I have become them.
I am them.
I am part of it.
I am it.
I am now part of that loosely connected network of travelers with their entire lives stuffed in backpacks, roaming the world and bumping into each other in new wondrous places, in different countries and cities, across new oceans, mountains and deserts. We share phenomenal moments and fun here and there then pack up and part ways after days but sometimes weeks.
Our conversations are almost entirely about where we’ve been and where were going, and casually share itineraries sometimes with the aim to meet again elsewhere. E-mail, Facebook and other travel and social networks keep us connected.
After three months of travel it occurred to me today that I had unwittingly joined this global network of nomads. I was having breakfast in The Rock, a restaurant on Santa Cruz island in the Galapagos when a couple from London, England, entered. I looked at them and thought they looked familiar. They sat at the table next to mine and the woman immediately made the statement they had seen me several weeks earlier in Ecuador‘s capital city, Quito. I confirmed that indeed that was the case. We chatted about our travels past and future. Their itinerary was very similar to mine. They had left Quito, traveled to Guayaquil then the Galapagos and now were in route to Peru and onward south to other countries in South America.
During breaks in our conversation I looked out the large windows of the restaurant – a favorite hangout for foreigners on their way to someplace else – and in a span of less than an hour recognized several other familiar faces. These were individuals I had seen and interacted with in other parts of Ecuador and Colombia.
We were all obviously on the same track, weighted down with backpacks. A nomadic network of travelers saying hello, saying goodbye, and hello again.
In Cuenca, Ecuador, my current location, this network was evident as I exited La Cigale restaurant. A man who held the door for me asked if I had been in the Galapagos about two or three weeks ago. I responded in the affirmative and he said he had seen me on the island. A few more steps through Cuenca’s colonial center and across the street I saw three people I had met two months earlier in Taganga, a fishing village in Colombia. We had sat on the beach there having beers and watching a spectacular sunset. These sort of encounters have been repeated over and over again in just these short three months. Imagine how many people I will have met on the road and new experiences shared over three years of travel?
One such person is Paul Ford of Austin, Texas. I met cool Texas dude Paul in Cartagena, Colombia, where we chilled, discussed travel plans, partied and got drunk together (celebrating the birthday of another person – Luis – whom I had previously met in Barranquilla, Colombia). Paul and I had some good and crazy times in our travels together and apart.
I left Paul in Cartagena after that crazy night of celebrating Luis’ birthday and didn’t know if I’d see him again. But this is the network and somehow it works to bring travelers together. He sent me an e-mail on the couchsurfing Web site. He said he was in Cuenca, which I had already decided would be my next destination once I left the Galapagos and returned to the mainland.
Now, Paul has sort of become my Cuenca sidekick. We have spent countless hours checking out the city, hiking in Cajas National Park, and meeting new people in the nomadic network. Through Paul I have met others and introduced him to others. And so the network goes and grows. We meet, we greet, we travel and we meet again. Long term travel has created this global network of friends, all with people, places and many things in common. It’s been simply fantastic.
The nomadic network works. For the most part, it consists of some of the most open-minded, coolest, most resourceful and resilient people on the planet. Traveling for months or years with everything you own in a backpack is not easy or glamorous. Getting from one place to another takes an awful lot of logistics, energy and will to continue. Most of us are traveling on a budget and sometimes end up sleeping in some scary places. When I’m not sleeping on somebody’s couch through couchsurfing, I am in a hostel or hotel or camping. Some hostels, well, let’s just say you get what you pay for. In Cuenca, after leaving my CS hosts’ swanky digs about 45 minutes by bus outside the city, I landed in a smelly, moldy hostel that lacked housekeeping. The house maid, I was told, simply didn’t show up for work. Sometimes you do what you have to do to stay within your budget. And sometimes because you’ve penny-pinched so much you can afford to splurge a bit, if nothing else, for your own health, both physical and mental.
My smelly hostel cost $10 a night. My current digs, The Victoria Hotel, costs $40 a night, and it’s worth every penny. It has afforded me a good night’s rest, a clean bathroom, a hot shower, and a place to take care of other important business to carry on traveling.
I love my nomadic network. When I leave Cuenca I will probably see Paul and other travelers in some other country, sharing new experiences with new people, largely locals, which also is fantastic. The network is what makes the journey fun and rewarding. It’s about people. It’s about some of the coolest people. It’s me.