The Kindness of Strangers

Heather & Jasiel on board the Tequila Express Train

When we left for this trip four weeks ago, I knew we would see amazing sights and places. But, I failed to imagine the incredible people we would meet and the extraordinary kindness they would show both to others and to us – two strangers from New York.

Juan – we met Juan on a colectivo (group taxi) from Playa del Carmen to the ruins of Tulum. There were only two seats left – one next to the driver and one in the very back. Since Erik is so tall, I let him take the front seat & I squeezed my way into the back. Next to me sat an older man, who was talking on his cell phone while cracking open a beer. He apologized as he accidentally nudged me. I shrugged and shook my head – and mumbled “no problem,” unsure of whether or not he spoke English. Just then, he asked where I was from and lit up when I said New York. Turns out he lived in NY for 23 years and still has an apartment in Gramercy Park. What a jovial man with endless stories to tell! He knew everything about everything. A real “go- to” guy. People around us chuckled as I started feverishly taking notes as we spoke. Eventually, Erik made his way back to us and laughed along with me as Juan entertained us with colorful stories and rattled off the real things worth seeing in Mexico. The hour ride flew by. We barely learned his name, and we arrived in Tulum before we could tell him about our site or exchange emails. Even so, he made our day. And was right about everything he told us.

Uxmal tour guides and fellow tourists – Our trip to Uxmal helped us to see more that just the impressive ruins for which we came. We saw the true genuine kindness of people from this wonderful country.

Zazil (pronounced Sa-seal) – our funny & friendly tour-guide, who after just a few minutes of knowing her, seemed like a friend. Unfortunately, she wound up slamming her fingers in the van door as we picked up Martin, a fellow backpacker visiting from Portugal. Martin took over the role of doctor and helped her ice her hand on the hour drive to the ruins. Zazil kindly ran the tour in both English and Spanish, after Erik and I finally admitted we weren’t quite ready for an entire tour day in Spanish. The sweet family of three generations we sat with at dinner. They patiently tolerated our broken Spanish and complimented us on being a cute couple (at least that’s what we think the grandmother said).  On the way home, Jorge, from Mexico City, who had sat with us on the ride there, admitted to us that he spoke some English and appeared very eager to practice with us. Turns out he has a very interesting profession – he sculpts earns for the ashes of both people and pets who have passed on to resemble their faces. By the end of the ride, Jorge was scribbling his home phone number on his business card and insisting we call him in a few weeks when we visit Mexico City (which we will do – we hope he was serious!) As everyone said their goodbyes, they hugged and kissed and said how wonderful it was to meet everyone. And they meant it. My eyes welled up with tears at the beauty of such a moment – people who were strangers but a few hours ago now felt like family. We also exchanged emails with Martin who is traveling for a few more weeks in Mexco and with Zazil, our guide. As Zazil made her closing remarks, she thanked us for visiting Mexico and told us that her country is full of friendly people that welcome us with open hearts and arms – and that night, we could feel her sentiments exactly.

Our cab driver in Valladolid. When we arrived in this quaint little town, we had walked in circles for a good 20 minutes in the heat with our packs in tow and finally jumped in a cab. A couple of turns around the block and we were at our hostel. We felt silly that we had been so close but as much as Erik insisted, our cab driver wouldn’t take a peso.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful moments  I have ever witnessed in my life happened in Veracruz. Despite the disappointment with the industrial dirty port city we found there, we were determined to find something redeeming. We went to the aquarium in the hopes of finding at least one good note to add to our list. The aquarium was wonderful, with a good amount of sharks and even three dolphins, which I was psyched to have captured on video doing a few tricks underwater! As we passed a life-size model of a Great White shark, I saw a staff member lifting up the velvet rope barrier and letting through a woman and a small girl she was holding. Amidst the signs that read “No Tocar” (Don’t touch), I was a bit surprised and watched. This woman, who I believe was her grandmother, ran the girl’s fingers along the shark’s tail, side fins, and then teeth, describing everything to her along the way. I soon realized this precious little girl was blind. I stood there in tears as this woman so beautifully helped this adorable girl “see” and experience the shark. The sheer love and care that was present was overwhelming. Erik glanced over at me and ran over and hugged me not knowing what was wrong, but after I told him, soon realized that such a moment deeply moved me.

Our tequila bartender and tour guide on the Tequila Express. Jasiel turned out to be far more than a bartender – we were two of the only English-speakers on board and he was the only staff member who spoke English.  He was very attentive and sweet. He made sure we were doing fine several times throughout the day, told us information we needed and was always ready to hand us another beer. Jasiel also thanked us wholeheartedly for visiting Mexico, and showed us that despite what we hear in the US, Mexico is a beautiful country with warm, wonderful people who are almost always ready with a smile to help, have a drink or have a good laugh.

Of course, there are countless more that I am forgetting. This post will no doubt turn into its own page on our site as we meet more amazing people along the way. I knew this trip would be full of amazing things to see. But, I hardly knew until we were on the road here in Mexico just how amazingly kind and warm people can be to two strangers from New York.

About Heather

Heather and Erik set off on a round-the-world trip in April, 2010, travelling overland through Central and South America before getting engaged in Antarctica. In 2011-2012 they tackled Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

7 thoughts on “The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Wei-Wei

    I don’t travel much, but I love people watching in foreign countries. It’s so interesting to watch them, learn their mannerisms, know the people… It’s a lot of fun. I guess a big part of travelling is getting to know the people, because that’s where all the LIFE is, you know? And I’m really glad that they welcomed you both so warmly. A lot of people are disparaging of tourists because they’re, well, tourists! It’s lovely to be able to meet such lovely people, no? 🙂

    Wei-Wei

    Reply
    1. Heather Post author

      I totally agree, Wei-Wei. Much of this journey is about the people – the real life and heart of each place we go. It’s also so humbling and eye-opening to see how differently people live in different places. Thanks so much for your comment & for following along!

      Reply
  2. Betsie

    How lovely to be taking in all of these beautiful experiences. It sounds like you’re making all kinds of new discoveries… I’m glad you’re able to share them with us as you go along!
    xo,
    Betsie

    Reply
    1. Heather Post author

      Hey Betsie!
      Yes – this trip is simply amazing across the board in ways I never imagined. So glad you are enjoying following along!
      Currently in Mexico City, twice the population of NYC! Overwheliming, but beautiful parks and over 100 museums – too much to see.
      Miss you guys,
      Heather

      Reply
  3. Karen

    You are experiencing my favorite part of traveling… how lives on completely different paths can intertwine for a moment and have a long lasting impact… You can’t really get lonely when the next person you are going to meet is right around the bend…. P.S.- How far do you think you will get by August? I have a friend traveling solo to Costa Rica who might be interested in meeting up for a day or two if you are in the area…

    Reply
    1. Heather Post author

      It’s unbelivable, Karen. This trip is a journey of places, but also of spirit and perspective. There are really no words.

      We are planning to be in Costa Rica sometime in July, but we are taking longer to explore Mexico than planned, so who knows. Definitely – please do send your friend my email – would be great to meet up along the way!

      Gracias!

      Reply

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