Realico, Argentina 22 Jan 07
Odometer 38,531 m 62,009 km

Out of gas, out of food and out of touch, I dropped off the main road into what barely deserved its tiny dot on the map. Realico, as its name implies, is a real town with real people. There's nothing superlative to see or do here; it's just a place.

After filling up with gas, I rolled to a stop near the small central plaza in front of a non-descript, cream-colored house. There, a middle-aged woman with long, thick brown hair was walking across her tiny front yard in search of a ball her young son had just thrown.
home in Realico
"Excuse me," I called out in Spanish, "could you tell me if there's a public internet portal around here?"

Startled to see a traveler in town, but nonetheless eager to help, she walked over to the curb where I sat on my bike. With a smooth smile and crooked teeth her face lit up as I revealed how far I had traveled to get here. Soon her husband and child joined in to see what all the fuss was about.

"Yes, there is a cyber shop," she answered, in Spanish, "but it will be too difficult for you to find it by yourself." Without a second thought she then gave her son's hand to his father and walked over to a rusty, vintage bicycle propped up against the house. "I'll guide you there," she declared while mounting up.

I shifted into neutral and applied my brakes to allow her to keep up with me as we rolled along the torn up streets, side-by-side. We were an odd-couple of mixed heritage and mismatched technology, but friends and neighbors all the same. Her tour's narrative was repeatedly interrupted in mid-verse as her suspensionless bicycle was jarred by the many ruts and rocks along the route.

"We're getting all new streets this year," she proudly proclaimed. "It's our centennial and the governor promised us pavement." It was good to see that politicians the world over can still deliver the bacon.

She could hardly contain her enthusiasm for her beloved hometown during the course of our brief tour. As we rounded one corner and then another, maybe three blocks from where we began, it became obvious that a guide was never really necessary.

Upon arrival she gasped, "The internet is here!" I couldn't tell whether her shortness of breath was from pedaling her bike or being genuinely thrilled that her town too was connected to the world wide web.

"Great, thanks so much for your help! And oh, is there a bakery in town where I can buy some bread for lunch," I continued?

Her infectious grin returned. "Oh yes, and I can take you there too. You can return to the internet afterwards."
"No, No," I protested, "I've already taken enough of your time. If you can just describe where it is, I'm sure I'll see the sign."

"There is no sign," she deadpanned, as though thinking my protest was simply a veiled attempt to shake her. "Just as there's no sign here at the cyber shop."

Incredulous, I glanced back over my shoulder to see that she was absolutely right. "How can they stay in business without a sign," I inquired?

"Because everyone already knows where they are," she offered matter of factly. How un-American.

Off we went to the bakery, which turned out to be only two more blocks--straight ahead. During this ride down Main Street I learned that her name was Maria, she's lived here all her life, and she knows everyone in town. Together, we parked at the curb and walked inside.

The turn of the century building housed an octogenarian couple whose bakery's aroma was worth the price of admission. Maria cordially introduced me to the owners who stood behind a well-worn, hardwood counter under dim light. They shook their heads in unison and disbelief as my guide described my journey to their bakery
from Alaska.

The husband dug through a coffin-sized reed basket with his bare hands in search of the perfectly sized loaf of fresh bread to fit within my pannier. He refused to accept payment and treated me as though I was a visiting dignitary, representing no less than the "
Gran Canon del Colorado!"

Everyone then walked out to the sidewalk to wish me farewell: customary handshakes with the men, kisses with the ladies.

After all I've been through, this non-event might easily melt away into so many others and already be forgotten. Yet with all of the hatred in the world, every act of kindness is something to cherish. If only we could all so easily smile and say:
"welcome, stranger."

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