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Posted by Tim on May 21, 2005
On Friendships

Even though it was almost three months ago now, I still clearly remember sitting at this same computer, in the common room of the St. Nicholas Hostel in Buenos Aires, back on March 5th. It was our second day in BA, the second day of our trip, and everything was all so new and different.

There were other people staying in the hostel too, of course, and some were also hanging out in the common room. There were six of them, watching television together, talking, laughing, having a good time. I felt like an outsider. It felt like they were all friends, good friends, like they had been traveling together for some time.

I didn't yet know that it always feels like that at first. I didn't yet know that each of them had probably felt like that only a day or two earlier. I didn't yet know that they'd only just met, or that in a few hours Jessica and I would be their friends, or that tomorrow some new arrival to the hostel might be the one to feel like an outsider. All I knew was that it felt like we were the only two people in the hostel who didn't belong.

We talked about it later that day, about how uncomfortable it made us both feel. Three of them were sitting around the computer when we came down from our room to go out for some dinner. We had decided to bite the bullet and try to talk to them.

"We'll ask them where they think we should go to get dinner," we'd said to one another, "and if they're dicks, then we'll just check out tomorrow and find a new hostel."

It was a couple named Paul and Caroline, and another girl named Caroline. And, of course, things turned out rather well.

A few days later, a new couple checked into the hostel. We were all sitting around the television, and I was struck by the memory of how intimidating everyone had appeared to me a few days earlier, how much I'd felt like an intruder into their private club. I realized it would feel the same to the newly-arrived couple.

And then an interesting thing happened. The new couple put their bags in their room, and then walked right over to us and introduced themselves, and we all started talking. Back in the world we left behind, you would ask someone you met where they lived or what they did for a living. Now you ask them where they've been and where they're going, how long they've been away and how much longer they'll be travelling. You ask them whether they know whether such-and-such is worth more than a day's visit, or you tell them that when they visit so-and-so to make sure they book their tour through the place you used. This is what small talk is now. And we're all so hungry for it, so eager for it, that it's absurdly easy to launch into a conversation with someone new.

And that's what the new couple did. They got the "outsider" feeling out of the way immediately, and moved straight into the "let's share a pint together while I tell you what not to miss in Peru" stage. It was a strategy that did not go unnoticed.

Every new place, it's the same feeling. "Everyone knows everyone else, we're the newcomers." It feels like the first day of school. But once you stick out your hand and introduce yourself, you discover that the question "So, how long have you been travelling?" will usually turn into a two-hour conversation. And strangers will suddenly turn into friends.

You become absurdly close to the people you meet, maybe because one thing you have in common with them is that everyone you care about is half a world away. You skip all the normal preambles to friendship, because their plane leaves in a day and you don't have time to mess around: you dive straight into unexpectedly strong friendships.

You miss them when they're gone. You are ecstatic if you happen to run into them again. And when you receive word that something absolutely heartbreaking has befallen one of them, you cry.

I remember when we were up at that cottage in El Bolsón, shivering in the cool evening air while Paul worked his magic on the barbecue. I remember overhearing something Caroline said to Jessica.

"It's funny, because you're always expecting that the things you'll remember from a trip like this will be the places that you see. But they aren't, are they? It's the people that you meet that you remember, isn't it?"

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May 21, 2005 at 9:16pm
aha i'm number one to post yeah love daddy
Sister Soldier (The Post Hog)
May 21, 2005 at 10:52pm
I guess the old saying is true "happiness is a journey not a destination." I'm so glad that you are learning new things, meeting new people, and enjoying yourselves in the process. The Aminals and I send lots and love/hugs/kisses… Take care and may the force be with you!
May 22, 2005 at 6:30am
China told me to let you get at least one # No. 1 post
May 22, 2005 at 4:53pm
#4. Geting better.
May 22, 2005 at 9:18pm
those are the things that i remember most of my travels. the people and the conversations… not so much the places…

i stayed in a hostel while on a school trip in high school. i think its the best way to travel now.

May 23, 2005 at 6:53am
I love that the hedgehogs and friends are getting dirty!
It is rather funny that the places you go (the action of seeing them) are really just the icing on the cake of the whole experience. It's more about connecting with the world rather than just seeing it. Fantastic.
May 23, 2005 at 10:11am
You provide such motivation!
June 8, 2005 at 8:27pm
And how right i was! Its always the people – you write it so beautifully.

Hope Peru is being as magical, challenging and unexpected for you lovely hedgehogs as it was for us.

Looking forward to August
Much love xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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