Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness. (Seneca)
Over the years, Chantelle and I have spent quite a bit of time overlanding together. We have travelled around Australia, through Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, many Asian countries and down the entire length of the Americas. We generally strap a bag or two to a motorcycle, or load up a car, and just go for it. Every time we travel in this way we always meet amazing people and get to experience life at our own set pace. No buses to catch by 3am, no taxis to chase down the street, just our own schedule and an endpoint on a map.
So it will come as no surprise then that we often suffer mechanical and sometimes even emotional breakdowns. After all, this type of travel is hard on machine, body and mind. We have experienced everything from flat tyres, to fried alternators and even blown engines. From gut wrenching dead-end roads miles from anywhere, to broken ankles and an out of control hematoma.
At times these breakdowns can really get you down. Especially when it happens at the end of a particularly hard day or in the midst of a crazy foreign city.
Generally, we have the parts and the time to deal with mechanical breakdowns. We always try to be prepared for the things that we can fix and carry spare stators (alternators) for our bikes, puncture repair kits and even a spare chain and sprocket set. When we are in a car we carry spare oil, water, plugs and engine belts plus all the tools we could possibly need. And when our mental resolve is tested and pushed to breaking point we stop early and setup camp, have a cup of coffee and just talk it through with each other.
We had begun our 18 month motorcycle trip down the length of the Americas in early 2016 and it wasn’t long before others were at hand to shower us in kindness and help us out. Our very first day of unpacking our motorbikes at Vancouver airport saw a random stranger paying for our first tankful of fuel. For absolutely no reason other than he wanted to.
On our second day in Canada, we suffered our first major puncture. We had all the right gear, a good electric pump and absolutely zero idea of how to actually use any of it. By the time we had dismantled the rear of the bike and managed to get the wheel off and the tube out, a good hour had passed. In this time we had not one, but two people pull over to see if they could help. We were offered everything from a lift to a nearby shop, to a spare tube and even an air pump.
This set the tone for strangers helping us throughout the rest of our trip. Showing us incredible kindness.
Everytime we broke down, someone would turn up. By the time we had spent 3 months in the North America, we had been shown more generosity and kindness from strangers than we believed was possible. North Americans are some of the most hospitable and giving people we have ever met. We were taken into their homes, fed, watered and driven around towns in search of spare parts. Every single time.
We regularly had people pay for our food in diners, our fuel in gas stations or people would just want to give us $5, $10, anything that they felt could help us along the way. We were approached almost daily with one offering or another. Even if it was for nothing more than a shake of the hand or a well-meant blessing for our travels.
Now you might think that this is what you would expect from a country where everyone spoke the same language as us. That of course they would understand what we needed or wanted, because we could ask for it.
So what happens in a land where you can’t speak the language?
In Colombia my bike suffered a major electrical break down. I was trying to fix it on the side of a very busy road when a local passerby pointed us in the direction of al mechanic. The mechanic rushed outside, listened to my bike and then immediately stopped work on every other bike in his very busy shop to make sure Chantelle and I could get back on the road that day. It took him several hours to find and fix the problem. But he did. Even though we couldn’t communicate very well. There was a brief awkward moment when we made him take money from us but to smooth the awkwardness over I offered him a ride around the town on my bike. I’m sure it’s not often he got to ride an Australia Post motorcycle.
Then there was the time when in Santiago, Chile, when Chantelle’s bike suddenly stalled at a set of traffic lights and wouldn’t start again. The clutch on her bike had bound up and wouldn’t allow us to kick it over. We were stuck and we didn’t know what to do or where to go. We were on the verge of a mental breakdown and we couldn’t get past the thought of just giving up when a man pulled over in his car with his wife and baby. He was a motorcycle mechanic. We didn’t speak much Spanish and he spoke no English. But he had a look at the bike, kicked his wife out of the car to sit with Chantelle while he drove me to his house to get tools. He then proceeded to strip Chantelle’s bike down in the street. In no time at all he had installed a new clutch and had the bike purring like a kitten. In return he just wanted a photo and a handshake before he and his family disappeared into the gathering darkness. Again we were blown away by the kindness of a stranger.
Why am I telling you this?
Because it is important to be reminded that kindness is more prevalent than we are led to believe.
We are often asked, and sometimes even told, about the lurking dangers for adventurers, like you and I, in other countries. More often than not we will hear a story about a friend of a friends, uncles, dogs, brothers, cousin who was mugged, shot or murdered in country X. All because they broke down or became lost. And sure, there are some places probably best avoided (even in Australia!).
But there is one thing that every country, city, town and village has in common. And that is kindness. In all the years we have been travelling, over all the miles and through all the beat up places we have been, only once have we had a bad experience. One interaction in a sea of millions.
Because people are just that – people – no matter what country they are from, which language they speak or how they practice culture.
Allow yourself to embrace the unknown and put aside the fears lurking within. Travel with an open heart and an open mind and you will find kindness around every corner.
Now get out there and get adventuring.
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Would you like to connect with Todd about this article? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org