by Peter Nelson
These are the stories of travels in the Southern Hemisphere from 1971 to 1975, hitchhiking whenever that was possible — and sometimes even when it seemed IMpossible! I traveled as cheaply as I could, sleeping in the trees, by the side of the road, in abandoned shacks, in working man dormitories, and in the cheapest hotels I could find. New friends took me in, as did friends of their friends, along with nuns, teachers, priests, hospitals, farmers, policemen and dozens of complete strangers.
I was an off-again, on-again university student back then. By North American standards, I was fairly poor, but in Latin America, I was probably wealthier than 90% of the people I met. Also, I was an American then, and those were the days of “Tricky Dick” Nixon. The “ugly American” was how most of the world seemed to see the Yankee population back then. So I wouldn’t have been surprised to have run into a fair bit of hostility. But I never ceased to be amazed at how well I was treated.
I became pretty fluent in Spanish, and reasonably comfortable with Portuguese, but for a few months in the Amazon rain forest, I traveled with people who spoke neither of those languages, so I could not speak to them at all. These were native dwellers, to whom money seemed an almost alien concept. In all my time in the jungle, no one ever accepted a single dime from me. With my blonde hair and blue eyes and odd clothing, I must have seemed as strange-looking as someone from another planet. Though the natives I met were very poor, I was always given the best hospitality they could offer. The hut in which they lived may have been small and shaky, but I was always given the most comfortable corner in which to hang my hammock. Meals were small, infrequent, and frugal, but if they had any meat, I was always given the largest piece.
I was in Central and South America for a bit over two years. In that time, I saw some amazing sights, met some incredible people, had some awesome adventures. It was a life-changing journey, to be sure. But with all I saw and all I did, one thought stands out, far above everything else. And it will stay with me for as long as I live.
In spite of all the different languages which humans speak, all the different cultures in which we live, all the different standards of living we experience, all humankind shares three universal traits —generosity and trust and kindness to one another.
I hope you enjoy reading these stories. I certainly enjoyed living them!
This is the first part of a new Millstone series we’re calling Your Stories. If you have an interesting story about your life or an event in it — travel adventures, reminiscences, anything at all — why not consider submitting it to the Millstone. Your neighbours will be intrigued.