This was easily the most fulfilling personal interaction of the entire trip.
I was headed to the bus station to check the schedule and buy a bus ticket when I was approached by a homeless kid who wanted to demonstrate his beat-boxing skills in turn for a tip. Now he was a kid just a few years younger than me and had a pretty upbeat but determined vibe about him; nonetheless, I was still weary as we engaged in some friendly conversation. I complimented his beat-boxing which was in fact quite good, although I admit my knowledge of the discipline is limited. Once it became clear that I wasn't going to provide a tip, he politely conceded and wished me a good day before moving on to the next pedestrian. I never give money because I feel that there’s always the possibility that I'd be contributing to a problem. Money never solves problems. Plus I needed what I had to purchase my bus ticket. Continuing on to the station, an idea occurred to me.
It just so happened that I had my guitar on my back because I was planning to find a nice place to sit and play, such as the alluring botanical garden a few blocks away. This plan had just changed. I bought my bus ticket and returned the way I came at a slightly accelerated pace. I was on the lookout for the kid. As I got to his corner of street, my eyes didn't spot him, and I slowed and gandered.. Then I saw him, shooting his spiel to an older woman as she sauntered on through the heavy sun haze. I stood, and smiled to myself, and was patient. After he subsided, and allowed her to continue her encumbered gait unaccompanied, I approached.
I got his attention and told him my idea. He grinned, interested and pleased. I proposed that we play music together for tips. I'd supply the melody; he'd supply the beat. He agreed, and our collaboration began.
Can't say we sounded super rad. He could've used a mic to give us some more percussive power, and I could've used a better guitar and more Brazilian songs. But we were having fun. And we were working. We were thrown a bone or two from passers-by. We also had a couple supportive, temporary audiences: a drunk guy, some other urchin kids, an older gentleman.. As we rocked, our souls illuminated, and people paid attention.
Towards the end of the set, I thought to put on this guy fawkes looking ski mask I bought in Peru, which happened to be in my guitar case. I thought I was alright to look at, but once I slung on the mask earnings increased tenfold. I guess the shock factor of a masked man playing guitar and harmonica with his beat boxing sidekick is just enough to push people over the generosity hurdle. Some girl actually slowed down and threw us a bunch of loose change out the window and hooted and hollered as she drove by.
I was just about out of songs. It'd probably been a couple hours. My accomplice was sweating. We'd made a good, small haul. So we decided it was time to call it. My buddy wanted to go see if he could get a bath and a bed for the night. He suggested splitting up the earnings. I told him it was all his. He was speechless and profoundly grateful. He conveyed to me that he would have never expected such generosity from a foreigner and repeatedly thanked me. I told him that it was my pleasure, and he earned it. He has talent, and he has heart. We soaked in the moment, our souls throbbing to the echo of our music. It was now dusk and he had to run to see if he could get that bed. We hugged and parted ways with a warm sense about ourselves and faith in humanity and each other.
If you ever see a curly-headed, bright-eyed kid beat-boxing on the streets of Curitiba, hear him out and perhaps buy him lunch. You'll be glad you did.
Lesson 1: Overcoming theft. Stacking the odds in your favor and cultivating dumb luck [Have a picture of yourself on your phone's background]
So I felt a little bit narcissistic with a picture of myself on my phone's background, but I had just graduated from college and was kinda proud.. And after this incident, I'm keeping it there!
I wake up from a hard nap in my hotel bed around midnight on a Saturday. It was time to go out. I had a long night the night before and was about to have another one. My roommates were already out and I knew where to meet them. Getting myself animated, I decided to leave my phone behind because I didn't need it and didn't want to run the risk of getting pick-pocketed. I leave it on the bed and am out the door.
At the club/bar/discoteca my roommates are already having a great time and interacting with the local talent. One of my roommates, Neal is apparently already getting lucky. He had left with a girl in a taxi before I arrived. I was late to the party, but the party wasn't stopping anytime soon. I commence in the festivities, and am dancing, and drinking, and having a good time, when Neal returns with a grin on his face. We continue into the night and after watching the sunrise over the ocean, I make my way back to the hotel for a quick rest and some breakfast before we go. We had a taxi arriving at 9 am to take us 2 hours to the next destination, Salinas.
Packing up my stuff to go, I couldn't find my phone anywhere. I was positive I had left it on the bed, but it wasn't beside the bed, under the bed, or anywhere to be seen. I was frantic. When the taxi arrived, I ended up telling the hotel clerk the predicament. He was sympathetic, but not hopeful. I left him my email to contact me if anything turned up, and left abruptly- not forgetting to initiate the find my phone app from my tablet: "This phone has been stolen. Cash reward $$$." The device couldn't pinpoint it, but hopefully the banner would display across the screen and make a sound. Two hours later, when I got to Salinas, feeling hungover, it occurred to me that this is going to really put a damper on my trip. I had just begun and had already lost my all in one waterproof camera, social media outlet, information source, and communication device, with little hope of ever seeing it again.
