Restored Faith in Humanity: The Good People I Met While Travelling
We all know that there are dangerous people in the world. News headlines make us painfully aware of how many terrible things happen to people and how dangerous the world can be. Travel in particular can be scary, with stories of tourists targeted in foreign countries, tales of theft, blackmail, kidnapping, murder…
It’s easy to look at the world outside our own country and see a whole lot of differences and a whole lot of danger. We’re told to “keep ourselves safe” while travelling and taught to regard strangers with a wary eye.
I can’t deny that some people have bad intentions. It’s absolutely true that travel can sometimes go wrong because travellers trust the wrong people. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past 10 months of travel, it’s that people are just people.
No doubt there are bad people in all countries but on the flip side of that, there are absolutely amazing people in all countries too. In our adventures so far, we’ve encountered so many people who have gone out of their way to help us. Wherever you go in the world, people are just people. And it seems to me that a huge number of those people are good.
1. THAT TIME WE RAN OUT OF PETROL
While travelling through the Australian Outback, it’s generally recommended that you make sure you’re always prepared. Take spare tyres. Always have plenty of water. Carry back-up fuel. And always, always make sure you don’t run out of petrol.
In a dry, hot, desert environment with very little traffic passing, being stranded on the road could well be a death sentence. So, of course, that’s exactly what we managed to do.
A CAUTIONARY TALE
One sunny April morning, following a little miscommunication, we drove right past the last roadhouse between Exmouth and Karajini. We firmly believed that there was another, cheaper roadhouse just 100km further on. There was not another roadhouse. We drove 100km. And then 50km more. Then another 20km. And then the car stopped, because there was no petrol left.
It was well over 30 degrees Celcius. Nearing midday, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was scorching. There was no shade. We had plenty of water (apparently we’re not completely stupid) and some food, but zero petrol and another 288km to the next petrol station. So, we started taking turns flagging down passing vehicles to see whether anyone would sell us some petrol.
There’s not a lot of traffic on the road to Karajini. Every fifteen minutes or so, we’d hear the noise of an approaching engine and get terribly excited. Unfortunately, after an hour or so of flagging down vehicles, we were still without petrol. But something surprising did happen: every single vehicle stopped. Without fail. Every single person pulled over to help. And every single person checked that we had enough food and water. Sadly, they all had diesel vehicles so couldn’t help us out with the petrol we needed.
Eventually, a young couple pulled over and offered us a ride all the way back to the Roadhouse. So, my partner Chris and I rode in air-conditioned comfort for one hundred and seventy kilometres where we filled a jerrycan with (very expensive but much-needed) petrol. Then we headed back out to the road and prepared to wait for hours for another lift.
It took less than a minute before another wonderful person picked us up and we drove all the way back, again in air-conditioned comfort. Not only that, but the lovely man who picked us up just happened to be a local who spent the entire trip giving us local tips on places to visit and things to see. When we eventually got back to the car, he also donated some big bottles of ice-cold water to our cause, so that we wouldn’t have to drink the water that had been sitting in the hot car all day.
AND EVEN MORE GOOD PEOPLE
While we’d been gone, our travelling companions had been waiting with the car. In the couple of hours we’d been away, many more cars had stopped. Total strangers had shared their food, water and even cold beers. One group siphoned off enough of their own petrol for the guys to move the car to a shady spot.
We got into an unpleasant, potentially dangerous situation just because we were trying to save a few dollars. It was really, really dumb. But it also showed us just how many good people are out there and how willing people are to help. I’ve never felt so positive about humanity as I did that day.
2. THAT TIME WE HAD A FREE PRIVATE TOUR GUIDE IN EL SALVADOR
AHH… THE RUTA DE LAS FLORES
The Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador is an absolutely beautiful road that runs between small villages, through coffee plantations and a whole lot of colourful flowers. The towns themselves are full of great food, coffee, wine, murals, historic buildings and even more flowers. With (very cheap) buses running regularly along the ruta, it’s a great way to spend a day or two.
So that’s what we did. When we arrived in the town of Apaneca, we decided it was about time for some exercise, so we headed up the path towards the Mirador (or lookout) over the town.
HOW NOT TO STAY SAFE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY
That’s where we met Ray. An Apaneca local who’d grown up in the town before moving to Los Angeles, Ray chatted with us for a while and then offered to show us the way up to the Mirador.
Now, I’m well aware that this is the kind of situation that you’re meant to be very wary of, particularly when travelling in a country with a reputation for violent crime. In fact, I was busy trying to think of a polite way to decline when Chris happily accepted and took off up the hill with this random Salvadorean stranger. Just then Ray told us that he’d offered to escort many other tourists and they’d all said no — he was terribly disappointed as he likes to practice his English and make sure it doesn’t get rusty while he’s out of the States.
