Best thing about traveling: Spontaneity and meeting new people
To balance the melancholy of the last post, here is an opposite story. Few days after the blackouts in the beach bar, I traveled onwards to León attracted by its reputation as the capital of intellectual and cultural life of Nicaragua. Whilst there, I went to eat alone in a local bar serving food even in the late hours Having finished my meal and reading a book while waiting for the check, a Norwegian guy from a big group approached me and invited me to join them to a night club they were heading to. Having no responsibilities or schedules, I naturally welcomed the idea. Two minutes later I was packed in a van with nineteen mostly Norwegian and hilariously drunk people.
We hit the night club where I happened to sit next to a local guy. We introduced ourselves to each other and I offered to buy him a beer (it is easy to be generous when a beer costs around 1$). He didn’t speak much English but I was surprised to be able to express quite many things with my hands and the lessons learned from my 5 days long intensive introductory course to Spanish (thanks Nica Spanish Language School!). He told me about a concert the next evening and invited me to join him and his friends for a pre-party at his home.
Next evening I showed the taxi-driver the address he had given me and we drove through the streets of León towards the destination. Here the streets have no names – really – so the address was quite literally “red house 1 block south from the basketball field”. When the paved road ended and we drove in a muddy street surrounded by run-down houses in the evening darkness not lit by streetlights I began to wonder where was I really heading. Soon I was knocking on a door of a house that looked the most red of the one’s on the street hoping that I was in the right spot. Marti, my friend, opened and invited me in.
His friends spoke more English and we shared a few beers as well as listened to some local music that they introduced to me before heading for the concert. One guy’s name was Vladimir and when I asked about it he told that his mother had been in a leftist guerrilla army while she was pregnant and wanted to name her son after Vladimir Lenin. I thought what a hero I could have been on the schoolyard when children are boasting about their parents occupations if I could have said: ‘My mom is a guerrilla soldier’. I found the dramatic history of Nicaragua become concrete when I realized that all the people I was meeting here had either themselves played a part in the fight against dictatorship or at least someone close to them had been involved.
So through traveling alone one opens up oneself to the potential of meeting new people. After some time of solitude one is usually quite ready to embrace all the opportunities for friendship. And with no prefixed schedule and no-one to answer to, one can freely cling to even the slightest straw of kindness and see how long it will take oneself. Many times in my travels I have for example met with a fellow solo traveler in a hostel, exchanged just a few words about our travels and plans with him or her before deciding to join forces for few days and few destinations. These have been intriguing forms of friendships: spending almost all one’s waking hours together with someone, sharing one’s lifestories to each other – and then parting and never hearing from each other again (although it might be that Facebook can actually change that last bit).
Also the openness and kindness of the locals have left me at awe all around the world. Be it an extravagant meal in a restaurant in Japan offered by a guy we just had met on the beach or community meal I was invited to participate in after visiting a local church in Rarotonga, people in every country seem to go out of their way to make sure that the visitor will remember the place and the people with warmness. I think that applies to every country I’ve visited – the only requirement is that one is somewhere where there are a bit less tourists and thus the locals have not grown too weary of them.
In fact, every time I think of the big and small acts of kindness offered to me, the stranger, by locals I am troubled by bad conscience I think how rarely I have offered a meal, a place to sleep or some smaller favor for a tourist visiting my home town. At home one is so reserved and stuck to one’s routines that one usually misses all these opportunities. It seems that one books one’s schedule so full of events that one simply don’t have the time available for being friendly. In building friendships ‘It was nice to give you directions to the cathedral, Mr. Tourist, how about a lunch next Thursday at 13.30?’ is far less effective than ‘In fact I can walk you to the cathedral myself. Let’s have a beer afterwards’. At home it feels that my life is already filled with so many friendships, projects and events that there is not room to meet with new people.
The reason to travel is therefore to get rid of the roles, responsibilities, schedules and other factors anchoring oneself to a more planned existence. Traveling offers one the possibility to question one’s way of living. Does good living really require so many responsibilities and predetermined activities as I am prone to gather for me? Or would less be more in terms of the room for spontaneity it would leave open for me? I really don’t know. When I get back I will most probably fill my calendar as full as it has been the last ten years. There just seems to be so many things in life that I simply can’t say no to. To counter this, I really have to remember to keep my plans as open as possible during these holidays. Too predetermined traveling would perhaps mean a larger quantity of experiences but would rip me off the opportunity to experience those adventures that can’t really be planned for. And usually they are qualitatively the most memorable moments of every trip.
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- Why fearless living is an attitude and what does it have to do with taxis that lack safety belts?
- Best thing about traveling: Being alone in a bar