When you are travelling and your surroundings are unfamiliar, you often end up in situations that are not immediately obvious to resolve. And some situations, despite having seemingly obvious resolutions, end up being far more awkward and difficult just by the sheer fact that you are a stranger in a foreign land.
On this trip so far, a number of people (and inanimate objects) have crossed our path at exactly the right moment and have helped us resolve such situations. In one form or another, they have saved the day. We refer to them as our Guardian Angels.
We are sincerely grateful for all of them. As such we would like to honour each person (and inanimate object) for the positive impact that they (likely unknowingly) had.
First however, a brief bit of history.
We encountered our first ever Guardian Angel a few years ago during a hike in the Grand Canyon. Our aim for the day was to hike from the South Rim to the bottom of the Canyon and back up again. We had set out early in the morning full of confidence, but our nerves had been rattled by a series of signposts along the trail warning that to attempt such a feat may result in death (yes, death).
As we were walking along discussing this disconcerting but potential eventuality, a lithe, spritely and sinewy man appeared out of nowhere. On a mountain run, he looked like the sort of man that had been born mountain running. Hearing our doubts, he sized us up with a knowing eye, told us we looked fit, said we would make it, and hurtled off at breakneck speed. Overcome with gratitude, we giddily dubbed him the Mountain Wizard and set off with renewed vigour. The hike ended up being one the best experiences of our holiday.
We remain indebted to the Mountain Wizard to this day. This is because he a) offered useful and helpful assistance in a moment of difficulty and/or uncertainty; and b) his intervention had an ultimately positive impact on our trip (nay our lives).
It has been hence forth on these two pillars that we have based all assessments of potential candidates for the position of Guardian Angel. And (despite what you may think after reading this blog) we do not take this process lightly.
So, in the order in which they entered our lives, our Guardian Angels of the Road so far are:
1. Emma (Montevideo, Uruguay)
Before leaving the UK, we had heard that Montevideo was a calm and peaceful city. Great place to settle down for a month, we had assumed. Thankfully though, Emma – a friend of a friend who had just moved there – intervened, campaigning heavily to get us to change our plans and spend a month in Buenos Aires instead.
It is not that Montevideo wouldn’t have been a nice place to stay. However – and it is with the greatest of tact that I say this as we genuinely liked the place – there really isn’t much going on, and particularly not for kids. We have heard Montevideans take pride in this, they don’t want to be like big, bustling Buenos Aires next door. But in our case, with limited time at our disposal and an energetic toddler to keep occupied, we wanted to make every week count. And while a week in Montevideo was great, a month there might have been a splash slow.
2. Pink Bunny (and a taxi driver) (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
After a tiring afternoon strolling through tourist markets in San Telmo, we were all sticky, hot and bothered. None so much as Amber, who decided to have the mother of all meltdowns as we waited for a taxi to go home. Once inside the car, her distress didn’t stop but quickly ramped up a gear. Being quite unaccustomed to such extremes of toddler behaviour at the time (we are now far more weathered and wise), our attempts at calming her only made her worse.
All of a sudden, and completely unprompted, the taxi driver reached under the steering wheel, pulled out a cuddly pink bunny, and passed it into the back seat to Amber. The effect was instantaneous. She was immediately soothed, and spent the rest of the journey cooing and cuddling contentedly. When we got out of the cab at the end of the journey we tried to give the bunny back to the driver but he flatly refused, driving off before we could thank him properly.
Pink Bunny immediately became a firm favourite in Amber’s clan, quickly gaining a prized position at the head of her bed.
Sadly, the tale of Pink Bunny does not end there. He left our lives almost as enigmatically as he appeared. A couple of weeks ago as we roamed Santiago, Pink Bunny disappeared, seemingly vanishing into thin air. We retraced our steps, scanning the streets for days, going back to every road and establishment we had frequented that day. But he was not to be seen.
Amber barely noticed, but I mourned him for over a week. It is my sincere hope that this is just how Pink Bunny operates. That he goes in and out of children’s lives, coming to their aid. That we actually left him in a taxi that day, and that the driver found him, and now keeps him tucked under the steering wheel, waiting for the inevitable day when a distressed child (and two distressed parents) get into his car. That he will bring out Pink Bunny, and together they will save yet another day.
It is a simple wish.
3. Man outside club (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
James and I had one big night out on our own in Buenos Aires, and we wanted to make it count. Our hope was to get into club Niceto, the place to be seen on a Thursday. After two failed attempts to get in (Try 1. We arrived too early and had to wait for an hour, Try 2. We were in the wrong queue) we finally made it to the front of the line, only to find out we didn’t have enough cash to pay the entrance fee.
We were gutted, thinking that we had missed our only chance to sample Buenos Aires’ infamous clubbing scene. Somehow however as we licked our wounds, we got chatting to a young chap lurking outside the door. We explained our woes, he lent us a sympathetic ear. All of sudden, and without ceremony, he ushered us in through the doors, sweeping past bouncers and into the pulsing throng. And then, as our Guardian Angels so often do, he disappeared. We looked for him to say thanks, but he was gone.
The true grace of the Guardian Angel is to help for the sake of helping, not for either recognition nor applause.
4. A plastic cow (Valparaiso, Chile)
This one sounds desperate, but it is deserved. The cow simply saved the day.
It was the end of a hot afternoon in Valparaiso. Barking dogs and a noisy street had meant that Amber’s naps and sleeps had been disrupted, and she was increasingly fractious. We had met up with a friend of a friend for the evening, and were settling into our first drink, all too anxious that Amber was not doing so well.
We decided to change seats for some reason or another, and there, on our new table – my memory tells me there was an actual halo shining around it – was a plastic cow. Amber absolutely loves cows (moomoos), any animal in fact, and especially ones she can hold. Her face lit up and she was enchanted. She (well, we) happily played with it for the duration of our time at the bar. And talked about it for days afterwards.
5. Woman on bus (Santiago, Chile)
This one was fairly straightforward. Lost in the countryside outside Santiago after James took part in another 10km race, we were trying to find our way back to the city using public transport. Hearing our uncertainty (and our English accents no doubt), a kindly woman took it upon herself to direct us onto a different bus that was going in the opposite direction, thus saving us over an hour of travel time. A simple act of kindness maybe, but when you have a tired little sausage by your side (in addition to a toddler) you become disproportionately grateful for simple acts of kindness.
So in short, our Guardian Angels comprise of 3 humans, a cuddly rabbit and a plastic cow, a list that is basically a who’s who of anyone (read everyone) that we have met since being away. We look forward to meeting many more as we continue on our path.