Friday, 13 January 2012
Friends like these
‘So, you know when we all staggered off to our rooms last night’ I sheepishly explained, head pounding, guts gurgling, and the black dog nipping at my heels, ‘well, two hours later I found myself standing in the closet, with the door closed behind me, absolutely convinced it was the bathroom’.
Our two new Canadian friends raised their eyebrows, as if to say ‘go on’.
‘Well, I eventually figured out that we didn’t have a bathroom in our room’ I continued, ‘and had to do that mental rolodex thing where you try to remember exactly where you are, and by extension where the shared bathroom is. Except the mechanism of the rolodex was jammed by booze, so it took a bit longer than normal’.
‘Ian, does this story end with you pissing in the wardrobe?’ they politely enquired.
‘Actually, no, it doesn’t, not this time. I did however end up walking the length of the building in my boxer shorts. I think I may have startled a young lady on the return trip’.
And so began the painful reconstruction of the previous night’s events that had started with a chance meeting on the way to La Paz, and ended with four new friends in their early thirties attempting to nonchalantly swagger out of a bar filled with a young party crowd. It was only midnight. We had peaked early. And we were done for. And, of course, the swagger we had aimed for on our exit, one that said ‘we’ve seen all this before kids, you have fun’, would have in reality been perceived, quite accurately, as ‘we’re drunk older people, please clear a path or we’ll vomit on your shoes’.
It was the start of a friendship that I hope will endure, and has made me reflect on the nature of travelling friendships. They’re funny things, laced with an unspoken set of rules, and riven with neuroses, paranoia and doubt. It is, for example, a truism that the vast majority of the travelling community is friendly, much more so than one would experience in normal day to day life. Yet it is also true that, as in day to day life, not everyone will like everyone, despite the best efforts of those involved. It is no real surprise therefore that, despite the different context, solo travellers tend to fraternise more with other solo travellers and that couples tend to attract other couples.
So with this in mind it is interesting to observe the friendship ritual that plays out between travellers. It is not dissimilar to the ritual one would observe when two singletons tentatively poke their toes into the world of dating. There is an initial attraction, a gut feeling that you’d like to spend more time together, before one party takes the plunge and asks the other out – ‘we could share a taxi if you like, I mean if you don’t already have plans, it’s cool either way’. Then that second of nervous waiting whilst the other party runs a rapid risk-reward calculation – are they psychos? Yes/ No? Will they be clingy? Yes/No? Is this too much too soon? Yes/No? Will I wake up in a bathtub minus a kidney? Yes/No? More often than not they will reply in the affirmative – ‘sure, that sounds great, and it’ll be cheaper’. It’s after this ice has been broken that the real cat and mouse game begins, and sooner or later someone will pop the big ‘fancy coming back to mine for a coffee’ question, namely ‘so, where are you staying?’ The enquirer is at his most vulnerable at this stage for theirs is a question imbued with a multitude of implicit implications – if we’re in the same place we can hang out more, I’d like to hang out more, that’s because I like you, please like me back. And so the game continues, for hours if you’re lucky, for days if you’re of a neurotic personality. And then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, something clicks for both parties, and you’re friends, and that’s it.
There aren’t any more awkward questions, or nervous silences, or things that you feel you can’t share. Because you’re friends, and friends will support each other, without question, without delay and without judgement. You realise that the game was worth it, and that your life and their life has become richer for it. And you reflect on the phrase that ‘it is better to travel in hope rather than expectation’ and realise that surely the thing one must hope for most when they travel is friendship.
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