Lost travel friends

Before Facebook–hell, before mobile telephones and email–it wasn’t all that easy to keep in touch with people you might meet on the road.

You could exchange addresses and telephone numbers, of course, but by the time you were in a position to make a call or scribble a letter, the immediacy of the connection you’d shared while staying up all night on that Sardinian beach would probably be gone. Just like that, your travel friends would become lost travel friends.

In some instances, the fact that connections were more difficult to establish was a positive thing. Only connections of consequence would outlast the original encounter. The rest would fade away in a pleasant swirl of nostalgia, and you’d never be confronted by vile comments on your Facebook wall from that faint blast from the past who doesn’t belong in your future.

Nonetheless, there’s a little bit of sadness associated with all those lost travel buddies. The kinds of connections forged on the road are quite special–immediate, often effortless, involving snap decisions to trust, share, and engage.

Here’s my own hall of fame of fascinating people met on my travels over the years with whom I either immediately lost touch or failed to remain in contact.

Elke. I think that was the name of the soft-spoken anarchist who alighted from my Berlin-bound train at the final pre-border station in West Germany in the summer of 1989. We’d talked for hours and shared each other’s food. I think she wanted to write children’s books. She was deeply alienated by consumerism and dressed quite shabbily, yet she seemed cautiously happy. I remember that she waved goodbye as she left the train.

The countess. She had a von in her name and lived in a super rich suburb of Munich, on a lake. I was 17. We took the overnight train from Paris to Munich and stayed up the entire time talking and smoking a million cigarettes. Where are you now, countess? Living with your five children and count husband in a Bavarian castle? Doing drugs with your Romanian bodybuilder boyfriend in Mallorca?

The French couple who drove me and my father from Rijeka to Ljubljana in their miniscule car. We met on the Jadrolinija ferry from Dubrovnik. He was portly; she was tiny. They spoke very little English and our French was execrable but we laughed the entire way.

The East German man. Lars? It was 1992. I was stuck at a hostel in Oostende for a few days waiting for a ferry to England. He was a mad traveler, driving off every few weeks to explore another corner of Europe until recently forbidden to him. He told me how much he wanted to visit Iceland, and several months later I received a postcard from him from Reykjavik. I wonder sometimes if this fellow now works in the travel industry.

Carol Ann, the American nun. She shared a regular train compartment with me and my sister, which we tried to turn into a makeshift couchette by drawing the shades and pretending to be asleep. Whenever someone would open the door looking for a place to sit, my sister, 14 at the time, would sit up in a fake stupor and ask them to be quiet so that we could remain sleeping. Sister Carol Ann giggled each time this happened.

[Image: Flickr | fazen]