Whoever came up with the phrase stranger danger must not have met the people we’ve met throughout our travels. Before I go any further, I’d just like to state a disclaimer here: I’m not, in any way, condoning the act of irresponsibly befriending a suspicious-looking stranger, but I’m all for letting your guard down once in a while and realizing that not everyone in the universe is out to get you. I’ve ran across (and chatted with!) several strangers throughout my travels and these experiences turn out to be the most memorable; they’re always the ones I recall when I’m telling stories regarding a particular place.
Erin from Calgary
Location: Train ride from Madrid to Avila during World Youth Day (WYD) 2011
When we were planning the itinerary for our Euro trip, we thought we were being smart by using one day out of the 5-day-WYD-festivities to go and explore one of the little towns surrounding Madrid. Little did we know that EVERYONE ELSE attending WYD also had the same idea. So that Tuesday, after our morning catechesis session, we found ourselves in Atocha surrounded by hundreds of other pilgrims, all trying to catch the afternoon Renfe train en route to Avila. By this point, all 3 of us had been rather tired of being ignored as Canadians. We’d cheer as other Canadian groups pass by (as is the accepted norm during WYD), but they totally gave us dirty looks and completely ignored us. What gives? We are Canadians, we carry Canadian passports (YAY!), but we don’t look Canadians; besides, who knows what a “Canadian” looks like these days anyways? It’s a vast country with so many different cultures that it’s hard to explicitly define the features of a Canadian (Trust, I learned this from the citizenship guidebook, people! I ain’t making things up here). But I digress.
Anyways, there we were on the train, minding our own business, when suddenly this girl came to our corner, sat down, and introduced herself as Erin. After a few basic exchanges, interrupted with her sudden actions of whipping out her camera and snapping pictures of the beautifully rolling Andalusia landscape, she started sharing with us what it’s like to be sleeping in the gymnasium with a rowdy bunch of Italian boys (No, I’m not about to tell you that story – mainly because I can’t do it justice and I will end up sounding like a racist). Before you start wondering why she’s sleeping in a gymnasium with a bunch of boys, let me give you some background information: If you want the authentic WYD experience, the local diocese asks that you allow them to plan your accommodations for you. If you are lucky, you may be placed in a host family’s house (local food, away from the city – it’s the BEST DEAL!). Otherwise, you’re stuck in schools’ gymnasiums and/or church halls, where showers are considered to be somewhat of a royal treatment. Alas, we weren’t that hardcore, so we opted to take care of our own accommodations and settled with renting a lovely apartment just behind Plaza Mayor.
Erin and her group, from the looks of it, got placed in a school gymnasium in Madrid, along with other pilgrims from around the world. Hence, she spent many a nights witnessing the fine antics of global citizens. The way she told her story, complete with sound effects and mad Italian accent, made me feel like I was watching a stand-up comedy show. Seriously. By the end of her story, all of us were keeling over, stomachs cramped, laughing our heads off and gasping for air. Candice and I still get a laugh or two out of it to this day, almost a year later. You see? Good times with a stranger!
Have you chatted with a stranger during your travels? Tell me! I’m all ears (well, eyes!).