People, Languages and Encounters

Meeting new people is part and parcel of travelling, something unavoidable - and something I would not even think of avoiding. People have enriched my travel experience more than I can even start to explain! Even the "bad apples" or people with less than good intentions, because from them came lessons learnt, different perspectives and sometimes even more incentive for me to carry on doing what I do. 

Little girl looking after her baby sister. Burkina Faso

I have to say as well that sometimes someone who comes across ad unpleasant, have surprised me when sitting down with them and chatting - don't judge a book by its cover...ever!

Speaking the language obviously makes these encounters and experiences even better but there are times when passing through an atea, there just hasn't been time to learn the language. This is especially true in remote and rural areas. One of my favourite and most memorable experiences was when I couldn't speak the local language - and they couldn't speak anything I understand. 
With some people I met at the Cabana festival. Ancash, Peru.

This was on my solo expedition through West Africa in 2011 and I had just crossed the great Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The sun had already ser and I was driving on a track through tall grass and bush; the truck headlights weren't working very well due to some electrical fault. 

I noticed an open space with a little house where there was a fire going; seemed enough space to park the truck for the night if I was permitted to. Getting out, I asked in gestures and some sign language if I could park the truck there to sleep overnight. They couldn't speak French or Swahili (never mind English) and what they spoke I couldn't understand either. Anyway, they nodded enthusiastically, smiling and talking excitedly. It was a family home with parents and three children; there were no villages in these parts, each family just had their own space in the bush. 

I parked up the truck and as I was getting out, the man stood there with a bowl of food and a tea-like drink. Unasked for but this was their way of welcoming me. Graciously accepting, I sat eating next to the fire with them - it was then that I realised that there were more people arriving. The kids had run off into the bush to call other friends/neighbours to come and see/meet the stranger that had just arrived.

Local guys in DR Congo with cigarettes - something totally new for some of them.

Putting on some music in the truck, the dancing started with everyone, including the kids, showing off their own special moves. (Somehow they knew the music of Brenda Fassie - a South African singer! Had a good laugh at that)
One saw the camera and posed for a photo which got even crazier dance moves going and funnier poses. The men asked for a cigarette (they were smoking some local self-made tobacco) which I shared with them and this resulted in a group photo of the men posing with their cigarettes. 

Truck drivers from Chad giving me tips on the 
route (Zimbabwe to Mali expedition)

What an amazing night and unforgettable experience! Saying goodbye the next morning, after eating with them first of course, was almost a sad affair with them wanting me to stay longer - I was tempted but had to go. 

Everyone has a story...

It's encounters like this that make me look forward to meeting more new people. Helping you along the way with advice, giving a lift and/or sharing their food with me. People that don't even know me and sometimes hardly even chatting, stop and give water, food or something for the journey. 

Being invited into somebody's home is even more special I think. Considering I'm a stranger that they know nothing about, it shows an almost unbelievable level of trust in a fellow human. Honouring this trust and not abusing it is of huge importance. It's also humbling when people put this amount of trust in you as a stranger...I'm sure I haven't always looked my best but this didn't put them off. 

Chefferie parade and races in central Cameroon

I can write books full about my experiences with people I've met in my travels, the chats we've had ranging from sharing their most personal thoughts and dreams to local folklore/legends to politics and religion. Over the years (18 years on the road now) of travel, I've learnt to listen more, to have a respectful curiosity to learn more about the people and their life; and to share my experiences as well - ultimately these people also want to learn more about you and who you are. 

Murta Festival in Ensanada. Region de Los Lagos, Chile

When I say "people" I mean literally anybody; I've had the privilege to sit down and chat with kings and princes and listen to  their private thoughts and opinions - exactly the same way as I've sat down with a "simple" person next to the fire in the bush and listened to their stories.
Remember, everyone has a story. 

Get out there with an open mind, a smile and ready to listen. I am willing to guarantee you that at least in part, your faith in your fellow humans, region of origin, class or language will be restored. Almost certainly you will be left with an urge to meet more new people in new places where you might not even speak the language. 

Maté, beers and snacks at the Piltriquitron Refugio, El Bolson, Argentina


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