Rapidly accelerated travel friendships

Just under a year ago, I left my job, my friends, and my costume collection in San Francisco to travel Latin America. I’ve learned more this past year than any year preceding it, and I’ve got a notebook full of observations of varying intelligibility (and a parasite named Charles) to show for it. I thought it might be time to share a few things. Here are some thoughts about the rapidly accelerated friendships I formed along the way with other travelers. Because people make travel. More to come.

Risaralda, Colombia — jokesters drinking big bowls of coffee on a coffee farm

It’s 5:45 am when my cellphone alarm goes off. I can hear Kelsey rustling around on her mosquito netted-mattress in the dark next to me.

“Sooo here’s Luna on the end of my bed” she laughs. The 3 farm dogs, who aren’t allowed in the bamboo house where we sleep, are always finding new ways to break in at night.

“I heard the dogs come in last night,” I say into my pillow. “I didn’t want to make them leave, that thunder was craaazy.”

We shuffle barefoot to the sink and brush our teeth next to each other. Luna watches us through the open door and wags her tail. This is our early morning routine, before the sunrise coffee, and sliding on our rubber boots to muck out the barn. Sometimes we catch each others’ eyes in the mirror and one of us starts sleepily giggling, remembering something funny that happened yesterday that the other wordlessly understands, and we giggle more. Which becomes giggling about giggling, and toothpaste foam falls out of our mouths, and we then giggle about that.

There is something gleeful and intimate between us that reminds me of a girlhood sleepover. We’ve known each other for 2 weeks.

Caught in the rain in Oaxaca, Mexico.

How did this happen? It’s a classic case of rapidly accelerated adventure partnerships. You meet someone on the side of a mountain, on a chicken bus vibrating with reggaeton, on a dilapidated dock while trying to crack open a coconut, and 3 hours into a nonstop hangout, you’re a default team. You may assume, after alarmingly little time has past, that you’ll be eating together, wandering together, running from 6 ft snakes together. You rather quickly come to share an intimacy and comfort, as if you’ve known the person for months or even years — not because you know everything about them, but because you’re committing to each other in an adventure partnership. It’s a unique category of friendship, an allegiance of surprising tenacity and existential urgency.

Your adventure partners may never learn about your fraught relationship with your ex, but you feel you know them oddly well, you care for and trust them — here, as they are in this moment. You’re silly when they’re silly and sad when they’re sad. Your shits are their shits. They will be there when you wake up in the morning to share a bleary-eyed silliness, to share delicious street empanadas, to lend you pants without asking questions, to bring you gatorade to nurse you through your mysterious gastrointestinal problems. Keep that up for 5 days, and you actually may have racked up more hours with this random person than with your childhood best friend or closest coworker in the last 5 months. It starts to feel durable.

But will these friendships last?, a friend back home asked. How real can a friendship shared over a matter of days or weeks really be? I obviously can’t know what these friendships will look like in 5 or 10 years. I don’t expect to be in super frequent contact with the majority of these quality humans, although I might expect to like all their instagram photos from now until our brains are replaced by computers.

There is one thing I do expect with irrational certainty. I expect to host these friends in my home 5 or 10 years from now when they come to my city. I expect to build them a blanket fort, feed them delicious pho, and take them to Pug Sunday or a sea shanty singalong on an actual pirate ship. We’ve learned how powerful it is to belong in a place in whatever small way. If and when they find themselves in San Francisco years in the future, we will find each other, and run off into the unrelenting fog. I want to offer my friends a way to belong where I live, to belong on the pirate ship. I want that to always be available to them, anywhere I can offer it.

But that’s only the tip of the emotional iceberg. There’s something else to our bond that’s more powerful and difficult to express. Part of the bond I feel with many of these friends is the search we share. I can sense it even when it goes unexpressed. Perhaps it is a hunger for purpose — more of it, a different color of it. Perhaps it’s a need for renewal — from elements of our own cultures, our own lives, that stopped making sense at some point. We wanted to be rattled, so we can figure out what’s really inside our hearts. We wanted to learn how to dance salsa. We wanted to be thrown into different ways of seeing the world, run our fingers through the texture of things and try to understand — the ravages of narco greed, the ravages of American capitalism, the laughter of a city market, the peace of grandmothers in colorful plastic chairs watching children kick soccer balls under a street lamp.

Badass Alaskan adventurer leads me to Lake Llacas, Huaraz Peru

We want to bite all the fruits. We want time to bite the fruits and think about what are we going to do with our brains and hands? What do we do with all of the gifts that life has given us, that we’re constantly encouraged to cash in for button-up shirts? What can we give? How do we not slowly become calcified in our own preoccupations with button-up shirts? How do we live in the world and not be complicit in systems that make life worse for people on the other side of it — or on the other side of the street? Should we ditch button-up shirts altogether and become a bunch of shirtless, shoeless kooky kids on a communal farm where we make enormous pots of ratatouille? What do we want from love? What is the saltiest cheese there is? How many people can you fit in a jeep?

These are terrifying, outrageous, and vulnerable questions to ask. It makes all the difference to me to see the brave and honest ways in which my friends are addressing them. I want to be there for these humans if they ever need something, to offer them whatever kind of refuge or silliness or conversation they need.

I sometimes think of specific traveler friends when I’m feeling scared or uncertain — What would Thomas do if he shit his pants in the Colombian jungle? What would Erin do, trying to explain how America elected Trump to a group of frightened Chileans? What would Lau do, utterly alone in a new city, but with access to a guitar and a cold pizza? The world we live in is scarier and more confusing than ever. It brings me courage to feel we are continuing our search, separately, but in some kind of solidarity.

Cheers, my friends. I’m braver because of you.

Too few days with too crazy of a Swiss kid in Caye Caulker, Belize