I’m going to be annoyingly pedantic and call myself a humanist. I consider human nature to be more of a mystery than distant galaxies, quantum mechanics, and why people ever thought rattails were a good idea. I’m constantly astounded by human actions and inactions, achievements and shortcomings; always wondering the motive behind it all; what developments took place to make a person who he or she is today. From my comprehensively inadequate observations I’ve learned four things: 1) Things are never what they seem. 2) People are the way they are for a reason. 3) The world is full of good people. 4) While the world is full of good people, people are also inherently, unbelievably complex. Any oversimplification applied to our nature would do a great disservice to our condition.
But in the end, little else matters in this life other than people. I’m not going to go too in depth at the risk of becoming tacky and cliché and gooey (not my style), but the truth is, a great life is one with great people in it, not one with fast cars, infinity pools, and the latest technology in wine storage (dirt cellars are the way to go, anyway). These things are cool, but they’re empty and meaningless.
The significance of good people in one’s life extends to travel and this fact cannot be overemphasized. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing. It’s whom you’re with and the characters you meet along the way. Your company has incredible sway over the quality of your trip: it has the ability to ruin your day, should you not be impervious to poisonous externalities such as someone else’s attitude or general negative outlook. I like to say that I’ve mastered the skill of controlling my own mood regardless of someone else’s gloomy disposition, but I’d be lying if I said traveling or hanging out with toxic people doesn’t suck. Then there’s the other side – you meet people who are nothing but friendly, funny, interesting, down-to-earth, and very often all of the above. People you connect with, people whom you thoroughly enjoy. This is conducive for the best of all travel phenomena: you meet some strangers and by the end of your short time together, you’re acting like you’ve all known each other for years. You have a place to stay in their home country and they have one in yours. You make an effort to meet up and catch up if you’re in their neighborhood or they’re in yours.
But the nature of these friendships is the goodbye and the hope that one day your paths may cross again, whether you mean them to or not. When you do part, walking down the street and smiling over special shared memories, sporadic contact on Facebook/email, and randomly bringing up hilarious inside jokes naturally ensue. The road forges these bonds, and it’s my favorite part about backpacking.
My last few days in Tobago were the absolute shit. This was namely due to the people I met: the Swedish divers, the British comedians, the Norwegian intellectuals, the sweet Danes, and the other Swedish guys who could effectively be categorized as ‘awesome’. We drank a lot together, we gambled together (I made a lot of money one night, lost it all the second), and we laughed together. God, I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. Everyone was completely amazing and kind and funny and levelheaded and memorable in their own way – meeting them was the highlight of the trip, to be sure. But the same thing happened that always happens. We went our separate ways. And now I’m left with nothing but a head full of memories that make me smile and a list of contacts scribbled on a crumbled piece of paper. Some simple scrawlings represent a world of possibility. Isn’t that the greatest?