Ecuador · Education · Perspective · Travel

Strangers

We’ve been in Cuenca for a few days now. I booked an awesome Airbnb for three nights. it was on the north side of town and across the street from a tree-lined river. The house had 3 bedrooms, a king sized bed, 2 and a half baths (with hot water!), a washing machine, and all the kitchwn amenities a traveling family could ask for. There was a courtyard in front with Japanese theme and a pagoda. I only booked 3 nights because I wanted to check out the city to see if I could find a place to stay for a month.
Israel usually handles the face to face interactions with people. I’m uncomfortable with randomly asking people in the street if they know of an apartment for rent. But, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, so that’s what I did. We wandered around downtown asking people, looking for signs, and checking real estate offices. I had no luck, so I retreated to the safe haven of all introverts, the Internet.
AirBnB had a decent looking apartment at a reasonable monthly rate so I booked it. The host was helpful at the beginning, answering all my questions, but when the day came for us to check in she went silent. I tried numerous times to get her to tell me when and where to meet, but I was met with no response.  Finally at 7:00 that night she contacted me to let me know that the apartment was no longer available. Talk about stress! Thankfully Neil, the host of the awesome house, didn’t have any guests coming in that night so we were able to stay where we were for another day. I stayed up late that night looking for alternatives and finally got a hit the next day. It’s not a month long rental, just 2 weeks, but it will work.
The new host explained to me that the apartment wouldn’t be ready until 4:00. This left me plenty of time to repack and clean the house really well, as a thank you to Neil since he was so awesome. We bid farewell to the house and headed down the road loaded with all our belongings on our backs (and fronts). The new place is closer to the city center, so we found a taxi to take us to eat downtown. We left at 2:00 so we could get out of Neil’s hair, which left us plenty of time to have a long, leisurely lunch surrounded by a mountain of backpacks.
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Finally, it was time to head to the new apartment. I looked up the location on the map and double checked the address, then we began our fully loaded, ten block walk. I found the corner where Google directed me but saw no apartments. We were in a nice, quiet neighborhood with pretty, well-kept houses, but there was nothing around that looked like the apartments. Nor were there any addresses even close to the one I had. I decided to find a place nearby to use the Internet to contact my host for better directions. I waited a bit, but received no response.  So, I went back to the corner and put my big girl pants on and started asking around.
The first person I came across was an American woman. She had no idea where the place was, but she lived in the area and was happy to help. Together we asked a few more people. Everyone we asked was really nice, and they all tried to be helpful, but no one had any clue where the apartment was.
That’s when the American woman invited us to stay at her house. She explained that she had 2 extra bedrooms that she wasn’t using, so we should just come spend the night with her. I replied that I hoped that I just needed to use the Internet to check if the host had responded to my messages. So we walked another 5 or 6 blocks to her house.
Karen (by then we were friends) showed us around, offered us her food, and repeated her offer to let us stay.  I got the wifi up and running and was able to check my messages while she went to town for some dinner. The host had responded with a Google map that was about 6 blocks from where the original location was. I met our new host, checked out the place, and got the keys while the boys waited with the bags at Karen’s house. Karen returned from her dinner completely ready to put us up for the night. She had even bought food for the boys to have for breakfast. We sat and chatted over tea for a few hours while the little boys showed her all their toys and regaled her with their stories. She was so attentive to them, she cut them strawberries and gave them a special yogurt treat. Even Joaquin liked her. I hated to say goodbye to this wonderful person that would literally take in strangers off the street, but I had to get the boys to bed. So we loaded up and walked over to our new place.
I can’t say it enough, the best part about traveling is the people we meet. Traveling is fun, but it can sometimes be stressful and intimidating. Without the hard times I would never force myself to step out of my comfort zone and meet amazing new people. Israel and I have never bought into the whole stranger-danger mentality. Instead we try to teach the kids to trust their instincts and be aware of their surroundings. I don’t know if the boys will remember Karen, but I hope by experiencing these difficult situations they can see that it is ok to talk to strangers and ask for help. Strangers can be helpful, and can totally brighten your day.

One thought on “Strangers

  1. I admire you for the experience you are giving your children. As a fellow introvert, I cannot fathom having to ask some stranger on the street…well, anything really. In fact, I usually “stalk” blogs because posting a response goes completely against my introvert values. However, I felt compelled to tell you just how much I admire what you are doing. Your kids will never forget this time. They are being exposed to other cultures and places in a way I wish my son could experience. I can only imagine how stressful this all is for you. But, I can also see the myriad of benefits as well. Nothing truly amazing comes easy. We just wouldn’t appreciate it enough for it to be seen as such.

    I love that you ran into Karen. What a beautiful representation of what hospitality looks like! I was just thinking last night, as I sat in silence while my son was doing gymnastics, what conversations and friendships am I missing out on because I cannot take the first step of starting a conversation. What pieces of humanity am I missing? Alas, I will just have to live vicariously through you for now. I look forward to reading your other writings.

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