What pictures don’t say…
Posted by Alison Kenney
One month into my South American adventure I’ve realized there are so many moments that videos, photos and Facebook status updates cannot capture adequately. After Carnival madness, I left Rio on a Tuesday morning (Feb 21) at the ungodly hour of 6am. My journey to get to Buenos Aires could have been a short, direct flight of about 3 hours. However I pre-booked some flights which put me traveling to Sao Paulo first, then across to Santiago, Chile, then back across to Buenos Aires. Total travel time? 22 hours. I felt like I just got punched in the face on the way back home from Singapore.
On my last flight, I sat next to the most unsuspecting gentleman from Ecuador. His name was Eric, age 24 and going to medical school in Buenos Aires. He was on his way back after a family visit. This entire conversation was gathered by my 20 word vocabulary of Spanish and his 20 word vocabulary of English. I must practice more! He offered to share a taxi with me into the city from the airport once we landed. He said it was for two reasons: 1) it’s expensive and would be cheaper to share given I’m on a travel budget and he’s a student and 2) he didn’t want me going alone as it was midnight and not very safe.
I hesitantly agreed, slightly nervous but somehow trusting something in his sincerity and genuine interest in doing something nice for the American tourist. We go through customs and get to baggage claim and it occurs to me this guy is from Ecuador, and it is late and what if he sneaks drugs into my backpack when I’m not looking? What if he has a car waiting outside to kidnap me? What if he makes me go to the ATM and take out all my cash and runs off? What if I should just get my own taxi and risk going into Buenos Aires on my own at nearly 1am?
He went to exchange some money at the bank and I considered bolting. But I didn’t. Something told me he was a good guy. He missed his family and he was studying bio-chemistry in order to find cures for diseases and help people. I stayed. We tried to find a cheaper taxi but turns out they charge more for two people. All in it was 225 Argentine Pesos ($50 USD) total and we split it. In the taxi ride, his Mom called him to make sure he made it back ok. He told her yes, he met a new friend (amiga) and he was almost to his apartment. We said goodbye and I shared my email address just in case he ever wanted to visit the U.S. one day. He gave the taxi driver instructions to get me to my hotel. I slept well that night, with a smile on my face as I went to sleep.
There are too many stereotypes about people from South America, especially Ecuador. The U.S. Government Travel web sites tell you all the crime statistics and dangers and scams to be aware of when coming to these countries. My own father told me not to go to Ecuador or I would be kidnapped, just like that girl on 20/20 was. Whenever I told people I was coming to South America on my own, I got a laundry list of safety tips. These were not taken in vain, I assure you. Traveling smartly, safely, aware of your surroundings at all times is likely why I’ve only been the victim of white collar ATM fraud since I’ve been here and nothing worse. Every city has crime. Every place has inherently evil people. But sometimes you have to trust your gut. And this time, it worked in my favor. I hope to pay forward more kindness like Eric did in my ongoing journey.