The kindness of strangers

“You have to turn back, there’s nothing this way”. What is he talking about? That can’t be true, have we walked 5 hours in blazing sun with just a small water bottle and a candy bar to hear that we’re not only lost, we’re so lost we have to turn back? “Are you sure there are no villages this way?” He looked at us with mistrust and looked out over the valley. My friend and I were hiking the Colca canyon in Peru without a map and without any sense of direction. In hindsight maybe not the best idea, but it seemed exciting at the time. After walking for 5 hours without seeing one single soul, this one farmer with his 4 cows was like seeing Santa on Christmas Eve. “Well, there is a village about 2-3 hours that way…” he said and pointed towards the middle of the valley “…but you have to walk on another farmer’s private land and it’s easy to get lost”. Well, being us turning back was not an option so hearing that another route existed was like music to our ears. The farmer then pointed towards somewhere in the valley saying that we had to follow that exact path, by the trees and the little red house, and be sure to follow that path or else we’d be completely lost. Great, muchas gracias, and off we go. Not only five minutes in we disagree about which trees and what red little house (there were 2) he had been talking about. 30 minutes of intense downhill later a woman starts running and jelling for our attention. Oh no, we’re getting kicked out of the property was my first thought.

“Where are you going?” the woman asked in a Spanish accent I had never heard before, and to be honest had some difficulties understanding. Not only had we forgotten the way to this new village, but we had also forgotten its name. After a few minutes trying to explain our situation in broken Spanish her husband came and said “Llahuar” – yes that’s it, that’s the name of the town! The couple looked at each other with the same disbelief the man with the cows had done shortly before. The woman turned to her husband and said that he had to join us, or we’d get lost. He looked us up and down and agreed, and off we went.

1.5 hours later of walking uphill, downhill and moving rocks to be able to pass we finally made it to a point where the farmer felt safe to let us continue on our own. As he wasn’t much of a talker he pointed at the traces from shoes on the ground and said “Tourists. Follow their steps and you’ll get to Llahuar”. Then he turned around to start heading back, expecting nothing in return from these two silly tourists.


Farmer leading the way through his massive land

Sometimes traveling can be difficult. It can be lonely, and sometimes you find yourself sitting in a hostel room filled with people feeling lonelier than ever. But these moments of joy, strangers that makes you overwhelmed with their kindness is what traveling is all about – at least for me. I left Sweden to travel on my own through Central and South America last March, and have during these 9 months met some incredible people I will never forget. Besides this farmer and his wife, I will never forget Cuban Zuka, who after only having met me on the plane from Moscow to Havana invited me to stay at her place for free. Or Peruvian Enrique who picked up my friend and me while hitchhiking from Lima to Paracas – to later invite us to dinner, dune buggy riding and sand boarding for free. I’ll also never forget the volunteers at the hostel that helped me when I got sick, and upgraded me to a private room free of charge. Or the amazing people I’ve had the honor to accompany on parts of their big journeys.

So while it’s true that traveling can be hard, I truly do believe that it teaches you about kindness, friendship and hardship in a way you would never experience in the comfort of your own home. Sometimes you may feel a little lost, but you will always find someone on the way to help you find the way back.

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