Last week Americans celebrated Thanksgiving. While we don’t have that holiday in Germany, it still made me think about the things I’m grateful for. After all, Christmas time is great for that kind of inspection, isn’t it? There is a lot I could mention in this context, but I want to concentrate on one specific blessing I’ve encountered on the road. Something that’s so easy to give, and yet it can make or break the trip for you.
Sometimes, you’re on the road and things simply don’t work out the way you were hoping. It seems no matter what you do, everything is bound to fail. Alone and far away from everyone you know, this can quickly bring on a sense of desperation. I was in such a state once during my working holiday trip in Australia when I stayed in Bundaberg, Queensland. I came to Bundaberg to take care of the ‘working’ part of my visa. Bundaberg is a magnet for backpackers looking for jobs, especially in fruit-picking – one of the typical backpacker occupations in Australia.
Fellow backpackers I had met on the road had recommended Bundaberg to me as a place where I was sure to find work. Now I was here, and everything seemed turned against me. Not only did I fail to find work, I also stayed in the worst hostel I’ve ever been in. It was terrible. It wasn’t even that it was dirty or anything. Just somehow everything about it made me feel miserable.
My room was right next to the common room, which meant every evening it was noisy and I was kept awake by the other guests getting drunk next door. I never quite managed to get to know any of them, and so had no desire to join in. I lay there in my bed, which was old and battered and uncomfortable. It was freezing cold, because the linen was way too thin. And I listened to the noise of drunk people right next to my room.
Those were my nights. The days were only marginally better. I didn’t want to spent more time in the hostel than necessary, but I didn’t really have anywhere else to go. My money was seriously starting to run out. The few interesting things Bundaberg offered cost money, so it was a constant struggle between wanting to safe and yearning to do something to break the boredom.
One night, the desire for entertainment won and I went to the movies. And how lucky I did. That evening I met Chris and Beryl, a local couple, who started chatting to me because I was all by myself. We got along great and quickly became friends. We met sometimes for lunch or I would drop in at Beryl’s work just to say hello.
One day, I had a particularly bad time. I had been offered a job the day before, but that morning, out of the blue, it got cancelled. I didn’t get any explanation, and I couldn’t get hold of the person in charge. No one could tell me anything. I was annoyed, and frustrated, and at a complete loss at what to do now.
I went to see Beryl, just because I needed to talk to someone. She hadn’t even heard half the story when she asked me if I would like to get out of the hostel and stay with her and Chris instead.
I’m not always good at accepting favours from people, especially if I hardly know them. But that day I was so desperate, I said yes before I could think about it. The very same day I packed my things and checked out of the hostel. I had paid in advance for a few more days and they did not pay me back, but I didn’t even care. I only wanted to get away from that place. Loaded with all my stuff I met Chris and Beryl after they finished work, and they took me home with them.
From that moment on, everything brightened. Not only that I now had a clean, quiet room with a comfortable bed. I was staying with friends who did everything to make me feel welcome. They took me out to explore the sights, they introduced me to some of their friends, and Chris took me on my first ever ride on a motorbike. In short, I suddenly had the best of times.
A few days later the two of them had to leave town to visit relatives in South Queensland. Instead of ending my stay with them, they asked me come along for the weekend. Suddenly I found myself on a farm in the Australian hinterland with their extended family. None of their relatives cared that they brought a stranger along. On the contrary, they involved me in all farm activities. I made friends with all the animals, including the baby pigs and a newborn calf. We took turns on the quad, and Beryl taught me how to knit beanies. It was one of the most memorable weekends of my trip.
When later I returned to Bundaberg, I managed to find a job, and some new friends along with it. It seemed like the town was determined to make up for my earlier bad experiences. But truth be told, if it hadn’t been for Chris and Beryl, I would never have such fond memories of it as I do now. They have given me more than I would ever have dared to ask for, and they probably didn’t even realise how much it meant to me. So thank you Chris and Beryl for your kindness when I needed it most. It turned the worst part of my stay into one of the best.
And thanks to everyone who has ever been kind to me on the road and helped me out when I was lost. You make all the difficulties worth it.
In what situations have you encountered unexpected help on a journey? Is there a stranger you wan to thank somewhere for helping you out when you didn’t know how to go on? I would love to hear your stories!