The kindness of strangers

by Elizabeth Mooney (United Kingdom)

The last thing I expected Ecuador


“You’re going to Quito? On your own? I was there with my husband, he walked from the hotel to the supermarket and was mugged at knifepoint!”, “Oh yes, Ecuador’s a very dangerous place – you should take a taxi everywhere”. Lying in a hammock above the pristine white Nicaraguan sand, this lawless place I was hearing about seemed a million miles away and yet the next day I would be in the middle of it … It was with some trepidation I stepped off the plane and warily made my way to Arrivals. Turning a corner, the snow-capped Andean mountains took my breath away as they came into view and I became excited at the thought of spending the next few days exploring the area. A visit to the Equator was a must, and armed with some scribbled directions from the friendly guesthouse receptionist I found the right bus and successfully negotiated my way to the next. I squashed in with the crowd; families excitedly talking nineteen to the dozen and teenagers giving up their seats for senior citizens. This didn’t appear to be the dangerous place I’d envisaged. Reaching the end of the line I hadn’t a clue what to do next, my notes had petered out and we clearly weren’t at ‘Mitad del Mundo’. Brandishing my scrap of paper the locals at the busy bus station were slightly bemused to find a non-Spanish-speaking foreigner in their midst, however after some discussion I was directed to a bus that was just about to leave. As we pulled out of the station I handed over some change to the conductor and hopefully asked: “Mitad del Mundo?”. “No” he said, apologetically, as he gave me a ticket. “There’s a connecting bus”. Starting to wonder where exactly I was heading I was relieved to hear this from the passenger sitting next to me. Keen to practice her English, we shared an enjoyable journey to the next bus station where she kindly walked me to the right stop before fondly waving goodbye. “Mitad del Mundo?” I asked the driver as I boarded what I hoped was my final bus. “Si!” he said. As I settled down for the final leg a man politely introduced himself, and with the help of my phrasebook I shared some of my travel stories and he shared his hopes to someday travel and have adventures of his own. As I sat on the first of the four buses back to the city I watched the sun setting over the mountains and felt touched by the kindness of the strangers I had encountered. I reflected that it was not the destination that had fulfilled me that day, but the journey I experienced to reach it.