The Comfort of Strangers

posted in: Travel 0

I left the UK for a more temporary lifestyle 3 weeks ago today. Since then I have been in Barcelona, Cadaques, Toulouse, Le Dorat and now Reims. This has included 9 trains and 2 busses, a couple of bummed lifts and kilometres of walking.

Already my perspective on a few things is shifting: like what is really important, like how I do things. But what has stuck me the most so far has been the willingness of completely unknown people to reach out and help just because someone you know asks.

When I got to Toulouse, my friend Kevin Flee had asked a mate of his to put me up for a few nights. Cymon was an amazingly gracious host, gave me a room for 3 nights, showed me the sights, introduced me to his mates and shared his red wine with me. Just because his friend asked. As he said, it coulda been awkward, but turns out we got on just fine!

From Toulouse I went north to meet one of my cousins, Tony, who I haven’t seen in about 30 years. We weren’t even close back ten. He is about 12 or 13 years older than me, grew up in English boarding school while I grew up in SA. But e went out of his way to take time off work, show me around, organised me a gig to play (which earned me some cash) and refused to allow me to pay for anything.

He in turn asked friend of his, Ron and Collette to put me up in their garden cottage. I was there for 7 days and they looked after me like one of their own. You can’t say thank you enough to hospitality and kindness like that. Turns out Ron went to Grey as well and Collette is a Durban girl, but it’s those sort connections that make traveling worthwhile… the human factor.

This is a massive on-going mirror of the generosity I experienced in the UK from my friends Jan, Amanda, Debbie… its very cool to find out it extends beyond the inner circle. I have spent too long out on the perimeter it would seem.

Meeting new people in backpackers and on the road is harder than before… we are all bubbled up in phones, ipads, group travel, suspicion and alienation. I am sure it will happen, but not so far. Instead I have met some wonderful strangers just outside my own comfort zone who have been amazing to me. It does reaffirm ones faith in human nature and the idea that, if you put it out there, it will happen.

Traveling in a land where you don’t speak the language also makes it somewhat complicated to connect with people… Well, if I wasn’t so self-conscious about it, maybe it wouldn’t, but so far I do feel like I am traveling in a small bubble car of my own private world, looking out through the window. As someone who uses language so much, I am keenly aware of this sort fall and kinda shrink away from contact. Ridiculous I know, am working on that one!

I spend the next 3 nights in Reims, at a backpackers that is also a language school… maybe I can pick up some tips! And ten it is off to go and find another friend from Jozi days in Calais De Nord before heading into Belgium.

As you may have noticed, I am suddenly not blogging that much. I am so awash in fleeting thoughts and emotions I prefer to sit out the ebb and flow of them before committing it to this space… Apologies to any of you who may want more frequent updates, but I am also refusing to pressurise myself into doing more… After all, I don’t HAVE to do anything at the moment, and that was the entire point of taking off like this!

So, next time you hear from me, I will be in Bruges… I think!

Cathedral Reims
The facade of the awe-inspiring Reims Cathedral

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