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.