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Bus2Antarctica: The Kindness of Strangers

Andrew Evans always listens to his mom’s advice, but also realizes that sometimes life has a way of bringing wonderful strangers in to help you.

We’re taught to fear all strangers from a very young age–after that, the propaganda never really stops. Pick up any guidebook to any country, or worse–read the U.S. State Department travel warnings for any particular place and you’ll suddenly think you’re living in a world full of bad people plotting to do bad things to innocent traveling you.

Still, the fact remains that as travelers we find ourselves at the mercy of strangers all the time. When we travel, we leave our comfort zone and enter a place we know nothing about inhabited by people who know it quite well. It behooves us to listen to them.

I’ve had my fair share of bad luck on the road, but I also know that the majority of strangers are very nice people. I met three such wonderful strangers in a small Quito bus station–we were forced to share a cab when the bus company announced they weren’t coming to pick us up and that we instead needed to get to another station on the other side of the city.

Sitting four to the backseat of a cab in 90ºF heat for an hour of Quito traffic forces you to get to know someone quite well.

My neighbor Rosita put up with my profuse sweating and shared her story: Colombian but living in Toronto for the past 30 years, now visiting relatives in Ecuador. She was traveling with her brother and sister and when they asked, I told them my story (it’s funny how now that I’ve crossed the Equator, people actually accept that I’m headed to Antarctica).

I stuck with Rosita and family through the chaos of Quito’s elaborate and ultra-modern bus station. Eventually we caught our bus to Guayaquil–an eight-hour journey through some of the world’s largest banana fields. We made periodic stops along the way and Rosita’s brother Joseo would always keep an eye on my things while I recharged my phone or went to buy food. They were looking out for me, and I was grateful.

When we arrived in Guayaquil it was already nighttime and quite dark out. I had no plans other than to catch a bus to Peru the next day.

Although Rosita had just met up with her family and friends, she insisted on not leaving without helping me find my way. Joseo guided me through the three-story shopping mall/bus station complex in search of a bus company that would take me where I needed to go. Finding none, he asked around and got some information about another bus company that would make the trip the next day.

He handed me the address on a piece of paper and I said thank you. I was about to say goodbye, but Joseo and Rosita refused. They would take me to the other bus station now just to make sure. Here it was, 8 at night–they had been traveling all day and were with their family they hadn’t seen in years–and they still insisted on helping me out.

In the bus station I got to meet the whole family, including Aunt Lourdes and little nieces Fiorella and Samantha. Well, in about two seconds, five-year old Fiorella was my new best friend. She grabbed my hand, showed me her latest dance moves and wanted to inspect all the gear I was carrying (especially my flashlight). Although I said I would happily take a cab, they refused and proceeded to wedge all of our party (9 human beings!) into a Honda Civic–giving me the front seat with the two little girls.

Fiorella sat on my lap and practiced her kindergarten English on me while I practiced my kindergarten Spanish in return. She then sang me Spanish Christmas carols while Samantha chimed in. As we sped along the dark highway, I had that wonderful feeling you get when you travel and you just know that everything is going to turn out alright. The fact was that I had no idea where I was, I really had no idea who these people were and I really had no idea where they were taking me. I was in the hands of strangers and I was grateful.

We found the new bus station–a little storefront operation on the far outskirts of Guayaqil. Joseo confirmed that they did in fact have a bus leaving for Peru the next day. Afterwards, Rosita insisted on finding me a “safe” hotel near the bus station, and even came in and talked to the owner to ensure that I got back to the bus station the next day.

When I was all settled, I took lots of pictures of their family with a promise to e-mail them the portraits. Then I got lots of hugs and kisses from the whole family and some extra kisses on the cheek from little Fiorella.

Yes there are some bad people in the world who do very bad things to others. Yet in every country I’ve been to on this journey, I’ve met amazing and kind strangers who have made my travels easier, safer, and more fun.

Andrew has just reached Argentina. Follow his Twitter feed @Bus2Antarctica, and the map of his journey here. Bookmark all of his blog posts here, see videos here, and get the full story on the project here. Photos by Andrew Evans. 

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