The kindness of strangers
June 14, 2017 § Leave a comment
1. A bus full of Hindus
On Sunday I finally ticked off the Coast Track in the Royal National Park south of Sydney, 31 glorious kilometres of cliffs, forest and beaches.
Because it’s an A to B trek, getting back to my car was an adventure in itself: a ferry, a taxi, two trains, a bus and then a further three kilometres on foot.
The second train took me as far as Helensburgh station, which is more or less where the train line goes, not where Helensburgh is. But there was an expectant bus waiting. I had no idea if it would get me closer to my goal but joined a stream of people and hopped on.
The driver said he could take me as far as the top of Otford Road, then point out the way. We trundled uphill to the village then followed a maze-like route around the streets. Finally he stopped the bus and jabbed a finger at the windscreen. This was the end of the line.
I looked behind me at all the remaining passengers who seemed content to stay on.
‘Where are they all going?’
There was a one word reply.
2. A Russian with an app
I started my trek down Otford Road, which turned into a roller-coaster descent ending in a swamped weir. Everything was flooded following several days of rain. I crab-stepped carefully through a swift-running creek for the tenth time that day, facing upstream and testing each foot fall against the current.
Safely on the other side I was at a loss again so I hailed an older man walking his dog and asked for directions.
‘I am Russian, I don’t speak English’ he said, in perfect English.
I started trying to mime waves and beach and cliff then (mercifully) he produced a cracked smart phone and offered it to me. There was a translation app on the screen. After a second I typed in ‘sea’. A word blinked up in the space below:
He peered at the screen and a light bulb went off. He began to escort me to the sea.
It was maddening. I was tired, hungry, wet, odorous and thus, I am ashamed to admit, impatient. The Russian resisted my attempts to get directions with a ‘calm now’ gesture, patting the air with a down facing palm. He topped out at snail’s pace, his little dog falling in alongside. The final half kilometre of my trek threatened to take as long as the preceding thirty.
When I finally recognised the way I thanked him profusely with prayer hands (would have been more appropriate at Temple) and bolted.
3. Three Colombians in a hot tub
At last, clean and dry for the first time since breakfast, I wanted to thank the people next door for letting me use their driveway all weekend. I grabbed a couple of beers and walked over to find they were seated not at a table but in an outdoor hot tub. It was fragrant and steamy; a bottle of whisky at arm’s reach with only a slug or two remaining.
There were two men and one woman in the tub, and two more women elsewhere. I learned they were Colombians. Like me, they had rented the place for the long weekend and their hot tub was a drop-in zone.
‘You should get in the tub.’
‘Feel how warm it is!’
I dipped my fingers in their tub and admired its appeal but confessed that I had done all the soaking I planned to do today.
We talked about weekend plans, sport, the weather and eventually citizenship and visas. Their female companion, lolling in a white bikini, was facing an uncertain future. Her occupation was not on the list recently released by the government and her 457 visa was stuck in limbo. One of the men, an engineer, had become an Australian citizen. The other was torn:
‘I have been here for five years. I love Australia…but Colombia is my home,’ he said with a shrug of the shoulders. I nodded; it was like that line from the song Anthem in the musical Chess:
My land’s only borders lie around my heart.
The next morning I drove back up the escarpment, bound for my own inland home. It’s always a bittersweet feeling turning your back on the sea.
At least now I can write it in Russian.