I meet a lot of people every day in my line of work. I’ve also met countless people during my travels and in my every day life. I’m someone who has to arrange for someone else to set up introductions because I can never remember anyone’s name. However, over the years there have been a few people who stand out in my memory. One of them happens to be a lovely stranger in Ecuador, an elderly woman who was kind enough to ensure my safe passage in a foreign country.
I had just arrived in Quito on New Year’s Eve. Although I had planned on meeting my cousin in Baños (4 hours away by bus), I was alone for the time being and completely unaware of the festivities in the country’s capital city. Petrified by the mass of crowds as I entered the city, I decided to hide away in my room for the night.
Upon arrival at Quitumbe bus station the next morning, I knew that I was out of my element. Throngs of people peppered the bus station. There were travelers carrying rice packs on one shoulder and a screaming child on the other, young couples holding hands while frantically navigating the bus terminals, and others who looked just as dumbfounded as I felt at the time. Anyone could have picked me out of the crowd: wide-eyed and a head full of frizzy hair along with a huge backpack, I certainly had people eyeing me as I warily made my way through the station.
Once I arrived at the ticket station, only a quiet elderly woman stood ahead of me waiting for the ticket vendor to return. This woman was smaller than my 5′ frame, had gold teeth, and lines of experience crossing her weathered face. She donned traditional Ecuadorian garb and rosary beads hung around her neck. After 10 minutes of waiting, the ticket counter re-opened to an expanding line of people who didn’t believe in the phrase “first come, first serve.” So much for waiting calmly-I was quickly shoved aside while the other people raced ahead of me to grab the last tickets to Baños.
An Act of Kindness
Thankfully, that small, elderly woman (who I would remember affectionately as ‘la viejita’) noticed the clear disadvantage I had in a crowd of such large proportions. She grabbed me by the wrist and told me in rapid Spanish to follow her to the bus. Normally, I’d guard myself against anyone who pulled me by the wrist, but I trusted this woman. She was confident and I could tell that she was truly being helpful. Not to mention, she had kindness written all over her face. I could certainly put my faith in someone like her.
On our way to the bus, she noticed another young couple who looked lost and told them to follow us. It turns out, the ticket vendor had “sold out” of the last few tickets, but this woman knew that the bus driver usually reserved a handful of tickets for those traveling far distances.
Once we were seated on the bus, the woman literally pulled me into the seat next to her. It was almost like she didn’t want to let me out of her sight. I quickly learned that large bills (anything more than $10) wouldn’t get me far since vendors didn’t carry change. When the bus driver began to dole out tickets, this lovely stranger loaned me the money. (Don’t worry, I paid her more than the ticket’s worth purely out of gratitude for what she’d done for me.) Once she assured me that I was headed in the right direction, she said the rosary and fell asleep for the duration of our trip. Four hours later, she woke up just in time to let me know that we had arrived in Baños and that I could depart the bus.
A Lesson in Trust
I’m not one for believing in guardian angels, but this experience was completely surreal. A complete stranger had decided to watch over me for the duration of my journey from Quito to Baños. I never got to learn anything about her except that she had spent her life traveling throughout South America.
On my first day traveling through Ecuador, I learned to trust people. Given the chance to show their true colors, people can be incredibly altruistic with one another. In this day and age, it is so important to remember that people must treat each other with kindness. That lovely stranger in Ecuador didn’t owe me anything, but she ensured my safe transit in a country completely foreign to me and out of pure goodness. The entire experience was extraordinary and one that I would never forget.