Got out of bed pissy and cold this morning. Yeah, cold in Bali. How, you ask? Well, when I went to sleep, the air conditioning was set at a nice comfortable 26 C (79 F). I woke up at 3AM seriously chilled and staggered out of bed to check the temperature. 20 C (68 F)! And the remote control for the air conditioner was missing! What the hell? I huddled under the scrap of a blanket I was given at check-in and seethed (which was actually a survival strategy, using my anger to keep me warm.) I found the remote in the morning. One of my roommate had taken it with him to bed! Why you inconsiderate little son-of-… I let him know that I was not pleased, but he didn’t speak English so my withering sarcasm fell on oblivious ears. Sigh. Gotta love hostel life.
Still, I am in Bali, the air conditioning works (all too well) and the shower is hot. Things could be much worse. And as of today, I am six months into my travels. After eighteen countries, twenty seven hostels and more beers than I can count, I have been reflecting on just what this means. Is my travel glass half full or half empty? Have I learned anything deeper than that “ciao” means both hello and goodbye in Italian? Well, Barcelona and travel safety springs to mind, but more than that, maybe I have learned a bit about myself. For instance, at the beginning, I was a touch concerned about being alone for the next year. I may not be the most social of people, but the idea of not talking to anyone for weeks at a time didn’t thrill me either. Well, I don’t worry about that so much anymore. I have met a lot of cool, fun and interesting people along the way, some of whom I am fortunate enough to count as new friends. And considering my (admittedly deserved) reputation to be somewhat prickly, that surprises me as much as anyone. Travel does tend to simplify things in that regard though. You can pretty much always count on “where are you from, where have you been, and where are you going?” to get a conversation started. Sometimes it just stops there, which is fine. But other times, you can get deeper and find common interests or experiences, and then it isn’t so much about travel anymore. It actually reminds me of kids and the way they can strike up friendships so quickly and effortlessly on the playground. I always marveled at that. Don’t they know that that relationship is probably only going to last for an hour or so? Why waste the time and effort on something that will likely end in tears and a scraped knee? Well, I am beginning to understand why. That time together may be fleeting, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And while I know that true friendships take time and effort to grow, they have to start somewhere. You just have to be open to the possibilities. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone all soft and squishy and I don’t believe that everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten. But being more open to new people and new situations? Yeah, that’s something I can take away from this trip.
Of course, the inherent irony of friendships forged in the crucible of travel is that the very thing that brought you together is most likely going to separate you. There have been a lot of goodbyes in the last six months and I still haven’t gotten used to them. I hope that we will meet again, but even if we don’t, I take comfort in the fact that such great people are out there in the world, making it a warmer and better place. No doubt, the stamps in my passport are cool, but far more important than the places I have been are the people I have met along the way. And I suppose you could look at that as being true for life in general. So, alone in Bali (for the moment), I raise my half full glass of cold Bintang to all my friends, both old and new. I am a lucky man and today, my thoughts are with you. Ciao!
Photo at the top is from Sharli’s house in Dublin. I thought it summed things up pretty well. Thanks Sharli!