Paths that cross, and then diverge

Before I left the UK lots of people gave me advice, from my grandmothers “don’t get married”, the more basic “don’t trust anyone” to the straight forward “things will go wrong but approach them with your best foot forward”. Potentially the best advice however came from one person – he said “Never say no” and “Remember the people you meet, not the places you go”. That advice has been proved correct many times now!

Initially I thought travelling was all about seeing things and finding out about the world but I was wrong. The world itself, whilst extraordinary, is often a little boring. However, look at the world with someone to share it with and it becomes extraordinary all of the time.

To find this out, I’ve needed to step outside of my comfort zone repeatedly and say “yes” to things I wouldn’t have before – from jumping into the hot springs after the Inca Trail to sleeping in a dorm room.  Constantly challenging myself is of course difficult and has been mostly responsible for the days where I’ve just wanted to give up. A particularly bad day a few weeks ago meant I had to take everything I’d learnt to get me out of a particularly deep rut but the following weeks have transformed my perception, enjoyment and attitude to travel. The reason is simple – it is all down to the people I’ve met along the way.

It started in Sucre where after Alex and Jenny had left, I was alone and struggling to find company. After a week of random encounters with a lovely Dutch couple, Anneke and Vince, Anna and Pete whom I’d previously met in Tupiza and a Frenchman from the Spanish school, I chanced upon Sarah, an American lady who I could chat to easily and could have in depth conversations about everything an anything. Moving on to La Paz a miniature disaster when trying to get to Rurrenbaque with the Anneke and Vince, gave me the opportunity to spend a week or so in the company of Charlie and Sophie, two girls from London. In the hostel I met a lovely couple, Kirsty and Eddie whom I’d travel to Tiwanaku with and tour La Paz with. A Dutch girl, Christina joined me for a cinema trip and long chats. There was an Irish ex-pat living in KiwiLand, Neil, who had more stories than I (and they are actually funny too!). In Lima an Ozzie girl, Jean, moved into the dorm on the first day and I had a fantastic 3 days touring the town and ruins. The receptionist in the hostel and I would sit and chat in Spanglish for hours. In town at a burger stand, I met Henry, an expat who used to teach at my school, who, combined with his friends Phil and Darren, took me for a night on the town into the places only the expats know. In Huaraz I ended up in a Kristof’s restaurant chatting the to chef and organised a Pancake cook-off (which unfortunately didn’t happen)…

The list just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Of course there are some people who mean more to me than others, but each and every person I meet is interesting in their own way. there is however one fairly hefty downside.

The downsides of meeting new people

Whilst travel is brilliant, there are however a couple of problems. First of all you have to work hard to avoid the standard conversation (where are you from, where have you been, where are you going, how are you travelling…) but it’s usually always worth it. Worst of all though, is that I have to invariably say “bye”. As of yet, I’ve not really met anyone travelling the same way as I yet so after a few days of fun, getting to know and more importantly like someone, you go your separate ways.

Leaving Sucre was extraordinarly hard it was not only seemed like the end of the start, but was the first time I’d had to say “bye” to a new friend. Moving on from La Paz was easier as I was sick of Bolivia and ready to leave the country but it still involved difficult moments. Leaving Lima was a toughie as not only did I have fantastic company, I didn’t get to say “bye” properly nor exchange details for that promised “we’ll stay in touch”. Huaraz left me wanting more…

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to nor enjoy this aspect of travel. It’s not fun to meet someone intriguing, enjoy their company immenesly and then have to move on and leave them behind. I’ve often avoided this as long as possible by staying somewhere longer than planned, but that inevitable day still arrives.There is a quick hug or a handshake, exchanging of Facebook details and the promise to keep in touch. Thats the end of the time together. Time to start the whole process again.

It sucks.

Every time it happens I feel a little down. My days were enriched by a person whom I’m unlikely to encounter again and as for that promised “we’ll stay in touch”… As I walk away, I have to think back to the advice I was given – I put my best foot forward, never say no and will remember the encounters fondly.

Who will I get to meet next? What stories will I hear? What adventures will I have with them? Who will make me laugh so hard I end up crying? I don’t know the answers yet, but it’ll be fun finding out, at least until the inevitable day comes.