California Home Exchange
By: Rianna Scipio, London, United Kingdom
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant
We had been let down by email at the last minute
by our Chicago holiday exchange partners. The only consolation,
that their change in circumstances was a joyful one - a baby
had suddenly become available for them to adopt, which meant they
could not travel. Both being freelancers, my partner and I
rarely synchronise for time off together, so we were determined
to get away with the two children. We sent out a last minute
internet SOS. Did anyone, anywhere want to swap with us at
a few weeks notice? Very rarely, human beings show the type
of kindness and trust that restores faith one's faith in humankind.
This is just that kind of story.
Two people called Ron and Joan answered. They
didn't want to swap as they were about to travel to Mexico but we
could use their Californian home for a week while they were away.
We politely responded, thanking them profusely, but California from
London is a long way to travel, so if we were successful in hooking
up another week close by, we'd take up their generous offer.
Before we had a chance to even start looking, they'd hit us back
with another message. They would be glad to move out of their
home for an extra week and live in their trailer, so that we could
have a holiday.
We couldn't believe this was for real, so we made
it clear that unless during simultaneous exchange, we would never
be able to pay them back. Also, during a mutual exchange,
both parties have as much to lose as the other. In this case
though, there was no such insurance for these wonderful people,
so we also asked what proof of identification they required from
us, thinking they would probably need blood samples and all!
They replied that people who travel and people who have children
are generally decent people, so they needed to know nothing, not
even full names or address. Ron even offered to pick us up
at San Francisco airport, an hour away from their home and that
was just the beginning of a magical, heartwarming journey.
In the back of Ron's car, having travelled for the
best part of 24 hours and with my 'babies' under each arm, I left
it to my partner to hold the conversation. It was pitch black
outside and I had no idea where we were headed, as it hadn't occurred
to us to ask them for an address either. After a while we
felt ourselves crossing an extremely bumpy and rickety small bridge
and the dense darkness outside told us that we were in the middle
of countryside. Fear began to rise - mothers instinct - when
it suddenly dawned on me that I knew absolutely nothing of where
we were or who we were with. But too late now.
Finally, we pulled up in the darkness and the car
door opened to the kindly face of an elderly lady. She took
my own face in her hands and planted a kiss on my forehead before
ushering us all into the house. Still unsure of who these
remarkable people were and what their motive for such kindness could
be, I was rumbled. Will our entire family end up under the
stairs or are these two lonely pensioners looking for companionship?
My heart dipped when Joan proceeded to show us around the house
and to the dining table where she had prepared home made lasagne
and placed a lovely bottle of red wine. That's all we
needed, a couple of cranks who wanted to share our family holiday
with us and I am so exhausted that I can hardly stay awake.
But before the thought had taken shape, Joan gave each weary child
a hug and exited her own home. Just like that.
Gone in the night and us, having settled the children in their cosy
bedroom, complete with comforting night light, swaying about on
their amazing waterbed an trying to absorb it all.
Next morning, we woke to the most spectacular scenery,
beautiful beyond our wildest dreams. Their home is a ranch
in the middle of a vast redwood forest. The landscape is unbelievable
and wild deer roam around outside. At the appointed time,
Uncle Ken, a retired ranger, knocked for us and gave us our own
private tour of the magic forest, bringing to life the nature and
history of the surroundings. 15 of us even stood inside the
trunk of one of the giant neck breakers, once hired out as a hotel
room. Many sun kissed, fun filled days in the hot tub in the
company of the redwoods and excursions to nearby San Francisco followed.
Ron and Joan however, didn't even stay on any of
their own 2 acres of ground for fear of intruding on us and only
came to collect us again to take us to a special family barbeque
that was held in our honour. It was strange running into Ron
one day in town where we had gone for breakfast, knowing that he
was camping out of his own home for us. After they left for
Mexico, Aunt Kathy once called us up to ask if we would like to
accompany her and her grandson to an amusement park for free on
her pass. What a ball!
The best bit is that Ron and Joan have now become
lifelong friends to us. They visited us on a trip to London
and then the friendship matured this summer when they joined us
for four days when we exchanged to BC Canada. Different generations,
creeds, cultures and a world away. We could never have paid
for such an experience that has left us also, a little kinder, a
little more trusting and more willing to go out on a limb for others.
After all, what goes around, comes around.