You have friends, right? And they have friends? And relatives, too? Well, what are you waiting for? TAP THEM. You don't have to know them well, or even at all. They just have to live someplace you want to go.
That's how I decided I could go to Ecuador without a travel companion. The thought of landing alone after dark in Quito, the capital city, was nerve wracking otherwise. But my childhood friend's husband's uncle's wife (don't bother figuring it out) is Ecuadorian. So I asked Mark, whose aunt it is, to connect me with her.
That's how Lola ended up picking me up at the airport the night I arrived. We'd never talked during the planning stages. The whole thing had been arranged through emails and phone calls between her daughter in Miami and me. Lola drove me to her Quito condo but only stayed one night. She had to get back to the beach-front hotel she ran with her husband in Atacama.
Remnants of my high school Spanish at least allowed me to thank Blanca when she made me breakfast, and make a little conversation with her. And, it allowed me to have a touching encounter with her 9-year-old daughter, who has Down's Syndrome.
The child was afraid of me at first but warmed up after awhile, when I stopped looking directly at her. I just went about my business and let her study me. I pulled out my picture-packed Ecuador guidebook and sat down on the couch in the living room. She came over, getting closer little by little. I pointed to a blue boat and said, "Mire. Un bote. El bote esta azul." "Look. A boat. The boat is blue." I hope that's what I said. In any case, she enjoyed this game, repeating whatever words I came up with for the pictures in the book. If I didn't know words for what was in a photo, I'd say in Spanish, "look at the blue sky."
Inside I was giggling. What a goofy scene. An American using a handful of three-word sentences to teach a Spanish-speaking child to read. In Spanish. Her mother probably was just grateful I was relieving her of child-care duty for a little while and, I assume, that her children weren't disturbing me.
None of it would have happened if I hadn't braved the solo trip from my safe, comfortable home. Surely you have just as many tenuous connections as I do? Anyone else out there done something like this and willing to share the story?
Photo: Blanca and son, busy in Quito condo.
Photo Credit: Ellen Perlman
(This story was posted originally in 2007)