Thursday 15 November 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

"Are you a student?" 
"No, I've graduated now"
"Are you lost? Where do you need to get to?"
"Just a bit. I can't remember the address, I think it's called Homerton house" 
"Let me go check with Chrissy in the laundrette and I'm sure she'll know where it is"

This was a random encounter on the street last weekend. I was just walking, it didn't cross my mind at all that I looked lost. 
The guy helping me went into two different local shops to help me find where I needed to go to. As I left he told me to "walk with purpose" and not to walk back at night alone within the area.

It is incredible how collectively as humans, we instinctively act to help each other and to do good deeds. Just yesterday on my bus ride home, I twitched as a blind man got onto the bus. I wanted to help him. Before I could, another guy stood up and led him straight to his seat. 

The encounters I have with friendly local people are integral within my travel experiences and form part of the reason as to why I love embracing the unknown. The kindness of strangers reinstates my faith in humanity. It keeps me optimistic and it reminds me that we have free reign on our capacity to do good deeds.

Below are a few personal experiences that I've had abroad.

I lost the most important item that a traveller would have. My Passport. 
I was 19 and it was my first time of being abroad independently. I was hysterical. I was due to fly out the next day, and my backpack was snatched whilst I was kneeling on a crowded street, looking at a DVD market stall. 

Instead of being rational about it, I did nothing but cry for a few hours. Morag (A fellow SOAS girl I met in Nepal a few days before) helped me through everything. She accompanied me to the police station, lent me £100 for a emergency passport, helped me at the embassy and looked up the Jet Airways offices so I could rebook a flight. 
I met this girl a few days ago. She could have walked away or criticised me for being absent-minded, instead she went out of her way to help me, instilling her trust in me and lending out £100 to a girl she met only a few days ago. 

Sangita took me back to her home in Sangha. I had zero funds, as it was my last day of the trip and my bank card was it my bag too. She took me back via motorbike, and she insisted I stayed with her family whilst all the travel documentations/flights were sorted out.

To this day, my parents don't know that my passport got nicked. I called over the phone that day, mumbling something vague about a over-booked flight so I had to stay for 5 more days. Overall, It was out of the goodwill of others that I was able to stay in Nepal for a further 5 days, without a single penny on me... 

A knock can always make you stronger. A single theft wouldn't and hasn't put me off travelling solo. I've learnt to be more careful and to never hold more then what I need. Better yet, I've learnt to appreciate modest things. I see travellers with £500+ photographic equipment on them, iPhones and laptops that amount to the yearly wage of a local person in the area. 
And I wonder, how would you feel if you lost that? When you bring little, you risk little. 

All the little things

A small random act of Kindness can create such a difference in your day. Here are a few of the little encounters I've had abroad that always brings a smile. 

  • I was adventuring alone in Uganda. After volunteering for 3 weeks, I went off for some white water rafting, bungee jumping, canoeing in Lake Victoria and a safari. I was on my way back to Bududa to bid farewell to my family and to collect my suitcase. I had a small scrunch of paper in my hand with the bus directions back home to the little village of Bunabumali. I sat on the bus, trying to work up the courage to ask the guy next to me. Instead, he offered his help without prompt, pointing out that we were approaching Mejeme Corner and that I could catch a boda-boda straight up to the village from there. 
  • I parked my bike outside a shop in Pokhara. I didn't have a bike lock and I wanted to do a quick one hour trek up to Sarangkot to see the view of the Himalayas. The lady running the shop watched me curiously, asking what I was doing. I told her I wanted to go up to Sarangkot but I had a bike with me. She offered to look after it for me while I was away. After I came back, we got chatting and she introduced me to her daughter. I brought a little elephant statue from them which I still have until this day.
Pokhara, Nepal.
  • Maltese Lady: *pops her head out of the shop* "Where are you going to? Rabat? Walk five minutes down the road and the buses come much more regularly, here they only come once an hour".
  • Local love: Soph and I were at the beach in Camber. We set up our towels and left our bags on the soft sandy bank, where the water had gone out. When we came back an hour later, the ladies a few metres away from us told us "we moved your things for you, because the water came in". 

Random Acts of Kindness in action (CY)
A few weeks ago, I participated in a Apprentice City Year Task of 
"You have £10.00. Make as much difference to people's lives as possible with it in one day, spending as little as possible". 

There were many ideas across the table. Buy people some bananas. Give them hugs. Go to random charities. Volunteer in a children's ward. Go to a homeless shelter. It was thrilling, because it was uncoordinated. 

We split into two sub teams, with three people in each. We started off small, picking up stray pieces of litter to improve the image of the local area (Elephant and Castle). We then proceeded to Salvation Army and Age Concern, where we had no luck in finding any impromptu voluntary work that we could help with.
Soon, our sub team randomly stumbled across "Waterloo Hub". Upon entry, the venue was empty. We bumped into a lady and explained our situation, that we were a youth charity organisation assigned to make a difference in one day. Her eyes lit up, she explained how she was moving all the board games/Arts and crafts equipment into three new cupboards in the Youth Centre. 
Ashton and I got onto this straight away, clearing and setting up the cupboards in a little over an hour. The third member of our team bravely ventured around the area solo, looking for more good deeds that we could potentially do. 