So, stupid or not, we went up the little, secluded path with a total stranger. And it was great. He told us all about his childhood growing up in the area.Then he told us the hair-raising story of his illegal border crossing into the States and about how fantastic it was to be granted citizenship a few years earlier. He gave us tips for our upcoming travels in California. He taught us a few new words of Spanish and gave us a great, guided tour up to the Mirador and back.
BUT PEOPLE ARE AWESOME
Ray could’ve been a murderer. He could’ve robbed us. He could’ve been a scammer wanting money for “tours”. But he wasn’t.
He was a genuinely lovely, fascinating guy who just wanted to help out some tourists, practice his English and share his love for his beautiful country.
This is just one example, but everywhere we went in El Salvador the people were amazing — friendly, helpful, kind and never trying to take advantage or rip off foreigners. There are great people everywhere, but if you want to really restore your faith in humanity, visit El Salvador.
3. THAT TIME WE TRIED TO CATCH A FERRY THAT DIDN’T EXIST IN SALTO, URUGUAY
A FERRY TO ARGENTINA!
Crossing the border back from Uruguay to Argentina should’ve been easy. We’d done a bit of research online and found a ferry that crossed from Salto (Uruguay) to Concordia (Argentina) several times a day, for a low price. After spending the night in Salto, we had a nice sleep-in and then wandered the couple of kilometres to the port. We followed the directions from the Lonely Planet and found… well, nothing.
No ferry terminal. No ticket office. Nothing at all, really.
Increasingly concerned, we wandered up and down the waterfront until a nice older lady approached us and said a whole lot of things in very fast Spanish to which we smiled blankly. After a bit of miming and some very basic Spanish from us, she figured out what we needed and escorted us to the tiny little ticket window we’d completely overlooked. Seriously, it’s tiny. I’d thought it was one of those boxes that sells newspapers. She kept repeating something in Spanish and shaking her head, which was a bit of a concern… And then we figured out why.
NO FERRY TO ARGENTINA AFTER ALL
In the window of the tiny little ticket place was a big sign, declaring that the service was unavailable “until further notice”. We asked a few people at nearby building whether the boats were going today and they all shrugged. Things weren’t looking positive.
And then our little old lady came back and kindly escorted us to the nearest bus stop instead. Then she blessed us multiple times, kissing us on the cheeks and going back to her shopping.
TIME FOR PLAN B
We waited at the bus stop for a while, but nothing happened. Impatient as always, we started on the 4km walk back to the bus station, where we hoped to get a bus to Concordia. On the way, we ran into another friendly old lady, two police officers and a young man. All of them asked if they could help, all of them gave us great directions and all of them were incredibly friendly. Before too long, a local bus came along and drove us most of the way to the bus station for less than a dollar.
We were sitting on this bus, gazing blankly out of the windows when the bus pulled over and five or six different people all gestured wildly at us. Apparently they’d all heard us say that we wanted to go to the bus station and this was the closest stop. The bus driver waited patiently for us to figure out what was happening, then a whole busload of smiling Uruguayans waved at us as the bus disappeared off into the distance. Again, people are awesome.
4. THE PARTY BUS, SONSONATE
Chicken buses in El Salvador are fabulous. Old school-bus style tanks from the States, they’re painted all the colours of the rainbow and often plastered with pictures of Jesus. They bump their way (very slowly) along all the roads of El Salvador, tooting their horns at every opportunity, whistling and shouting at passengers and often playing dance music at ridiculously high volume. I cannot explain just how much I love those buses.
Our first chicken bus experience was on our second day in El Salvador. We’d crossed the border the night before and slept in the first hostel we could find in Sonsonate. The next morning we started walking to the bus station, which turned out to be a good few kilometres away. So we walked, carrying our packs, in 30 degree heat along the side of a busy road. It wasn’t fun.
Just as we were starting to wilt in the heat, a bus pulled up and waved us aboard. There was nobody else on the bus. And it was the most amazing bus I’ve ever seen in my life. Beautifully painted in swirls of blue, purple and silver; decorated in thousands of colourful flashing lights; blasting “Happy” at full volume. It was spectacular.
The driver took us straight to the bus station, waved off all attempts at payment and continued on his way with a huge smile, taking his flashing lights and his party music with him. It was the perfect introduction to El Salvador, quite possibly the friendliest country in the world.
These are just 4 random examples of times we ran into people who helped us out of the goodness of their hearts. Honestly, I sat here for all of two minutes and came up with a list of 23. The more that we travel, the more that my faith in humanity is restored and the more I realise just how many good people there are in the world.
In a time where we’re continually reminded of the dangers around us and the terrible things that people can do, I think it’s crucial to remind ourselves of the good people in the world. There may be bad apples out there, but there are also so many people who will go out of their way to help strangers. It’s a beautiful thing. And it’s something we need to talk about more.