The Friends We Meet, The Lives We Touch

1024 686 Michael Kraabel

My travels have taken me far from home; across oceans, continents, mountain ranges and to distant lands. I am the outsider in these voyages. I leave my friends, family and love interests behind in my quest to find something inspirational, the precious diamond and experience that as a child I could only read about. I come from a generation of fortunate youth that have had access to an open world — without limits on movement or aspirations.

These journeys take us collectively to all ends of the earth. We are a nomadic tribe of lost souls wandering around, seeking comfort, companionship and experiences. We study cultures, religion, architecture, ancient civilizations. We pack only our minimal necessities and open ourselves to what might come our way. We shun pre-packaged tours and scoff at the thought of an all-inclusive resort. We are indignant at times when people call us tourists. We have an ego about our way of life and in an arrogant way we carry our superiority complex as a badge of honor.

Yet we flock together in local pubs, cafes, pizza shops and a variety of other establishments aimed at helping us pass time. It is in these places that we congregate to share our stories, buy each other drinks and confirm our communal existence. There is no secret handshake to this club, there are no passwords, only the willingness to open up with complete strangers and become family – if only for a few hours.

I have met myriad of characters, each with their own narratives and their own histories. I mentally catalog their stories, their experiences and their thoughts. They weave an intricate tapestry of life. But with every story there is a hidden sub-text that helps to explain the person. Everyone has their own reason for leaving home, whether it was trouble or simply the pursuit to conquer the banality of everyday existence. They are students, hippies, drug dealers, tequila smugglers, corporate employees, scorn lovers, writers, photographers, poets, musicians and lost souls. Their trips last from one week to a lifetime.

It is not uncommon to find these long-term vagabonds setting up bookstores, shops, galleries and bars to continue to fund their lifestyle. And in return, they help feed the passion of others like them. They provide us with a safe haven to gather and pass information from one person to the next. It is a traveler’s credo that we must help each other out, from sharing a taxi to taking care of someone with food poisoning. I have been with people fearing for their lives and people who, after a long and torturous relationship, are just starting to feel life.

Sometimes the Swedes gather with Swedes, the Germans with Germans, the Israelis with Israelis. For some strange reason there are few Americans. For the most part, however, these stopping points are a melting pot of cultures from about the world. The tribe speaks English, listens to Bob Marley, drinks local beer and enjoys watching bootleg western movies late at night over a fruit shake. Some shower twice a day, others shower when they feel like it. Some take this opportunity to grow beards, shun shaving their legs and dress in a relaxed bohemian style.

There are the early-twenties gap year kids who drink heavily and do as many drugs as they can find. They smoke weed, buy bootleg CDs and enjoy living off their frustrated parents. They change clothes into something that’s just barely cleaner than the stuff they wore the day before. They ignore local cultures, live as cheaply as possible and are always looking for a way to extend their holiday and put off the inevitable growing up.

There is another group of people from their mid-twenties to mid-thirties that appreciate local culture. There are corporate drop-outs, expatriates, aspiring artists and dreamers. They have experienced structured life and find that it doesn’t provide them the solace they thought it would. They travel to discover new worlds rather than out-of-body experiences. There are still a few stragglers in this group that haven’t found their place in life yet, they’ll try opium, learn the local language, smoke heavily, hike to remote tribes and take every form of transportation imaginable. They travel alone rather than in the young flocks. They meet up with each other and follow the trail together for a few days at a time, only to depart and meet up with someone new.

There are the couples who travel together, only to return home to discover they have nothing in common. Some get married and continue to travel for life, putting off children for as long as they can. There are people that meet up and travel together in a singles lifestyle that encourages men and women to join together to travel as friends. I have been blessed to meet both men and women that I consider brothers and sisters. Our will to be with others is not sexual; it is simply the quest for companionship and someone to share our experiences with. This is hard to explain to people who have not traveled this way. This is not a Vegas or Cancun experience. It’s something on a higher level.

We leave behind preconceptions about who we are and what others appear to be. I could be a poor backpacker living on my last dime, or an executive at a top agency and it wouldn’t make much of a difference to those around me. We are who we are and the sum off all of our experiences.

This story is not finished, nor do I think it ever will be. There are always going to be people that come in go in our lives. Travellers will continue to wander the globe, sharing information and telling tales. It is during those brief moments in our lives where our lives connect with one another that time seems to stop.

Posted by kraabel at May 23, 2006 1:21 PM

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