the goodness of strangers

I had moved into a quiet, lovely colonia in the city of Merida, Yucatan, where the weather goes from warm to tropical hot – a sultry, scorching white hot heat in which a fan doesn’t stand a chance. The true test of an experienced traveler is the ability to deal with local cuisine and bathrooms. For me, it’s also the ability to avoid getting lost. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born with a gene for navigation, and I can’t or won’t read a map unless it’s incredibly basic.

My host family was warm and gracious. My host mother had once danced in the Mexican Folkloric Ballet, and remained slim and elegant at age 60. She offered guidance when needed, but otherwise encouraged my independence as I explored my new community. Athough it wasn’t usual practice, when I headed out in to the neighborhood for a run, she wished me well. I insisted I would be fine, and back in 30-45 minutes.

So off I went, padding along the street of a moderately busy neighbhorhood in a city divided by a series of quadrants. Each calle, or street, had a number and a letter. This meant that Calle 16 Este, for example, had counterparts called Calle 16 Oeste, Calle 16 Sur and Calle 16 Norte. Didn’t much matter to me.

About twenty minutes into my run, I decided to head back. Naturally, I just turned around and attempted to trace my steps backward. Unaware, I left one quadrant for another, always staying on or close to Calle 16. Things began to look less and less familiar, and I recognized that feeling I’d often had before when traveling — and occasionally in my home town!

I was lost.

Yet I kept running. For nearly two hours I ran, in circles and spirals and down long dusty roads, and I studiously read every street sign, which was pointless but made me feel like I would figure it out. It was getting dark, however. Proud and a little dizzy, I hadn’t asked anyone for directions since I didn’t actually know where I lived.

I carried no money, water, or identification.

At sunset, I silently acknowledged that I needed to ask for help. I approached a woman who was emptying her car of four – no, five – children who scrambled and giggled and smiled. She looked solid and trustworthy. Glancing at me, she quickly apprised my situation.

“Donde vives?” (Where do you live?)

Painstakingly, I described my host’s abode and guessed at the numbers. She shook her head, serious.

“Súbete.” (Get in)


“You’re far from home. Quite far!”

I had no choice other than to climb into her vehicle unless I preferred to spend the night outside.

After several minutes during which five small children watched me curiously, I was dropped off directly in front of my home. I modestly thanked the woman, and her five kids, for their trouble and kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to find my way home.

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27 thoughts on “the goodness of strangers

  1. Cathy says:

    I relate to that story. I can get turned around and lost at the grocery store. Glad you found someone to get you back. 🙂

  2. Such a great story! One of the many, many reasons we love traveling so much: to see the beauty and goodness of strangers.

  3. Carrie says:

    My mom has a really bad sense of direction. She got lost in a restaurant once. She just walked around looking confused as we all (it was a family reunion) snickered to ourselves!

  4. Thank goodness every now and then the kindness a strangers is in the right place at the right time!

  5. iasoupmama says:

    Oh, goodness! I’m so glad someone helped you! And it sounds like kind of a fun adventure… My hubby is an Eagle Scout, but has the worst sense of direction ever — we actually had a long conversation last night about where his brother’s new home is in relation to ours. Of course, I was right 😉

  6. One of the best ways to discover a place and its people is to get lost – as long as its not scary and you don’t feel threatened. I’ve done this many times in my travels – had to ask for directions and ended up meeting the most wonderful people. I’m most impressed that you ran for 2 hours! Wow. And thankfully the story had a happy ending!

  7. I’m map deficient, too. When we have to do anything tricky, and especially when the GPS can’t handle it, I take the wheel so Scott can navigate, because give me a map and I’ll lead us straight exactly the opposite of where we need to go.

  8. sisterhoodofthesensiblemoms says:

    I have no navigational intuition AT ALL. In fact, I should just do the opposite of whatever I feel inclined to do. Nice story. Good details. Erin

  9. I love Merida! What a lovely town to be lost in…until you’re actually lost. Wonderful to find a mom with five kids to drive you home. I guess she knew you were someone’s child, too.

  10. Oh my goodness! What kindness that woman showed you. Excellent story.

  11. dberonilla says:

    I really enjoyed reading your story!
    I get lost all of the time, but the thought of getting lost in a different country with no food or water or money is terrifying!
    I am so glad that your story ended well. Plus it’s good to read that there are still good people out there.

  12. That was too funny. Luckily, GPS keeps me out of those situations, today.

  13. Sara, your story reminds me of the time when two angels appeared to me in a minivan. I was out of gas, stuck on the side of the freeway with three of my little siblings in the backseat. The minivan angels got us gas and made sure we were safe the whole time. Thank goodness for people with big hearts (and reliable cars)!

  14. want2bwriter says:

    Sometimes getting lost gets us back “home” quicker and in better spirits.

    Enjoyed it, thank you.

    Michael A. Walker
    Defying Procrastination

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