I never really believed I’d make friends while traveling. Sure, it’s easy to meet people in hostels, and maybe you go to some attraction together in the day or share some beers at night. But I always thought that these would just be friends of circumstance, only knowing each other for 1-2 days at a time, and that with my shy, nerdy personality, I wouldn’t find anyone I’d want to spend more time with anyway. In general, I don’t often find people I really ‘click’ with, and I thought traveling would be no different, if not worse.
This has been true, for the most part. Most people I meet in hostels have other plans, are on other trajectories, and we happen to meet at this one point in time before going our separate ways. And others are often nice people who I know immediately I will not be friends with – differences in personality or travel style give little ground for shared interests. But I’ve met a few people, a select few, whose company I genuinely enjoy, and our schedules aligned to travel together for several days at a time. What a welcome surprise it’s been.
But, unless I really get lucky, we have to part ways sooner or later. We are all solo travelers underneath it all, and retain our ability to choose our own itinerary, however many days or months that spans. So parting ways is inevitable, and has been more difficult than I anticipated, especially given my low expectations about finding friends in the first place.
But the journey ahead awaits, it calls to me through maps of roads that crisscross countries or islands that are just colored green on the map. So I put my hat back on, lace up my shoes, swing my backpack on my back, and go on. To Elaine, to Sarah, to Martin, thank you for the company, the laughs, the moments of comfortable silence. Good luck on your journey, and I hope our paths cross again someday.
I’ve been thinking recently of one of my favorite passages, by Rainer Maria Rilke. My university had a set of illustrations for this passage, and I’d often pass through the area they were hung. I feel like I can relate to more of the lines now, or some lines have taken on new meaning, thinking of the road behind me and the journey still to come. On this trip, where each hello is the beginning of a goodbye, unexpected meetings and partings one had long seen coming are wrapped into one. I hope you find this passage as beautiful as I do.
For the sake of a single verse, one must see many cities, men, and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents whom one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and did not grasp it (it was a joy for someone else); to childhood illnesses that so strangely begin with such a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars—and it is not yet enough if one may think of all this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again.
For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not till they have turned to blood within us, to glance, and gesture, nameless, and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves—not till then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1910.