by Carolynn Bryan
When I was young and adventuresome, I decided to take an extended trip through South America — hitchhiking, no less — to explore the inexplicable connection I felt with everyone I met from Argentina. I had studied Spanish for years, including at the University of Madrid, so I felt quite capable of navigating my way through the Spanish-speaking countries.
I traveled from Ecuador to Peru, Bolivia, northern Argentina, Chile, and then southern Argentina. As a female traveling alone, I had just about every kind of experience: uplifting, scary, challenging, blessed. I saw natural beauty that left me speechless and witnessed the full range of human behavior.
Winter had set in in southern Argentina. My down jacket had been stolen much earlier on in my travels and I decided that hitchhiking in the snow was not a fun way to spend my days, so and started working my way back north. As I waited at a gas station with my thumb stuck out, time passed very slowly. Finally, a truck driver stopped and offered me a ride.
As I climbed into the cab and closed the door, I greeted the driver, who replied in Portuguese. Everything in me cringed with that greeting, and indeed, that day showed me the baser side of human nature. I was exhausted by the time I was finally let out in a small southern town, having been threatened and toyed with throughout the day.
I couldn’t find an “official” place to stay in that small town, so I started asking random businesses if they knew of someone who might rent me a room for the night. A man getting his car repaired offered to give me a ride, but given the kind of day I’d just had, I declined. He astutely perceived that I didn’t trust him and invited me to have a cup of tea while his car was being worked on. In the cafe I shared what had happened, to which he replied in a loud voice, “I am Argentine, and chivalry is not dead!” He told me he had an uncle in a neighboring town who had rooms for rent, and that he would take me there. There was something in him that made me trust him, so I agreed, especially as there was nowhere else to stay.
We left about dusk, only to have his lights short out en route (the very thing he was having repaired earlier). His uncle had no available room, and then we ran out of gas and spent three hours on the side of the road waiting for a Good Samaritan to come along. We finally pulled up in front of his home in the wee hours of the morning, and he had me wait in the car while he went inside to explain the situation to his wife. Out she came, welcoming me with the customary warmth of Argentinians. I slept on the couch, met their two young sons in the morning, and was invited to stay for as long as I wished to get to know their particular corner of the country.
With this opening of hearts and home, my faith in humanity was restored, and I remain forever grateful for their example of all that is laudable in humanity.