Not fifteen minutes later, I got an email from the clerk with a phone number for the woman who 'found' my phone. The email also beckoned me to be careful with local women, and that I can do better, as I'm a decent looking guy. I thought this was weird..
Nervous, but resolute, I called this woman, presuming she was the thief (ladrona). It's a lot more daunting to speak Spanish over the phone, especially when you think the person on the other end stole your phone and that you are about to commence in a bargaining gambit. I asked her where I should meet her when I take the taxi ride back to claim my prize. She told me that she's from a different town outside of Montañita, but is actually going to Salinas that afternoon to go shopping with her mom. Confused, I gave her the address of the Salinas hotel where I was staying, and awaited her supposed arrival.
Sure enough, 2 hours later an overweight, middle-aged woman shows up in a jalopy, with two elderly women in the back (I suppose one was her mother). They were delighted to see me. As I approach, she holds my phone out the window, in perfect condition. Thinking that this is some sort of a trick and slightly baffled, in my post night-out-on-a-latin-town lethargy, I saunter up to them, shadowed by a couple of my anxious roommates, including Neal.
She handed me my phone and I listened, astonished as she rambled off the happenings of that day, trying to understand, myself--let alone professionally interpret for the roommates.
It turned out, from what I gathered, that Neal's 'chica,' with whom he did in fact get lucky--perhaps
dissatisfied with the experience, or in a drunken confusion, or in maniacal kleptomania--did take the phone off my bed, spying it from across the room in Neal's sultry corner, or maybe both the good luck and the bad luck occurred on my bed..
This Good Samaritan, in plus-size form, took it upon herself, as the proud owner (dueña) of a restaurant and several other small establishments in the town where she resides, to get my phone back to me. She had seen the thief, either remorseful or nonchalant, in her establishment, and it is unclear whether she took the phone by force or convinced the girl to give it to her. The sole reason she knew the phone was stolen is that there was, still is, a portrait of me on the background; maybe the thief was an acquaintance or a commonly known perpetrator too. Moreover, she had recognized my face from the bar scene. I didn't know her, but she must have seen me in one of the bars (there's only one bar where everybody congregates on a given night in the small but wild town of Montañita), and recognized my face, and hair. For some godly reason, she was determined to get it back to me.
She somehow pried the hotel location out of the thief, which makes me suspicious of their prior acquaintance. But, anyways she proceeds to our old hotel where the incident occurred the night before, yet is disheartened that we had already left. She refuses to give the phone to the clerk, or turn it in to the police, and is resolute about resolving this herself. So she gives the clerk her number for me to contact. This is when he sends the concerned, weird, but welcomed email to me.
He must've thought it was I that got lucky, not Neal, and with the Good Samaritan, nonetheless.. I'll take it as a compliment?..
As the Good Samaritan wraps up her spiel to me, she proceeds to get out of the jalopy and solicits a photo together. I gratefully accept. Of course she can take a picture with me. She just returned me the one most valuable artifact that I would be carrying with me on my entire trip through South America. It takes her and one of the old ladies five minutes to get an old relic of a digital camera up and working. Then the old lady, still in the back seat of the jalopy, takes several pictures of the Good Samaritan and myself, me holding my recovered prize. Before we say our goodbyes and they depart, for coffee, she corrected me (seemingly they weren't going shopping anymore), I reflect a little bit on the strangeness of it all, and sheer dumb luck that occurred, but am mostly just glad to have my phone back.
Neal threw her a bone for her troubles.
Moral of the story: If you use a selfie as the background of your phone, and are on the receiving end of escalating, fortunate events, you have one free credit for a Good Samaritan to reclaim your device from a thief and drive two hours with her elderly mother to give it back to you, pending you will stand still for a brief photo session afterwards. Or you could just choose less promiscuous roommates. Or you could keep your valuables on your person, or hide them better! Seemingly, it also helps to grow out dreadlocks and be a presence in the local nightlife scene. Idk.. take what you will from this, but it's pretty incredible, right?
Somewhere out there, hanging on the wall of a restaurant in an Ecuadorian beach town, there exist pictures of an astonished and hungover me with this beautiful human being in plus size form.
p.s. You are also welcome to use a photo of me on the background of you phone. If it gets stolen and makes it's way back to me, I'll call your mom.
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My Solo Backpacking Trip through South America with stories and adventures had along the way.