I live in the Balkans, a region which is famous for its hospitality and treating guests like royalty – at least for the first 3 days ;). This is something I experienced firsthand during many years of traveling through the region. But even I was surprised by what happened when I started taking my small daughter on backpacking camping trips here.
Our first camping trip was to Albania where people really love kids (and have lots of them). Each time we stopped in a store to get supplies, I’d turn around to see that Isabel had been given a lollipop or sweets or drawing pad for free.
When I asked about a good camping spot somewhere near the boat departure point (the easiest way to get to Valbona Mountain in Albania is to take a boat 2 ½ hours through a gorgeous canyon), we were told we could camp in their yard. What I didn’t understand was that you had to take a boat to get to the house as (literally!) there is no other way to get there. They let Isabel drive the boat.
On our latest trip we got another boat ride. This time it was from a local fisherman with a weekend home on the lake. He took us out to show where the rare Griffon vultures have their nests. He also taught Isabel how to clean fish — something that she won’t learn from her vegan mom.
And there was that time in Bulgaria where a local paid for our taxi to the cave where we camped – and then came to the cave later in the night with his wife because they were worried about us! They brought water and chocolate for us. 🙂
Oh, and let’s not forget about Panos from Greece. I had asked for advice in a Couchsurfing forum about where to camp on the beach. Panos not only told us where the best spots were, but offered to drive us there! He ended up joining us for a few days of camping on the beach and made Isabel a swing out of some rope and driftwood.
I could go on and on about all the wonderful people we’ve met on our adventures and when hitchhiking together…
Maybe all this hospitality and kindness would also happen to men and boys going camping, but I doubt it.
As a feminist (not the obnoxious kind 😉 ) I am all too aware of the stereotype that women don’t like to get dirty, don’t like bugs, should be afraid to be by themselves…
When I see people on our adventures (especially considering that this is the Balkans and still really chauvinistic), they are surprised to see a woman and daughter camping alone. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked, “Alone? Aren’t you afraid???” Never mind that we aren’t alone because Isabel and I have each other!
I’ll admit that I love this feeling I get when I shake people out of their bubble of expectations and presumptions.
It feels good to open people’s minds a bit about what women can and should do, and what women should like.
Yeah, there’s some self-righteousness and ego in this but I also know that people (most, at least) enjoy encountering something “strange” and “crazy.” It gives them a good story to tell about the “brave American lady with her crazy kid.” I know this because I’ve been told by people I met on the road and stayed in contact with that they talk about me.
They see two girls (one big, one small) on an “unusual” adventure and want to be part of it too. Which is why we get hitchhiking rides, why we get boat rides, why strangers bring us chocolate…
The irony is that the very same sexism which I am fighting against is the reason that we get so much love and hospitality from complete strangers.
I’d say that I am lucky to have met so many wonderful people but “luck” isn’t something that happens by chance.
Luck is being able to recognize a by-chance event for what it is and seizing the opportunity.
Luck is seeing the world with open eyes.
Luck is knowing that the “risk” of trusting people is well outweighed by the reward.
The message I want to leave you with here is to go ahead and try all of those “crazy” adventurous ideas you have. Not only will the adventure be fun, but you’ll probably meet some great people on the way. It might just renew your faith in humanity!