Hiring a car in Kingston proved a bit of a challenge. My colleague and I overcame the difficulties of finding somewhere and getting through the paperwork, only for me to drive off and realize there were several problems. The brakes for a start. The clutch for another. I was prepared to overlook the rattling doors and cosmetic challenges, but hated approaching traffic lights not knowing if we would stop or not. We went back.
“Oh!” they said in surprise when I explained my wish to try a different car. “Well we do have another one but the radio doesn’t work”. I assured them I could live with that minor inconvenience. But they took some convincing as apparently there was a big cricket match on that day which everybody else in Jamaica would be listening to. I managed to overcome a very slight interest in cricket in favor of survival and we set off in the Other Car.
Our vague plan was to go and see the Blue Mountains. We’d heard this area was worth a visit and we had the day off midway through our two week project. So why not? We had left the city behind us and seemed to be in the foothills when we noticed a couple walking up the same road carrying a baby and a basket stacked up with food. It was a classic Caribbean day and no weather to be walking uphill let alone with things to carry. We slowed down and asked if they needed a lift.
Hugely enthusiastic and grateful the three of them got in the car explaining that they had missed the bus that morning to their annual church picnic and baptism ceremony. They had been worried sick that they wouldn’t make it (how they ever thought they were going to make what turned out to be a substantial drive on foot is a testament to optimism) and their baby would have to wait till next year.
It all turned out brilliantly, they took us to a fantastic spot in the mountains, and insisted we join the festivities. They announced our helpful stranger status to the congregation and we were welcomed with open arms. We played with he kids, chatted with the grandparents, paddled in the stream and generally had the most human experience possible – a welcome change in a fortnight of number crunching. Our trip to the Blue Mountains was much enhanced by this sense of purpose and we still had time to visit the spots they recommended before heading back to the city and the computer screen.
I do confess to being hesitant to pick up strangers when I’m driving on my own, but whenever I have a companion in the car , and especially if I’m in another country, I think it’s a great way to meet people, sharing my access to transport and their local knowledge. It’s never turned out badly for me.