My sister, Bernadette, sent me this text New Year’s Day.
“We are stranded in Nosara (Costa Rica). We made a reservation at a place and she denied ever receiving it … and there are no other places. So we are soliciting locals for a place to lay down for the night. May be home early.”
Then later: “I just spent 5 hours trying to find us lodging. Ended up that this restaurant and they offered us 2 rooms for $60 a night right here! I’m super exhausted. The rooms will be ready in about an hour. Whew!!”
Well, my sister kept her cool and stayed true to the travelers’ creed which says that, to maintain sanity, you must be flexible and patient, have a little luck, exercise some ingenuity, exhibit a little chutzpah and perhaps in the end, depend on the kindness of strangers.
Which reminds me of two stories told to me by another sister, Jenny.
She and husband, Dan, were just nine days out on their 90-day, cross-country bicycle trek last summer (Santa Monica to Bar Harbor, Maine) when it was clear that the weather was turning problematic.
“We had 51 miles to Flagstaff and 3,000 feet of climbing on I-40 to do that day,” Jenny said. “We had gone about nine miles when the rain was turning to snow. That’s when we learned that our gear was water-repellent, not waterproof. Rookie mistake. We were completely soaked and freezing.”
Dan and Jenny changed their plans and decided to make Williams, Arizona, their goal — about five miles away, but conditions worsened, their back tire went flat, and they knew hypothermia was next. They decided to flag down a vehicle, but were passed by many trucks that could’ve accommodated two riders and an extra-long tandem bike.
Their last resort: Call 911.
“But I couldn’t even use our cell phones because our hands were too cold,” Jenny explained. (Touch screens respond to heat generated from fingers.)
Just when all looked lost, an “ancient” Chevy Suburban pulled over.
“They were the least likely people to stop. The couple had a 6-week-old and a 2-year-old aboard, and told us there were four more kids at home. They were trying to get someplace for the wife’s first day of work after having the baby.”
Though there was barely enough space, the couple found some to squeeze in two riders and their gear, and the father found a cable that allowed them to strap the tandem bike to the roof of the car. They drove to the nearest motel where the desk clerk took one look at the cyclists and said, “Here are the room keys; you can check in later.”
A hot shower never felt so good.
The second story begins in 1985 in what was then Yugoslavia. Dan and Jenny were cycling across Europe and had visited Medjugorje, purported at the time to be the site of active apparitions of the Virgin Mary. They headed north, pedaling through countryside that had no tourist services — not even a campground.
“There was an obvious storm on the way and we started eyeing farmers’ fields,” Jenny related. “We picked a field and started setting up our tent. Then a police officer came by, and even though he didn’t speak English, he made it clear that we couldn’t stay there.”
They put away their camping gear, hopped back onto their bike and peddled to just outside the tiny town of Kumrovec, in present-day Croatia.
“We called it Tito Town because it is the birthplace of (Yugoslavia’s long-time Communist dictator Josip Braz) Tito,” Jenny remembered.
With the weather worsening, they knocked at the door of the first house they saw. With hand gestures, they communicated that they’d like to set up their tent in the front yard, but the woman invited them in, fed them dinner and offered a bedroom.
“We slept really well,” Jenny said, “and the next morning, we are sitting at the breakfast table and enjoying rolls and coffee when the woman’s husband came into the kitchen. It was the policeman from the night before who had told us that we couldn’t camp in that field.”
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