Waterloo Hub
After Waterloo Hub, we went into Elephant and Castle shopping centre. I approached the manager in Iceland, explained our situation, and we asked him if we could help the customers bag pack for a short while. 
Although I was doing such a small thing, it genuinely surprised me when people acknowledged me, smiled and thanked me really warmly. Some of the customers engaged in a bit of banter too, asking if I wanted to go to their's and cook dinner for them too.

With City Year and Travelling, I was reminded of a wonderful phenomenon that we all know of, yet we forget to put into practice. "Do Good, Feel Good"
Modern day society has ingrained that we should we be weary of others, that we shouldn't return a smile because there is that tiny chance that the person could be a axe murderer. We all need to remember that there is so much happiness that can be born out of virtue, we just need to go out there and act upon it. 

Monday 5 November 2012

Camping in Europe

We were greeted by the same skeptical reaction. "Camping? You are camping?" in a bemused yet curious manner. But it's 5 degrees outside! 

We spent four days on the road, camping in various locations. We sneaked into closed campsites, we stayed in touristy sites near the City, rural sites down twisty roads in Germany and even wild camping along the canals of Belgium. Total cost of accommodation = 14 euros. 

I can happily say that regardless of how cold it can be, layering does wonders. Admittedly, it was very cold on the first night. My legs that were tucked in the sleeping bag felt like two blocks of cold marble and my head radiated a chill instead of warmth. 
I quickly learnt on the second night how effectively a T-shirt, hoodie, fleece, blanket, hats and gloves could insulate really well when used together. Regardless of appearance, I was warm for camping! 

4 nights of camping under the stars. What is camping without eventualities!? On the first night, we misplaced the pegs. Leaving them under the tent and searching for them in the cover of darkness. A plastic fork proved to be a worthy replacement on the first night with the cold yet still weather conditions. 

Fork Peg! :D 

Night 3

Night 3, I have to admit I found quite terrifying. We approached the campsite around midnight after a organ concert on Halloween evening. The site was closed and gated off. We walked through the site and a barn glowed red in the backdrop. Tall thin trees towered over us with a full moon casting a eery glow across the forested site. 
The boys shrugged non-chantantly, conversing of werewolves, zombies and of the crazy people who come out on Halloween night. I had the hiccups while Matt and I searched for the toilet facilities to fill up our water bottles.  
"Do you know what gets rid of hiccups really well?"
"A big shock!"
"No Thanks!" 

As we unpacked the car, I saw a security light blinking on and off inside a building from the corner of my eye. We quickly pitched the tent and crawled inside. I felt as if my senses were heightened. The trees rustled and tent swayed slowly in the breeze. As the time approached 1:00am, thankfully I was able to fall asleep quickly on the Halloween night of our road trip.

Full Moon on Halloween 

Tent pitched.

The campsite looking much less intimidating in daytime! :D 

Night 4 

Wild camping! Or at least camping not within the confines of a advertised site. On the drive from Ghent to Brugges, we followed a motorway out of the city, following a beautiful canal. It soon became evident that despite the short distance between the two cities, we were a little lost. 
We drove passed a pitched tent and a parked car. This instantly created a spark of inspiration. Camping along the canal? For free? Yes please! I was a little worried of setting up our tent randomly, alongside a road. However, any doubts were instantly set aside. A clear sky and the city lights reflected across the canal made a incredible backdrop for European camping. 
As we finished setting up the tent, a storm emerged. The tent quivered uncontrollably in the wind as heavy rain fell across our tent. Condensation emerged in the inner layer of the tent and a chill rose from the moisture of the grass. Despite hours within the storm, the tent held up incredibly well. 

Canal camping!

We woke up a little chilly, but dry! Our European camping experience amounted to a myriad of difference experiences, squeezed into a jam-packed but incredibly relaxed paced Euro road trip! I would happily consider camping as a brilliant alternative to hostels/hotels, where accommodation can be the biggest cost for travelling abroad. 

Euro Camping 
  • This website proved incredibly helpful/informative when we were looking for campsites in Europe >>
  • If camping in Autumn/Winter, bring as many layers as humanly possible! 
  • Contrary to expectation, camping isn't uncomfortable. With a roll mat and a warm sleeping bag camping is practically sleeping in a bed. 
  • Torches are your best friend. 

Sunday 4 November 2012

Euro Road Trip.

1,476km, 4 countries, 5 days and the memories that will last a life-time
Sea (Zeeland Island, Netherlands)
City (Ghent, Belgium)
Rural villages (Fischerhude, Germany)
Sand-dunes (Zeeland Island, The Netherlands)

Camping under the stars. 

In a nutshell, we travelled from:
- Calais to Oyten (German rural campsite)
- Oyten to Fischerhude (Germany)
- Fischerhude to Bremen (Germany)
- Bremen to Amsterdam (Germany > The Netherlands)
- Amsterdam to Den Haag (The Netherlands)
- Den Haag to Middlesburg (The Netherlands)
- Middlesburg to Ghent (The Netherlands > Belgium)
- Ghent to Brugges (Belgium)
- Brugges back to Calais (Belgium > France) 

Ferry, petrol, food, car rental spending money and accommodation included, our adventure trip came to less then £50 a day! (Even with your own car travelling doesn't cost the world) :)