When traveling it is always good to be alert, to be aware of your surroundings, know where your money, your phone and passport are at all times. I admit it, I am on alert by nature, but am on extra alert when traveling to a new place. And truth be told, I have been known to let my imagination get the best of me and assume the worst if I am in unfamiliar territory. You all remember the garbage truck in Parma, Italy, right? Where I was convinced that we would be murdered by an Italian garbage man.
On our trip to Croatia last year we decided to take a day trip to Mostar in Bosnia Herzegovina. We had read that while the main roads are safe, one must not venture off the main roads as there are still active landmines in the countryside left over from the Balkan war in the 90’s.
On our way back, at the end of a long, very hot day, we were cruising along a local road on the way to the main highway. Out of the blue we hear honking. The car behind us is furiously honking and waving at us. A quick scan of the dashboard – nothing looks amiss. Tires and alignment feel ok, but still the couple behind us will not stop honking and waving. We pull over. They pull up next to us in a beat up, older model of an unknown car. The couple themselves appear to be human versions of the car, a bit rusty and rough around the edges.
Through what can only be described as a mixture of sign language and charades we understand that we are not to go any farther down the existing road. Our GPS, whom we have named Pippa in honor of her lovely posh English accent, disagrees. Pippa clearly wants us to continue on the road that we are on. My husband suggests that perhaps the local couple knows something that we don’t. Maybe the road ahead is closed? Maybe it is not safe? I point out that Pippa has never let us down. She always recalculates when there is a closed road – as we found out on the way to Mostar.
The local couple is insistent that we follow them. We continue to exchange unsure and concerned looks. The local couple wins. My husband flips a u-turn. We follow them down a small back road for about 10 minutes. We have no idea where we are going. Pippa is insisting that we, “Make a u-turn if possible. Make a u-turn if possible” I am getting progressively nervous. Who are these people? Where are they taking us? What is their motivation for having us follow them? Are we going to hit a landmine on this country road? Are we going to be ambushed and car jacked in the Balkan countryside? The Swedish plates have given us away as tourists/targets after all.
The local couple is about 200 meters in front of us. I ask Joe how he is feeling about following perfect strangers in a foreign land that still has active landmines to God knows where. He is a bit nervous about the whole encounter too. He pulls over to the side of the road.
The local couple’s car stops ahead of us in the middle of the road and just waits. There is no one else around. The only sound was the rustling of a soft breeze, the chirping of insects and the clicking of the GPS dial as Joe re-calibrates Pippa. Setting the GPS takes a long time under normal circumstances and feels even longer when one is convinced that your whole family is about to be taken out. Then, ominously, the local car begins to reverse toward us.
They back up alongside us once again. They look confused. Why did we stop? They once again indicate that we should follow them. At this point we don’t know which way to go. Should we trust the locals or our nerves? Are they helping us or leading us to our demise? Since we have no idea where are are, we anxiously follow them again.
After about 5 more minutes of driving the local couple slows down and points us to the right. They point us down another road. Another road that we soon discover takes us directly to the main highway and relief.
The locals turn their car around. They honk, smile, wave and head back the way we just came. They were not thieves, carjackers, or murderers. They were simply really lovely, nice people who went 30 minutes round trip out of their way to help some dumb tourists heading down the wrong road in the Balkan countryside.
To that local couple, thank you. I am grateful to you for restoring my belief that most people in this world are good and kind. I promise to pay it forward and help strangers in need along this journey of life. I will do this in your honor and I will think of you every time.