Sunday, June 6, 2010

Stranger Danger -- Pt. I

Posted on June 5, 2010 - by Solo Traveler

Solo Travel: Stranger Danger Part I

New friends I made at Hogan's Hideaway in Rochester. Friday night Fish Fry - extra crispy as per Sandy (l to r, Tom, Darlene, Sandy, Mark)

As I travel solo, I am often the recipient of extraordinary kindness from strangers. But on one solo trip, I fell into an extraordinarily dangerous situation due to strangers. In this three part series, (three Saturdays in a row), I’ll share with you my experiences with strangers, good and bad, and then, a few things I’ve learned about telling the difference between the good ones and the bad ones. In this post, I begin with the goodness of strangers.

Solo Travel Enriched by Strangers
I suspect that we have all relied on the kindness of strangers from time to time. I certainly have. At times it’s been needed but on most occasions, these acts of kindness have simply enriched my travels.

Here are just a few of my favorite moments with strangers who, for a short while, became friends.

The Docent, the bouncer and a half day cultural exchange.
On my trip down the Blues Highway one of the big surprises was Jackson, Mississippi. As I traveled there on the train, I began to second guess my decision to go. People asked why I would stop into Jackson. To be honest, my reason was simply that it was the right distance between Memphis and New Orleans. But, once there, the people of Jackson made it clear that it is a place worth stopping at.

One morning I visited the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History. I got chatting with the docent at the front desk and, before I knew it, I was invited on a personal tour of the city by this lovely woman who was born and bread there. We had lunch together and then she toured me through parts of the city that I would not have otherwise discovered providing information that can only come from locals.

Then, in the evening, I went out to the 930 Blues club where I met many friendly people, but the special act of kindness came at the end of the evening. I arranged for my taxi and waited for it on the front porch with the bouncer who had a broken leg. When the taxi arrived, the bouncer went down the stairs despite my objections, took me to the car, opened the door, helped me in and looked directly at the driver and said “you take good care of my friend here, ya’ hear?”. He was doing more than his job. He was taking care of a stranger.

On the morning I was to leave Jackson for New Orleans, I joined a family from Texas for breakfast at the Fairview Inn where I was staying. We chatted casually. They were a lovely family and, you may be surprised, but I accepted their offer of a drive to New Orleans. We each learned a lot about our respective countries in a half day cultural exchange.

Ten bikes and two pickup trucks in PEI
This example goes back quite a few years to a bike tour I was given as a high school graduation gift. I joined the tour as a solo traveler. We rode through Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and the Magdalen Islands. On the day we left Summerside, PEI we headed across the island and then up the coast to the ferry. Across the interior was fine but when we reached the coast we fought a strong headwind. We all became scattered. I was cycling alone when a pickup truck pulled up beside me. It wasn’t danger, it was PEI hospitality in action.

One of our group had alerted a farmer to the fact that ten of us were strewn over this stretch of roadway. The farmer got a friend and the two of them collected us in their pick-up trucks and took us to their respective farms where we fed a fabulous dinner. Later they drove us to our camp ground. Such kindness.

Hungarians, Cubans and a Canadian Go Dancing

In 2004, I was in Havana for a week by myself and really wanted to go Salsa dancing. I figured that the club recommended by the travel guide, Casa del Musica de Centro Habana, would be touristy enough but when I got there, there was a line up of hundreds of Cubans waiting to go dancing – and this was the afternoon.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into — I don’t go to clubs like this at home. I hesitated and then saw three people who were definitely tourists. I slid into line beside them, introduced myself and explained that I just wanted to join them until I was inside. As it turned out, they were Hungarian and understood very little of what I said. But they did let me join them.

When we got in side it was a huge, exciting club. I stayed close and soon, to my surprise, their tour guide arrived with three more Hungarians. When their guide discovered that I spoke English, he practically jumped over the table to join me. He taught me to Salsa and the eight of us had a fabulous night.

Raising a glass on Guy Fawkes Day
After a day walking in the Lake District, nothing tastes better than a pint at a local pub. I was in Ambleside, Cumbria last year and my pub of choice is the Unicorn Inn. I went there three nights in a row and all three nights I had a fine time with new friends. But, on the fourth night, I had a fantastic time. When I walked into The Unicorn on Guy Fawkes night I felt like Norm walking into Cheers! This small pub erupted in welcome. It was not possible for me to buy a pint. And songs were sung in honour (I just had to slip a Canadian spelling in at this point) of me being Canadian. Fantastic!

Sharing a Meal in Rochester
New friends made another evening memorable in Rochester, New York. It was more quiet than The Unicorn but equally convivial. I arrived at Hogan’s Hideaway for dinner planning to sit at the bar to eat. When I arrived, a couple moved a bit to make space and we got chatting. When their table was ready, they invited me to join them.

The conversation was great. As they were regulars, I asked them to order my meal (a common practice of mine in such situations). We all had the Friday night Fish Fry. It was fabulous. Friends of theirs arrived and our conversation circle got larger. And, at the end of the evening, I couldn’t pay for my dinner.

These are just a few stories that demonstrate how the vast majority of strangers are wonderful, kind and generous people. I feel truly fortunate to meet so many.