A different region, a different type of travelers. Most of my travel in recent years has been along well worn routes in Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. The Adriatic trip was on equally well worn paths but my guesthouse interactions were different. In SE Asia the compatriots were younger, travel costs were lower, the weather was warmer and the percentage of Americans was higher than on this trip. In Adriatic hostels the conversations were better, longer and more likely to happen. Don’t know if any of those factors mattered. I do know why I enjoyed the conversations more: most people talked with me instead of at me*.
The highlights, in no particular order.
There’s Damp Girls in My Room I stayed in a 4 person mixed dorm in Zadar, Croatia during the cold and rainy part of the trip. Returned to the room to find 2 young women dressed in undies and T shirts hanging up their wet summer clothes. They hadn’t packed for the cold and rain. Their trip was young. Both were in high spirits. It was a delightful jolt of optimism. Among the hostel crowd, all I spoke with had the attitude that the weather made for a different, but still enjoyable, trip then what they’d expected. Some of the hotel stayers, whom I usually met on buses, were less than enthused about the weather and were quick to mention it.
Bicycling Switzerland to Turkey Can is a remarkable young man. I met him in Split, Croatia while he was taking a short travel break. He was bicycling from his home in Zurich, Switzerland to the family’s summer home in Gallipoli, Turkey as the first (and only bike) leg of a round the world trip. From what I’ve seen of narrow Croatian roads and wide buses, he must have nerves of steel. It’s his first multi-day bike trip. Can seemed to be the sort who doesn’t do major things on whim. His website posts on trip preparation confirmed that. He stopped posting before reaching Turkey. I hope that was just because of blogging fatigue.
Acting Like a Gentleman Zagreb trams are narrow, with some single seats along the outside. Most stand. I’d bagged a seat which suited my weary legs just fine. A mother and child entered, taking up position at the pole closest to and in front of my seat. She had a bag of groceries in the crook of the arm which was wrapped the pole. Her other hand holding her small son’s hand. At each bump and jostle of the car she rotated a bit on the pole. One rotation spun her substantially, dragging the kid across the floor a few inches. I got her attention, mimed giving up my seat for her. She looked surprised and confused, so I stood up and mimed again. Her relieved smile made my leg fatigue vanish.
Was he Telling the Truth? In Kotor I shared a room with a 68 year old Brazilian who either tells tall tales or is in remarkable physical condition and spends a majority of the year traveling. He was full of life even when obviously beat after walking for hours between towns on the Bay of Kotor. We talked of several places I’d been. He had the details of someone who’d been there. Whether or not it was BS, he was entertaining. He inspired me to exercise regularly after the trip, which, once the jet lag dissipated, I’m happy to say I’m doing.
What are the Odds? In the six person train compartment from Mostar to Sarajevo there were: A private in the Bosnian army who spoke Serbo-Croatian, Bosnian and a little English. A sergeant in the Bosnian army who spoke Bosnian and Serbo-Croatian. Two South Korean women, one who spoke some English. A Turkish man who spoke decent Serbo-Croatian.
Over the course of an hour I learned: The Turk was the first professor hired in Bosnia to teach Turkish. The army private was the Bosnian Tae Kwan Do champion in his weight class. He’d been to South Korea for competition. The Korean woman who didn’t speak English was a professional photographer. I don’t know what was more impressive, seeing her images on the back of her camera or the OMG cost and quality of the lenses she was carrying. Me? I made them laugh twice with spontaneous physical humor – except for the sergeant. He had on a serious demeanor and didn’t say much the entire ride.
What are the Odds, Part 2 In a six person dorm I discovered one man who graduated from the same college I did and another who is a fellow avid participant in an obscure sport (soaring). We compared notes.
In Kotor I overheard a woman my age discussing her psychological research. My Masters in Social Psychology allowed me to participate in a way we both found interesting. We talked for almost an hour.
* Those who’s primary and preferred mode of conversation is talking at people remind me of Gertrude Stein’s phrase “there is no there there.” She was referring to the Oakland of her youth no longer existing. The meaning of the phrase has evolved. One author said “Over the years the phrase ‘there is no there there’ has come to mean someone or something lacking interest or individuality; a mere existence, empty at the core.”
Is there a phrase to describe so-called conversations where one doesn’t listen but just looks for (or makes) an opening to start talking? When all participants follow this model it usually becomes one story after another or nit-picking with no one keeping score. They could be rendered deaf with industrial strength earplugs and headphones and it wouldn’t matter one bit.
Most expats I’ve encountered engage in such dialog of the deaf most of the time. Expats in Dumaguette and Chiang Mai were far less likely to do so. If I wanted to be politically correct I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with those expats being smarter, better educated and far less likely to have spent their life in the working class.