Traveling alone is hard sometimes… I mean, I’m fine by myself, but occasionally, when you have a down moment or down stretch, it’s hard not to have someone there to break you out of your funk. That fact, plus layer on top of everything the fact that I’m an introvert (by the actual definition of introversion… clearly I’m not afraid of new people or situations), so sometimes it takes a bit (or a lot) of effort to get warmed up to go out and meet some new folks. I’m actually very envious of those natural socializer types… the guys who can just go into a room, talk with everybody and come out with everybody loving them while making it seem effortless (looking at you Shayne Fitz-Coy, Matt Daniel, Patrick Harrelson and Brian Harrelson – maybe you guys don’t feel it’s effortless, but it at least comes across that way). Most of the time (hey… there are plenty of times that I just want to be by myself… but aside from those times), when I’m not feelin’ it, I just tell myself to suck it up and do it… because a) being uncomfortable is part of the growth process, b) how else are you going to meet new people, and c) sometimes even a little bit of good conversation opens doors in unexpected ways.
Case in Point #1. Lagos, Portugal. My first surfing lesson. So, most people that come to Lagos to learn to surf come for a week or two and stay in a “surf house”, which is basically a hostel run by the company providing the lessons (I chose to stay at a much cheaper hostel and just sign up for two lessons). The morning I show up for my first surfing lesson it immediately becomes clear that everybody already knows each other. We’ve got a 40 minute or so drive out to the coast before the lesson starts… so I make a bit of small talk, but most everyone is wrapped up in talking about what so and so did last night or the other day (typical stuff for people together 24 hours a day for a week or so), and I’m clearly the outsider. That’s alright… I keep at it, and everybody is friendly… but no real connection anywhere. I’ve described my surfing lesson experience in general in anotherpost, so need to rehash it too much, but the only thing to really note is that I’m in one of four cars of people… so there’s more folks there than just my car (about 25 or so including all of the instructors).
Surfing is actually pretty social activity, because when you’re all sitting in the water waiting for waves you have plenty of time to chat… and then you all have the common bonding experience of trying to learn to surf. So more idle chit chat, but again, nothing of substance right away… At some point I find myself out waiting for waves (in the “line-up” if you will…for all you surfing linguistics students) with one other guy, who, from what I’ve seen already, is a pretty good surfer. We get to talking, his name is Griff, and right away we have some good report. We have fun bullshitting for the rest of the day. Turns out Griff works for the surfing company, but as a driver (airport and supply runs type of thing), one perk of which is getting a free ride to the beach when he doesn’t have anything scheduled.
Fast forward three days. When I showed up to Lagos I got myself into a hostel and booked three nights (I was there two weeks, but didn’t want to stay at that place the whole time if I didn’t like it… so was giving it a trial run). I had finished my two surfing lessons and took a day to decide if I wanted to stay in Lagos or not (maybe move down closer to the beach, give up on surfing on account of repeated face-plants… that kind of thing). I made up my mind to stay (while out eating lunch), but when I walked back to my hostel the desk guy said that he was sorry, but he had sold out all of the beds for the following night and I had to leave the next morning. Hmm… okay, maybe re-think staying in Lagos? But I had one more night, so I started my planning process by promptly brought a motion to the floor of my mind to adjourn thinking about where I was going to stay until tomorrow… motion passed… unanimously. The next morning I wake up, pack my shit, leave my bag at the front desk and walk outside to go get in my car and drive to the beach towns along the west coast to see what kind of accommodation they possess. I don’t walk but one block when I pass an open garage door, where Griff and another guy are loading some furniture into the back of a van. I stop, offer to help (declined, as whatever they were moving was the last thing to be moved… thank you impeccable timing) and start bullshitting with Griff and the other guy (Kevin). Kevin has to run (presumably to deliver whatever is now in the back of the van) and Griff and I just continue having a conversation. What I’m doing right this moment comes up as a topic and I explain my situation. Griff asks how long I want to stay (9 days), noting that he lives in the building where we’re standing, another person just left so there’s an open room and that Kevin (the guy I just met) owns the place. Griff calls up Kevin, explains the situation, Kevin says cool (as he’d already met me) quotes a price (a very good deal) and just like that… within 20 minutes of leaving the hostel, I’ve got a new place to stay (my own room, in a former hospital building… seriously, the place looked like the fight club house… for the same price as I was paying for a bed in a hostel). And it turned out that the house, and the people that lived there, were my favorite things about Lagos. So, if I hadn’t made the effort out in the water to talk to new people… none of that would have happened.
Case in Point #2. I’m on a flight to Amman, Jordan… yes, you read that correctly… Amman, Jordan. Maybe not weird for some people (you know… Jordanians, other people from countries around here that transit through Amman… I’m sure it’s not strange for them), but it was a little surreal for me. I was in Santiago de Compostela (Spain), and, for various reasons, I decided I wanted to go to Egypt, and I had bought a ticket from Santiago to Sharm El Sheikh on a flight that was leaving in two days. When I bought the ticket, I did notice I was transiting in Amman, but the way the flights were set up, I would leave Santiago around midday, fly to Madrid with a nine hour layover there, then take the red-eye flight to Amman (it’s about 5 hours), and then arrive in Sharm around midday the following day. Fine with me… gives me some time to get to an outdoors store in Madrid and stock up on a couple of things. However, when I check in for my flights in Santiago and receive my boarding passes, I notice (after walking away from the check-in desk mind you) that the flight for Amman is now leaving Madrid two hours after I land there, and arriving in Amman at 10:30 PM… the flight to Sharm from Amman is still at noon the next day. I also commit one very grave travel error here… I have checked my bag with virtually everything in it (minus some electronics for the flight)… so now I have no other clothes, no contact lenses, no toothbrush, no deodorant… nothing (yes, it was stupid, but I thought I’d be picking my bag up in Madrid since it was a short domestic flight and then I’d be heading for the international terminal 9 hours later). Fuck me I think… I’m sleeping in the Amman airport overnight… with no chance to even take out my contacts.
On an aside, flying to the middle east from Spain was quite interesting from a language perspective, a mix of three languages everywhere… Arabic (for obvious reasons), with the main back-up of English (there’s a lot of English spoken in Arabic countries) and Spanish (because we were on a flight from Madrid). From my observations, it seemed that the flight attendants either spoke fluent arabic or spanish, but not both (all spoke passable to fluent english), so when they did their rounds, a fluent spanish speaker was always paired with a fluent arabic speaker. As I look more Spanish than Arabic (apparently)… I was continually addressed in Spanish (where, generally, I’m comfortable with for the basics). During the first drink service, I make an effort to start chatting with the flight attendant serving me, but I’m finding it really difficult to understand her Spanish for some reason, so I ask her if she speaks english. She does and asks me where I’m from… to which I respond by telling her to guess… and she goes with France (I had been getting French a lot from Europeans for some reason). We continue conversing in English… and I find out she’s Romanian, but lives in Amman (I then tease her by telling her it’s no wonder I couldn’t understand her Spanish due to her thick Romanian accent… and then I ask if she’s a vampire). She keeps on going with her drink service, but comes around to chat a few times (and I speak with her once in the back while in line for bathroom). She’s genuinely interested in what an American is doing on a flight from Madrid to Amman. I explain, and after a bit ask her about what I should see in Amman tonight, a hotel recommendation and what a taxi should cost… just in case I can’t spend the night in the airport.
The flight lands in Amman and I get off the plane trying to figure out what to do… of course I immediately have to go through customs (luckily US citizens can get a visa upon arrival for 15 Jordanian Dinar… and an interesting note for you foreign exchange lovers, one US Dollar buys about 0.7 Dinars… as in 70 cents… and you just thought it was the pound and euro that had the US Dollar beat). I find the baggage claim area to ask the airline if I have to get my bag, or if they will hold it and put it on the plane for Egypt tomorrow (secretly hoping I have to pick it up to have something for the evening)… and they assure me they’ll take good care of it and I’ll see it in Sharm El Sheikh tomorrow (d’oh). I leave the baggage claim area and am instantaneously outside the airport. Although I do have a boarding pass for my flight tomorrow, for some reason I think it’s a bad idea to try and go back in at 11:30 PM for a flight at 12:30 PM tomorrow…? I turn around to head back in the building to use the restroom and, in a lovely coincidence, run right into the Romanian flight attendant. Long story short again… we split a taxi to her place, she invites me in to crash on her couch for the evening, feeds me, let’s me clean up (and even has an extra pair of contact lens holders and some solution) and we have a fantastic evening enjoying each others company. To boot she even fed me breakfast and helped me to arrange a taxi back to the airport. And none of it would have happened had I not made an effort to talk to her.
So… lesson learned (although, believe me, I have to learn this over and over again): Talk to people… even if you don’t feel like it… because some of them are interesting and you will like them, and maybe good things might happen in the future as a result.