It was now the second day since I arrived in San Gil, Colombia and time was running out on carrying through with my accommodation plans.
It was suppose to be so simple. Having been here just one year ago for 4 days, from what I remembered, I would have no problem to book 3 nights at the same hostel and find a room in a furnished apartment to rent for a month.
It was 11:00 PM when I checked in at the hostel. I dropped my bags in the dorm and went out on the balcony. Looking out at the view, I could see the small streets leading up the hill to where I knew a few places where locals rented out a room. The best part was that these people did not advertise on the internet, which meant I wouldn’t be paying the special “Gringo” prices!
The next morning, I began my apartment hunt. Something was different. Although the street was exactly as I remembered, there was something missing.
There were no “room for rent” signs ANYWHERE!
I decided to knock on the door of a house and speak to the woman I had spoken to last year. A younger woman, the new owner of the building answered the door. She explained that tourism had increased in the last year and locals no longer rent out rooms to tourists. They basically rent their rooms to Colombians and students. She told me the best thing for me to do was ask hostels if they had special package prices for a month or ask at the Spanish school in the center if they knew of room rentals for tourists.
I spend the whole day walking from hostel to hostel. It was not really where I wanted to spend a month. While I have enjoyed staying at hostels for a short amount of time, for a longer stay, I wanted a place where I could have “my space” when I needed it. But at this point I needed to try and maybe find a small, quiet hostel. No one offered “month” packages!
I went to the Spanish school. The man at the front desk gave me 3 addresses of houses that rented rooms to tourists with availability. It was now 4:30 in the afternoon and I was tired and hungry. I went back to the hostel and decided to just relax and go see them the next day.
The next morning, I had breakfast and took a cab to the first address on my list. It was a cute place but, of course, it came with the “Gringo” price tag!
After visiting all three, I went back to the hostel to think about which one I would take over some lunch.
As I stood by the kitchen counter making my lunch, I saw her! The same cleaning lady I had met here last year. I smiled as I thought, “wow, signora Alba is still working here!”
She walked to me with a big smile and said, “You’re back!”
I couldn’t believe she remembered me and commented on it, “You remember me? You must see so many people coming and going. You have a really good memory.”
She replied, “No, not really. I remember you because of your smile. I remember you saying ‘buenas dias’ to me every morning and talking to me every day. It is very rare that a traveler makes time to talk me, the cleaning lady. So, how long are you staying this time?”
I told her all about my situation.
She nodded and smiled, telling me that the reason why locals didn’t rent to tourists because they had experiences of loud noises and coming home late at night.
She asked me if I would be available at 4:00 that afternoon. I said, “Yes, why?”
She took my hand and led me to sit down, “I have a good friend who lives not too far from here. Her daughter just went to Bogota to study. She is a professor here in San Gil and lives alone now that her daughter is away. I can give her a call and tell her that I know you and ask her if she would be willing to rent her daughter’s room to you for a month. I’m sure she will agree if I tell her I know you. I get off work at 4:00, we could go there together.”
She hangs up the phone with a big smile on her face. “She said YES!!! She’s willing to let you stay there for $275 USD!”
I hugged her and couldn’t stop thanking her. By the way, the “Gringo” price is $1,200 USD!!
So, I am now writing this on the patio of my new home in San Gil.
Last year, little did I know the investment of a simple smile and hello would have in the long run!
This experience made me think about how we sometimes may be missing opportunities in life and in our careers just in the way we treat others. If we judge everyone based on their social status or their appearances, without treating everyone as an individual human being, we may be missing out on an amazing opportunity.
I truly believe we can all make the world a better. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We can start by treating one another in humane ways. We are not too small to make a difference.
How about you? Have you ever gone the extra mile to help someone just because of their attitude towards you? Have you ever refused that same help to someone just because of their attitude towards you?