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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.


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