My favourite things about travel are landscapes, food, and people. Landscapes are better shown in pictures rather than in words, but food and people, now those I can talk about forever. I decided to go with my Top 6 Food-Related Travel Memories first, so here you have my Top 3 People-Related Travel Memories. Only a ‘top three’ because I’m not a people person and usually just get anxious when people talk to me. On occasion, I am known to be charming enough for at least a few minutes, and people actually enjoy my company. Or so I hear.
(Tech note: Some links lead to my travel journal; don’t be confused if you’re suddenly on a completely different-looking site.)
Berlin, Germany → Half a day after I’d dropped off the boyfriend at TXL, I myself was on the way to SXF airport to get to Ghana. My father was going to drop me off, so I had to be there when his schedule permitted, not mine. That meant that, instead of the one hour I should’ve been there pre-departure, I arrived at the airport two hours early—only to find a big fat ‘delayed’ on the notice board. And no mention of how long the flight would be delayed, of course, because that would just be too convenient for the whole planeful of people, and we can’t have that… I won’t even make you guess how long I sat there, I’ll just tell you: It was four hours. Four hours of delay, that is, in addition to the two I had already sat there before the planned take-off time. Six hours, ladies and gentlemen, at one of the most boring airports I’ve ever been at. (This is why I hugely prefer TXL and am certainly not unhappy they’re screwing up BER so much. Insert evil laugh here.) But, and this is where the ‘people’ part comes in, this guy and I got talking when he saw the Lisbon travel guide I was reading. It turned out we were both (supposed to be) on the same flight, he because he was moving to Portugal for a year abroad, and I because I had a half-day layover there. Having someone there to chat with certainly didn’t make time pass any more quickly, but it was nice not having to worry about luggage when one of us needed the loo, or about losing the table we’d snatched when one of us wanted a drink. Impromptu airport buddies high-five!
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania → Ah, the airport hotel that I checked into for fifty bucks just to spend a few hours… It all started when I got sick in Tanzania and left my overlanding tour early. Since the truck had to move on early in the morning after we’d just gotten off the ferry from Zanzibar, and my flight wasn’t until four in the morning, I had half a day to kill, and spending half a day in Dar es Salaam by yourself is not the best idea, especially as a woman. So my wonderful group leader and driver arranged a taxi to the airport hotel for me, where I got to relax, take a long (if cold) shower, and even use the internet. After all, I wasn’t going to let those $50 go to waste, was I? At some point, I realised I hadn’t eaten all day, and although I was sick, I knew I had to eat something, otherwise I’d probably collapse before I even got home. So off to the hotel ‘restaurant’, which really was just a few tables and chairs in front of a counter. To this day, I have no idea where the meals came from, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with chips (or fries, for the Americans among you). At some point while I was eating, a guy sat down at the table in front of me. The woman who’d taken my order had disappeared, also while I was eating, so when I was done, I wasn’t sure what to do. I swallowed my anxieties for a second and asked the guy if he knew how we’d be paying for the food, at the reception or right there in the restaurant. He didn’t know, so I had to sit and wait for the waitress to reappear, and that’s when we got talking. He had just come from a safari in Kenya and was on his way to Zanzibar, so we talked about how great I thought Zanzibar was and about how he had taken an entire year off from work just to travel. In the end, except for the half hour or so that I took to skype with my mum, we spent the entire evening chatting away, showing each other photos and all that fancy stuff travellers do on the road. And once we went to our respective rooms, I only had two hours to kill until my taxi would arrive. That whole thing went a long way in making me more comfortable all by myself in a strange city.
