traveling by myself in a country I had never been to. It took me a while to figure out what to do, but instinct told me not to accept the ride offered by an airport worker (he wanted to drop me off on his way home). I also made it safely.

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OurLifeExperiments December 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Kim, I know you have read countless blogs where traveling folks have shared their feelings of homesickness, loneliness and just feeling blue. I know I sure felt those feelings when we traveled, maybe I didn’t express them well in the blog? I don’t even think it only happens to folks that are on the road, but just people living life in general. It’s one of those things that you just have to believe that it will pass. Sometime soon you will wake up and the sun will be shining and you will feel excited again. And you will hit low spots over and over as you travel, and you know what? I think it makes the good times that much better, makes you appreciate those epic moments when everything is perfect. I hope you feel better soon!! You guys are epic! :)

Maria

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Rhonda December 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Thoughtful blog, as always, Kim. We, too, found it occasionally unnerving to put our lives into the hands of strangers and, we too, never had any serious problems. Perhaps our biggest problem in this world is beings suspicious of others motives! Good on you for trusting your gut and making it to that hostel.

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Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Oh Kim, I’m with you! I just about cried, too, when I first read that quote. My friend from home sent it to me – she and her partner traveled for a long while in the 90s, and somehow knowing that she knew firsthand the agonies and the beauties of life on the road made it all the more meaningful to me…

Here we are in this great big world, learning to trust others, learning to trust ourselves. Learning to pick up the pieces when our lessons don’t come together as planned…because it’s life, and they don’t.

I’m glad your dead-of-night trip into Santiago worked out alright in the end…and I’m wishing you rest and healing from the nasty flu bug now. Hang in there! And know you’re not alone. Hugs, Bethany

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Marco Fiori December 5, 2012 at 11:57 pm

It can, as you say, be mentally exhausting trusting so many people you don’t know with such important things. 99% of the time your instinct will suggest something isn’t right, but there’s always that degree of trust regardless of instinct.

It’s a really well written story above, and is quite inspiring to see that the world is full of people truly willing to help, even if it does seem unconventional in how they do it.

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Jojo December 6, 2012 at 1:02 am

I ve been traveling for about six months and I was cheated and ripped off countless times, still it is a part of experience..and I still choose to trust :)

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Sarah Somewhere December 6, 2012 at 6:02 am

All I can say is, yes! The trust we have on the road blows me away, of bus drivers, taxi drivers, and people whose homes we stay in. Glad your intuition was right on, even though your body wasn’t. Hang in there, Kiddo, and rest up! xxx

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tyrhone December 6, 2012 at 6:25 am

Part of the charm and peculiarities of travel. I am always surprised how often you come across such out of the ordinary experiences as yours. Strangers offering lifts or invites, people walking you to your destination, and once getting stoned with an Egyptian at his house (until he put a porno on the telly, needless to say that is when my gut started screaming RUN!). Yet here we are, still in one piece. Great writing Kim.

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Corinne Vail December 6, 2012 at 6:36 am

A similar thing happened to Jim and me when we went to Palawan, Philippines. We were picked up by a sign, though, by two cute little hostesses who spoke English. They promptly got us to our van, we all left, and a few miles later, they jumped out. No one else spoke English and it was the darkest night and scariest ride of our lives…I should blog about it. I hope you feel better. My flu lasted weeks this year too… and I had a flu shot. Go figure.

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Max neumegen December 6, 2012 at 7:16 am

Welcome the the world of the road. A speck of sand amoung many, yet we are Still here a and thrive on the unknown around the corner. Maybe that is why some of us are still overland travellers.

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Carmel December 6, 2012 at 7:34 am

I would rather get taken once in awhile and continue to have some trust and faith in humanity than become jaded about everything around me because once in awhile someone does rip you off. That doesn’t mean being stupid, but it’s amazing how people’s fear of what could happen denies them the chance of experiencing what can happen when you trust a little. Beautiful, once again.

Get better! <3

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Amanda @amandaelsewhere December 6, 2012 at 9:12 am

My favorite part about travel – reminders that the world and the people in it are good.

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Pamela December 6, 2012 at 11:06 am

I know the feeling of having no other option then to trust strangers in places where you don’t even know the language and it can be scary.

Fortunately, we only had one incident (in 14 months) where a taxi driver in Vietnam charged us $20 instead of what should have been $2, but it really wasn’t a big deal aside from making us feel cheated.

Other then that it has been only good experiences :)

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Amy December 7, 2012 at 6:17 am

Sorry to hear you guys have been sick. I love these insights into the ‘not-so-great’ sides of travel though (sickness, fears about being ripped off), they help me form a more realistic view of what life on the road is really going to be like.

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) December 7, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Oh, it’s really amazing the number of times that strangers have come through for us on this journey so far. Perhaps nothing as extreme as a late nite airport ride, but the more we meet and interact with people, the more we are blown away by the immense kindness and generosity that ties us all together. I really hope that at some point on this trip, you and Brian have the chance to Couchsurf, because every experience we’ve had doing so since leaving has been so humbling and uplifting at the same time. Few sites we have visited have moved me to tears since leaving, but the people we have met and who have shown us such kindness has been a whole different story!

Also, my immune system is shot too. We’ve been gone four months, and I’ve been horrifically sick an equal number of times. I keep thinking I’ve gotten everything you can possibly have at this point only to find another battle is lurking just around the corner…

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Lyndsay/ Discount Travel Blogger December 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Trusting strangers when traveling isn’t as scary as we were told growing up. Often, strangers I meet along the way became good friends.

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Richard Crest December 10, 2012 at 1:03 am

Inspiring article, when it comes to traveling meeting strangers are really part of it. Meeting nice people make it more memorable.

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Colleen gets lost December 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Beautifully written. Travel has a way of humbling, exhilarating, challenging, bringing us to our knees in joy and fear and thankfulness every day. What a journey. (Love reading your blog btw.)

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Wade June 10, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Really interesting post! …but the one thing that stuck with me was when you said your prayer and went with your gut to trust those men…made me wonder if there has ever been a time your gut told you to not trust the stranger, and did you walk away??
Wade recently posted..The Question That Changed Everything: What Do You Fear?

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Kim June 11, 2013 at 12:30 am

Yes, absolutely. One time in India, while I was doing the Rickshaw Run, my teammates and I pulled into a town we’d planned to stay in and automatically picked up on a very strange vibe. We spent about 10 minutes there and then decided we needed to leave. We’ll never know why we had that feeling, but I know it was the right decision.

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Andrea March 16, 2014 at 9:57 am

Oh my goodness! I can’t even imagine this scenario and I was aching to hear the rest of the story! Two of of the most important things in life; trust and faith. Life is so much richer with them both. Beautiful…

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Kim March 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I absolutely agree with you Andrea.

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