My husband and I met Chris 2 weeks ago when we were standing on a busy street corner in Santiago, trying not to look lost. Chris introduced himself and said he recognized our "lost signals". (Of course when he and his wife first came to Santiago 30 years ago I don't think they were studying a map on the cell phone.) Chris gave us directions and we continued chatting for many minutes. He was curious to hear what brought us to Chile and we were interested to hear how he and his wife ended up in an apartment around the corner.
We Met Again
Two days later, Don and I met Chris and his wife at a café in the lively Plaza de Armas. Chris and Jennifer have been coming to this café for years and they were eager to point out all the characters they have grown to love. The street cleaner came over to chat at least 3 times. A young boy came to our table selling plastic wallets. They called him by name and remembered when he was much smaller. They were unable to spot the usual prostitute who works the area, but there were plenty of other regulars to point out and gossip about.
If they could have talked him into it, our waiter would have joined us for a drink. Chris and Jennifer know no strangers and their warmth goes beyond the café. They are god parents to a young boy who is being raised by a single mother who works as a maid.
Excitement in the Square
When a protest march suddenly filled the festive plaza, we were lucky to have Chris and Jennifer there to assure us this would be peaceful. We watched the Mapuche Indians march by, pounding drums and chanting against the building of a dam that threatens their land.
The Special Forces looked intimidating in their helmets and padding and bullet proof shields, but Chris eased the worry by reminding us of their nicknames, Ninja Turtles. The street cleaner stopped by the table to assure us things were under control. That was good to hear, because a year ago Chris and Jennifer had been sitting at the same café when they were blasted with water hoses during a protest march.
Meeting Strangers through Strangers
After visiting for a couple hours, Don and I were ready to head back on the subway. Our new friends said they would show us a short cut to the station. We headed down a walkway that we never would have chosen ourselves. The area echoed with a few foot steps and murmuring voices. It felt late and eerie to me, but Jennifer waved and spoke to a cluster of older men. "The Club" she called them. "They often gather in this walkway and act as if they have important business."
A Happy Group!
Next thing I knew, Jennifer and I were chatting with this lively group of gentlemen. The one with the hat was proud to speak a few words of English to me. The man with the bird on his shoulder explained, in Spanish, "This bird just landed on my shoulder one day. And he never left."
After a little chatter we said good bye and joined Don and Chris up ahead, who had just found our subway station closed. Chris flagged down a taxi and we said good-bye after exchanging cards. I wouldn't be surprised if we meet up with them again someday.
Thanks Chris and Jennifer. You reminded us that you don't have to be on a trip to open yourself up to new people and experiences. You live in Santiago but you seem to treat each day like curious travelers, wondering who you will meet and what will come your way. It's also nice to know you don't have to be 20 years old to have that "backpacker in Europe" mentality!
1984 in Mexico
Pinky was our tour guide. One misty, October morning, my husband and I boarded a ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen with Pinky. The boat was crowded with crates of chickens, Mexican families carrying suitcases and tourists like us...many yellow faced and clutching the railing with motion sickness.
Pinky was probably in his 50's, wearing a red cap pulled tightly over his gray hair. There was something commanding about Pinky as he rattled off instructions in decent English. "I am Pinky. You are my family. You are all brothers and sisters. You are Pinky's family. We stay together. You listen and we have a wonderful time!" Don and I grinned. We like Pinky's style.
On the bus ride to Tulum, Pinky lectured some more. "When we reach the ruins of Tulum there will be rocks to climb. If you fall, Pinky will have to take you to the hospital. The people will have no guide. The trip will be ruined for all. Please be careful as you walk. Thank you." When we reached the magical Mayan ruins I was stunned at the beauty. Rocks and ruins scattered with palms, the blue sea just beyond! Pinky pointed out this lovely spot and said it was the best place to snap a photo.
Posing with the Ruins
I'm surprised we had the nerve to ask Pinky to take our picture when his strict lecture probably didn't allow time for such nonsense. Maybe he was so amused by our short shorts that he couldn't resist!
When he returned to his lecture about the Mayan number system he began to remind me of teachers I've had. I had a history teacher once who knew his material so well he could rattle off dates and historic figures while making a grocery list. But Pinky actually had a passion for the history he shared. In fact he had so much passion he grew exasperated when drilling our group about what we had just learned. "Do you understand?" He shook his head and firmly reminded our group, "People think the Mayan's were primitive, but oh they had such complicated minds!!"
Posing with Pinky
Before we left the ruins I had Don take a picture of me with Pinky. I knew I never wanted to forget this colorful guide. After Tulum we headed off for lunch in an old hotel filled with butterflies and then a swim in a heavenly lagoon...and then there was one last lecture.
"Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. Your tour covers everything! Lunch, bus ride, tickets to the ruins, everything except one important thing. Your tip to the guide.. That is Pinky. Please do not forget. Give what you feel he deserves."
Thanks, Pinky. Your impatience was slightly intimidating and the way you referred to yourself in third person could have made my eyes roll. You also didn't seem too thrilled about posing in my photo. But I liked you. You worked hard...seven days a week, you said! I think you also worked for many more years because your name pops up on the internet. I liked your name, too! Sure wish I'd asked how you got it!
Update From April 2017
In April, Don and I had a chance to visit Tulum and Chichen Itza, again. Early one morning while waiting for the gates to open at Chichen Itza, I spoke with a few tour guides who remembered Pinky, well. Sadly he passed away a while ago, but they all agreed he was a very well respected man in their world. After talking with the guides and reading blog responses, I wish I could go back in time and take his tour. I enjoyed him then, but how much more I would appreciate him now! Rest in Peace, Pinky!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers