Why do we travel? To see places, to know others or to know ourselves? In Part 3 of this ongoing AWT diary, Randi reunites with the very first friend she made in her vagabonding life.
If I believed in such things, I would say fate brought the two of us together. In my first week traveling I stayed in the same hostel as Cecilia in Cozumel, Mexico but didn’t speak to her or even see her. We met a week later in a hostel in Playa del Carmen, where I learned that she was on a two-month break from university and seeking refuge from the dreary Swedish winter.
It was in the middle of a dirty and raucous bar a few nights later, over a discussion about how to have safe sex during a threesome, that I first started to bond with Cecilia. To be honest, I don’t even know how we ended up discussing such a technical topic considering our surroundings: music blaring, multi-colored neon lights flashing, and people at all degrees of intoxication surrounding us. Maybe it was the rum-spiked drinks, the sweltering heat or the fact that I was just starting a new life on the road, or maybe it was her ever-present smile, but that night there were no walls.
I’ve learned that travel tends to make us connect with people faster and deeper than we normally would. In the week I spent in Playa with Cecilia, swimming in the turquoise sea and lazing on the beach by day and drinking in the bars by night, our conversations grew more personal. I discovered that although she grew up in Sweden and I in Texas, we had a lot in common. We shared a similar outlook on life, we were both recovering from the unhealed wounds of past relationships, both had our share of battles with body image issues and both shared a love for travel and the need to explore.
The week came to an end. Cecilia was heading 12 hours away to the Chiapas region of Mexico. Unwilling to part ways, and with the luxury of time, my travel partner Michael and I boarded an overnight bus with her to explore a part of Mexico we had only heard about days earlier. Our first stop was Palenque, where we explored Ancient Mayan ruins in the middle of a sweltering jungle filled with screaming monkeys, snakes and god knows what else. We traveled further into the region to San Cristobal de las Casas and devoured the sights of the tiny and colorful winding streets, the local craft and farmers markets and views of the surrounding area. We spent hours talking about life, men, feminism, philosophy and our hopes and dreams over coffee at co-operative cafés that supported the Zapatista movement.
When the time came for us to finally go our separate ways I felt like I had known Cecilia for years rather than a few weeks. I knew we would keep in touch and see each other again, so our parting words were hasta pronto—“see you soon”—rather than goodbye. I kept in touch with Cecilia online for a year and a half, exchanging advice, sharing our feelings, and crying on her virtual shoulder.
A few weeks ago we reunited in her part of the world, in Copenhagen, Denmark. We met in a dark, smoky bar that’s been around since 1917. With its small wooden tables, red baroque-style wallpaper and old paintings, it was like stepping into another era.
Cecilia and I effortlessly picked back up where we left off. We talked and drank until 6:30 in the morning, parting ways just as the sun was coming up. I boarded the train back to Malmo, Sweden, where I was staying, with a head full of new memories and the happiness that comes from reconnecting with an old friend.
While traveling, I’m constantly bombarded with the unfamiliar. I’m challenged by the different people I meet and forced to think about my experiences, rather than just living a daily routine. I’ve founds some peace with myself and my own struggles, and hope and happiness along the way. Thanks to friendships like the one I developed with Cecilia, I’ve become a truer, more open version of myself.
Photo courtesy: Randi Delano, “Reunion on the Road”