Munich—Berlin, Germany → For some reason, most of the best people-memories seem to have occurred at airports or train stations. Or on trains, to be more precise. I was on my way back from Italy for this one. The train journey from Berlin to Venice had been boring as hell, and the journey from Venice to Munich even more so, and I was definitely at the point were I regretted ever having gone by train. I dreaded the upcoming ten or so hours I’d have to spend in a sleeper seat (= uncomfortable) throughout the entire night (= boring). So much, in fact, that it took a lot for me to actually get on the train and not stay with my friend Book instead, who’d come to spend an hour with me between connections at Munich central station. In the end, I obviously left, but it wasn’t an easy choice. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. I had booked a sleeper seat rather than an actual bed, but for some reason, the carriage I was in was suddenly full of bunk beds. That was Nice Surprise Number 1. At first, I thought I might have the entire compartment to myself, a glorious, lock-able, six-people compartment; but I wasn’t so lucky. The two people that joined me, though, were super nice. They were two Chinese exchange students who were spending their year abroad in France and touring Germany in-between classes. (You gotta love Europe.) We talked for quite a bit, telling each other about our lives and our travels, before we even left the station, and we took photos of ourselves and each other. It was all a lot of fun. There was one more pick-up stop after Munich, and by the time we reached that, we were joined by another guy, a Nigerian, who—I kid you not—promptly tried to convert me to Christianity. Thanks to my recent Ghana experience, I wasn’t easily baffled, though, so I just ignored it and countered with Science!, mostly because, well, Science!, and because I was too tired to explain pantheism. Since we were just four people in the compartment, we had loads more space than usual, and the Chinese guy, along with the Nigerian, were forced to sleep in the upper bunks while the Chinese girl and I stole the lower ones. That’s when the religion debate started, and while the Nigerian was babbling away about the Bible and exactly which circle of hell I would end up in, the Chinese girl and I were just looking at each other, trying very hard not to laugh. It was fantastic. And despite the fact that I’m usually nervous as hell when other people are around, I was actually comfortable enough around these guys to sleep for hours, effectively shortening the ten-hour journey to just three or four hours. We exchanged email addresses, but even though I don’t think we’ll stay in contact, I loved the journey. More than anything, I love how international our little compartment was. When I walked the length of the train the next morning to figure out why we’d stopped randomly for ages, Germans were everywhere, not an international soul in sight. So really, how likely is it that these tourists would just end up in the same compartment as me?
Cape Coast, Ghana → This happened on the sixth day of my Ghana trip, when the boyfriend, our friend G. and I were visiting Cape Coast Castle. I’m not a big tour person, so whenever there’s a tour in a historically important place, my brain tends to shut down. It sucks, but I’m not an auditory learner. (Give me something to read instead and I’m a-okay.) The same thing happened in Cape Coast, and I ended up vaguely following the group while taking photos of anything and everything that caught my eye. At the end of the tour, the boyfriend and G. wanted to see the museum inside the castle, so I stayed outside to take a video of the waves crashing against the rocks below. The boys took a while, so once done with the video, I sat down and waited. Now, one of the things you need to know about Ghana (and Tanzania, and Italy, and probably a whole bunch of other places in the world) is that street vendors of all kinds are obnoxious. I mean it. Three days before this, we were very nearly harassed outside Elmina Castle by bracelet vendors who wanted to know our names just so they could write them on bracelets and then guilt us into buying them because they couldn’t well sell bracelets with our names on them to anyone else, could they? That’s the strategy a lot of vendors use, and it’s annoying as hell. After that first encounter, I refused to tell anyone my name who asked me on the street. And so I was suspicious of the guy that walked up to me in Cape Coast Castle while I was waiting. He asked my name, and after asking him why he wanted to know it (‘just because!’), I told him. He seemed nice, and I figured I could get rid of him if he turned out to be a street vendor, after all. But he wasn’t; he was a fellow traveller, from some other part of Ghana, and he was taking the tour. He’d just come to talk to me because he wanted to pay me a compliment. No details for you, but it was a very nice compliment that nobody had ever given me before. Afterwards, he went back to his group, and I spent the rest of the day with a smile on my face.
If, in travel, food sustains our bodies, surely people sustain our souls.