After making the decision to continue the journey through Central America as a lone soldier, EVERYONE had something to say. From back home, of course.
“Well, what are you gonna do by yourself,”
“Why would you go alone; you’ll die,”
“But…you won’t know anyone …”
I never particularly worried about being dolo; I’m an only child and quite comfortable with my own company. Although I’m often alone, I’m rarely lonely. This THROWS people all the way off. I pride myself in being able to rely entirely on myself, however a major goal for this backpacking trip was to prove to myself that I could actually survive on my own. I am now 25 and have lived at home since I graduated (at 21). I’m fortunate in that I have some dope parents, but let’s face it…I got to get out of there! Must. Get. A. Job. (Eventually).
ANYWAY, back to our regularly paid programming.
Being truly alone on this trip was a bust. The only real times I was by my sole self were when I flew to Mexico, a few stoic hours in Nicaragua and one full day in Panama. Literal LOL. I had been on the road from October to May and minus a whole two days, I wasn’t alone. When I started my work exchange in Mexico, I didn’t know what to expect at all, socially. I definitely didn’t expect guests at the hostel to ask me if I could join them on day trips to little mountainside villages and even skip out on my duties entirely, and simply roll with them for the remainder of their trip! Being from Jersey, we don’t typically pick up stragglers. That’s that crazy sh*t we just don’t deal with. So initially, I laughed these people off and internally thought, “okay, y’all crazy.”It didn’t take too long to realize that this was the backpacker way –trust from this singular group was damn near overwhelming.
Then I got to my second work exchange in Chiapas and the exact aforementioned situation occurred countless more times. I now came to expect these invitations. It felt reassuring that so many people started trips on their own mainly because they knew they’d be meeting some of the dopest people along the way. Even Ella, my favorite Aussie whom I met and slightly forced to work exchange with me in Oaxaca, came to visit me over Christmas in Chiapas, although she had zero plans to head that far in to the rolling mountains of Mexico!
I met my German lass, Anne, on my first day in Chiapas. By the second day we got to talking and by the third we had already decided we would be traveling friends, finish up our work exchange simultaneously, and travel together until Costa Rica (ended up being Nicaragua, but in total it was a little over a month together). THIS is just how it works. We had our bouts of arguments, silent treatments and the whole nine, but we worked through every issue we had. We communicated as clearly and as often as we could, bypassing cultural and language differences and coming to an understanding every single time. By traveling with others (my homies from home KNOW this is true if they’ve traveled with me) you not only learn about them, but you learn about yourself. Conflict resolution, patience, navigating cultural communication differences, and alladat! It retrospect, it was excellent traveling with Anne because although it was unforeseen when we planned our trips, we learned a lot from each other in how to better ourselves.
The only times I would get nervous about being solo were when I had to do a border crossing. Anything can happen at borders, my Spanish was just not good enough, and immigration officers took to giving me the eye when I gave them my excessively-stamped-pages-added-US-passport–they didn’t feel me OFTEN and usually went through my stuff. Every single pocket. Somehow, there would always be at least one person on the bus that was English speaking and we locked arms, doing the whole process together and essentially leaving each other once across. It was just the unspoken way. Thanks for your service, but I must get going.
Hostels are great places primarily for the meeting and greeting (as I’ve mentioned and you’re probably bored af of reading about). There is always one person, for example, that is trying to go to the same place you’re heading to the next day and if you bundle up enough courage to inquire, it can easily be one of the best decisions you make on your trip. This is how I ended up going to Semuc Champey and these righteous bat caves with three people I only met a day prior. I have zero photos of this part of the day, but entering a dark and creepy cave in the unguarded depths of Mayan Guatemala was a true highlight. With four others from the hostel, two Germans and one Canadian/Russian, we stripped to our bathing suits and bare feet behind a Mayan tour-guide. We each held one single candle, put black faceprint from the actual cave walls on our faces like Apocalytpo and swam through the darkened cave. Scared as hell that our little toes would scrape something freaky in the water — when actually, all that happened was consistent slamming into underwater boulders. We each emerged with massive bruises, but worth it! It felt like we were foraging in the Guatemala rainforest during the ancient Mayan civilization that once ruled so much land. If you’re a history lover at all, Semuc is a beauteous and untouched place of grandeur and wonderment.
I’m not so sure about other regions of the world, but at least on the Gringo Trail in Central America (Mexico City to Panama City– give or take) it is the most common thing in the world to meet someone in Mexico in October and see them again in January in Costa Rica on the sidewalk. Happened so often, I usually forgot where we initially met and just kept on keeping’ on. Or you know, thanks to Facebook and Instagram, you either meet up with people that went to your little ol high school in America or ACCIDENTALLY run into them while walking out of a hostel? Random, yet, not at all.
Then there’s my favorite; my tall Finnish drink of water, Oona. I was about to start writing in my journal on the one hour that I’d been totally by myself in Nicaragua when I looked up to see a strikingly tall Scandinavian woman walking to the bar; all hips and legs. I took note subconsciously, but decided to keep writing. About ten minutes later, she was walking directly to my table and asked if she could join me. Of course she can! Like Anne, we became instant friends and decided to stick together for quite some time. Meeting up later on in different countries because we couldn’t bear to be apart. We snuck into Envision and she even met my parents in Costa Rica 🙂
I was recommended to stay in Hostel Heike in Bocas del Toro, Panama by at least three different people, so clearly I stayed there. I’m the only person in a six-bed, AC dorm in room 5 when I hear someone trying to unlock the door from the outside (it was already open, hence the struggle). I opened the door to two girls smiling mightily at me. Long story short, the three of us became a nice little trio when two of us woke up with the dreaded bites. You know what bites I speak of. They invited me to go with them to Puerto Viejo via hitchhiking and staying in their tent; although we would be squished, we would be bed bug free. Bed bug bonding, if you will.
The absolute best aspect of meeting people along the way, is always having a couch to surf or pickup to ride when you end up in their home country 🙂
Meeting with a friend from high school because he’s a PILOT of an airline in the country you’re in? Whattttt?
Happening upon another friend from high school, in a random town in Costa Rica while simultaneously pondering, “wouldn’t it be funny if Sam Cohen were in this group of people right now…?” Then she walks out from behind someone in said group; whattttttt?!